Polyphony of expressions, identity, skill and perspective are the dominant links that connect the books by Khademul Islam, Sayeeda T Ahmad, Ikhtishad Ahmed and Neeman Sobhan. The scope of such versatile appeal is significant if we consider contemporary Bangladeshi writers writing in English. Each book may offer standalone qualities delivering specific experience to the reader however; we can state that the writers merge in their treatment of theme. Neeman Sobhan's collection of poetry Calligraphy of Wet Leaves offers us a vision stemming from a multicultural interpretation just as poet Sayeeda T Ahmad's collection Across Oceans showcases many worlds in her thematic pursuits. Khademul Islam on the other hand deals with range in voices through his translation work On My Birthday and Other Poems in Translation where the poems represent poets from India and Bangladesh. Ikhtisad Ahmed's short story collection Yours, Etcetera engages with a socio political exposition juxtaposing the urban and rural especially from Bangladesh and UK. However it might be premature to state that the books contain what ought to be considered quintessentially Bangladeshi voice writing in English but these publications definitely can stand on the merit of being signature pieces.
Sayeeda T Ahmad's poems are a celebration of diversity while she crosses many borders in her evocation. Her observations display her ability to breach the various cultural boundaries while she seldom loses her way in the maze. She writes about the confusion around pickles while encountering the customs officer:
I realized I should have
But his mind
would have seen
cucumbers, (In a Pickle)
Travels Across Arbil, In a Pickle, Muslims on Manhattan Island are examples of Ahmad's ability to merge the unfamiliar with the familiar while she contemplates her role in the ever changing landscape. The book starts with poems presenting snippets about her infant stage followed by growth of the poetic voice as she simultaneously crosses borders of Middle East and USA in life. She has acquired her own formula of exorcising the ghost of political correctness that often haunts the emerging Bangladeshi writers writing in English. Lines like: “The auroral reflection of bayonet blades
Wielded by unseen hands blaze before my sight;”(At Pleasant Creek State Park) testament to her craftsmanship. It seems her strength lies in her interpretation of what she feels is typically Bangladeshi while she situated this discovery amidst the dominant socio political images. In poems such as Reconnections, April and others she knows how to be present with clarity while skillfully craft English as her device.
Ikhtishad Ahmed's debut collection of short stories Yours, Etcetera offers readers a lens that is intended to unsettle the mind. Ahmed mostly known as a playwright dealing with absurd themes has offered his skill in constructing worlds in the limited space of short stories. He doesn't disappoint as his stories are well crafted with the correct dosage of the absurd and the real. Stories like Virtue of the Grey Cat, and Yours, Etcetera are potent tonal pieces and are devious in their ability to lull the senses. Ahmed is merciless when it comes to toying with the readers and his strength as a playwright is visible as he is unhesitant to shatter the worlds just as soon as he creates them. His Bested So Far is another example of storytelling where melancholia is unhinged by the ambivalent irony of the powerful and the powerless. The cat and mouse race of existence and to matter as an individual undercuts the fluid language of the writer as he effortlessly shakes the readers by the conscience. The experience of reading his story, like the one titled The Election, is that of discovering the uncanny and being left with the question, “what now?”. He knows how to weave the abstract with reality in a way that taps into those unhinged parts of the reader that are often best left untouched. It contains the ability to twist the conscience into submission and demand accountability, his story Guilty by Association would be an ideal example of such experience.
Neeman Sobhan is an Italy-based Bangladeshi writing in English whose Calligraphy of Wet Leaves showcases her first poetry collection. The collection introduces the reader to a celebration of gossamer like moments. She seems to be intent on trapping the intangible and her process plays around with images that mystify the reader in exploration of senses. She writes,
The wild grace of this tilted country
And the tamed beauty
Of your tiered garden (Pergola of Dreams)
This Last October Day, Season's End, Cascade, Anacapri are some of the examples of the romanticism she channels through her encounter with certain moments. Sobhan is also invested in playing around with structure and experimenting with its influence on the content. Buddha-Purnima is one of those poems where she plays with the structure. Her themes are cosmopolitan mainly because her exposition is centered on a subjective narrative unique to her experience that is undoubtedly diverse. The collection is split in two sections titled Soul Spaces, Painted Places and the poems under each segment can be read following a specific thread of contemplation.
Khademul Islam presents his translation work On My Birthday and other poems in translation where he introduces Bengali writers across the border writing in their mother tongue. The collection in itself is a vital piece as it brings together poets from two nations writing in the same language channeling fellowship while they retain individuality. The book is impregnated with art works by various artists dispersed throughout the pages lending each voice a mode of association. Amidst this medley dominates the translation of Islam adding a fourth layer of experience. The strength of this collection lies in Islam's success as a translator as the poems contain clarity, authentic treatment of images, lucidity as Islam convey others' vision, the English language do not breach the link between the poet's tone and fluidity of the Bengali language. Finally, we never experience Islam attempting to force meaning. Therefore poets like Mohammed Rafique, Samar Sen, Sunil Gangapadhyay, Ruby Rahman, Shaheed Qadri and others speak to us in their familiar tone and become part of a global experience. Islam translates Samar Sen's words:
Dust blows, the bald oak with its head held high
Stands in a tired, old pose.
Youth returns to trees every year
While we drown in the mire of our acts. (On My Birthday)
All in all, this is a collector's item and more work of this magnitude should be taken into consideration for publication as the world of contemporary Bengali poetry should open its doors to a wider audience.
On My Birthday and other poems in translation by Khademul Islam, Calligraphy of Wet Leaves by Neeman Sobhan, Yours, Etcetera by Ikhtisad Ahmed, Across Oceans by Sayeeda T Ahmad are published by Bengal Lights Books