ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reckoning with Literary Pakistanism in East Bengal

Beyond the Break with the Past

In the 1940s, Bengali Muslim intellectuals sought to find a new autonomy in a comprehensive break with the texts and language of the Hindu-dominated literature of the “Bengal Renaissance.” But within a few years of Pakistan’s founding, a new generation argued that disavowing the past was not liberating and would make the case for a more complex reckoning with Bengal’s literary past.

In April 1971, following his escape from Dhaka to the relative shelter of a village in rural Narsingdi, Dainik Pākistān journalist Shamsur Rahman (1929–2006)—one of modern Bengal’s most distinctive literary voices—resumed writing poetry. In the poem, “Svādhinatā Tumi” (“Freedom, You Are”), Rahman (1972: 6–7) sought to work out the meaning of a word that the brutality of Pakistan’s military repression had endowed with immediate and inescapable significance, and famously addressed freedom itself by invoking Bengal’s literary past: “you are Rabindranath’s timeless poetry, you are his imperishable song.” Throughout the war, Rahman (1972: 2–3) continued to underscore the significance of modern Bengali literature to Bangladesh’s future, and in a number of poems surreptitiously smuggled out of Dhaka, he insisted that true freedom would bring about the denouement of Pakistan’s prescriptive and constraining literary protocols, and that East Bengal would no longer be a “prison house” for poets.

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Updated On : 30th Oct, 2021
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