With his eloquent language, impressive style, exceptional perspective and variety of contents, Swakrito Noman has made him an important storyteller of his time. Both the critics and advanced readers of Bangla literature have accepted and appreciated his works. His novels Navi, Rajnoti, Begana, Hirokdana, Kalkeuter Shukh, Shesh Jahajer Adomera and Mayamukut and short story collections Nishirongini, Balihasher Dak and Ibikaser Bongshodhor have shed light on diverse aspects of our past, some of the biggest present-day social crises and a few classical issues. He has achieved HSBC-Kali O Kalam Young Poets and Literature Awards 2011, BRAC Bank-Samakal Literature Award 2015 and EXIM Bank-Anyadin Humayun Ahmed Literary Award 2016. His short story collection Baniashantar Meye and prose book Tuke Rakha Kothamala have been published at this year’s Amar Ekushey Book Fair. Born on November 8, 1980 in Porshuram’s border adjacent village of Biloniya in Feni, Swakrito Noman is now working as the Assistant Editor of Bangla Academy’s literary magazine ‘Uttoradhikar’. In a recent conversation with ‘morning tea’ he has talked about his early days, literary creations, philosophy and future of Bangla literary practices.
When did you first plan to be a writer?At one stage of my student life I was a lodging master in a house of Feni’s Fulgazi. A vast char was located at the south side of it. During the dry season (after the completion of the harvest of paddy) the field remained empty. In the moonlit night I often used to go for a long walk there and return before the dawn. There was a library in Fulgazi bazaar from where readers could borrow literary magazines and books in exchange for money. Back then, I spent half of the money sent by my father to read Western classics and Syed Shamsul Haq, Abu Bakar Siddiq or Humayun Ahmed’s books. While reading them, in 1998, I felt that I can also write like them! Like other Bengalis I started with poems. Consequently in 2005-06, I came to realise that I have many stories to tell which are impossible to express through poetry. Then following the suggestion of my mentor Selim Al Deen I concentrated on fiction writing.
You worked with Selim Al Deen and saw a legendary author closely. How did he influence your development as a writer?
I was actually a correspondent of daily Ajker Kagoj in Feni. It was may be in 2004-05 when Selim Al Deen was impressed after reading an essay written by me. He asked me to meet him through local journalists. When I met with him, he told me to stay with him and complete my post-graduation from Jahangirnagar University. He even assured me that he would make me a teacher of his university. But I rejected his offer and said, “I want to be a journalist.” Returning to Feni I continued working for newspapers. During that time I was enjoying journalism. The DC and the SP were giving me importance, the OC was carrying me in his car, and I was earning good. I believe in spiritualism. One day sitting in my house I was reading a book. Then someone nearby was playing Lalon Fakir’s song “Barir kache arshinagar.” Suddenly something happened to me. I made a phone call to Selim Al Deen and asked, “Sir, will I come?” He replied, “Come tomorrow morning.” On that day a cyclone was going on and highest alert no 4 was issued but I said, “I will come tonight.” Sir thought I was crazy. However, I reached Jahangirnagar at 1 am and started staying with him. I joined as his personal secretary at a salary of Tk. 3500. He taught me each and every great creation of the world literature. Sir provided me The Iliad, Ramayan and Mahabharata and told that if you can read these books, your salary will be increased by Tk. 1000 next month. Initially to get additional salary and then out of passion for becoming a writer, I began studying extensively. I think Selim Al Deen gave me a horizon. Without him I couldn’t be what I am today.
You were telling about your diverse professions. Do you think that an author can take writing as his/her profession in Bangladesh now?
It is possible in the USA, European countries or Australia. They have built their nation as they got independence hundreds of years ago. Bangladesh achieved independence in 1971. Our nation is not fully developed yet. Still our people are going through a confusion that whether they are Bengalis, Bengali Muslims or Muslims. Thus since obtaining independence most of our writers have been focusing on nation building. No author can build nation by writing alone. He/she can’t think only about his/her survival. He/she needs to get involved in different sorts of social activities to remain accountable to the nation. As our nation is going through an identity crisis, habit of reading has not been developed yet. Among the 170 million people of our country only 10 million read books. These 10 million people are not reading Swakrito Noman, Syed Shamsul Haq or Humayun Ahmed’s books only rather they are reading books of 500 writers. Bangladesh is not like Canada where people read books while waiting for their transports or travelling somewhere. This hasn’t happened there overnight. We are also hopeful that our nation will find its self identity one day and develop the habit of reading books. When 70 to 80 million people of our country will read books, only then our authors would be able to take writing as their profession.
Smooth use of language, pensive subject matter or versatile style of narration —- what is the strongest feature of your writings?It is difficult for a writer to identify the strongest or weakest feature of his/her writing. Readers will evaluate it. I feel I am not doing anything new. I am just maintaining the continuity of my predecessors’ works. I am just writing the subsequent part of what García Márquez, Syed Waliullah or Syed Haq have written. But I am not writing like them. I am writing in my own style.
As TS Eliot wrote in his ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’…
Exactly, I believe knowledge is like a cycle. I have started from where my predecessors stopped. But I am trying to create my own language. May be sometimes I succeed and sometimes fail. I always take inspiration from my failure for my next creation.
Does it generate any problem for you in creating your own language when you make experiment?
I don’t think so. If any writer remains conscious, experimentation doesn’t trouble him/her. You will find some writers fail to focus on language while doing experiment regarding perspective or cannot deal with the subject matter while experimenting with language. When I decided to become a storyteller, I thought of preferring three things most. I started giving equal importance to language, perspective and subject matter. I know a writer can become successful if he/she can express the most critical thoughts in the easiest language. Thus I always try to use simple language, but never ignore my perspective and subject matter.
You have kept yourself out of the rat race of populism. Yet conscious readers have accepted you. Besides, critics also have evaluated you. Isn’t it more challenging to be appreciated by both the readers and the critics?
There is nothing negative about becoming popular. Yusef is popular in his country. Márquez was popular in his country when he was alive. Their nations are prepared to cherish the writers like them. But you will see that 10,000 copies of Syed Haq’s books are not sold in our country. Rather books of cheap writers are sold here in big numbers. They neither have political and cultural sense nor have historical consciousness and patriotism. It is because a significant number of our readers are immature. That is why I don’t write for all. I have selective readers. I know when they read my books, they create more mature readers.
You have written history-based novels and used myths extensively. What are the reasons behind it?
Among my eight novels only two are history-based. As these two novels are read by so many people, a perception is developed that I like to write historical fiction. Actually I took history-based novels as part of my experiment. And if you ask me about myth, I would say we are the people of myth. We are more directed by myths than laws. City dwellers might be exception, but most of our villagers are driven by myths. For instance, pregnant women don’t cut fishes at night as they think that if they cut fishes at night, their children would be born with split lip. Villagers in Bangladesh take a pause if they see empty vessel while stepping outside the house. Initially I thought these things are superstitions. But when I read Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, my ideas regarding myths changed. Now I understand that most of these myths are the results of hundreds of years of practice and experience. Stories of ghosts are also very familiar in our country. It is because human beings always want to form a power opposite to them so that they remain disciplined in fear of that. Once our authors used to write about mythical characters, but our modern-day writers are reluctant to employ myths. That is why I have consciously tried to depict the lives of myth-driven people to continue a tradition.
Don’t you think that while portraying myth-driven people you have avoided the urban middle class in your novels?
I haven’t written a single novel on urban middle class. But I have depicted their lives in my short stories. Among 52 short stories I have penned 35 are about their lives. First, I wrote about the majority people of our country. Now while living in this city I am observing their crisis. Hopefully I will start writing a novel on them within the next couple of years.
How do you evaluate the position of present-day Bangla fiction on global stage? What future do you see for Bangla fiction?
As a young journalist when I interviewed our senior writers, I asked the same question to them. They all said that the future of our fiction is gloomy as young people are not reading books and writing anything significant. I tried to examine their observation and found that future of our fiction is very bright. Our country was born through a bloodbath war. But we didn’t get much time to be stable. Within a few years of achieving independence anarchy began in the country. Bangladesh was pushed into walking on a reverse way through the killing of Bangabandhu. A long military rule started. Then the war criminals came into the power. The force we defeated once to liberate our country began ruling us. Now we are fighting against communalism. I am not telling anything negative regarding religion. Religion has come for the wellbeing of us. But I am against the evil activities (terrorism) in the name of religion. We have been going through a series of crisis. European countries, America, Australia or any other so-called developed countries are not experiencing such situation. Therefore, I think future of their fiction is dark. But future of our fiction is great. Every art rises from the destruction. If you spread rice on a plain land, paddy will not grow. But if you spread rice on ploughed land, you will get ample amount of paddies. The only impediment before us is imperialism. Due to the limitation of language despite having some qualified poets and fiction writers we are failing to leave our mark. I am optimistic that our future generation will be able to overcome this problem and our fiction will win the hearts of the global readers.
Do we have enough good translators?
I can share my personal experience in this regard. Two of my expatriate friends took an initiative to translate my two novels Begana and Kalkeuter Shukh for publishing from different countries of the world. After searching for a whole year I managed a person to translate Begana, but he told that he is unable to translate the regional dialects of Chattogram. Later a university teacher who works abroad has begun translating a novel, and an editor of an English literary magazine Rifat Munim has assured me that he will start translating my another novel from June this year. Currently many new generation linguists are translating numerous literary creations, but I find the number of good translators is less than 30. The state should come forward to encourage translation and translate quality literary works. Unbelievable amount of money are spent to buy pillows and curtains or for sending government officials abroad to gather experience by visiting different projects. But you will see the state is never taking an initiative to appoint 100 translators and 100 editors for translating our 100 best literary works. I don’t know when our politicians will realise that a nation cannot secure its place in the world by making infrastructural development only.
In this age of technology what is the future of printed books?
A few things are classic. Their appeal never gets diminished. For example, once we used earthen or brass plates to eat food. When plates produced from ceramics, glass and plastics had appeared, everyone thought that earthen and brass plates will be lost forever. But it didn’t happen rather the scientists are now telling that taking foods from earthen and brass plates is good for our health. Similarly printed books are the classic medium of knowledge. Even the source of information provided by internet is books. When people give reference, they mention the names of books. In this age of internet it may seem that the future of printed books is uncertain. But it is not true. Thousands of new books are published in our book fair and millions of new books are published every year even from the technologically-advanced countries. So, no matter what technology comes printed books will survive.
What is your suggestion or message for the young writers?
I shall say nothing to them. All authors are autogenous and independent. They will do whatever they like. Giving advice to a writer is not a wise thing to do. I have a book titled Uponyaser Pothe where I have written about my observations regarding writing and the things a young writer should consider. But at the end of that book I have requested them to forget all my proposals. Still I will say —- don’t follow me, create your own path and walk on that.