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

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Beyond the Break with the Past

Reckoning with Literary Pakistanism in East Bengal

The author would like to thank Nusrat Chowdhury, Mannat Johal, and Nazmul Sultan for their help. He would also like to thank Firdous Azim, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Thibaut d’Hubert, and Rochona Majumdar for comments on the earlier versions.

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 Pakistans founding, a new generation argued that disavowing the past was not liberating and would make the case for a more complex reckoning with Bengals literary past.

In April 1971, following his escape from Dhaka to the relative shelter of a village in rural Narsingdi, Dainik Pkistn journalist Shamsur Rahman (19292006)one of modern Bengals most distinctive literary voicesresumed writing poetry. In the poem, Svdhinat Tumi (Freedom, You Are), Rahman (1972: 67) sought to work out the meaning of a word that the brutality of Pakistans military repression had endowed with immediate and inescapable significance, and famously addressed freedom itself by invoking Bengals literary past: you are Rabindranaths timeless poetry, you are his imperishable song. Throughout the war, Rahman (1972: 23) continued to underscore the significance of modern Bengali literature to Bangladeshs future, and in a number of poems surreptitiously smuggled out of Dhaka, he insisted that true freedom would bring about the denouement of Pakistans prescriptive and constraining literary protocols, and that East Bengal would no longer be a prison house for poets.

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Published On : 17th Jan, 2024

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