The Liberation War of Bangladesh keeps coming back in Selina Hossain's works and in her new novel, the noted writer tells the story of a child's search for his biological mother 25 years after a German couple adopted him in the wake of the 1971 war.
In 1995, Hossain, met the war-child from Germany unexpectedly.
"My daughter Lara and her classmates in the university had come across him; he was in Dhaka looking for his biological mother. They went with him to some places looking for her. But he didn't find her. Lara brought him home. 'Meet another mother in Bangladesh,' Lara said introducing him to me," recalls the author.
"Perhaps touched by my affection, the boy cried. After he left, Lara told me to consider writing about him. All this made me think," Hossain says about how the idea of the book was born.
"Around that time I was working on a novel about tea-garden life in Sylhet. I used to go to that area for my research; sitting in the tea-pickers' homes, I would listen to their stories of suffering. I wondered if a woman worker here could be the mother of the war-child I had met. And he must find his mother. I started writing 'Charcoal Portrait'," she says.
The novel is basically set against the background of the 1971 War of Liberation.
"It also has a big focus on the suffering of an uprooted tribe. I read the history of the tea-garden workers' uprising in 1921. To go back to their native place, they left the gardens and marched to the Chandpur steamer ghat to take the river ferry. The British police warned them not to board the steamer. Many of them were yet to climb onto the vessel, some others hanging from its railing. When the colonial police opened fire, they dropped into the river," Hossain told PTI.
Human rights violation is another issue the book, published by Palimpsest, explores. "Charcoal Portrait" has been translated into English by Tirna Chatterjee with Jackie Kabir from the original Bengali version "Kathkoylar Chhobi".
Since the author chose tea gardens as the backdrop for "Charcoal Portrait", the history of tea plantation in the subcontinent automatically figured in the narrative. The sheer exploitation of the garden workers appalled her.
Many of Hossain's novels are set against the backdrop of the 1971 Liberation War.
"I had been to the Ramna Racecourse grounds on March 7, 1971 to listen to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the historic rally. His speech has always remained a source of inspiration for me.
"When Rabindranath Tagore had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, that gave Bengali literature international recognition. Sheikh Mujib's movement for the liberation of Bangladesh from colonial rule was another major milestone. The Liberation War therefore keeps coming back in my writing. I have tried to project the people's war against different backdrops," she says.
Hossain, who has authored over 40 novels and several collections of short stories, has been a champion of women's issues and have been taking a progressive stand. She received the SAARC Literary Award in 2015.
"Not just in Bangladesh, almost everywhere in the world a woman's social position is defined from the prism of patriarchy. And that is terribly depressing. A woman's place in society has come in for scrutiny as much in literary criticism as in fiction. The issue has made me think. My social commitment as a writer made it urgent for me to examine the subject," she says.
According to her, the younger writers in Bangladesh are moving in the right direction.
"Some of them have chosen as their backdrops the country, its people, our times and the world. They are experimenting with both form and content," she says.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)