The story of Non-Bangalis in Bangladesh and the book that rescues them

Imagine having to speak in Bengali only with your parents, very close friends and sometimes with your significant other, if you’re lucky enough to find one who knows your words. Imagine no one understanding when you’re speaking in Bengali. Imagine people whispering behind, and sometimes in front of you, when you’re telling your mother over the phone that you’re going to be late for dinner, or asking your brother which comic he wants. Imagine living in a place where the words you grew up with are alien.

Would you be able to call that place home?

A place called home

If you’re still not getting the direction I’m trying to push you towards, then imagine speaking one of the 18 languages (more or less) as your mother tongue, in a country where people condemn you for speaking anything other than the majority’s language (even your typical English medium accented Bengali).

Imagine living in Bangladesh as anyone other than a Bangali.

If you can’t, here’s a step-by-step rundown of how your life would be:

  • You would barely know how your letters look like- because there’s barely any literature published in it. You’d grow up reading and writing the ever glorifying Bangla letters before you even know how your name looks like in your language (If you’re lucky enough to have a school in your vicinity that is)
  • The stories and fables your mom told you to make you sleep at night would be swamped under the weight of “Thakumar Jhuli” and “Gopal Bhar er Golpo”
  • You’d start high school and on the first day when you introduce yourself in front of the class, you’d hear a lot of sniggering, whispering and even a little loud laughter
  • College is going to be tough (If you have the audacity to attend one) – there’s no sugarcoating here
  • Afterwards, your life is going to be a series of “Hey do you really eat frogs?” “How hard is it to sleep on a machang?” “Are you Chakma?” “Are your eyes open or closed right now?” and a few (!) more FAQs till death does you part

Does that scare you? It should. Because that’s what most indigenous people in Bangladesh go through every day. In this country, it is not particularly a delightful experience to be a minority. We have not made it easy for them.

A ray of hope

But, the scenario might just change the slightest bit in the upcoming years as textbooks in three native languages (Chakma, Marma and Tripura) has been published and distributed among the pre-primary schoolers. They are already complaining about the lack of sufficiently qualified teachers, but hey at least they have the books for a start, right?

The tale of the first book in “Mro” language

Speaking of books, during the Ekushey Book Fair 2019 Biddyanondo Publication has already made headlines twice. One of these times is for a book they published called “Mro Rupkotha” or “Mro Fables”.

What’s special about this book is, it’s the first book ever printed in Mro/ Murong alphabet.

Imagine holding in your hand the first ever printed book in Bengali alphabet. Now imagine doing that in 2019. You’d look like this Mro man holding this book up from his impatient son, getting a closer look with an immense concentration in his eyes. Biddyanondo not only published it, but they also made sure the book reached the Mro households free of costs. According to them, it’s their version of the International Mother Language Day celebration.

All the 35 stories of this book are written in Mro, as well as translated in Bengali. So you and I can enjoy their stories, as old as time, for a change.

Rethinking our pride

For a country that takes such intense pride in their dedication respecting mother languages, we sure have been very negligible towards our very own. And even though this book is one small step for Biddyanondo, it’s a giant leap for all Bangladeshi people.

Finding feminism in the pages of literature

For as long as I can remember, I have been an intense reader. Throughout middle school and high school, my best friend and I bonded over “book-hunting” in the school library, and over the years we fought minotaurs with Percy Jackson, went on undercover spy missions at Cherub, fawned over Artemis Fowl’s criminal mastermind, hated Katniss Everdeen with a passion, and, of course, devoured page after page of Bella’s description of Edward Cullen’s perfect 45 degree angled nose (don’t pretend you didn’t have a Twilight phase).

In early 2017, I was reading a particularly popular novel by a particularly popular (male) author and I was reading through a paragraph (which was completely irrelevant to the rest of the plot of the book) in which the male protagonist lustfully described the only female character in the book, who just happened to be incredibly sexually appealing in all her intelligence and physique (but very careful as to not be too intelligent or too attractive so as to threaten our protagonist, of course).

As I suffered through the unnecessary account of how well she pulled off a white tank top and jean shorts, it dawned upon me that in my almost 20 years of life, I had not read nearly enough novels by female authors. It was at this point that I, utterly disgusted by the one-dimensionality of every female character I could recall in almost every novel I had read (however much I loved them), decided that 2017 would be the year that I would consciously choose to read more books by women.

Now before you go on calling me a feminazi and whatnot, I am not claiming that every book ever written by a man is inherently sexist or that men, by some default, cannot create complex female characters. I am only saying that there is an entire realm of emotions and experiences about being a woman that male writers have never experienced and therefore their writing does not reflect it.

Consciously reading books by female authors exposed me to a whole new representation of my identity as a woman. There are tiny bits and pieces of the life that only women know sprinkled into the details of each story that I had never before found in literature.

It was in Esther’s frustration with everyone around her waiting for her to turn her mind around about not wanting marriage and kids, in Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’. It was in Scout from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’s constant battle with her neighbours’ expectations of her to wear more dresses and stay in more as she grew older. It was in Francie’s observation of how women around her shamed other women for their sexuality in ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ – the cold hard reality of how women themselves pose obstacles to other women in a patriarchal society. In Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’, it was the simple remark on how a lot of men talk to women – ‘mansplaining’ – which is sadly still relevant to a lot of our experiences today – “…they listen just long enough to issue instructions. They don’t even look at women when women are speaking.”

The unceasing struggle that I as a woman face against the patriarchal and conventional roles set for me has been experienced not only by women that I personally know but also by women before me – in 1930s Brooklyn, in 1800s England, in pre-Civil War Georgia – this discovery was both painful and wonderful to experience. As if the tiny secrets of survival that I have had to bear my entire life, that I never thought had space in literature, were being spilled out to women from all over the world and all timelines – getting together in solidarity and whispering, confessing, consoling, ‘Me too’. Yes – remember that hashtag? You’ll find traces of it in Austen and Bronte and Woolf and Eliot – forget not that some of these authors had to adopt male pseudonyms to have their work taken seriously, and some, such as George Eliot, are still known by their male pseudonym.

Long before they had the right to vote, these female characters defied sexist social standards in every way, most of all by thinking for themselves and being complex, intelligent, independent characters. In a world where women are still struggling to be heard and validated as full persons – through #metoo and #talkaboutit – I think that being a complex and independent person is the epitome of empowerment, and it is incredibly inspiring to see such empowered women splattered across the world throughout history, as if in some undisclosed unanimity.

If you are female, reading more books by women will connect you to the unmentioned little struggles of women who lived lives so vastly different from you. If you are not female, reading them (which I hope you do with the utmost respect to their experiences as women) will give you some very interesting and crucial understanding of the lives of all the women around you. For the #metoo era, to gain a full understanding and therefore validation of women’s experiences, the effort to consciously read more books by women is one that will move us forward. We must trace back to how the same patriarchal system has been poisoning our lives to as long as women have broken silence through the defiant act of writing.

Socially accepted addictions: Addictions we love to pursue

People around us tell us to stay away from all kinds of addiction every day. ‘Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Or take drugs. Stay away from other addicts.’ And so on and on and on. Here’s the thing though, all the while they are telling us these things, they are also telling us, teaching us to get addicted to other things. Things that apparently are not as dangerous. Things that we are supposed to be addicted to. These are some of the things I’ve listed below:

Tea or Coffee:

Sure, keep drinking tea every hour and you will soon find people staring at you with concerned eyes. But think about it. Why is it that something that can kill your liver a part of our everyday life? Every time you go visit your sweet aunt, tea almost always comes up as a part of the hospitality? Why is it everywhere in our workplaces? How is it that something so harmful can be so ubiquitous? For some odd reason, we always overlook our addiction to drinking tea or coffee. We don’t even see it as a problem.

Okay fine. Yes, I’m fear-mongering a bit at this point. I’m making a big deal out of nothing. I understand. Caffeine-related deaths are not as common as many other causes of deaths. Still, you have to wonder, why though?

By the way, I’ve been writing all this with a cup of coffee in my hand. My second one this evening. The irony is not lost on me. But hey, addictions are addictions because they are fun as heck.

Television:

Socially accepted addiction: addictions we accept 1

I remember when my father and mother used to scold me for watching TV too much. Then they would spend the next three hours watching TV and fall asleep while watching TV. Well, the joke is on them now. I don’t watch TV no more. I only watch quality Youtube videos. Who is laughing now?

Certainly not my grades.

Anyway, TV hasn’t been around for that long in this country. Color TV came to us only very recently in 1980. It may not seem that recent, but in the grand scheme things, it is quite so. In spite of being so new, it has already reached almost every household of the country. There are very few if any, places in Bangladesh right now that doesn’t have a TV and a dish line to provide the people with some sweet Bangla cinema.

Even though I have made conscious efforts to stop watching TV, all I have managed to do is replace one addiction with another. Well, at least I don’t have to get into arguments with my parents about the remote anymore. That’s my little cousin’s job now.|

Sports:

Socially accepted addictions: Addictions we love to pursue
I remember sneaking out of my house to play street cricket with my friends. Yes, it was addictive

Let me tell you a story.

I was hard at work. I was typing away furiously at my computer, trying to get this article done in time. My room was dark and silent. Only the sounds of my fan and my keystrokes were around. My whole concentration focused on the words and ideas I slowly forming into coherent paragraphs. Many things were written, then deleted, then rewritten, only to be deleted for good. Many jokes, many ideas, and thoughts swirling away… and…

Sounds of cheering, screaming, and horns shatter all that in a matter of seconds. What happened? Oh, Brazil won a match.

Okay.

This is some kind of fanaticism. The way we treat sports sometimes seems like borderline insanity. Did you know that a person committed suicide after Argentina losing in the first round? I bet you do. And I bet that if you are a fan of Argentina, you are heartbroken after they lost the chance to progress. But we don’t see sports rehabilitation centers opened up around the country, do we? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. Still, it’s a very prevalent addiction in our life.

I support Brazil, in case you are wondering.

Books:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

This may sound strange to some people. You don’t see that many readers nowadays. But I promise you, they are there, hidden under their comfy blankets, sipping coffee and reading away at a speed that you can’t even imagine, the bookworms are all around us. And I assure you, it is indeed an addiction.

Be wary of books. They hold wonders that can enrich you, but also consume you to your core.

It’s weird because all our life, books have been held up as something that you should indulge yourself in. Do it a bit too much though, and you will be lost in a world from which there is no escape. There was a time when all I had were books. I enjoyed them immensely. My parents were proud of me too. They probably used to brag to other parents about how much books I read.

Then came exam time. These books became their worst enemy then. I wouldn’t study. I would just keep reading the same books again and again because it was fun. That’s what I wanted to do. I was addicted.

Success:

Finally, we get here. The apex of socially endorsed addiction. A thing that we are trained from childhood to pursue. A thing that every one of us craves to some extent. That magical thing. Success.

There are a lot of ways I could go about describing how success is an addiction to you. The thing is though, I feel like this aspect of the world has been so talked about by this point that I can add very little to the discussion that hasn’t already been explored in one way or another. So instead, let me tell you another story.

During my HSC exams, I used to study a little bit the night before and then leave early the next morning because the exam center was quite far. At least one of my parents made sure to go with me every day. We would take a CNG. The CNG would drop us off a little bit away from the center and we would walk the rest.

Every morning, I would walk and watch as my fellow examiners would be absorbed into their mobiles, staring at and solving the leaked questions as fast as possible. The questions would leak every day around 30 minutes before the exam and everyone would solve it before going into the exam hall.

That’s fine.

Kids don’t know better, but the parents should

The thing is, they would have their parents around while doing all this. Not one of the parents I saw those days seemed to care about what they were doing. They encouraged and helped their children. They fanned their children while the said children went through the question and books to find the best answer.

The parents helped their children cheat in an exam in hopes of better results.

Success is a drug, and we are all addicts.

Look the bottom line is, these things, hobbies they are all good but when you take them to an obsessive level, it’s bad. Even gaming. I will not get to that point because I love life. But you get the point. Nothing should become an obsession. If you see symptoms of getting obsessed with something then it’s high time you stopped or changed to something different. If you don’t, then at some point in your life it cost you a great deal.

12 things only a bookworm can relate to

If you are anything like me, you will think that books are absolutely amazing and they are an essential part of your life. Here are 12 things that you can definitely relate to for your love of reading.

1. You think books are better than people:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

Let’s just admit to this; books are literally the greatest gift to mankind. Besides that fact that you just cannot have enough of them, they are never ever going to judge you! Plus, they smell good! What else could you have asked for in a best friend?

2. All your pocket money is spent on books:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

Sounds familiar? Exactly. Because we’ve all been there. While talking about his collection of books, Abeed told us how he used to spend all his pocket money on books. He said he’d rather read a new book than spending on getting a haircut.

3. Everything is a bookmark:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

That dentist’s business card that your colleague gave you, your credit card, a pen, an old receipt, a train ticket or even a tissue paper! Yes, everything.

4. Panicking when asked what your favorite book is:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

“Oh my god! Which one is my favorite? There are so many! What do I tell him? I’m sure he thinks I’m dumb.”

5. You’re judged for sniffing books:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

“I always find someone creeped out staring at me when I’m sniffing books in libraries and bookstores. What? It smells awesome!” said Aneeka while sharing her experience at bookstores. Ordinary people will never understand Bibliophiles and their obsession with Biblichor. Let them be, enjoy your time smelling the best goddamn thing ever. As long as it makes you happy, who cares?

6. You just need to make people read your favorite books:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

It is practically your hobby to make people read your favorite books because you just can’t wait to see them get as excited as you are. And that too all because YOU made them read it in the first place!

7. Movie adaptations never live up to the books:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

Tell me you have never felt this at least once in your life. Exactly! “It’s never entirely the same! And it’s sad!” said Raeesa while talking about movie adaptations of her favorite books.

8. You’re lost when you’re done with a great book:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

There is literally nothing more bittersweet than finishing a great book. You are finally done reading the best book ever but you’re just…lost. A whole new world and all those characters you’ve known and loved so much for so long are suddenly gone and you keep wondering what happened next.

9. You can’t wait to get back:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

You have been thinking about it all day since you had to put it in your bag to attend a class or probably because you had work to do. You just cannot wait to get back to where you left off. Abeed told us about how he keeps imagining what happened next in the story and going back to the book is what keeps him going all day.

10. It’s physically impossible to cross a bookstore without checking it out:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

Books stores are your favorite. Even when you’re too broke to buy a book, you just need to see what’s in there and decide what you should buy next!

11. Page numbers are your new time units:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

Mom: “Dinner’s ready!”
Me: “I’ll be there when I get to page 255!”

12. A good book with a warm cup of coffee or tea is the true definition of stress relief to you:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

Whether you’re a tea or a coffee lover, as long as there is a great book giving you company, you’re good to go. It heals everything, be it a tired mind or a broken heart.

If you can relate to at least five of the above, you’re one of us! However, the one common thing that we can surely relate to is the fact that we’ll never stop loving to read, and we’re all proud to be bookworms.

Want to start reading again? Here are 7 bookstores in Dhaka

Every so often, I hear my friends say, ‘I really wish I read’ or ‘I want to start reading again’. Lament no more, a great place to start is a walk around these lovely bookstores. For seasoned readers,  tablets and e-readers will never suffice. We still prefer to read physical copies of books, flipping through the pages and taking in the scent of new (or old) books. Going to these bookstores has the plus of exploring reading with booksellers who are consummate bibliophiles who take joy in the matching reader to writer. And that human component is an important part of the literary experience. We may not have a Waterstones or a Barnes and Noble store in Bangladesh, but we have these lovely nooks to get lost in.

Here’s a list of places in Dhaka where you can buy your next novel or add the latest to your collection:

1. Book Gallery

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

This is a little shop in New Market where I’ve been going since I was 12. Back then, it used to be called Book Web. This little bookstore offers a decent collection of originals at a reasonable price and hence my frequent visits without burning draining every bit of my small childhood allowance. Their space is much larger and more organized now than it used to be. Their collection has largely improved as well and they also have a Facebook page where they post updates on their collection!

Address: Enter through Gate 1 of New Market and take a left down the row of bookstores. It is at the end of the cul de sac, next to ABC Stationery.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bookgallerydhaka/

2. Pathak Shamabesh

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

Our capital’s Shahbag can be considered as our very own book district because of the numerous independent bookstores in the area and a handful at Aziz Super Market. This is a must–visit for every bookworm in Dhaka. This 30+ year old bookstore houses a huge collection of both English and Bangla literature. What makes Pathak Shamabesh particularly stand out are their occasional book fair and festivals hosted in collaboration with publishers. Authors often visit and hold book signing events.

Address: Pathak Shamabesh Center  is situated in the annex building of the National Museum
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PscltdDhaka

3. Charcha

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

This is a relatively newfound gem. Though their classics collection is a bit disappointing, they boast by far the best collection of contemporaries I have found in Bangladesh. They have many new releases and many shortlisted books for the Man Booker Prize. They also have a rich collection of Bangla literature. I appreciated the detour from the mainstream Dan Brown and Lee Child collections that ususally populate Bangladeshi bookstores. My favourite part, you don’t have to buy the books to read. So, pick up a book, grab a seat, and read until the store closes (at 8pm).

Address: 107 Sher Shah Shuri Road, Mohammadpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh 1207
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/charchabooks/

4. Baatighar

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

This bookstore/library is originally from Chittagong. They have started their operations in Dhaka only last year. They have an exemplary collection of Bangla literature! Their most unique display is a little kids corner with many children’s books and comic books. You can comfortably release your inner Chacha Chowdhury fangirl! Baatighar is open from 10 am to 10 pm and they have a coffee corner. There is also a rooftop café on the Bishyo Shahittya Bhaban where you can get some snacks if you’re hungry after a long day of feeding your soul.

Address: Their Dhaka branch is situated in the already familiar Bishyo Shahittya Kendra building in Banglamotor. 17 Mymensingh Road, Bangla Motor (3.29 mi), Dhaka, Bangladesh 1000 .
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BaatigharDHK/

5. Bengal Boi

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

With the slogan of ‘Boiyer Majhe Doob’ (Dive into Books), Bengal Boi–an initiative of Bengal Foundation was opened in November 2017.  The ground floor has a rich collection of old books, which cannot be purchased, but each book can be exchanged with two old books. There is a stock of both English and Bangla books by local and international writers. There is a reading space, an open space on the ground floor and an indoor space to have coffee and snacks while indulging in the latest bestseller or art book.

Address: 1/3 Block D, Lalmatia, Dhaka, Bangladesh 1209
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Bengalboidhaka/

6. Bookworm

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

Every bibliophile has that one bookstore they have a personal connection with. I remember going to Bookworm ever since I can remember. They were one of the very few bookstores that used to release Harry Potter books on their release day. Potterheads like me would flock to their then only outlet on Old Airport road on chilly winter mornings, just to get our hands on that fresh new and long awaited sequel. While other bookstores like Words and Pages have terminated their operations, Bookworm has only expanded. Now they have opened another outlet in Dhanmondi in collaboration with North End Coffee Roasters!

For a friendly, cosy reading and buying experience, head to this little corner. The English collection is extensive and the storekeepers are very helpful.

Address: Twin Peaks Complex, Old Airport Road, Tejgoan. Under the MIG 21 Fighter Jet & Eagle Statue. Or opposite Falcon Hall. (1.88 mi), Dhaka, Bangladesh 1215

3rd Floor, Kazi &Kazi Tower, Dhanmondi. Inside North End Coffee Roasters.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bookwormbangladesh/

7. Boi Bochitra

This is a household name in Bangladesh. In addition to original paperbacks and hardcovers, they also offer a splendid variety of stationery supplies such as notebooks, journals, washi tapes, sticky notes and model papers, meeting our arts and crafts needs while we were growing up. Boi Bichitra has an edge over other bookstores in Bangladesh because of their many branches. There is a store in almost every area in the capital. So if you are suddenly hankering to buy some new life to put on your bookshelves find out the one nearest to you and head over!

Address:  Some of the branches are:

at  ADC Empire Plaza 183, Satmasjid Road, Dhanmondi, Dhaka

House No. 40, Main Road No: 01, Section No-10, Mirpur, Dhaka-1212

Rupayan 141, Road No. 12, Block-E Banani, Dhaka-1209

 Golden Age, Shop# 19,25,26 (Ground floor) Plot No 6, Block# C.W.N.(C) 99, Road No. 37 Gulshan Avenue, Dhaka-1212

Enjoy the significantly lower prices and an exponentially greater book inventory that you can enjoy in Bangladesh. So let’s peruse the aisles, experience the scent of new books, feel the pages and support our local indie bookstores. Even if all else fails, you can always head over to Nilkhet!

Banned books you should read today

‘Tis the season of banned books, as we come out of International Banned books week. Let the inner rebel out and start reading.

Books have been getting banned or censored since people in authority realized the power of words and ideas. Banned Books Week is a campaign that celebrates the freedom and right to read and challenge censorship. Ironically banning booking draw attention to the ideas that were attempted in being silenced. Books can be banned because authorities may deem the content too controversial, too religious (or anti-religious), too immoral, too political (or not political enough), etc. We can derive a lot about the society and the authority banning books, from just seeing what is considered unacceptable. Reading banned books offers us different historical and international perspectives, and pushes us outside our comfort zones.

Here are five banned books you should definitely pick up if you haven’t already!

1. Bridge to Terabithia

Author: Katherine Paterson

This is a beautiful story of friendship between two fifth graders. Jess and Leslie made my 12-year old self dream of living in rural Virginia in my own magical kingdom in the woods. What is the reason to censoring a beautiful and innocent story about two kids? Well, Jess frequent usage of the word “Lord”,  in a non- religious way, i.e. not in prayers, was not acceptable. Apparently, their imaginary magical kingdom promotes secular humanism.

Following this logic, I wonder how Harry Potter remains in print? The same people banning ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ probably want to ban it for promoting witchcraft and sorcery!

2. Sons and Lovers

Author: D. H. Lawrence

D. H. Lawrence, a quintessential outsider, was often rejected by the establishment. and most of his works were banned or censored. Sons and Lovers is among his work that was banned immediately upon publication. Sons and Lovers tell the story of Paul Morel and his family in an autobiographical manner. The book alludes to Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus Complex theory, as Paul explores his many relationships. Even if one does not know the context of the Freudian theory,  one can see a reason for banning in the novel’s many explicit sex scenes (and lots of it). This was not a common aspect of books of that era. However, Lawrence’s characters frequently experience moments of transcendence as their emotions are conveyed through the literary technique of pathetic fallacy (the attribution of human feelings and responses to inanimate things or animals). Nature is symbolized masterfully.

3. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Author: Judy Blume

Blume takes on the topic of puberty through the eyes of her 12-year old protagonist Margaret. Such books are usually in The Young Adult category. However, this book has been banned in multiple states in the US citing reasons such as profanity and the godless child.  Margaret grows up without any religious affiliations due to her parents’ interfaith marriage; this deviance from the norm might just have had something to do the ban. She continuously feels like an outcast in her closely knit community and goes on a quest to explore her possibilities. This book continues to pave the way for dialogue between adolescent and pre-teen girls, and older women alike.

4. Persepolis

Author: Marjane Satrapi

The only graphic novel on this list, the protagonist of Persepolis is Satrapi. Satrapi gives an account of her life in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. Expectedly, the book was banned in Iran, but rose to controversy when it was suddenly banned from public schools in Chicago. It was later revealed that it was banned because of “graphic illustrations and sexually explicit language”. Persepolis certainly includes an amount of violence and sex.  Satrapi talks about how her friends and relatives were tortured, both by the Shah and by the Revolutionary government. There are illustrations of people dismembered by the authorities and also of injured soldiers. Parents and administrators in Chicago may be justifying the ban by thinking that they’re protecting kids by limiting access to this controversial graphic memoir, but there is nothing to stopping you from picking it up for some food for thought.

5. The Kite Runner

Author: Khaled Hosseini

I will end my list with a very popular but a fantastic piece of contemporary lit nonetheless. Personally, I do not have many favorites written by contemporary writers and I prefer to read at least 3 classics to make the new pieces more palatable. However, Hosseini’s work is an exception. Hosseini brings forth his Afghan-American heritage to paint an immaculate picture of his native land Afghanistan. Many tumultuous events are at the backdrop of the story– the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy, the Soviet intervention and the rise of the Taliban regime.The Kite Runner tells the tale of two boys, Amir and his friend Hassan.

The book is banned/challenged especially for the depiction of the ethnic feud between Pashtun and Hazara groups and for containing sexually violent content deemed age-inappropriate. The movie adaptation of the book was immediately banned in Afghanistan due to its “portrayal of Afghanis in a bad light”. Like Hosseini’s other books, it is bold and unadulterated, so if you haven’t read any of his work already, this is a great one to start with.

Read, discuss, dissuade and dissent!

Remembering Nobel Prize winning author V.S. Naipaul: celebrating a complex legacy

Nobel Laureate and winner of the Man Booker prize, Sir Vidia Naipaul’s literature was no stranger to intense criticism.  Sir Naipaul even feuded with other prominent, controversial authors, Salman Rushdie and Paul Theroux. His death has brought forth a renewed wave of mixed reactions.

Exposed to literature in his early years

V.S. Naipaul is considered one of the greatest prose writers of the last half-century. He created more than 30 works of both fiction and non-fiction. His early works were comical and influenced by his diverse roots. His grandparents were immigrants from India who moved to Trinidad and Tobago to work at the British sugar plantations. Naipaul was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad.  Naipaul’s early foundations in literature were his father’s love for writing for the Trinidad Guardian and shared a reverence for writers.  He excelled in school. He won a government scholarship, giving him a choice of any university in the British Commonwealth.

His years at Oxford University was relatively rough, experiencing long episodes of depression and self-doubt. Later in life, he opened up about frequent breakdowns during this period, in which he also experienced the loss of his father. Shortly after graduating, he and his partner, Patricia Hale moved to England. He wrote his first short story to officially launch his career as a writer. His publisher thought that a short story anthology by an unknown Caribbean writer would not sell in Britain. So, he wrote a novel which we now know as The Mystic Masseur.

naipaul, book

An unconventional storyteller, Naipaul

Psychiatrist and revolutionary theorist Frantz Fanon wrote that “the first ambition of the colonized” was to resemble the colonizer “to the point of disappearing in him.” This was not the case for Naipaul’s storytelling. His writing style is closer to sub-continental authors than western works. In almost all of his works of fiction, there was an interplay between tragedy and comedy.

His stories usually featured a fictitious island or a nameless land, which was a clear reflection on his life in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and his paternal roots in India. Naipaul’s undeniable talent was showcased in his writing. On display, is also his callous opinions and his blunt cruelty. From the contemporary point of view, Naipaul’s opinions seem self -loathing, borderline racist and even slightly misogynistic. His portrayal of female characters often made him susceptible to criticism; frequently objectifying the women in his books. His dismissiveness of the female extended to female, talented authors. One can imagine a substantial reaction from readers and writers when someone describes Jane Austen as “too trivial”.

“A House for Mr Biswas is packed with conflicts as the protagonist, Mr Biswas, subverts conventional tropes of a hero.”

A writer of a classic, A House for Mr Biswas

naipaul, book

His greatest work, A House for Mr Biswas stands as a classic. The story is of a son tormented by the memory of his father’s thwarted ambition, alluding to his relationship with his own father. It is a novel of epic length and formal perfection. A House for Mr Biswas is packed with conflicts as the protagonist, Mr Biswas, subverts conventional tropes of a hero. Naipul frequently broke away from conventional structures of writing and arranged his narratives haphazardly.

Among all his works of fiction, A House of Mr. Biswas is certainly the most noteworthy. In addition to that, A Bend in the River and his short story anthology A Flag on the Island are definitely worth a read. Fair warning though, in his books A Bend in the River and In a Free State, he portrays a depressing picture of post-independent African nations.

Valuing literature for itself, not the character of the author

We cannot help but marvel at the formidable body of work he left as a writer. His candid and straightforward style of writing often landed him in contentious territory; despite the unpleasantness, the messages usually possessed a degree of truth. This is the paradox of literature. Should the value of literature lie in itself, or should we take into account the views or the character of the author? Can we separate the writing from the personality that wrote it?

Even his fiercest critics have to admit that some of his works are timeless masterpieces. For many, his controversial opinions or his actions in his personal life cannot diminish his writing. Even writers who are adamant in their criticism, have expressed their grief at the loss of a literary genius. Author-poet Jeet Thayil successfully summed it up describing Naipaul as an awful man, a brilliant writer and said his death was like “losing a cantankerous, contrarian father”.

5 Bangladeshi superheroes you should know about

The age of superheroes is upon us. The last decade or so has seen almost as many comic book adaptations as the last century. Bangladeshi artists and storytellers may not be creating as much content as their western counterparts, but we can boast a couple of superheroes with roots in Bangladesh:

Shabash

Shabash, a parodycreated by Samir Rahman and Fahim Anzoom Rumman, satirizes superhero culture but uses its tropes against it. The atomic mango powered hero is often lazy and unmotivated. Shabash is more likely to take selfies, go on rickshaw rides than fight supervillains. Its sister title is more well known and deals with fighting social stigma.

Ms Shabash

The Magnum Opus of the duo, Ms Shabash is a world apart from the lazy Shabash. Shabnam, the investigative journalist, moonlights as the atomic mango powered superheroine who faces societal issues head on. Her alter ego rejects marriage proposals sternly, yet respectfully.

She battles villains like Whitewash, who gives herself superpowers through a lab accident. This is a nod to the struggle and stigma of being dark skinned in many Asian cultures such as Bangladesh.  Her fight with a battalion of robo-aunties via a dance-off was among the many memorable story lines and characteristic of the quirky but socially aware tone of the series.

Rishad

Created by HiFI Public’s very own Navid Hossain, and pencilled by Mehedi Haque, a legend of the Bangladeshi art scene. Rishad, 21, tries to leave home and make it on his own, but is stopped by destiny as he wakes up with a metal arm and a robotic eye. An epic tale of heroic-ism and deception follows. Hopefully a sequel is in the works, so we can see more of the gorgeous panels  

Enigma

Enigma is a character created by Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham, first appearing in Peter Parker: Spider-Man (vol. 2) issue #48.

Yes, THAT Spider-Man.

The young Tara Virango lived in the Bangladeshi village of Malpura when AGK inc. massacres the village by exposing it to a nano-virus that they were commissioned to make by the CIA. Tara survives the nano-virus, but lives with superhuman abilities. She moves to New York and adopts the alias Enigma, emulating a Buddhist goddess. Long story short, she and Spider-Man teams up and fights the evil AGK inc.

Even though she does not have her own comic, we hope that she is part of the wave of Marvel giving lesser known superheroes screen time (we can forsee a Netflix one-off appearance soon).

Read more: How to destroy your cinematic universe

Kali

Set in Dhaka, Kali is portrayed as a common woman with a vigilante alter-ego, roaming the streets fighting bad guys. Model-actress Azra Mahmood plays the titular role in the web series, which is directed by Amit Ashraf and released on the web platform Bioscope Live. By day, Amaya is a niqab wearing NGO worker, by night, an unmasked vigilante going by the name of Kali. Her commitment to fighting social injustice is motivated by her experience as a victim of an acid attack.

Special mention: Bizli

Bizli is a superhero that debuted in a movie of the same name this year in April. This was marketed as the first original superhero film written and produced in the country. Bizli, played by producer Bobby, is born with super powers like flight, super speed and lightning. Illiyas Kanchan plays her protective father, Dr. Alam. An evil scientist named Dr. Jerina, played by Shatabdi Roy, wants her powers for her own gains. While clichéd, the film is still the first big budget superhero movie made by a Bangladeshi, and so the efforts are applauded.

Honorable mention to the DC superhero Montpellier, appearing in three issues of The Shade, who was born in Bangladesh and later moved to Spain to become a superhero.

5 Bangladeshi superheroes you should know about 9

We hope to see so many more in the coming years!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

The world’s most beloved superhero turns 80 this year with Action comics reaching its 1000th issue. Superman is one of the most recognisable mainstays of American pop culture. With the signature S chest symbol and flowing red cape, Superman is more than just a superhero – he is a symbol of hope and an ideal for justice. Not to mention Superman most definitely paved the way for later iconic superheroes like Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America (although that was Marvel) and so on, heroes that we love and worship today. Superman has grown so popular that a life sized Superman statue stands tall in Metropolis, Illinois, the namesake of Superman’s fictional city in the comics.

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster in Cleveland, Ohio. Debuted in Action comics #1 in 1938, Superman quickly gained popularity among comic readers back then. Superman wasn’t always a hero though. In 1933 in a short story by Jerry Siegel, titled “The reign of Superman”, Superman was portrayed as a villain. However, that changed in 1938 when Superman was introduced as the doomed immigrant infant from the destroying planet Krypton, raised on a firm by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who grows up to be the Daily Planet journalist Clark Kent and in times of need, Superman. Lord and Saviour.

Superman is more than just a superhero. He is a symbol of hope and an ideal for justice.

Since then the story of Superman has seen a lot of ups and downs. Characters like Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor and Lois Lane were introduced. His adversaries grew stronger and more in-depth story arcs exploring the world of Superman were introduced. More superheroes followed. Marvel followed suit. The comics universe has constantly grown since then, thanks to Superman.

Superman entered the golden age of television with George Reeves playing the iconic hero in the 1950s TV series, “The Adventures of Superman”. Later in 1978, Superman the movie came out, starring Christopher Reeve in the lead role. It even made a run for the Oscars.

Besides that, an animated series aired in 1996 and continued till the 2000s. It was the defining series which introduced Superman to most millennials. For many of us, the animated Superman series was our first gateway to the world of comics and comic book shows. Superman holds a special seat in our heart just like that. The opening theme song still gives us goosebumps.

There have been many attempts to revive Superman on the big screen after 1978’s Christopher Reeve performance. Unfortunately, none of them quite took off. The TV series Smallville gained some popularity in the 2000s and basically generated a cult following. And Superman Returns starring Brandon Routh and directed by Bryan Singer showed great potential in 2006, trying to pick up where George Reeves left off.

Movie Superman finally took the flight in 2013, with a completely different approach to the character. Man of Steel introduced Henry Cavill as Superman. Directed by Zack Snyder, Man of Steel completely restructured Superman for a newer generation with notable changes to the costume and a darker overall tone in the movie. It had mixed reviews in the box office but fans loved Henry Cavill as Superman. Man of steel initiated the DC Extended Universe and we last saw Superman in the Movie Justice League, in 2017. Man of steel 2 is in the works and Henry Cavill is set to make appearances in future DCEU movies as well. Looks like we’re not losing our Superman on the big screen anytime soon.

Meanwhile Superman has been making constant appearances in the comics under various titles. Some notable reads are Crisis on Infinite Earths, Flashpoint, Death of Superman, Whatever happened to the Man of tomorrow, Lois and Clark: New Adventures of Superman and most recently the DC rebirth Series which re-imagines Superman, now married to Lois Lane and father to a Jonathan Kent. And of course, most recently, Action Comics #1000, which features an interesting story arc that suggests the end of Krypton was not what we thought it was. But don’t worry, we are not going to spoil it here. If you’re interested, we’re compiling a list of Superman must-reads elsewhere – check back soon.

So, with a number of changes and takes on the character over the years since its inception, what does the future look like for our beloved Superhero donning the symbol of hope? Keep following HiFi for our next article as we explore the future of the DCEU movie universe.

5 times mainstream comics got diversity right

The opportune release of the very highly rated Black Panther has us all talking, isn’t inclusion and diversity in comic book/superhero movies rather overdue? With the topic in mind, over the past few years, diversity has become not a gimmick, but rather a necessity as more and more entertainment mediums are trying to embrace diversity more proactively. In myriad forms, executives at these major comic book publishers have pushed this agenda through a) turning an existing comic book character into a minority group (i.e, turning Iceman from X-men gay), or b) creating and bringing new, diverse characters into the existing comic book continuity (i.e, having a new female character take the mantle of Thor).

Most of these decisions were met with a lukewarm response. However, occasionally, DC, Marvel, or Image would hit a goldmine. Exploring a minority protagonist or cast allowed publishers to add a robust dimension to their storytelling, as well as benefits for character building. While there are numerous diversity characters in the world of comics, here are five times mainstream comics got diversity right.

Midnighter

“I’d know him anywhere. He moves like jazz” comments the badass, homosexual, ultra-violent vigilante, about Nightwing on Tim Seeley/Tom King’s run on Grayson for DC New 52. Midnighter was co-created by the highly acclaimed comic book writer Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Planetary), for DC’s imprint ‘Wildstorm comics’.

Although Midnighter is not the first LGBTQ superhero in comic books, he’s one of the first to be openly gay, and married to another gay character, Apollo.  Being more in the veins of The Punisher, Midnighter sadly had been relegated to the sidelines of DCU for much of his existence, but recently got his own series ‘Midnighter and Apollo’ as a part of DC Rebirth.

Batwoman

Another LGBT addition to our list, Batwoman got revamped for DC’s New 52 as a lesbian character. Mainstream comic book fans may be familiar with her recent appearance on a Batman animated film, Batman: Bad Blood.

Recently, during DC’s new 52 relaunch, DC Comics refreshed the character for modern audiences, with writer Marguerite Bennett (a queer themselves) writing the series, bringing a newfound LGBTQ sensitivity into the storytelling.

Lord Fanny

One of my personal all time favourite comic book characters. When Grant Morrison is writing, you know you’re in for a psychedelic joyride. A core cast member from the 1990’s comic, the Invisibles (basically the X-files meets the Matrix with a dash of 1984 on the highest quality DMT).

What can be trippier than badass Brazilian transvestite Shaman, drawing powers from a myriad elements of Mayan cosmology. Her gender identity and her traumatic past makes her a compelling character, and a formidable force within the Invisibles Universe.

Blade

Breaking into the mainstream in 1998 as a trilogy of superhero horror films directed masterfully by Guillermo Del Toro, Blade would pioneer what would later become the modern superhero movie boom at Hollywood. Although making his first appearance in comics in the 1970s, Blade was an iconic black character, a stand out among others such as Black Panther and Luke Cage.

What made Blade so compelling was how he handled, trapped between both worlds, being a vampire and retaining his humanity. A predicament not very different from what minority groups suffer. The acute identity crisis, the feeling of being neither here, or there.

Storm

One of the most iconic colored characters in memory, Ororo Munroe took the comic book world by storm, appearing as a member of the X-Men in 1975.

Hailing from a tormented past as a thief from the ghetto, to becoming the queen of a nation, Storm carved a niche for herself in the world of comics as one badass femme fatale. Being an Omega level mutant with command over weather, Storm has inspired numerous memorable comic book heroes and heroines over the years.

Honorable mentions: Spawn, Luke Cage, Miles Morales (Spider Man), the Mandarin (a formidable foe for Iron man, and considerably more interesting a character than his arch nemesis), Spawn.

Are there any diversity comic book characters that you feel deserves a mention? Please let us know!