Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Women in Concert: An Anthology of Bengali Muslim Women's Writing, 1904-38

Women in Concert: An Anthology of Bengali Muslim Women’s Writings 1904-38
Edited by Shaheen Akhtar and Moushumi Bhowmik
Foreword by Firdous Azim
demy octavo hb 440pp ISBN 81-85604-57-6 Rs 600 Oct 2008

Translated into English from the original Bengali anthology, Zenana Mehfil (Stree 1998), this collection of the early writings of Bengali Muslim women helps to make visible women writers of undivided Bengal, before the partition of Bengal, between East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh), and West Bengal, India, in 1947. Why was so little known about these writers? Do dominating interests ‘marginalize, sometimes even obliterate other histories’? Or, equally intriguing, is it the case that ‘who was more silent and invisible where and who was less so, depended on the location and orientation of the listener/viewer’? These are some of the questions that propelled the editors, Shaheen Akhtar and Moushumi Bhowmik, to undertake this task.
Divided into two parts, Part 1, Women’s Writings, offers the contributions of eleven women: Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain and her contemporaries like Khairunnesa Khatun, Mrs. M. Rahman, M. Fatema Khanam and Nurunnesa Khatun Vidyavinodini. About twenty years later, came Akhtar Mahal Syeda Khatun, Fazilatunnesa, Mahmuda Khatun Siddiqua, and Razia Khatun Chowdhurani. Two women who were associated with Begum Rokeya were Shamsunnahar Mahmud, a writer and later a policy maker in Bangladesh, and Sufia Kamal, the famous poet and activist.
Part 2, Conversations, presents discussions with Sufia Kamal, family members and relatives of the writers and eminent people who shared the political and literary concerns of those times. Firdous Azim has provided an insightful Foreword.

Firdous Azim is chairperson, Department of English and the Humanities, BRAC University, Dhaka. Shaheen Akhtar is a well-known Bangladeshi writer whose novel Talaash won the Prothom Alo award (2004); she edited Sati O Swatantara:Bangla Sahitye Nari, 3-vols (2007).
Moushumi Bhowmik is a writer, researcher and singer based in Kolkata.


'Bengali Muslim writers, all of whom happen to be women, writing in the early decades of the 20th century, negotiating with modernity and nationalism, speaking of radical feminist concerns often from behind the veil, making a call for freedom and equal opportunities having pulled themselves out of the mire of disadvantage, exhorting their sisters to wake up from long centuries of sleep, the writers included here do all this and more with guts and gumption. Writing in dobhashi Bengali, with its liberal sprinkling of Arabic and Persian, they reveal how linguistic, cultural and religious differences can mutate to produce hybrid writings that meet the needs of a cross-fertilized society. The editors of this anthology have showcased writers who listened to the many voices but interpreted them in their own unique way. The canonical writing of Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossein showed the way for many of these women.'

                                                     Rakshanda Jalil: The Hindu ,19 April 2009

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