Shadic Mahbub Islam |
February 19, 2022 4:48:53 p.m.
The annual Bengali bibliophile pilgrimage “Amar Ekushey Boi Mela” started last Tuesday, much to the delight of book readers.”
Thousands of writers, poets, scholars, essayists and translators have labored for months to bring readers the crown jewel of their literary genius, and this year there are adventurous writers venturing into unique genres.
Thrillers may not be the most acclaimed or critically lauded genre; however, for young and young adult readers, thrillers provide an adrenaline rush and transport them to a fictional world far from everyday life.
Bengali writers, as a whole, mainly engage in writing crime thrillers; therefore, in Bangladesh and West Bengal, nearly three-quarters of all thrillers end up in a crime novel.
Nevertheless, the scenario is changing as the writers have started to explore other branches as well. We’ve seen novels on unique topics where new writers experiment to create a more diverse literary scene.
Among them, two writers who have tried to walk the paths of unique genres are Biblical Fantasy and Cosmic Horror.
A breath of fresh air in the Bengali fantasy world:
Fantasy fiction is a fascinating genre of world literature. Hardly any avid bookworm has yet read book series like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Dune, or Game of Thrones.
In the Bangladeshi literary sphere, it is surprising that fantasy fiction has not been explored much. There have been a few attempts, but nothing can come close to the essence where magical realism and ethereal world-building can transpire.
So when it comes to biblical fantasy, where the writer incorporates references and characters from Abrahamic myths and religious elements to construct a fantasy world that blends modern life with religious themes, even the West has produced few literary pieces.
In Bangla, Satyen Sen was the first writer to incorporate such themes in his book Obhishopto Nogori, but the emphasis just wasn’t there.
Biblical fantasy comes to life in Bengali:
The use of biblical or religious myths and symbols to represent horror and menace has been a staple of horror novels in recent years. Tanzim Rahman and Aamer Mostaque Ahmed were brilliant in this regard.
However, the first writer to write authentic biblical fantasy fiction in Bengali was Shah Ataur Rahman Shihab, the author of Apotheosis and Prottaborton, where the modern world has combined with biblical myths to form a new kind of realm of the Bengali thriller.
“I’ve always been fascinated by Messiah Syndrome,” Ataur Rahman Shihab said of his inspiration to walk a path never used before.
“After reading about it, I decided to write about a Messiah and how his advent twists the very fabric of our modern world. That’s how I found inspiration for my first novel .
His first novel “Apotheosis” tells the chronicles of an apocalypse where angels, demons and humans fight over survival, leaving heaven and earth in total chaos. It was released in 2020 and received widespread positive response from readers.
His second novel “Prottaborton” is a time travel story where a secret agent tries to reverse the course of history by traveling to the past. Both novels have biblical texts and religious myths at their core.
“There is a rich and diverse literature on the Old Testament, New Testament and rabbinical (Jewish) literature; which in turn also influenced some Islamic myths.
“I take inspiration from this literature and mix it with modern thrillers,” he said, “I try to take as big a canvas as possible to draw my mythical world of fantasy.”
Cost makes it difficult to write fantasy fiction:
The genre of fantasy fiction has not been widespread in our country. Ataur Rahman Shihab has his own observations on this.
“A fantasy novel is usually around seven hundred to eight hundred pages, which makes it a solid book. Thus, the cost of production is high, as is the price of the book. The high price deters readers from purchasing the book, making it a high-risk venture. As a result, we see fewer novels in this genre.
Asked about the perspective of the fantasy genre, Ataur Rahman Shihab, a student in the Department of Economics, University of Dhaka, said that readers look forward to unique and exceptional stories.
Thus, he thinks that soon there will be more young writers braving the genre, opening a new horizon.
From Taranath Tantrik to Nari Nakkhatra – cosmic horror finds new life:
Another new genre that has ventured out this year is cosmic horror. Bangla literature has a rich horror scene, starting with Taranath Tantrik by Bibhutibhushan Bandopaddhay or Baroda by Sharadindu Bandopadhyay are considered classic horror and supernatural tales.
Later horror novel series like Kishore Horror gave the genre a darker spin.
Now in 2019, Asif Rudolofaz has penned the first Bangla Lovecraftian Horror – Cthulhu which received a mixed response. The idea of cosmic terror, forbidden and dangerous knowledge, madness, non-human influences on humanity, religion and superstition, fate and inevitability are alien to Bengali readers.
This year, young writer Faiyaz Ifti, a student in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Dhaka University, ventured into the kingdom with her cosmic horror novel – Nari Nakkhatra. The book will be published by Bhumi Prakash editions.
“The idea first came to me when I was reading about the extraterrestrial origin of mankind by Ellis Silver, who claims that we humans are the ancient alien race that had colonized the earth,” said he said to this scribe as he stood on the premise of the Book Fair.
“You can imagine how the theory stirred the mind of a young man from Sunamganj.”
The experiences of young people will open up new horizons:
Faiyaz Ifti loves cosmic horror and conspiracy theories, and he draws inspiration from these sources.
He thinks younger writers are the ones who can experiment with different themes because they have lower expectations from readers and they don’t have to worry about disappointing their fans.
But he admits there’s a downside to that, because readers have no way of recognizing new writers, and in the event the book isn’t extraordinary, it may very well spell doom for the novice.
“There hasn’t been a lot of Lovecraftian horror in our literature,” he said of the incentive to write about such a unique subject, “we hardly find any horror story that deals with of a monstrosity larger than life.”
He is hopeful about the prospect of such a genre as he said, “We love cosmic horror movies and series, so I believe readers will like the cool breeze in our horror scene. Four or five enterprising writers can change the situation in a few years.
With such diverse literary exposure and extraordinary experiences, Bengali readers can look forward to seeing a bright future for the Bengali literary universe.