New Login   

Language and Cultural Identity

Ella Datta

Edited by Shaheen Akhtar and Moushumi Bhowmik
Stree, Kolkata, 1998, pp. 315, Rs. 220.00


This anthology written in Bengali is an eye- opener. For one thing, it shows up the majoritarian mindset that threw a veil of obscurity over a segment of Bengali writers. Bengali Muslim women writers were treated with cool indifference by the Bengali literary establishment. Indeed we realize from this anthology that most of these women writers were published mostly in Muslim literary magazines like Saugat, Nabanoor, Naoroz, Shikha, Mohammedi, Gulistan. The mainstream literary journals did not offer them any platform.   The task of the editors to trace and document the works of these writers must have been quite difficult. Against such a backdrop of indifference and implicit rejection, Zenana Mehfil throws new light on hitherto unknown territory. At a time when contemporary readers of social and cultural history are deeply interested in the marginalized voices of our society, this anthology takes the first steps towards creating a historical record.   Zenana Mehfil is divided into roughly three sections. The first section has a background note introducing the subject by Yasmin Hossein, a preface by Moushumi Bhowmik and a foreword by the Bangladeshi writer Shaheen Akhtar. These three pieces help to contextualize the theme of Bengali Muslim women writers from 1904-1938.   The second section, the meatiest in the book comprises essays, poems, stories, biographical extracts and letters by some 11 writers. Each writer is introduced with a short biographical sketch. Occasionally, a published comment on a writer is included.   The third section of the book includes interviews and reminiscences of people connected with the Bengali Muslim women writers of the past. One of the most interesting interviews is the one taken by Shaheen Akhtar with Mohammed Nasiruddin, who edited Saugat. Nasiruddin was a trailblazer in creating a platform for Bengali Muslim writers. In the process, he played a leading role in the emancipation of Bengali Muslim women. At the time the interview was taken, Nasiruddin was 103-years old, but his recollections of poets Sufia Kamal and Mahmuda Khatoon Siddiqa were still sharp.   A vivid description of higher education of Bengali Muslim women in the thirties and the forties can be had from the reminiscences of Hamida Khanum. She belonged to the first generation of university students. A perceptive comment on the Bengali Muslim cultural expressions of that period can be observed in the interview with the well-known Bengali writer Syed Mustafa Shiraz, which began with reminiscences of his mother, writer Anwara Begam, who ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.