Bangladeshi writing in English has mostly remained a step below the international standard, preventing the country’s rich culture and literature from reaching out to an international audience.
The reason, litterateurs told an enthusiastic audience at the Hay Festival Dhaka, is that English has remained an alien language in the country unlike in India where it has been adopted and naturalised into its own unique and separate mould.
Many can read and write well in English, they said, but the problem is writing English that others would want to read.
The views came at a discussion on “Contemporary voices and trends in Bangladeshi fiction,” held at the British Council on Fuller Road in the city yesterday.
“Why don’t we officially accept English as a second language–after all, we are already using it as a second language,” said Prof Kaiser Haq, a poet, essayist and teacher at the University of Liberal Arts.
Haq underlined a need for developing a “critical English writing framework” for South Asia instead of having separate frameworks for each country in the region.
This would help increase readership of Bangla literature within the region, and create interest outside the region as well, he said.
A galaxy of poets, novelists, journalists, filmmakers, musicians, and thinkers from home and abroad participated in the first-ever Hay Festival in the country.
The programme featured discussions and stories in the spirit of Rabindranath Tagore on his 150th birth anniversary.
The Daily Star was the main sponsor of the festival along with British Council as the global partner and Jatrik as project partner.
Opening programme, Dhaka University (DU) Vice-Chancellor Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique hoped that the event would be continued in the future continuing the dialogue between authors from home and abroad.
Editor and publisher of The Daily Star Mahfuz Anam hoped that the festival would expand in the coming years by including more authors and thinkers from the region and the rest of the world.
“This is a history-making event,” said Gowhar Rizvi, international affairs adviser to the prime minister. The festival would help many Bangladeshi writers show their work to an international audience, he said.
Director of The British Council Rosemary Arnott, British High Commissioner Robert Gibson and Director of Hay Festivals Peter Florence also spoke at the opening ceremony.
The festival, which originated in Hay-on-Wye of Britain’s Wales and later expanded internationally, brought together writers and literature enthusiasts from home and abroad to share stories and ideas, and to simply mingle, organisers said.
The daylong event, offering a mix of intellectual and cultural programmes, offered 18 literary sessions, music concerts, dance recital and a play.
The line-up of authors attending the event included noted writer Selina Hossain, Jon Gower, author of An Island Called Smith and nine other books, Tahmima Anam, author of the award-winning book A Golden Age, celebrated litterateur and feminist Firdous Azim and Tiffany Murray, author of Happy Accidents.
The programmes included sessions on Bangladeshi fiction, translation of literature, world and regional literature, journalism, socio-political issues, and the publishing world, among other subjects.
Hay Festival of Literature and Arts is an annual literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye in Wales of Britain. Often described as the “town of books”, the small town of 2,000 people is known for its 49 bookstores and as a popular destination for bibliophiles.
Over 2,00,000 people attend the annual ten-day Hay Festival at the Hay-on-Wye, which is usually held in May.
According to the organisers, the festival of Dhaka aimed to highlight the culture of Bangladesh and mix it with what the rest of the world knows.