Cross Border Harmony

In 1998, Stree brought out the anthology Zenana Mehfil, a collection of the early writings of Bengali Muslim women. This has now been translated into English and will appear later this month as Women in Concert: An Anthology of Bengali Women’s Writings, 1904-38. Edited by Shaheen Akhtar a well-known Bangladeshi writer whose novel Talaash won the Prothom Alo award (2004) and Moushumi Bhowmik a writer, researcher and singer based in Kolkata, the collection has a foreword by Firdous Azim, of the Department of English and the Humanities, BRAC University, Dhaka.

The volume helps to make visible women writers of undivided Bengal. 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 Bangaldesh, and Sufia Kamal, the famous poet and activist.

Part Two, Conversations, relates discussions with Sufia Kamal, family members and relatives of the writers and eminent people who shared the political and literary concerns of those times. They include Mohammad Nasiruddin, whose journal Saugat was the launching pad of many women writers, his daughter, Nurjahan Begum, who inherited his role, and noted writer Syed Mustafa Siraj, among others.
In our Gender Section. Hardcover, 440 pages, Rs 600. ISBN  9788185604572