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27 October, 2017 00:00 00 AM
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Sahityaratna’s Anwara

By Mohammad Jashim Uddin
Sahityaratna’s Anwara

Bangla literature’s history is not more than a thousand-year old. Charjyapad, a collection of poems written on palm leaves sometime in the first millennium, is considered the oldest piece of Bangla literature ever found.  Medieval Bangla literature is the richest, in theme and structure.

When British East India Company conquered Bengal in 1757, many educated politicians and writers took huge steps to change the society of that time. ‘Sahityaratna’ Mohammad Najibar Rahman, a teacher and a writer, was one of the greatest social reformers.

Born at Charbeltail village of Shahjadpur in 1860, Rahman established schools and social organisations in Pabna and Sirajganj. His wife was also a school teacher. The couple went door to door to enroll female students at their school for girls. Rahman also worked at a nilkuthi (indigo farm) in Jalpaiguri and as a postmaster for some time.

In his early writing career, Rahman wrote poems. He penned an anti-colonial essay, Bilati Borjon Rohoshya (1904), which was banned by the British colonial government. When his first novel, Anwara, was published in 1914, it became very popular. According to Mustafa Nurul Islam, a writer and literary critic, Anwara was reprinted 28 times until 1965 and sold more than 700,000 copies. Interestingly, at a time when women were prevented from going out of the house and girls were not sent to school, Rahman named his novel after the main female character.  

The novel has eight major themes. First, it carries a clear message against communalism and encourages good relations between Hindus and Muslims in Bengal. Second, it portrays a picture of female education during the British era. Third, it advocates education for both men and women to develop a nation’s identity. Fourth, poetic justice is ensured here. Fifth, relationships between men and women must be based on morality. Sixth, it discourages conflict in and outside the family. Seventh, it revolts against class discrimination in Muslim society. Eighth, economic importance of jute as the ‘golden fibre’ of Bengal is revealed.

Though the novel is considered as ordinary, it has historical importance. It depicts the socio-economic condition of rural Bengal, as well as the psyche of an uprising rural populace. Here, the eponymous heroine is not an ordinary woman. Anwara is highly intelligent, honest and devoted. Sometimes, the male protagonist, Mohammad Nurul Islam, loses his temper and integrity, but she does not. In addition, she rescues her family and others with her intelligence.  

The novel attracted much attention when it came out. Through this work, the author tried to inspire the Muslim community in Bengal to become educated. A contemporary reader wrote: “I read Anwara with great interest. It is simply delightful and should find place among the first novels in the Bengali language. You have given a very faithful picture of Muslims in Bengal which, I am sure, will be highly appreciated.”

The book inspired many people to name their daughters Anwara and sons Mohammad Nurul Islam after the main characters. Years later, popular actor ‘Nayak Raj’ Abdur Razzak, who passed away on August 21 this year, became famous when he acted the part of Nurul Islam in the movie version.

Rahman, who died on October 18, 1923 in Raiganj, also wrote Premer Somadhi (1915), Gariber Meye (1923) and Meherunnessa (1924), among other novels that portray the lives of rural Muslim families. He was given the title ‘Sahityaratna’ (gem of literature) in recognition of his literary contributions.

 

The writer is a senior lecturer at Department of English, Northern University Bangladesh.

(Edited by Parveen Ahmed.

Reference: Banglapedia.)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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