It is stupid to be a writer in Bangladesh
I suspect that they will not take me seriously if I tell them about my profession or disclose that I left the US only to be a full-time writer. I always wanted to write a novel.
The look they give me is easy to interpret. My gut feeling has always been that they are thinking, I am either stupid or insane.
From time immemorial, intelligent people have been considered crazy, unsocial, and held on contempt for reading too much. Moreover, there is an orthodox belief in Bangladesh that all intellectuals are atheists.
Or, shall I put it this way: the common belief is reading too much makes one agnostic.
On rare occasions that I do tell the truth about my profession, they ask me ‘‘we do understand you write but what else you do?’’
"Nothing, I write full time" is an answer that has always evoked surprises. The majority finds it impossible to believe that a man with sound body and sound mind can do nothing but write all day.
Years ago, the first shock came from my father. After graduation I took to journalism. He was opposed to it because it is not a money-making business. ‘‘You want to write, fine,’’ he said. ‘‘Get a good job. Get filthy rich. Then write in your spare time.’’
Akin to most Bangladeshis, my father also believed that writing is a hobby; it cannot be a full-time job. Having a hobby is a healthy habit, it is okay to have one. Like stamp collecting. Or gardening.
In the spring I returned from the US, my father christened me a "fool". ‘‘Do people come back from America?’’ he grunted. I knew what he meant. For many Bangladeshis, life in America is all about earning in dollars and driving sports cars. Heaven looks closer from the US. Perhaps paradise exists just a few inches above the Statue of Liberty.
‘‘Listen,’’ my father would advise me. ‘‘Money is everything. No penny no dignity. You can write whenever you want. But once you are old, you are old. You will be a loser.’’
I chose to be a loser. I was dogged.
Then as a loving father, he warned me not to say boo about religion. His fear was valid. Just then I remembered the smile of the late poet Shamsur Rahman.
It all started with him. In the year 1999, the country’s unofficial poet laureate survived an assassination attempt. Then it was the writer Humayun Azad in 2004. Less than a decade of attacks on writers, fundamentalists started killing bloggers across the country. I knew them all. The whole world came to know them from the gory pictures that made the headlines.
Living in Bangladesh and writing in English is not the ideal situation to be in. The major problem you face is the shortage of English books. Being an insolvent author, the hunger for having the latest books is more than a luxury. In Bangladesh, Amazon is non-existent and libraries with new arrivals are none, let alone books in English.
So the only way for you to access the latest titles is to find a downloadable PDF copy online. There are some days when I envy citizens of the western countries because they have the opportunity to frequent libraries whenever they want and pick whatever books they wish to read.
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