Journalist and former BBC broadcaster Toufique Imrose Khalidi is currently managing director of one of Bangladesh’s leading news portals, bdnews24.com. He tells Uddipana Goswami that the commonalities between Bangladesh and the Northeast should inspire reflection by creative people
What does literature mean to you? Do you think it has any relevance in our day-to-day lives? According to you, does it have anything to do with all that is happening around us?
Novels, plays and poetry are referred to as literature when they are considered important or creative. Of course literature has a lot of relevance to the way we live our lives. But it loses its meaning when times are so barren that nothing noteworthy comes out. There is too much mediocrity in Bangladesh politics, in our media and in all other aspects of our lives. Being in the business of writing the first draft of history daily, one feels the pain more acutely.
How close is your relation with literature in general, and with literature of Bangladesh in particular?
I studied literature for a degree at Dhaka University as a non-committal learner. (My commitment evaporated quickly under the uncertainty during the early 1980s when a General ruled with no respect for law). But I interacted with some who surely qualified to take a look critically at literary works. I had my share of exposure to literary works mostly outside my scholastic pursuits.
What future do you see for literature from Bangladesh?
Twenty years ago, we felt it was bad and that better days were ahead. We still feel the same. We are increasingly losing our capability to produce or even appreciate quality. That is due to a general decline in the society, our standards of education and our decadent politics.
Name one book that had a lasting impact on you. In what way?
This is a question I am never comfortable answering. The impact of any book I thought would stay with me when I was young, evaporated as I grew. I often start reading books I really want to read but do not end up finishing them because of the work I do.
What book would you recommend for our readers and why?
Ekattorer Dinguli (The 1971 Days) by Jahanara Imam should give one insight into why Bangladeshis are so incensed about the War of Liberation. There’s also Muldhara 71. A quick reading of Ataur Rahman Khan’s Prodhanmontritter Noimash (Nine Months as Prime Minister) will give you some idea about how our dictators conducted themselves. One should also read Jibananada Das, among the greatest Bengali romantics. But do all Indians in the Northeast read or write Bangla?