History’s creative counterpart


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SHOULD we disregard the great examples of creative literature, especially fiction, as ‘non-history’ or applaud them as imaginative transcriptions of history where the writers uncover the reality surrounding them as well as the reality of the past by threading together actuality with memory, events with legends and the struggle of the exploited with its mythic correlative? I propose that such fiction is not non-history per se but a historical narrative of another genre where, in the words of Brian Fay, the meaningful reality is given its poetic-rhetoric representation. We can even call this narrative suggesting the possible and imagined, ‘metahistory’.

Indeed, the most remarkable part of contemporary fiction produced by the Latin American novelists, Gunter Grass, Milan Kundera and – much nearer to us – Akhtaruzzaman Elias, belongs to this genre. Replete with the inner reality of legends, memory and myths and at the same time close to diurnal actuality, this narrative, to quote Hayden White, serves ‘as an illumination of a world that we inhabit.’ In this paper, I have examined the fiction of Akhtaruzzaman Elias, in particular his epic-like Khowabnama (Dream Elegy), to show how fiction acts as history’s creative counterpart by focusing on the cognitive as well as the aesthetic modes.

Neither Lucien Goldmann, who traced the course of human history of post-war France in the novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet in the sixties, nor Hayden White whose book, significantly titled Metahistory, published in 1973, where White deliberately expanded the borders of historical discourse by underlining the ‘rhetorical attitude’ and the ‘linguistic turn’ was the first to propose literature, primarily fiction, as history’s creative counterpart. The term ‘counterpart’, in this specific context, means neither duplication of history nor opposition to it, but, essentially, its extension and even completion. One could even try to sound modest and claim that fiction here is viewed as history’s creative complement.

In fact, both Lucien Goldmann and Hayden White as well as many other theorists of our age who have posited metanarratives of different kinds to enrich the so-called ‘objective’ narrative of history were preceded by Friedrich Engels. In that oft-quoted letter written to Laura Lafargue on 13 December 1883, Engels proposed Balzac as an excellent historian. He wrote, ‘By the by I have been reading scarcely anything but Balzac while laid up and enjoying the grand fellow thoroughly. There is the history of France from 1815 to 1848, far more than in all the Vaulabelles, Capefigues, Louis Blancs et tuttiquanti. And what boldness! What a revolutionary dialectic in his poetic justice.’



Both Marx and Engels clearly stated why they favoured Balzac. While Marx found him ‘remarkable for his profound grasp of reality,’ Engels, in the words of Georg Lukacs, honoured him for having ‘inexorably exposed the vices and weakness of royalist feudal France and (having) described its death-agony with magnificent poetic vigour.’ The question is, do we have a Balzac in our midst who in his fiction has also exhibited a similar ‘profound grasp of reality’ and ‘exposed the vices and weaknesses of the contemporary regimes.’

If we look around and seek honestly, our eyes focus on one author who has attained an iconic status in both Bangladesh and West Bengal despite having written only two novels and a handful of short stories. I am speaking here of Akhtaruzzaman Elias who refused to be prolific in the age of slick and smart quickies and who has been hailed by critics as the most scintillating creative writer in the present-day history of Bengali literature after Manik Bandyopadhyay.

Whereas, Mahashveta Devi, in one candid interview, confessed that she would have considered herself thrice blessed if she had one-tenth of the creative ability of Elias, both Badruddin Umar and Shoukat Ali – to name only two more renowned admirers – regarded his two novels Chilekothar Sepai (Soldier of the Attic) and Khowabnama (Dream Elegy) as exceptional masterpieces. Why? Precisely because Elias, in these two novels as well as in his short stories, emerged and established himself as the ‘ideal chronicler’ who not only depicted the many layers of reality in imaginative terms but also as a sociologist explored the twists and turns, pressures and processes which made such a reality possible.

Elias, himself, was convinced of this dual role, of this double yet related allegiance to the poetic and epistemological dimensions of fiction as history. He told his wife before his death in January 1987, ‘This book, I tell you, will help students of history and sociologists in the future.’ By ‘this book’ he meant Khowabnama. I feel tempted to quote the words of Elias’ wife Suraiya Elias at this point. She told me, ‘Oh! When I recall the amount of scholarship that went behind Khowabnama – the history of Partition, the history of Tebhaga, the history of the Fakir-Sanyasi uprising – texts on agriculture, especially cultivation of paddy and, above all, his ideological and emotional engagement with the partition of Bengal.’



Akhtaruzzaman Elias, in fact, condemned the partition of Bengal in unequivocal terms. Not once but on several occasions he said, ‘My father, like many other members of the educated Muslim middle class of that time, earnestly wanted that Muslim boys and girls should keep pace with their Hindu counterparts, that they live with equal dignity. But, let us not forget, these Muslim boys and girls belonged to a particular class, to the Muslim middle class. It also needs to be underlined that only the progress of this middle class was aspired for. But the movement they unleashed in order to fulfil this aspiration simply cannot be approved. The partition of 1947 was so catastrophic, so deplorable, so heartrending and meaningless that we are realizing it more every day.’

Elias was born in 1943, four years before the traumatic division. Hence no personal memory of that horror provoked him to voice his rejection of the attainment of a homeland for Bengali Muslims. Of course, like others, he had to live in East Pakistan first and then in Bangladesh, but he could never accept the division of Bengal.



When we deconstruct Elias’ denunciation of the division, what strikes us is his emphatically Marxist point of view. He denounced Partition for that very reason which made it so appealing, even irresistible, to the members of his own class. Moreover, he did not have to wait for the Pakistani persecution of 20 long years to ascertain that the promise of a Muslim homeland was meant to be broken. That is, in his context, no experiential afterthought was required to conclude that Partition was a calculated class collusion, if not conspiracy, between the Muslim League and the Congress, between the upper middle class leaderships of both these power blocs reinforced as they were by the share-the-pie stratagem of the Birlas and Ispahanis.

In other words, Nehru’s Congress and Jinnah’s League were impatient to grab power and in the helter-skelter of things they chose to forget the trials and travails of the suffering majority. Those who dared to act and think otherwise, for example, the fighters of Tebhaga, were ruthlessly persecuted by the powers-that-be of both Hindustan and Pakistan.

Elias’ condemnation, therefore, did not emanate from a shocked middle class reaction but from an aware class-determined Marxian vision which stressed:

1) Muslim League’s emphasis on Islam as the religion of social liberation was a calculated ploy meant to dupe the masses, not to redeem them. On the other hand, Tebhaga from the very start was an agrarian movement of exploited peasants drawing its sustenance from the Marxian category of class struggle and directed to a large extent by the Communist Party.

2) The Partition was used to establish the authority of the Muslim middle and upper middle classes who were no less apathetic than the Hindus towards the exploited belonging to the Muslim community. Hence Partition did not promise the Ranga Prabhat (Red Dawn) of Abul Fazl or offer the Nongor (Anchor) of Abu Rushd to the Muslim majority. (Ranga Prabhat and Nongor are novels written in East Pakistan which greeted the establishment of the Muslim homeland but not without misgivings.)

3) Finally, 25 years of colonial Pakistani rule did not mould his basic evaluation of Partition. Rather, his class-dictated Marxian weltanschauung influenced his estimate. His friend, Syed Abdul Maqsud, attested to this guidance: ‘The little that I knew him, I can tell that he was profoundly influenced by Marxism in the late sixties. He was a Marxist and he remained Marxist till his death.’ Had Elias been alive, we could have asked, ‘What is the alternative you propose from your Marxian standpoint?’



No doubt Leftist intellectuals like Badruddin Umar, Sirajul Islam Chaudhury and Ahmed Rafique had similar comments to make on Partition and Tebhaga. Badruddin Umar did not fail to glorify Tebhaga as the principle of opposition to Partition. Sirajul Islam Chaudhury echoed Elias or vice versa when he wrote, ‘The real issue was the clash between the Hindu and Muslim middle class. The Hindu middle class hoped to enjoy all the fruits; the Muslims claimed we want our share.’ Ahmed Rafique even categorised the entire cultural protest which reached its apex in the historic language movement as hemmed on all sides by the hesitant middle class. To paraphrase his critique, it encircled the main road in contented pride; it did not reach the harvested fields or grimy factories. But none among them, I feel, phrased such an unequivocal condemnation of Partition as Elias did. He did not label it as others have done as ‘historically incorrect’ (Rafiuddin Ahmed) or as a ‘false promise’, but as a calculated betrayal of the exploited, irrespective of their religious identity, on both sides.



Khowabnama recreates this treachery and indicts it. The game plan of the Muslim League shedding copious tears over the fate of Muslim peasants oppressed by Hindu zamindars is exposed by the loner Choto Mia who refuses to accept that the ‘social responsibility of the Muslim zamindar will grow once Pakistan is created. Castigating the rule of the Muslim League in Bengal which ‘had only famine to offer as its achievement,’ Choto Mia debunks the tirades of Muslim League demagogues who spout Islamic socialism.

His question is sharp and pointed. ‘All the bigwigs of your League are rich people and zamindars. If you expel them how can you ensure the survival of the party?’ The party had to flourish and therefore it borrowed the slogans of Tebhaga to waylay the Muslim peasants. This was not the case of the exploited usurping the language of the exploiter as described by Ranajit Guha, but its exact opposite. The exploiter stole the promise of the militants and when the battle for Pakistan was finally won, he conveniently forgot what he had promised.

Tamij, the hero of the novel who, even on the day of Partition, looked forward to the imminent implementation of Tebhaga could hardly believe his ears when the Muslim League politician Abdul Kader dismissed the demand as pointless and denigrated the defiant peasants of Nachol as hotheaded lumpens. Abdul Kader also informed Tamij, not without a sense of smug satisfaction, that the new Bill in the Assembly had omitted the clause of the bargadars.



In short, Tebhaga was nothing more than a pipedream, and Partition was designed to facilitate the speedy ascent of a jotedar like Sharafat Mandal who stepped into the shoes of the Hindu zamindar and persisted with the same tyranny. Sharafat emerges, like Tamij, as another crucial character of the novel illustrating the process of change in rural overlordship.

In all fairness, Elias also pinpointed the contribution of the Hindu bhadralok who viewed the ascendancy of the Muslim League based on the combination of the jotedar-ashraf with disgust and alarm. In fear of being swamped by the Muslims, who till the other day were mostly petty subordinates, Satish Mokhtar charted his Hindu scheme of deliverance, ‘Our Shyamaprasad is right. We demand a divided Bengal even in an undivided India. No more with the barbarian Mohamedans.’

This emphasis on hostility in the creative text finds its historical correlative in Parthasarathy Gupta’s statement, ‘The campaign for partitioning Bengal began with Hindu politicians who used the Noakhali riots to criticize the Muslim League government… Some of the (Hindu Mahasabha) resolutions, dated mid-May 1947, also have hostile comments on the move to have a united Bengal, indicating some alarm that the Bose-Suhrawardy-Abul Hashim plan might be taken seriously by the high command.’ (Paper presented at a seminar on Partition organized by the National Institute of Punjab Studies and reproduced in the Asian Age on 15 August 1997).

In Khowabnama vanquished Tebhaga is posited against victorious Partition. Moreover, this defiant agrarian revolt and whatever it embodies invokes the scenario of true redemption. It actualizes the principle of hope and exposes the actuality of Partition as something vacuous and catastrophic. This is accomplished by Elias with enviable artistry because none else in the contemporary world of Bengali literature is able to transform a thwarted reality into irresistible dream with more power and poignancy.



Tebhaga does not occupy the centre-stage of the novel, as Partition does. It wells up in the background from time to time like a symphonic movement played at a distance. It recedes, advances, intervenes and also disrupts the narrative of Partition with its corrective accent. Even when it is not physically present, its traces persist, like a signature that refuses to be erased. If Partition is what the world is, Tebhaga voices Michel Foucault’s political intent ‘To refuse what we are’ and if the power of Partition ‘is like a productive network which runs through the whole social body, it is much more than an agent and actor of repression.’ Tebhaga, to use Foucault’s expression again, ‘promotes new forms of subjectivity through refusal.’

The first mention of Tebhaga, which coincided with the phase that led to Partition, occurs on page 20 of the novel. In one revealing sentence Elias condenses the essence of the movement: ‘New and new waves are advancing from north and east. The bargadars are coming together to store the paddy in their homes.’



What is more striking is the impact of this single statement on the exploited villagers like Kulsum and Tamij. While Kulsum is in the same breath amazed and excited, Tamij turns grave in wonder. The second mention occurs after 23 pages when the hapless Tamij begs the rising jotedar Sharafat Mandal to allow him to work as a sharecropper. While deliberations are on between the two, the elder son of Sharafat, Abdul Aziz, a staunch Muslim League activist, ridicules the audacity of the poor peasants who have demanded two-thirds of the produce they have cultivated with their own hands and who will permit only a meagre one-third to be given to the landowner.

Aziz’s condemnation of Tebhaga is categorical: ‘Yes (they) can jolly well demand. You don’t have to pay taxes to express your demand. But, one word, the land does not walk on its own to the zamindar’s houseÉ to acquire one tiny piece of land an ounce of blood needs to be released in the form of sultry sweat from the body. Is the peasant aware of this sacrifice?’

These words, and not the million promises made by Muslim League politicians (faithfully recorded in the novel) that the land will belong to the tiller in the Islamic paradise, exhibit the real attitude. They echo as a clashing counterpoint whenever politicians claim that Pakistan will ensure the eradication of zamindars, jotedars and mahajans. As a result, the promise of a politician like Ismael rings hollow when he says, ‘Only the Hindus will gain if Muslims fight among themselves. Tebhaga will be automatically implemented in Pakistan.’

Ismael is not indulging in any reckless invention. He is merely following the Draft Manifesto of the Muslim League (published in March 1945) which harped on the abolition of the zamindari-mahajani system. In fact, the Muslim League did not hesitate to go beyond the resolution of the Communist Party and its fighting peasants by declaring that not only Tebhaga but Choubhaga (all the four quarters) would belong to the tiller.

Taj-ul-Islam Hashmi, who has narrated in fine detail the Muslim League’s hijacking of the rebellious agrarian politics of Tebhaga and Tanka in these crucial years (1945-47), observes, ‘Ghiasuddin Pathan, a prominent Muslim League leader of the district (Mymensingh) is said to have told the Muslim sharecroppers who were with the Communists that they should not waste time and energy for TebhagaÉ since Pakistan was in the office and they would get all lands or Choubhaga after the mass expropriation of all Hindu landlords.’



This deceptive usurpation of the Tebhaga ideology and its deft placement in the matrix of the false utopia of Pakistan paid rich dividends. Elias however is determined to demolish this very utopia in order to denounce Partition without the slightest misgiving. His objective is to posit his own idealized reality and this he achieves by granting Tebhaga an elevated, aesthetic immutability. The consummately crafted prose of Elias flutters in fervour when he narrates the brave acts of the Tebhaga warriors.

Challenging the thesis of Abdul Aziz in the previous page (p. 43), Tamij recollects, ‘The jotedars, presumably, had spoken to the police. But to how many fields can the police possibly goÉ Even the wives and daughters of peasants attacked with brooms, cooking spuds, kitchen knives. Had he not run through the paddy fields, leapt over sheaves of corn, one or two blows of spuds and brooms would have certainly hit him. Who knows if he had not suffered some hits? Who broadcasts willingly the news of being assaulted by women?’



The narrator Tamij, in this first phase of the novel, is a sullen opponent of the peasant’s temerity. Yearning to be an obedient sharecropper himself, he says, ‘The paddy is the dear life of the landowner. How can he possibly survive if this paddy is the object of pulls and thrusts?’ But the metamorphosis occurs at an unrelenting pace. Fisherman Tamij turns into the sharecropper Tamij and after Partition when Tebhaga is actually crumbling he opts to fight for it. Rejecting the instruction of his political boss to go to Dhaka, he proceeds towards that undefined region where the paddy belongs to the tiller.

By deciding his own course not only does he challenge Engels’ pre-diction on the progressive pauperisation of the small peasant: ‘Our small peasant, like every other survival of a past mode of production, is hopelessly doomed. He is a future proletarian,’ but also etches the real consciousness, the real praxis and the real utopia.

Expectedly, the most inspired prose in the novel recreates Tamij’s quest for emancipation: ‘Though he is illiterate, for the first time in his life he is able to read the word ‘Shantahar’. Going to Shantahar means, you go to Jaipur from there, to Akkelpur, to HiliÉ So many policemen are going, which means peasants are lifting the paddy into their barns, the cloth covering the arses of jotedars has fallen, the scoundrels are running, hiding in the arseholes of the police. And in the midst of all these the soil is being readied for amanÉ Once the soil is ready the sapling will be brought and seeds will be planted in joyous abandon. Ah! It rained last night, the soil is as soft as butter, the moment the plough touches it, the plough delves deep down inside the earth, Tamij can even extract water from there.

‘In the fumes of the Shantahar train you again inscribe the picture of paddyfields. Ah what fields. The stalk flourishes in a flash, it bends below under the weight of the milk. Innumerable peasants have descended on the fields to thresh the thick clusters of paddy. The jotedars have come with the police. Trains filled with police are spreading out in every station. They come down like cholera, like small pox. Peasants attack them with their scythes and sickles. The scoundrels gasping for breath cannot find the path to escape.’



This memorable account sums up the politics of Akhtaruzzman Elias. He is not only against Partition but also opposed to any measure in any part of the world that deprives the worker and peasant of his fruit of labour. Elias is not prepared to view Tebhaga as an isolated eruption of emancipatory zeal. His worldview prompts him to regard it as one significant phase of the cyclic chain of rebellions which is linked to others that have preceded it.

In Khowabnama this counter-narrative does not begin with Tebhaga but from the historic Sanyasi-Fakir uprising against the colonial rulers. The first half of the seventies of the 18th century witnessed the spread of this challenge in Rangpur, Coochbehar, Bagura, Purnea, Mymensing and Dinajpur though it proved to be abortive. The memory of the battles fought, especially the valour of its two leaders Majnu Shah and Bhabani Pathak, crystallize into a series of exquisite lyrics whose mood sway from the warlike to the elegiac.

Majnu shouts Bhabani Sanyasi

Catch the whites and hang them straight

Bhabani roars and the Giris flash swords

They send the whites to Yama’s door.



Even after positing Tebhaga and the redemptive memory of past revolts against divisive Partition, Elias decides to leave history or fiction as open-ended. The last few pages of Khowabnama, for instance, extract the essence out of history, popular memory, legend, folktale and even fantasy to dwell on one overwhelming truth of Bengal’s past and present, namely hunger.

At his cognitive best in this closing phase, Elias impels Tamij’s daughter, Sakhina, to say that she is hungry for rice. This primordial urge is granted its ‘linguistic turn’ by the poetic prose of Elias and, as a result, the cognitive acquires its aesthetic and ethical connotations. When we read this section of the novel – once again the partial translation is a poor echo of the original – we realize how ‘history and fiction can be both truthful and creative in the best sense’ and can avoid the pitfall of wishful, one-sided prediction.

The hunger of the Bengali people stretching over ten centuries is invoked through the hallucinatory voice of Sakhina, ‘Ma, the kitchen burns, the kitchen burns. I will eat rice, Ma cooks rice, I will eat.’ Moreover, this accumulated hunger of the exploited is fused with the flow of revolts and the slokas which depicted it. While trying to quench the hunger of her daughter, Tamij’s wife Phuljan succumbs to the pervasive, mythic recollection and ruminates, ‘Phuljan has heard Munshi’s slokas in the past. She has heard so many slokas praising Majnu and Bhabani Sanyasi in the Poradaha fair. Tamij used to tell him all these and she herself used to recite a few.’

In this surreal atmosphere redolent with the defiant spirit of the past Tamij, himself shot to death while fighting for Tebhaga, enters the body of the moon. He becomes an integral part of the legendary battle for rice celebrated in folk memory and under his pressure the moon turns ghostly and threatening. The novel ends with the kitchen burning under the wounded moon. Nothing more.



Interestingly enough, when Elias was not writing a novel, this same overwhelming reality of hunger ignored rhetoric and turned into biting prose. In his essay on Gunter Grass he observed, ‘Since ages we have not eaten well. Bengali poetry which was written a thousand years ago began with the news of riceless pots. Those who have no food in their stomachs, their stomachs burn and rage. Yes, starvation and half-fed stomachs are the prime cause of our gastric ulcer.’

A race condemned to this hunger struck gastric ulcer for centuries has the right to rebel, to dream of revolts, to layer its memory and legend with the strains of these uprisings and ultimately present the archetype of this history of hunger in Tamij’s daughter Sakhina. Indeed, Sakhina crosses the limits of actuality and becomes a voice of the race whose remembrance and future, reality and fantasy, history and metahistory revolve around the one, compelling statement, ‘Mother is boiling rice, Ma I shall eat.’

This very brief assessment of Khowabnama intends to show how the logic of Elias’ creative narration, to borrow the words of Louis Mink, shifts from ‘explanation’ to ‘understanding’ and scripts a poetics of fiction as well as history. The moment he accomplishes this dual task, he enters the realm of hermeneutics which is true to the kindred points of aesthetic as well as historical consciousness.

But this truth, Hans Georg Gadamer reminds us, is transcribed with the help of language. And when Elias wields this all-important weapon of language, he allows, to quote Gadamer, ‘everything human to be spoken to us.’ Abjuring the photographic actuality attempted by chroniclers, he ‘emplots’ history with constructive imagination and enriches the surface of diurnal existence with a multi-layered perspective of memory, myth, legends. He begins with a myth vibrating with history as he has begun Khowabnama and he ends by transforming a hungry girl into a figure of fantasy.

In short, till date he remains as the supreme example of magic realism in Bengali literature. Elias, himself, has explained the quest and components of this realism, ‘I have never observed reality with any specific philosophy in mind. I want to explore reality from inside, I want to decipher its inner dreams, desires, resolutions, beliefs. This inner reality is all important.’ No wonder he professed a special love for the Latin American novelists, Borges and Gunter Grass. Their creative formats sustained by legends, folktales, history and myths was his format too.



Every gifted writer has his talismanic passage which reveals to the fullest extent his magic power. In the case of Elias, this passage, perhaps, is to be found in chapter 21 of his other masterpiece Chilekothar Sepai where he describes the death-defying struggle of the people of East Bengal against Ayub Khan’s regime in 1969. This text fuses the ideological and the aesthetic in one unbreakable bond and merges the politics of the moment with the tumult of history.



Obliterating the borders between memory, legend, past, present and the future aspired-for, the particular text recreates a pageant of rebellions which floundered but did not fail to inscribe the promise of hope. Almost all critics of Elias have singled out this passage as the key to Elias’ political aesthetic and creative assimilation of history. Here is an imperfect translation of this unique passage:

‘This flow of people… Clothes of many and physiognomy appear unfamiliar to him. Who are they? Have the people of long, distant past also joined this march? There in the exact middle march the residents of Dhaka of Islam Khan’s reign in their short dhotis! Even those of earlier times who used to go to Sonargaon in their boats filled with sacks of rice have come. The residents of Banglabazar and Tantibazar have emerged from the cold heart of the vanished canal?

‘There stand the turbaned, dead soldiers of Ibrahim Khan’s reign who battled with Shahjada Khasru. Osman trembles seeing the men who died of hunger in Sayestha Khan’s days when the cost of rice was taka 1 for eight maunds. They have not eaten for 400 years… Flying their waves of black hair they advance. This procession cannot be so massive unless all the battered are here…

‘Battered by the Moghuls, by the Mags, by the company merchants. Breaking the dry layer of bricks of Racecourse Kalibari, the Maratha priest has come swinging his falchion; the fakirs of Majnu Shah have come; there throwing rings of finger-torn clenched fists the Muslim weavers come, their black bodies burn in the sun. The bone-all, starving naked bodies of weavers who weave jamdanis worth Taka 4,000 a piece are walking erect. The Imam, muezzins, musallis of Babubazar Mosque shot by the sahibs are walking, instead of muttering their ayat they are now roaring, "We shall not let it go in vain".

‘The sepoys of Lalbagh Fort mangled by the beasts let loose by Nabab Abdul Ghani – Ruplal and Mohini Mohan – lackeys of the redfaced sahibs come. The sepoys of Meerut arrive after tearing down their nooses hanging from the palm trees of Victoria Park, sepoys of Barreilly, Sandwip – Sirajganj – Goaland. No, my friend, even that is not enough. The youths of Jugantar and Anusilan in their dhotis and banyans and devoted to their mother march, in their midst you can identify separately those two youths who were killed in Kaltabazar.

‘Carrying the bloody waves of Dolai canal on his head Somen Chanda jumps out of Narinder Bridge. There is Barkat! His skull blown off, …So many people, Dhaka’s past-present-future is overflowing with the tide of new water, morning-afternoon-evening-night stand forgotten and dissolved, today it has no east-west-north-south, all the separation marks of seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been erased. Dhaka is intent to occupy limitless time and limitless space! Osman’s heart trembles! How far can he go with this tidal surge? How far?’



Is there any point in dissecting this text? Fragments of history and memory are woven here together to articulate the utopian message of the author. They read as related particles of some, single, immense story – story of the class struggle as depicted in The Communist Manifesto.

Both Chilekothar Sepai and Khowabnama, then, excavate the political unconscious, so eloquently theorized by Frederic Jameson, and with their orchestrated surfeit of memory and myth, legends and tales, dreams and fantasies serve as history’s creative counterpart. The boldness, the dialectic, the grasp of reality which Marx and Engels read in Balzac we read here again. But there is one difference. While Balzac had described the death agony of royalist feudal France with poetic vigour, Elias, true to his times, projected only the bravery and agony of the struggle. He did not impose the facile wish fulfilment of victory. He completed the circle, so to speak, by articulating the rhetoric of redemption in a realm still bound by the crushing limits of necessity.



Ahmed Rafiq, Buddhijibir Sangskriti (Muktadhara 1986, Dhaka).

Akhtaruzzaman Elias, Khowabnama (Naya Udyog, 1996, Kolkata), Chilekothar Sepai (UPL, 1986, Dhaka), Sangskritir Bhanga Setu (Naya Udyog, 1997, Kolkata), Interview in Lyric (Akhtaruzzaman Elias Number, 1992, Dhaka).

Badruddin Umar’s essay in Bangladesh: Bangali, Atmaparichayer Sandhane (Sagar Publications, 1990, Dhaka).

Brian Fay, History and Theory: Contemporary Readings (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1998).

Frederick Engels, ‘The Peasant Question in France and Germany’ in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol 2 (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975).

Frederic Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Routledge, 1989, London).

Georg Lukacs, Introduction to Studies in European Realism (Merlin, 1972, London).

Marx and Engels on Art and Literature (Progress Publishers 1976, Moscow).

Michel Foucault, The Foucault Reader (Penguin Book, 1991, London).

Rafiuddin Ahmed, The Bengali Muslims: A Quest for Identity 1871-1906 (OUP, 1981, Delhi).

Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (OUP, 1953, Delhi).

Sirajul Islam Choudhury, Dwijati Tattver Satyamithya (Bidyaprakash, 1993, Dhaka).

Syed Abdul Maqsud, in Ajker Kagoj (11 January 1997, Dhaka)

Taj-ul Islam Hashmi, Peasant Utopia: The Communalisation of Class Politics in East Bengal 1920-1947 (UPL, 1994, Dhaka).