|Exploring Truth and Fiction
2011 Bangla Academy award winner for literature, Anisul Hoque tells the story of his becoming a prolific writer
Anisul Hoque, Photo: Amirul Rajiv
What started as handwriting practice became the passion of Anisul Hoque's life. Hoque, a contemporary writer, dramatist and journalist has been awarded the 2011 Bangla Academy Awards for his contributions to literature, the most prominent literary prize of Bangladesh. While sipping tea at the cosy living-room of his Dhanmondi residence, he tells the story of his becoming a writer.
“When I had to practice handwriting after getting admitted in class-1, my second brother, who is three years older than me, studying in class-4, told me that 'you don't necessarily have to copy stories from books to practice handwriting, you can also make up stories,” he reminisces.
Perhaps the writer in Hoque was waiting for this opportunity. He instantly wrote down a story about a fisherman who became rich by catching lots of fish and selling them in the market. His brother, however, helped him improve the plot by adding that the fisherman had caught a pitcher full of gold. “Today I feel that my brother had done the right thing. At that age, he had taught me that there should be a story within a story.”
By the time Hoque was in Rangpur Zila School, he was bringing out hand-written magazines and wall-magazines for the school. At that time, he came first, thrice, in a national wall-magazine competition, held at Shishu Academy, Dhaka. “I used to prepare the entire thing myself. All the stories, poems and pictures there were written and drawn by me,” he says.
In spite of his creative inclination, Hoque, who made it to the combined merit list both in matriculation and intermediate, had to follow his siblings' footsteps and his mother's aspiration. He took admission in Buet (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) at the Civil Engineering Department. However, the hard core nature of engineering could not capture his imagination. He became more and more involved in extra-curricular activities like publishing wall magazines, set designing and so on. When his friends warned him of bad results, he announced, “I am not going to be an engineer; I will become a journalist and will try to be a writer and poet.”
Today after almost 28 years, Hoque reflects on the naivety of his declaration. “I hardly knew then that one cannot take journalism or writing or poetry as a profession, just like that. I had leaped into the dark,” he says. The risk however has paid off. Currently, Anisul Hoque is working as the deputy editor of one of the most prominent news dailies of the country, Prothom Alo. His is not only one of the best selling authors of the country but also the writer of popular dramas like “Ekannoborti”, “Choroibhati”, “69”. His films “Bachelor” and “Third Person Singular Number” directed by Mustafa Zaman Farooki, lured the middle-class young viewers back to the movie theatres.
Interestingly, Hoque's first love was not fiction but poetry. “My friends in Buet use to call me Kobi (poet),” he informs. In fact his first two books were collections of poems, “Khola Chithi Shundorer Kache” and “Jolrong Padya”. As convenor of Anwesha Kanchikanchar Mela in Rangour, Hoque had connections with Rokunuzzaman Khan, more widely known as Dadabhai, founding director of Kanchikanchar Mela. “As the then editor of the children's page of the Bengali daily Ittefaq, Dadabhai would often publish my rhymes and poems”, Hoque remembers with reverence.
He initiated his journalist career in 1987 with Deshbandhu, a weekly published by a senior friend of his, Mozammel Babu. Later in 1989, after completing of his engineering degree he joined another newspaper by Babu, the weekly Purbabhas. “I went to their stadium office and sat myself at a desk and announced, 'my designation is assistant editor and my salary is Tk 3500',” Hoque describes his entry into journalism.
Writing comes naturally to Hoque, just like the time when he tried his hand at fiction. He described how he had written the first part of a novel within about five days for a magazine called Mouchake Dhil. “It is not like that I had written down the novel with a very good understanding of what makes a novel or what should be the plot, character, dialogues, suspense etc,” he says, “I wrote because I wanted to. It is almost like a sudden incident.” His first novel “Ondhokarer Eksho Bochhor” (One Hundred Years in Darkness) came out in 1995.
Hoque's venture into writing television drama also entails a similar story. Following a request by his wife Marina Yasmin, he wrote his first script for drama, “Ekjon Bhalo Chele”. Interestingly, his first drama-script had to wait about five years before it went on air as “Alo Ondhokare Jai”, directed by Zubair Alam. Ironically, by that time many of his plays such as “Agamikaler Roopkotha” and “Eid-er Jama” had already gone on air. “I always tell young people today that it is easier to write a drama-script but getting it on air is difficult,” advises Hoque.
Many of Hoque's works, be it fiction or drama, are based on true stories. For instance his much acclaimed books “Maa”, “Ayeshamongol” or the heart-felt drama “Eid-er Jama” carries the investigative drive and observation of a journalist. “I am a huge fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez,” he informs saying how the South American writer-cum- journalist influences him. In fact, he believes that his career as a journalist helps him to gather the background information and insert more believable details in his stories. “The novel and journalism are children of the same mother,” he quotes Marquez.
Mentioning, his best-seller “Maa”, he says, “I had taken so many interviews; I would not have got this opportunity had I not been a journalist.” “Maa” is based on the true story of martyr freedom fighter Azad's mother. The English version “Freedom's Mother” translated by Falguni Roy has been published this year by an Indian publisher, Palimpsest. Hoque says how Bhashkor Roy, an Indian novelist and journalist had come to Dhaka three years ago and meeting him and reading his book Maa, fell in love with the novel. “Since then he has been contacting various Delhi publishers to bring out the book,” informs Hoque. “Maa” is running its 47th edition and has sold around 100,000 copies.
When it comes to recognition, Hoque quotes Czech poet Miroslav Holub, “to be an artiste is to fail and art is fidelity to failure.” “Failure brings out creativity from an artiste. My first poetry book, 'Khola Chithi Shundor-er Kache” was published in 1989. After 23 years I have received recognition through Bangla Academy awards,” he explains. He however believes that his initial popularity has brought some negative criticism about his work. “I do not want to be a popular writer; I rather want to be sincere about my work,” he says.
Hoque, who is currently working on a historical novel “Jara Bhor Enechilo” about Bengali national heroes since the 1940s, aspires to become a playwright, writing poetic-plays. “Even if my plays do not do well in stage, I want those to be considered as good literature,” he hopes. It seems very likely that the man who has treaded with success almost all the genres of writing will also realise this dream.