Sunday, April 14, 2024

Subrata Kumar Das: A Pioneer in Japan-Bangladesh Relations Research

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Subrata Kumar Das

Canadian-Bangladeshi Subrata Kumar Das is one of the pioneers from Bangladesh in exploring Japan-Bangla relations. His contribution is undeniable in two main respects — ending the debate about which Bengali published the first book on Japan and giving a basic idea of how Japan was presented in nineteenth-century Bengali periodicals.

In the 20th century, and even in the 21st century, many Bengalis in Bangladesh wrote books and articles about Japan. But in the case of book authors, most of them did not write more than one or two books. Subrata Kumar Das is one of the two expatriate Bengalis who have regularly enriched Bengali readers with new information and knowledge about Japan in the 21st century. The other is Praveer Bikash Sarkar. The purpose of the present article is to identify the position of Subrata Kumar Das as a researcher on Japan-Bangla.

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The article titled ‘Tagore and the Japanese Experience’ published in the August 9, 2008 issue of The Daily Star published from Dhaka is probably the first article written by him on Japan-Bangla. Although this is a rather long article in the form of a book review of Talks in Japan: Rabindranath Tagore (2007), edited by Supriya Roy, Subrata Kumar mentions some of the newly discovered speeches that have been collected in the said book. Interestingly, exactly a week later (August 16, 2008) Subrata Kumar published an article in the same newspaper titled ‘Of Bengal, Japan and a hundred years’ criticizing Prabir Vikas Sarkar’s Unknown Japan book series.

In fact, in January of that year, the first volume of the Unknown Japan book series was published. The question is, why should a review article be considered a ‘contribution’? It should be noted that a large part of the Japan-Bangla relationship is covered by the Japan-Rabindranath context and most of it is published from West Bengal. Even the only department of Japanese studies was not established in Dhaka University. In such a situation, keeping an eye on recent research on Japan-Bangladesh relations and disseminating it among the general public in Bangladesh also plays an important role. The article ‘Early light on the land of the rising sun’ published in The Daily Star in the next month of the same year (September 06) is also a review type article; But it is from here that the main contribution of Subrata Kumar as a researcher is observed.

Suresh Chandra Banerjee and Manmath Nath Ghosh were among the five Bengalis who went to Japan for higher education from the Bengal region. Until now, many people like Manjurul Haque have considered Hariprabha Takeda Bangamahila’s Japonayatra book as the first work (Hariprabha Takeda, 2019, 9). Subrata Kumar’s article suggests that Sureshchandra’s Japan (1910) can be considered the first book based on the period of publication alone. Through the said article it is also known that Manmath Nath’s books also deserve consideration. Among Manmath Nath’s three books, Japan Exile (1910), New Japan (1915) and Supt Japan (1915), he mainly sheds light on Supt Japan.

The next year (2009) in the month of December published in Dainik Samakal “Japan Traveler Bengali First Book” broke the previous knowledge and created new knowledge. Subrata Kumar points out that, in fact, Manmath Nath, not Suresh Chandra, was the first Bengali to write the first book about Japan. In the first decade of the 21st century, there is a logical position among researchers as to who published the first book among Bengalis who visited Japan in the 20th century and told the Bengali reader about Japan: Rabindranath Tagore, Hariprabha Takeda, Suresh Chandra Bandyopadhyay and Manmath Nath Ghosh.

Initially, Rabindranath Tagore’s Japan-Yatri (1919) has long been considered the first book. Then it is known through Japanese expatriate Bengali Manjurul Haq that Hariprabha Takeda’s book Bangamahila’s Japonayatra book was published before the Japan-traveler (Hariprabha Takeda, 2019). Then Subrata Kumar Das showed that when Sureshchandra was writing Japan (1910) according to Sureshchandra’s introduction-commentary no book about Japan had been written. Subsequently, through the discovery and re-publishing of Manmath Nath’s Japan Pravas (1910), Subrata Kumar Das broke the preconceived notions about Suresh Chandra’s Japan (1910) and created new knowledge.

In his 2012 republishing of the Japon Pravas, he showed that the Japon (1910) was dedicated on 1 Ashwin 1317, and the Japon Pravas (1910) on 15 Shravana 1317. Subrata Kumar Das was the first to point out these subtle differences as new information, even though the date of dedication does not assume the date of publication. Earlier Manmath Nath’s contribution remained behind the scenes. The re-publication opens the door to a wider understanding of how Japan was viewed by Bengalis a century ago.

In 2010 (January 21) another article by Subrata Kumar was published in Dainik Sangbad titled ‘Japan Niee Bangla Boi’. An important step in creating knowledge, not just information, is to present a holistic knowledge review over a period of time. This article has done just that. Most of the books published about Japan from 1910 to 2009 can be known from this article.

From West Bengal’s Mukulchandra Dey, Buddhadev Bose, Annadashankar Roy, Ashutosh Bhattacharya to East Bengal’s Mansoor Musa, Nirmalendu Guna, Abdus Sattar, Abdul Hai Shikdar, Sufia Begum, Prabir Bikas Sarkar, an outline of the books published by almost everyone is available in this article. The article even gives a brief idea about the research of Japanese researcher Kazuo Azuma. However, the post-World War II period is particularly important, although there are no significant new additions beyond the few mentioned above.

Perhaps, this is the first such article where a brief idea of Japan-practice in Bengali can be easily found. In addition to the Dainik Sangamb article, a long essay on another Bangladeshi researcher, Prabir Bikash Sarkar, was compiled in the book Jagat edited by Ahmad Mazhar in 2010 on the unfolding of Japan-Bangla relations. The following year, i.e. 2011, two articles were published in The Daily Sun in English.

The first was published in February under the title ‘Manmathanath Ghosh’s ‘Japan Probash’: The Initial Bangla Language Book on Japan’. The second essay was published in October under the title ‘One Hundred Years Back: Japan in the Eyes of Bengal’. These long essays published in the journal claim more importance for spreading knowledge than for generating new knowledge. There is no denying the role of essayist Subrata Kumar in regularly bringing the Japan-Bangla issue before the general public.

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