Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Subrata Kumar Das, A Pioneer in Taking Bengali Literature and Culture Forward

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Tamina Khan with Subrata Kumar Das and Shahidul Islam Mintu the CEO of NRB Television attended a community event at DurgaBari Scarborough

The great inspirational American businessman, Harvey Samuel Firestone said, ‘The way of the pioneer is always tough.’ Keeping that in mind, the great Bengali writer, critic, translator, and researcher Subrata Kumar Das is paving the way for Bengali Literature and Culture throughout the limitless arena of World Literature. The Nobel Laureate poet, Rabindranath Tagore said, ‘Jodi tor daak shune keu na ashey, tobey ekla cholore’ (If no one hears your call, then go alone). This song keeps coming back to mind, whenever I think of one Subrata Kumar Das. In today’s mechanical life, we are all rushing to our respective destinations. But one Subrata Kumar Das doesn’t just run alone, he runs with a team, reinforcing his dream. He is a pioneer! He is constantly fighting to make our Bengali literature and culture known, well-known, and most known to the entire world. And we can see these various impressions throughout his numerous activities.

I have known him personally for eight years. It is by his hand that I returned to literature and culture in my exile life. It was him, who re-introduced me to how to sharpen my writing skills and enrich it with experience. Not only in writing, but also in my performance as master of ceremonies and announcements. His inspiration and skillful advice have helped me solidify my path.

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Who is this Subrata Kumar Das?
Subrata Kumar Das is the pride of our Bengali nation. He is an essayist, translator, literary researcher, and critic. By profession, he was a professor of English literature and editor.
The first thing that introduced me to his profundity was the year-long free book reading program organized by the Bengali Literary Resource Center (BLRC). I was fascinated to know how a man can be so dreamy when he is less than four years old in his sojourn life in Canada. In expatriate life, everyone has to go through more or less ups and downs and organize life anew. And in this beginning several years of most people’s lives pass. While everyone was busy unpacking and reorganizing their lives and themselves, this Subrata Kumar Das was busy, gathering Toronto’s literature-hungry people to create a thriving literary environment. The path was full of hostility, every step was difficult. He came to this country and realized that the young generation of this country does not read or does not have the necessary skills to read the Bengali books, but there are many youths, who are very interested in learning about our rich Bengali literature. He did that reading project of BLRC for their purpose. He collected the translated versions of two hundred and fifty books from distant Bangladesh and India into English and gave them to interested young readers for free.

Countless Bengali and non-Bengali Canadian readers then got a chance to read those books for free throughout the year, enrich themselves, and get to know our rich Bengali language more deeply. The pioneer of this great initiative was our Subrata Kumar Das, who is working relentlessly in the promotion and spread of the Bengali language, Bengali literature, and Bengali culture.

Subrata, a successful entrepreneur
Dated October 20, 2017, another outstanding message by Subrata Kumar Das appeared in the East York Mirror. This time he organized the Canadian-Bengali Writers Conference by bringing together several poets and writers as a milestone in our Bengali literature. Among the prominent Bengali poets and writers present at that event were poet Asad Chowdhury, poet Iqbal Hasan, writer Dilip Chakraborty, Dr. Rakhal Sarkar and numerous other poets and writers from faraway provinces of the country.

All literature lovers and readers responded to the initiative of Subrata Kumar Das, a successful entrepreneur. To highlight the conference, entrepreneur Subrata brought East York MPP Arthur Potts, Writers Trust of Canada’s former Executive Director Mary Osborne, The then Toronto Poet Laureate Anne Michaels, Writers Union of Canada’s Executive Director John Degen and others on the same stage.

As a Bengali, many other Bengalis like me were filled with pride that day, when these respectable white, upper-class Canadian citizens showered their praises on our successful entrepreneur, Subrata Kumar Das, for his outstanding organization, dream, plan, and execution. We are prouder when we hear them praising our Bengali literature.

At the conference, Anne said how such an initiative could act as a bridge between Bengali and Canadian literature. To further spread the level of fascination in the audience, Arthur Potts, the white man, said fluently in Bengali, using the language of our life, Bangla ‘Shubho Sandhya’! At the end of his speech, he did not forget to say ‘thank you’ in Bengali as well! This is the strong call of an enthusiastic Subrata, and the arrival and support of these busy non-Bengalis fluently in that call, behind all these extraordinary works, one name is heard again and again by Torontonians, and that name is definitely ‘Subrata Kumar Das’. This name is now associated with any big picture of our Bangaliyana, a true leader of literary activities.
This is how he continues to work tirelessly, and relentlessly for the spread of the Bengali language. Subrata Kumar Das did not want to be a single star, he became a beacon, who spread light in countless dungeons, and awakened lakhs of light among them, among us, and so today countless luminaries live under his umbrella, each one of them today spreads bright light in self-glory in the boundless sky of literature, in home and abroad.

Subrata Kumar Das, as a humanitarian
Being a human is one of the most difficult and rare qualities in today’s world. Writer Subrata is a humanitarian. He is a giver. He is ever forgiving and generous. He is moving forward with many dreams, collaborating, and gradually including all from the community. But the path is very thorny. At many times, the path on which he runs is many of the times laid by thorns. He tries to remove the thorns, but many come forth to spread the thorns again. Subrata takes out the thorn again, smooths the way and paves the way with those people, for those people. While he is working tirelessly day and night to discover the ways that Bengali literature reaches the threshold of the world, which is always unknown to Bengalis, many friends have made those ways more difficult at that moment. I did not see tears in his eyes even at that moment, although there was some pain. On that day, his family stood by his side, all of ours dearly loved Boudi, Nilima Baudi, who stood as a strong shield every moment, preventing his sad feelings from coming to the fore. Always by his side, there is also the apple of his eye, their only daughter, Brotee. His family and few friends provided great emotional strength during those difficult times. I have spoken to him countless times during such crises and felt the unbearable and immense pain.

I am a keen learner, I have been constantly learning from him how to write, how to read, and how to spread our language, literature, and culture in the multidisciplinary world. I never saw an iota of annoyance in his eyes. Rather, I have seen how he has worked with known enemies.

Despite the detractors breaking down the platform of his dreams built on the ground, he has worked desperately to rebuild it. He sometimes got the results. As can be said about Bangladeshi Novels (bdnovels.org) website. In 2003, using the blessings of the current information technology era, he created the website to bring our rich Bengali literature to the world through the Internet. As a result, literature lovers scattered in different parts of the world were greatly benefited. Now it’s just a click away and we can enrich ourselves from wherever and whenever we want with the reads of Bengali Literature from that website. Even though that path was not that smooth, it could not stop the dedication and perseverance of the literary Subrata. Today that website is very rich, and prosperous. Today it has added a new chapter in the history of Bengali nation.

Subrata Kumar Das, name of an inspiration
Writer, translator, and literary researcher Subrata Kumar Das’s greatest asset is his ability to influence people positively. I have been writing since long before I was a student of English literature. I have written poems and songs since class six. The vocal artists sang my song on Chittagong Radio, band artists sang on CD. But my personal efforts were limited to that. In the face of the pressure of studying as a science student, I did not write very regularly, even if I wrote occasionally, the thought of conservation never came to my mind, and there was no long-term plan!

After coming to Canada in 2016, I first came in contact with a then complete stranger, Subrata Kumar Das. He was the first to communicate! Only after seeing my various posts on Facebook, did this wise person understand like Juhuri that if he could make me, maybe someday I would be a follower of his literary struggle. That memory still amazes me! I still wonder how he knew from the day we first met him at that subway station that I needed his training. How the man became my literary guru, inspirer, and organizer of literary life, today in my dictionary is ‘Dada’. Since then, I have known him as ‘Dada’ in my dictionary rather than his so many adjectives and take it literally as such. I close my eyes and try to follow his advice. At various turns of life, whenever I stop, sometimes if I get lost in the depths of depression, this Dada provides the path to return. He has always been my first destination in various problems, whether personal or social, literary, or cultural.

As I have never thought of saving or publishing my writings, today I have two and a half books published in this short period, two more in preparation and waiting for publication. And my first book came out under the full supervision of Subrata Kumar Das Dada. Every word of my first published book ‘Autism Kono Ovishap Noy’ (Autism is not a Curse) has passed the critical examination and edition of Dada’s experienced eyes before reaching the press and I am ever grateful to him for that as well.

While I’m immersed in an honours class in behaviour analysis at George Brown College, he swims me into the realm of Alice Munro’s short stories, a vast peninsula in the Canadian literary ocean. On the one hand, the pressure of intense study, on the other hand, reading Alice Munro, and translating, was hard; but still doable just because of his strong inspiration. The manuscript was finally created, and it is still preserved in Dada’s valuable vault, waiting to be published.

With the inspiration of Subrata’da, I started thinking about how my writing could be connected to Canadian mainstream literature. While studying Behavior Analysis in the MA class at Western University, I kept discussing with the professors how various issues related to behaviour can be promoted in society through my writing. Like Subrata’da, Western University also saw something in me, and gave me a huge opportunity to add a chapter to their MA class textbook. I wrote them a chapter called ‘Cultural Competence in Communication’. The best achievement of my 8 years’ Canadian life. Currently, the chapter is being read compulsorily by MA students at the London-Ontario branch of Western University. This achievement would never have happened to me if Dada had strengthened my confidence so much. Besides, I continued to write in various ways under the guidance of Subrata’da in several other contemporary little magazines as well as in this community, throughout the year.

At one point, Dada gave me the opportunity and connected me with Banglamail newspaper. At one point, with the encouragement and support of Subrata’da and the patronage of Banglamail newspaper, Shahidul Islam Mintu Bhai, I started writing regularly in the BanglaMail newspaper, for which I am forever grateful to these two people to nourish my literary life.
Apart from writing, I have also been doing stage-television performances since childhood, but I gave it up when I came to this country because people, I know were very limited and stayed within a small social bubble. Although I restarted my cultural journey here in the first year of my life with the help of Bangla TV, I started my journey on the big stages with the help of Subrata’da. Today I am walking with Subrata’da, by his side, I wish to make many more ways under his umbrella of blessings and guidance.

It is worth noting that Subrata Kumar Das Dada has not only developed such a writer-translator-presenter Tasmina but many more such Tasminas have been developed in the country and abroad under his inspiration. Thanks to his 20 years of teaching in Bangladesh, many of his talented students are practicing literature regularly in the country and abroad.

Their rich books are coming out regularly, and the pages of those books are decorated with a lot of sympathy and gratitude like my writing. For example, among the names that have to be mentioned, Rajiul Hasan comes first. Published in 2013, his popular book ‘Tini O Amra’ gives a deep insight into Dada. After that, it can be mentioned, that the ‘Suvarna Janmojayanti’ book was published under the editorship of Borun Kumar Biswas. In that book, many talented poets, and writers of Bengal, have revealed in detail the rare qualities of Dada. Till that golden jubilee, he had accumulated so many achievements in his store of achievements that it is a shining example for all time. Some of the other writers under his influence are Lazina Hossain, M. Moniruzzaman Olive, Sahash Mostafiz, Md. Tahin Hasan Chowdhury, Sanjida Sultana, etc.

Not only in his own country but also in this country, Subrata Kumar Das continues to influence everyone, young and old. The writers Akbar Hossain and my maternal uncle, Saeed Jadid need to be mentioned in this regard. Doctor Saeed Jadid was associated with writing since his student days. He used to paint and play the violin in Chittagong Radio. He used to regularly write various articles and discussion-critical writings on literature and culture in various newspapers of his time, he also composed poems. He was valued by many as an intellectual in this society due to his philosophical and liberal-secular attitude. Subrata Kumar Das felt the depth of his knowledge and thought of preserving his writings in book form. When my uncle was counting the last days of his life due to cancer, I saw him pass out in bed and confidently picked up Lawrence Hill’s ground-breaking book, ‘The Book of Negroes’ and translated the book into Bengali and delivered it to Subrata before he breathed his last.

It was under Subrata’s inspiration that Saeed Jadid, a death-traveller, left Ihdham with the self-satisfaction of a writer. Although the book was never published in his lifetime, my uncle Syed Jadid was one of the ten people to whom Subrata dedicated his book ‘Utsa theke Parabas’.

Also in 2020, when my cancer warrior uncle was tired of taking chemotherapy, Subrata gave him so much motivation that even when he could not sit or speak properly due to breathlessness, he fought with his body and sat up with great enthusiasm to attend the TIFA (Toronto International Festival of Authors) in response to Subrata’s invite. Along with me and eight others, he became the 10th person to participate in the TIFA under the leadership of Subrata Kumar Das. A bright star who was almost dying was brilliantly reignited by Subrata Kumar Das, even though only for a while.

Subrata Kumar Das, as a person
As a person I have met a Subrata Kumar Das who deserves so much love and respect that I feel more comfortable just calling him ‘Dada’ rather than __Sir/ __’Da’/ etc. I have always received fatherly compassion, love, teacher-like guidance, and friendly advice from him, and am constantly strengthening myself by it. This Dada has become a fellow soldier to enrich and flourish our beloved Bengali language and literature to the world without following the needs of others day and night.

He always fulfilled all the responsibilities towards his family with a smile to his friends, other members of the community, writers, the BanglaMail family, and the NRB television family. When he undertakes a project, he never leaves any opportunity to understand whether it is his personal or someone else’s, I also got the training from him to carry out all the work with dedication.

This Dada has stood by the side of many people during the crisis of their lives, he has fulfilled the last wishes of many people, he has helped many people to shine brightly just before the lamp goes out. Business magnet Asit Kumar Dutta’s autobiographical book release, Dr. Dilip Chakraborty’s 86th birthday celebration are some of such examples.

I have never seen a shadow of sadness fall on the face of this always-smiling person. In extreme distress, even in the severest crisis, he shakes off all the sorrows and pains, stands up smiling with his comrades with more strength, and spreads the bright light among everyone.

Personally, I had the opportunity to be very fond of Dada. All the times I get to know his beautiful mind, cannot be counted. Yet how much sweetness floats in the memory! This seems to be the day… NRB Television celebrated Dada’s birthday during Covid in 2021. We all greeted Dada on live from far and near. His mother, other family members, students, and other writers from home and abroad greeted him with respect and love. I felt very honoured to have the opportunity to host the event. The very next morning after the ceremony, with great love, Dada and our sweet Nilima Boudi (his wife) brought home amazing food as my treat and honoured me, bestowing their love and affection on me. That’s an ever-unforgettable event in my life.

This is our Subrata Kumar Das Dada! In his personal life, he is a man of extreme experience, still, he is childlike and fluent as well as spontaneous among children. Simplicity can instantly connect with people of any age. Every year, this family-loving man runs to different countries of Europe and North America, and to different provinces of Canada with his family and friends. He loves to eat low-fat pilau, eggplant bharta, and chicken. Every time he enters an event, everyone is impressed to see a new set of Punjabi-koti (attire) on his person.

Subrata Kumar Das was acknowledged as the Best Canadian Bengali Writer at the Canadian South Asian Literary Festival 2023. My Dada Subrata Kumar Das is a very smart, intelligent, knowledgeable, witty, passionate man; and I feel very lucky to be the younger sister of this ever-smiling Dada. May God bless my Dada for hundreds of years. Long live the centenary, Dada!

Tasmina Khan, a Toronto-based Behavior Analyst, Author, Translator.

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