Modern Bengali Literature, since its early days, has been enriched by the works of its myriad women writers. So, to understand the depth and volume of the expansive literary wealth of contemporary Bengali literature, it is crucial to acknowledge the significance of its women writers. Be it in opening the gates of formal education to women or emancipating them from numerous oppressive patriarchal norms and ideologies, the Bengali women writers have been the flag bearers of many transformational changes in the history of Bengal. Throughout history, we see a slew of Bengali women writers (albeit underrepresented) building a strong case for their literary genius and efficiency for a long time.
For the above context, one must bear in mind the fact that ‘Bengal’ no longer represents a geographical territory or a clearly identifiable cultural group. It defines a thriving, transforming community, scattered across the world for generations, and connected in a very complex manner to the Bengali language and certain highly resilient cultural codes.
At The Antonym, we believe that writing is an important tool for women to voice their experiences of identity, sexuality, marriage, love, family, and life. Considering literary language has been traditionally shaped by men, women’s experiences are told from a male perspective for far too long. So, when that barrier is broken and we find more and more powerful women writers making their mark, we do find that women writers are breaking the conventions and finding a new language that let them blossom—a new form for a new experience of womanhood.
Our digital magazine, where the focus is on translation, did not start with any special emphasis on women writers but translated both men and women just based on content and literary quality. We do not intend to change that. But when we take a dip at what we have produced in the form of translation over the few years, there was a surprising sense of discovery. We found the feminine voice articulating traditional stories in so many different ways that we decided to take a second look. And perhaps, identifying the feminine pen as one of our special interest areas as we go forward.
To start with, we are taking a measured look at the Bengali women writers whom we have already translated. They are all contemporary, borne out of different life experiences, and created a distinct storytelling style that not only differentiates them from men writers but also among women. Their distinct approaches while throwing up different challenges for translators also opens up a different translated world. That revelation made us believe that we could bring a new focus on Bengali women writers and explore and expand our scope in the form of translating their contributions to Bengali literature.
With that, we start our journey with the Feminine Pen where we will endeavor to translate more of their works as well as present many more contemporary Bengali women writers on our pages in the coming days.
Shaheen Akhtar: Intermingling the political & personal
A notable Bangladeshi short story writer and novelist, Shaheen Akhtar documents the violence and trauma of women due to the innumerable adversities posed to the feminine identity through wars and the overarching patriarchal system. Her pen finds a voice of rebellion for all the etchings of trauma on women’s bodies and psyche. She received the Bangla Academy Literary Award (2015) for her contributions to literature and the Asian LiteraryAward (2020) for her novel Talaash . Talaash was translated into English (as The Search ) and published by Zubaan , Delhi, in 2011.
Her interview Talaash and Beyond – the Trauma, the Craft and the Ongoing Journey: Delving deeper with Shaheen Akhtar delineates her journey of being a writer and traces the trajectory of her contributions to Bengali literature. Her short story Cold Tea presents a different picture of women’s personal trauma in navigating love and sexuality. Another of her story, The Edges Of Love, depicts the various colors of love, life, and war through its nuanced narration.
Anita Agnihotri: The empathetic pen
Anita Agnihotri’s experiences as an administrative officer took her to places and people who are not generally seen and narrated by women. With a keen eye for human characters and social issues, her stories are often charged with political themes and conflicts yet have deep empathy for human conditions. She has been widely translated into English and also in other European languages.
Her short story, The Surrender of Yashwant, the Guerilla, and two of her poems reflect her empathetic style which brings out a new flavor in Bengali literature. They put forward her unique identity among the Bengali women writers.
Tilottoma Mojumdar: Bringing out the magic in the mundane
Born in North Bengal, Mojumdar is a novelist, short story writer, poet, lyricist, and essayist. Owing to her childhood spent in tea plantations, her writings bring out the profundity in seemingly banal and ubiquitous scenes of everyday life. Her published books include Vasudhārā , Ektara: Strains of a Lonesome String , Rri , among others.
One of her short stories, translated into English, Li’l Scummy bring forth the minute emotions involved in the passing scenes of life. Her works have certainly marked her as one of the most influential Bengali women writers in contemporary Bengali literature.
Nasreen Jahan: Reflecting emotions of human lives
A Bangladeshi writer and literary editor, she came to notice with the publication of her novel The Woman Who Flew: Urukku in 1993. Born and brought up in Mymensingh in Bangladesh, her writings reflect the culture she has imbibed. Her pen explores the emotions evoked through the myriad experiences of human lives and their subjectivity.
Her short story, A Different Kind, translated by Bishnupriya Chowdhuri, is a brilliant take on a woman’s intricate experiences of living with a disability.
Indrani Datta: Surreal and sublime
Born and brought up in the suburbs of Kolkata, Indrani Datta is an expatriate among Bengali women writers. She started discovering her writing skill after landing on a distant shore. While on an ongoing mission of searching for the magic words to connect with the readers, Indrani authored two collections of short stories. Her narratives effortlessly delve into the troubled existence of new-age immigrant experiences and blend subtle surrealism into her linguistic style.
Her stories The First Day of Monsoon, Samaresh’s Life Force, A Poor Conductor, and Stalks Of Lotus bear testimony to her forte in blending surrealism into her linguistic style which is often measured and poignant.
Prativa Sarkar: Depicting subaltern realities
A student and professor of English Literature, she is mostly known for her short stories and political essays. Ecological issues are part of her interests as well. Her much-lauded collection of short stories based on subaltern crises Farishta O Meyera has been published by Guruchandali Publication. She is definitely one of the known names among Bengali women writers and her contribution to Bengali literature is noteworthy.
Papree Rahman: Lyrical surrealism
A noted writer from Dhaka, Bangladesh, she graduated from Dhaka University and got engaged in writing apart from doing freelance journalism. Her notable novels include Bayan (2008), Palatia (2011), and Nadidhara Abasik Elaka (2019). Papree has also edited many important magazines and anthologies, making her one of the important figures in contemporary Bengali literature.
Her short story, A Cloudless Night, An Eclipsed Moon, bears her unique flair for literary language.
Kizzy Tahnin: Simplistic narratives
Devoted to preserving Bangladesh’s cultural heritage, she is a popular writer from Dhaka with three collections of Bengali stories to her name: Iccher Manchitra (2019), Ache Ebang Nai (2020), and Budh Grahe Chand Utheche (2021).
She knits simplistic narratives from the elements of her surrounding land and mostly juggles with memories and nostalgia to give rise to enchanting plots. Her easy-going language and simple style are reflected in the story The Bilimbi Note, translated into English by Shamita Das Dasgupta.
9. Ishrat Tania: The transcendental realist
An Associate Professor with a Ph.D. from the Marketing Department of Dhaka University, she is a young writer whose works revolve around perceptions and thoughts about human relations, despair, dreams, nature, transcendence, society, and politics. Her published books in Bengali include Nemeche Ichche Niribili (2016), Beejpurush (2018), Mad Ek Swarnava Shishir (2020), and Alaper Amphitheater (2020).
Her stories offer a strange coalition of transcendental language juxtaposed with realist narratives highlighting socio-political issues. Her excellent story The Deed Of Acquittance brings to light the rarely discussed issue of cryptophasia in twins .
Yashodhara Raychowdhury: An effervescent poetic voice
A prominent voice in new-age poetry, she has several collections of poetry to her credit, establishing her immense contribution to Bengali literature since 1993. Not just a poet, she has also written articles, short stories, and novellas. She was awarded the Krittibas Puroskar in 1998.
Sayantani Bhattacharya: The passionate pen
A well-known personality of Bengali literature, she is the voice of young writers who dared to follow their passion of writing in contemporary times. Her poems, short stories, novels, post editorials, and articles are published in numerous renowned Bengali magazines, little magazines, and newspapers. Her published books in Bengali include Kothay Cholehho Tumi Banshioala, Lokkhikutumer Gramophone, Gangshaliker Nupur, Bhanga Nodi Gota Chand, Aamar Shrabonpur Aamar Uthon, Magic chhata O aro 9. She received the Samatat Sahitya Purashkar in 2015 and Shaiba Bharati Puroshkar in 2016.