While mystery fiction is widely recognised as a strong genre of fiction in the world literature, western literature to be precise, it is almost marginalised in the Bengali literature from the very beginning. Literary critics in Bengal generally term the mystery fiction as light and low-graded writings. They even didn't want to recognise the mystery fiction as a literary fiction at all. Though the outlook has changed over time, mystery fiction writers are yet to get their due share of recognition in most of the cases.
Nevertheless, a good number of Bengali writers dedicated themselves to writing mystery fictions. Some of them have also been widely-acclaimed by common readers. Priyanath Mukherjee, considered as one of the pioneers of Bengali detective fiction, became very popular for his serial Darogar Daptar (Office of the Police Inspector) during 1890s. Panchkori Dey, also another pioneer, attracted his readers in early 1900s. Eminent writers like Dinendra Kumar Ray, Hemendra Kumar Ray, Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, Nihar Ranjan Gupta, Sashadhar Datta and Satyajit Ray contributed enormously to popularise the Bengali mystery fiction. Names of Syed Mustafa Siraj, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Samaresh Basu, Shirshendu Mukherjee and Humayun Ahmed should also be there in the annals of this genre of literature due to their wonderful mystery fictions. The above-mentioned names also show that many serious fiction writers can't resist their temptation to enter into this domain of mystery. In the domain they have also demonstrated their talents. No doubt that they were significantly inspired by the Western mystery fictions. They also adopted their plots, techniques of investigation, information and many details from the Western fictions. At the same time, many of them successfully applied their imaginations and customised their writings accordingly. Thus the mystery fiction in Bengali has scaled this height of today.
While all these writers (except Humayun Ahmed) are from West Bengal and mostly based in Kolkata, the journey of mystery fiction in Bangladesh started in the mid-1960s.
Mystery fiction generally deals with the leads in the event of crimes or the unravelling of secrets. So, it is sometimes termed crime fiction or detective fiction. There are a few sub-genres of mystery fiction like cosy mysteries, classic detectives, police procedurals and thrillers. It is mostly the cosy mysteries and classic detectives that dominate the Bengali mystery fictions. Some police procedural mysteries are also there while writing of thrillers is minimal or absent.
Qazi Anwar Husain has introduced the thriller, spy thriller to be precise, in Bengali which coincided with the emergence of mystery fiction in Bangladesh. It was a ground-breaking move in the domain of Bengali mystery fiction when he published the first Bengali spy thriller in 1966. Titled 'Dhongsho Pahar' (The Hill of Destruction), the central character of the book is Masud Rana who is 'a daredevil spy of the Bangladesh Counter Intelligence.'
Before drifting into this adventure, Qazi Anwar started writing and publishing the juvenile fiction series titled Kuasha (fog) in 1964. He also set up his own press on the premises of their residence at Segun Bagicha in Dhaka. After reading two books of the Kuasha series, his friend Mahbub Amin gave him 'Dr No' written by Ian Fleming, the creator of British spy fiction character James Bond. It was a great shock and surprise! Anwar felt that Bengali thriller was far away from the global arena! The young man approaching 30 decided to write a spy thriller in Bengali. To start his adventurous journey into the unseen world of spy thriller fiction writing, he made a daring drive by motorcycle to Chattogram, Rangamati and Kaptai. It was to choose the setting of the story for his fiction. He also read a number of English fictions. With all these preparations made, he started writing the book and it took almost seven months to complete the entire project.
The publication of the first Masud Rana book rocked the conservative Bengali society. Anwar introduced not only a Bengali spy but also sex in the fiction. While many heavily criticised the writer and publisher, the number of avid readers were also very large. The high demand prompted Anwar to write the second book of the Masud Rana series titled 'Bharat Natyam' (Indian Dance). It took 10 months to complete the writing. The response from the readers was overwhelming.
But a number of progressive intellectuals stood up to stop the series. After publishing the third book of the series, Shwarnomriga (The Golden Deer), late Gazi Shahabuddin Ahmed in his Sachitra Shandhani magazine wrote that the writer of Masud Rana should be publicly whipped and his hands should be burned. Anwar filed a defamation case against him. The court, however, dismissed the case on the ground that the book, Shwarnomriga, was already banned.
Nevertheless, Anwar didn't give up writing and publishing his books. Being a son of late educationist, scientist, statistician and chess player Dr Qazi Motahar Hossain, it was also socially challenging for Anwar to move ahead as a mystery fiction writer and publisher. But his father was a very open-minded man who was one of the active members of Buddhir Mukti Andolan (The Freedom of Intellect Movement). Thus, Anwar got his father's support and blessing. A good number of well wishers also came up to stand by Anwar. Eminent poet late Ahsan Habib was very supportive to Anwar. He appreciated him very much and encouraged him to write. Later, he even published a few short stories of Anwar in the now-defunct Dainik Bangla.
Anwar, however, found it difficult to continue the series by writing and publishing a book every two or three months. Good works require good preparation and good research which is time-consuming. Moreover, the country had almost no idea about the term 'espionage' during '60s and '70s (and even '80s and '90s). Bengali people and society had very little familiarity with espionage, both in Bangladesh and India, West Bengal to be more accurate.
So, Qazi Anwar decided to adapt from different English spy thrillers. Thus the Rana series was destined to survive. It actually carries on till now. Thrillers written by Alistair Maclean, James Hadley Chase, Ian Fleming and many others provided the plots. But Qazi Anwar successfully customised the plots and characters in Bangladesh's context and setting. Many, however, accused and are still accusing him of plagiarism, though every book of the Rana series categorically has mentioned that it is 'based on a foreign fiction.' Nevertheless, Masud Rana had reached its peak of popularity within a short span of time. Many other novels were nowhere near it. The readers actually care little about whether it is an original piece of writing or adaptation. What they want is suspense and adventure with amusement. The Rana series met that end successfully, though it is no more in that position now.
Besides Masud Rana, Qazi Anwar Husain has been publishing lucid and abridged translations of world classics and thrillers for juveniles. He set up Sheba Prokashoni as the first paperback publication house in the country. Sheba brought out the first fiction of the Wild West in Bengali. Bengali readers have become familiar with cowboys, gunfights, sheriffs, ranches, gold rush and Red Indians in Arizona, Texas, Utah and New Mexico of the United States of America (USA). The Western fiction series has become very popular. Qazi Anwar has also been editing and publishing the monthly Rohossya Patrika (Mystery Magazine) since 1984.
In fact, a group of youths in 1970 actually planned to publish the mystery magazine. The group included journalist Rahat Khan, historian Muntassir Mamun, journalist Shahadat Chowdhury (editor of the now-defunct Weekly Bichitra), writer Shahriar Kabir, cartoonist Rafiqun Nabi (popularly known as Ranabi) and artist Hashem Khan. They all teamed up with Anwar and published four issues of the mystery magazine. Later it was stopped as the War of Independence started in 1971.
These are the people who lent their whole-hearted support to Anwar and Sheba Prokashoni. Some of them also wrote a few fictions and translated a few classics. Hashem Khan designed the famous butterfly-logo of Sheba Prokashoni.
Sheba Prokashoni itself developed a style of writing. It is lucid, precise and plain like `reportage.' Being a student of Bengali literature at the University of Dhaka, Anwar initially did not think of being a writer. It was in early '60s when on one occasion Anwar submitted his tutorial assignment. He wrote just half a page. Professor Muhammad Abdul Hye called in him and wanted to know the reason. Anwar replied that the answer was given briefly but accurately. Going through the paper, Professor Hye said: "It is a piece of literature, not geometry, my boy! Go and write it elaborately. I have to give you some marks." Anwar finally submitted his written paper in one and a half pages. He was born with the style and technique of writing precisely! This was the language style of Sheba Prokashoni later.
Qazi Anwar Husain also has set a unique business model in the publication industry of Bangladesh through his famed Sheba Prokashoni. There is no credit transaction from the very beginning. Book dealers have to purchase the published books paying cash with due commissions. In a similar fashion, Sheba purchases all its printing materials by paying in cash. Again, there is a system of regular payment of writers' royalties. Usually, writers or translators receive their first and major chunk of royalties within a month of publication. Based on the sales of the books, the writers then receive quarterly instalments of their royalties. A very few publication houses in Bangladesh pay regular royalties to the writers.
Another interesting characteristic of Sheba is its 'ghost writers', especially for Masud Rana. More than 450 books under the series have already been published. More than 10 ghost writers have written the books while all the books are finally edited by Qazi Anwar himself. Thus he has been able to maintain the uniformities and standards of the Rana series in most of the cases. Now he has appointed a few associate writers and trained them so that the Rana series can be continued in his absence.
In fact, for the last five and a half decades Qazi Anwar has been performing the tasks of a writer, translator, editor and publisher. He also has set a trend of Bengali fiction writing. Through Sheba Prokashoni he also silently contributes to inculcate the reading habit among the young people across the country. As he stepped into the 82nd year on July 19, we wish him all the best.
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