A life lived in writing

MilonImdadul Haque Milon, one of the most celebrated writers in the country, talks to Khaled Yasin Rashid about retirement and how the country has failed to produce any great writer after Humayun Ahmed, Zafar Iqbal and Anisul Haque.

The highly anticipated third and final volume of Noorjahan, by one of the most prominent Bangla fiction writers,

Imdadul Haque Milon, is almost out of the woodworks. The book, which is scheduled to be published next February, will cement the authors place as one of the most flexible writers in Bangladeshi literature.

One of the founding members of the organisation Life Plus, a society dedicated to helping underprivileged children, Imdadul Haque Milon discusses the direction in which his life is headed.

‘The Noorjahan book series is perhaps my most popular novel to date. It deals with the issues of degradation of the female gender as a result of misguided Islamists. The final book will be published in February and afterwards I have a few more interesting ideas in mind.’

Hailing from Bikrampur, Munshiganj district, the author wants to pay homage to his roots. ‘One of my next books will be on the history and the people of Bikrampur. It is a fascinating place renowned for its intellectuals and its long past. Other than this, I plan on writing a novel based on the trials of the Hindu population living in Bangladesh, a Muslim dominated country.’‘I am planning on continuing my work with numerous social groups,’adds.

The novelist has started appearing on talk shows, writing the scripts of television serials and from July 1, he has joined as the joint editor of a Bangla newspaper. ‘The media is something that I was never really interested in; somehow I just ended up being involved.’

Previously recognised mainly for his love stories, the writer has finally shed the stigma of being tagged a romantic writer. With a sigh, he explains the reasons behind this particular moniker, ‘I decided to take up writing as my profession. My first romantic novel titled Bhalobashar Golpo, became very popular and I quickly realised that love stories were a great source of income. In 1993 my book Bhalobashar Shukh Dukho became the highest selling book in Bangladesh’s history. Since my love stories were very popular I kept going with the flow to keep my profession alive.’

‘Initially the love stories of Sunil Gangopadhyay greatly inspired me. I tried to make my love stories like his. All in all, I enjoyed writing them. Love is a big part of life and society, great writers such as Rabindranath Tagore and Ernest Hemingway wrote a lot of romantic tales alongside their serious publications.’

It is in his more serious novels that the true genius of Milon shines through. Describing his experience in Germany, his novel Poradhinota shattered local perceptions of life in developed countries for Bangladeshis. In other novels such as Jabojjibon, Bhumiputro, Kalakal, and now the Noorjahan trilogy he has mesmerised readers with his versatility.

‘There are so many aspects and subjects in life and society that I did not want to segregate myself to one genre. I wanted to expand my writing to better myself as an author. My novels Nironner Kal and Rupnagor, both of which I wrote after Bhalobashar Golpo took my writing to a whole new direction. Personally I would say that Poradinotha was the novel which raised the bar and took my writing to the next level.’

‘After I had returned from Germany in 1981 I had hands-on experience of how life is like for those who choose to chase the dream of a life with all the benefits of the developed world. I brought to the limelight, that in most instances, these thoughts are nothing more than pipe dreams. The novel sealed my reputation as an intellectual writer.’

Now the writer has around about a 115 novels to his name. Some of the shorter stories have been compiled and released as separate publications. Adding the compilations, there are over 200 publications by the author. Interestingly Haque never really considered writing as a profession.

‘In 1971 my father passed away just as I was about to sit for my SSC examinations, the examinations were postponed due to the liberation war and I finally sat for my exams in 1972. Afterwards, I was not really pondering my next move. I had 10 siblings in my family; with my father gone I was just doing a couple of jobs as a tutor here and there.’

‘At that time I met a writer who was writing poems and stories for the children’s section called Chader Hat for a daily newspaper named Purbo Desh. I found his stories and poems very intriguing and thought about writing a story myself. I mailed my story by post to the same section of the newspaper Purbo Desh. In 1973 my story titled Bondhu was published in the newspaper.’

‘Slowly I got hooked to writing. I was writing stories for a range of different newspapers; it is around the same time that my love for reading started to take hold. That’s when I met the famous poet Rafique Azad who worked for a newspaper by the name of Uttoradhikar at the time. He is the one who published my first novel Jabojjibon, which I finished writing at the age of 21. The rest, as they say, is history.’

To this day the author is still as driven as ever, explaining the thought processes behind his stories, ‘a writer’eyes are like a camera. His greatest asset is his experience. He has to see the philosophical and spiritual sides of his own experiences and bring them to life in his writing.’

Although driven, Milon does consider the possibility of an early retirement. ‘Most writers envision themselves continuing with their skill till the very end. I am a bit different. I regularly consider the possibility of retiring.’

‘If I do choose to retire, I will continue to do the same things I normally do. I will continue to read which is my most enjoyable hobby, listen to music such as Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul, watch movies by Satyajit Ray and Aparna Sen and if physically able, continue to travel around the world.’

When asked about the current state of Bangladeshi literature, an air of gloom and disappointment settles on the conversation.

‘The country has been independent since 1971. When we were part of Pakistan, Bangladeshi writers were suppressed. Now, after nearly four decades only a handful of great writers come to mind. Humayun Ahmed for example, but he started writing in 1970, he left the country and resumed writing in 1983, so I would not consider him to be a post liberation writer.’

‘Other than Humayun only a few names come to mind such as Zafar Iqbal and Anisul Haque. Other writers worth mention have been operating since before independence. Very few great names have risen above the masses in nearly forty years of unrestrained Bangladeshi literature, a fact which I find extremely saddening and disappointing.’

When asked how he would like to be remembered, with a sly smirk he answers, ‘I do not really think about it. I will not be here to see how people choose to remember me.’

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