As readers, we sometimes encounter writings that make us stand in front of some strange, discerning mirror where we have to confront our disturbing identities. We feel shaky while we watch images of our morality and gentlemanship taking unknown topsy-turvy turns.
And much to our discomfort, we discover how the devil within us makes us pay immeasurable prices every now and then.
Mojaffor Hossain, a gifted fiction writer and essayist of this generation, has come up with a book of short stories 'Manusher Mangsher Restora' (published by Panjeree Publications Ltd., Dhaka) that drags us to this uncomfortable zone through his powerful display of surreal sensibility and distasteful reality.
To term Mojaffor simply as an amazing fiction writer wouldn't do him any justice. Wandering through the pages, one will feel how he has established his credentials as a perceptive story-teller who views human society from a humane angle.
For Mojaffor, life and living are inextricably linked with a wide range of socio-psychological functions and dysfunctions. The occurrences that corrupt social order, as well as the traumas that result from sudden, unexpected realities, do hurt him as a narrator.
Thereafter, he transforms all his wounds into thoughtful, ready-witted sarcasm. Since he gets disturbed by those occurrences that wreck the spirit of our socio-psychological existence, he wants his readers to feel the same agony and shock. He expects his readers to be better humans who must try to rise above their limitations.
I remember Mojaffor talking about his ideology as a writer in one of his essays where he mentions how he believes in giving shockwaves of embarrassment to his readers instead of uncomplicatedly narrating events.
And that's probably why he loves taking refuge in magic realism, and at times in dark fantasy, to stir readers' susceptibility.
The characters in all his stories are found to be suffocated in either self-induced puzzlement or panic. They do things beyond their limits of understanding: things full of contradictions, mystery, madness, hypocrisy, brutality, suspicion and what not.
Consequently, the happenings that are created by them remain half-baked and open, both for the characters themselves and the readers. Beyond the surface of Mojaffor's expressions, his characters crisscross through his readers' cognition. Eventually they do not allow readers to remain as silent observers; by then, the readers are hit by awe and shame.
So, why aren't Mojaffor's characters 'normal'? Good question. Why should they be?
See, we love to remain complacent inside our personal existence with an "all-going-great" mindset. The interweaving complexities, disorders and injustice of our murky surroundings occasionally create some annoyed 'Oh my God, what the hell!' kind of mutterings in our minds, but those easily vaporize over time. As long as we aren't affected, we allow 'life' to continue along its course.
Mojaffor's characters, through their abnormalities, force us to rethink our attitude. They keep thumping us with full might. 'Corona, mrittur aage ebong pawre', 'Baak shadhinawtar awnonno drishtanto', 'Bekarjiboner awpothito gawlpota', 'Dhawrshoner protishodh', 'Shesh mathati katapawrar aage', 'Moshjid', 'Biral postmortem', 'Jebhabe lekha holo kobi Babu Mondoler jibawnbrittanto', 'Mental' are some stories that stand out prominently in this regard.
At the same time, readers will empathize with Mojaffor's anguish towards the evils that persist against our genuine freedom fighters when they read 'Spy' and 'Bangabandhu-ke chithi'. Admittedly, these two stories powerfully encompass our unfortunate socio-political reality concerning 'Muktijuddho'. The story 'Manusher mangsher restora', despite its disturbing vibe of cannibalism, bears a unique blend of symbolism and sarcasm that would captivate the readers for sure.
In the end, I must appreciate the writer's style of discourse.
Unlike many other writers' tendency of applying complex, obscure expressions in dealing with magic realism or dark fantasy, Mojaffor's lucid and conversation-like narrative will steal one's heart.
Striking is his ability of using the first-person viewpoint in the stories giving readers a feel of "cinematic entirety" (known as the third person omniscient viewpoint). I heartily recommend Manusher Mangsher Restora as a must-read-at-one-go book of ingeniously insightful stories.
For the sheer re-readability factor that it has, it can be read many times in many moods.
Dr. Faheem Hasan Shahed is a faculty member and researcher of Applied Linguistics at Brac Institute of Languages, Brac University. He is also a columnist and critic.