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Blue Venom Forbidden Incense by Syed Shamsul Haq: Book review

About the book

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Seagull Books; Combined edition (15 July 2018)

Language ‏ : ‎ English

Paperback ‏ : ‎ 128 pages

Order your copy : Here

Bangladesh in 1971 showed vividly, and terribly, the deadly effects of war. Piles of corpses, torture cells, ash, and destruction everywhere in the wake of the Pakistani army’s attacks on Bengali people. Blue Venom and Forbidden Incense, two novellas by Bangladeshi writer Syed Shamsul Haq, bear bleak witness to the mindless violence and death of that period. Blue Venom tells of a middle-aged middle manager who is arrested and taken to a cell, where he is slowly tortured to death for being a namesake of a rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. Forbidden Incense, meanwhile, tells of a woman’s return to her paternal village after her husband was taken by the army. In the village, she meets a boy with a Muslim name whose entire family has been killed; as they attempt together to gather and bury scattered corpses, they, too, are caught by the killers.

My thoughts

On 25th March 1971, the Pakistani military launched operation searchlight under Yahya khan’s orders. This pre-planned genocide systematically killed between 300,000 and 3,000,000 and raped almost 400,000 Bengali women. Bengali women were identified as “public property” by the Pakistani leaders and their supporters.

The army particularly targeted Bengali intellectuals’ classes, dragged Dhaka university professors and scholars out of their houses, and killed them en masse. Allegedly, they made a list of targets of their heinous acts, including doctors, journalists, poets, leaders, and educators. They intended to create a vacuum in the country to suppress civilians more.

On one such fateful night, Nazrul went out to meet his wife, who was then living in another part of the country. A simple middle-aged man was confused with rebel poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam and repeatedly tortured and interrogated by the Pakistani army until he died.

Thousands of individuals perished in military camps, torture chambers, mass shootings, military brothels, and so on. Millions were homeless overnight, forced to take refuge in an unknown foreign country. The story of Nazrul is one such.

The second novella sketches the journey of Bilkis and her compatriot Pradip/Siraj. Bilkis was still unsure if her husband is dead or kidnapped by the militias. They too however got captured and faced humiliating torture. Bilkis personifies calm before storm whereas Pradip gave up his life in quest of saving a hundred other Bengalis.

Both the novellas force one to think how far atrocities another human can bring upon, just based on linguistic or religious differences. Stories of Nazrul and Bilkis are case studies of the Bangladesh liberation war. It also makes readers empathetic toward the sufferings of civilians. It leaves you with deep depression at the end of the reading.

About the Author

Syed Shamsul Haq (1935–2016) was a Bangladeshi writer. He was awarded Bangla Academy Literary Award in 1966, the Ekushey Padak in 1984, and the Independence Day Award, Bangladesh’s highest civilian award, in 2000 for his contributions to Bangla literature. His notable works include Payer Awaj Pawa Jai, Nishiddho Loban, Khelaram Khele Ja, Neel Dongshon, and Mrigoya.

This post is a part of #blogchatterA2Z2023 and Blogchatter.

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