How the opening issue of Urhalpool reached over twenty thousand readers in seventy-two countries is beyond anyone’s dream! How is this possible? I just discovered that the internet site “Facebook” reached over 108 million users during the month of December! So, everything is relative. Yet, after a demographic analysis of Urhalpool readers, we’ve noted that, while 30% of our readers are from India (the majority of them Bengalis), 70% of our readers are from overseas. Bengalis from more than fifty countries are reading, and 30% of our readers (of the English section) are American and European. We have also come to know that there are a number of Bengalis living in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and other Middle Eastern countries. There is a hunger for good mainstream Bengali literature in a number of countries, including the USA. The seminal Bengali literary magazine Desh does not reach fifty countries. Also, people always want alternatives. A number of the internet Bengali magazines publish only writing from the friends of unknown writers. Bengali literature includes literature from both the state of West Bengal in India and Bangladesh. Urhalpool is trying to create literary bridges (urhalpool) and connections among all these literary fields. Hundreds of readers are leaving their unfiltered positive remarks in the opinion section. We thank all these readers and writers for doing their part.
The first Urhalpool printed issue was formally launched on Saturday, 7th February at UBI auditorium at the Kolkata Book Fair in front of a jam-packed audience. Our Italian author contributor Alessandra Corsini and her agent Monica Maggi came all the way from Italy to join the celebration. The Italian Consul General was present too. He announced Italy’s participation in the next Kolkata Book Fair. We are receiving writing (translated into English) from many European countries. We feel both proud and humble at the same time.
I have seen the Bengal’s face, therefore I do not
need to search anymore for other beauties; I have seen
in the dark the waking up of a Doyel bird in morning
under the umbrella leaf of a doomoor tree, heap of leaves
from Jam, Bot, Jackfroot, Hijol, Banyan trees in absolute silence .
The poet Jibanananda Das wrote those words in his poem “Rupasi Bangla” (“Pretty Bengal”). Every Bengali from West Bengal wants to visit Bangladesh, pretty Bangladesh. I had the dream of visiting Bangladesh, oh my golden Bengal. I grew up reading Bengali literature full of the beauty of green Bengal. Therefore, I was very excited to recently receive an invitation to join Bangladesh’s National Poetry Festival in Dhaka. After touching ground in Dhaka, I was surprised to see how far Dhaka was from the beauties of Bangladesh. Dhaka is just another third world city, choked with cycle rickshaws. Here, the infrastructure, like the sidewalks and roads, has crumbled. Women’s liberties are thrown into ditches and stoned to death. Male poets could visit me in my hotel room to participate in typical Bengali Adda culture, but female poets were not allowed. I have heard about thousands of people gathering at the Poetry Festival, but I myself experienced a very low turnout. Many young Bangladeshi poets were suspiciously absent. The poet Nasir Ahmed couldn’t control his frustration looking at the empty chairs in the audience during his reading. Another of the poets handed me his old drinking permit; it’s like a prostitution license in Kolkata. It cost 2,000 Bangladeshi rupees, and it needs a doctor’s certificate stating, “Alcohol consumption is needed for medical reasons.” Mullahs waiting outside of a liquor shop beat the shit out of my poet friend. I also went to this liquor shop, and it reminded me of a scene from an old horror movie. It was a both bar and liquor shop. The light was so dim that no one could see anyone’s face. People were drinking in absolute silence. I was only able to see the cash box with a dim five watt light next to it. The liquor purchased was put into a plastic soda bottle to take away.
Mobile phones from Kolkata stop working after entering Bangladesh. Japanese and European cars are available to purchase. However, a lot inexpensive cars from India are unavailable! From food to clothing, everything is almost twice as expensive as in Kolkata. I went to the Dhaka Book Fair. It was a nice big book fair, full of Bengali books. I took photographs of ten bookstalls that depicted the absolute absence of books by Bengali writers from West Bengal (except a few dead writers like Satyajit Ray, Shibram Chakrovorty, Sukumar Roy). Every day many patients from Bangladesh visit Kolkata for medical treatment. Border guards from both countries harass them randomly. The Bangladeshi poet Asim Saha is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He was telling me about the inhumane treatment at the borders and the problem of bringing medicine purchased back home. I even went to the famous Banga Bhavan where the father of the nation Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, used to live and where he and his family members were assassinated. Even there, I saw photographs of leaders from the Soviet Union, the UK, as well as other European and Arab countries. However, there was very little mention of India and no mention of the people of West Bengal. My brother-in-law who was a major in the Indian Border Security Force fought in the liberation of Bangladesh. He was lucky. Many of his comrades never returned home. But today, some Bengalis have forgotten the blood shed by their brother Bengalis! I’ve heard that, over the years in a systematic pattern, the Bangladeshi government and the Mullahs have tried to erase the memory of other Bengalis from the minds of Bangladeshis. This all is happening in the name of religion. The voices of real artists are getting choked in this atmosphere. However, this is not all there is to tell.
I experienced a country where everyone speaks Bengali without mixing it with Hindi or English. I saw billboards and sign boards with Bengali words, and I knelt down in respect. I received our famous Bengali heart filled love from Bangladeshi poets. Today, European countries join forces to create a European market. The wall between West and East Germany crumbled to dust. Even Latin American counties are attempting to create a free trade zone. The distance between Kolkata and Dhaka is only one hundred kilometers (sixty miles). The securities forces from both countries fire at each other every day. It may be due to the fault of both the Indian government and Bangladeshi government. Bengalis from both sides of the border are paying a heavy price for this stupidity. How religion divides us! The Bengali writer Sunil Gangopadhyay is originally from Bangladesh; the poet Kaji Najrul Islam was from what is now West Bengal. The Bangladeshi intellectual, writer Dr. Anisujamman, is from West Bengal! My dream in this Bengali New Year (Paila Baishakh) is to open the borders for business and for culture between these two Bengali lands. We are all Bengalis before any Hindu, Muslim, or Christian religion affiliations. Is this an unreasonable dream?