Rabeya Khatun, one of the leading female authors in Bangladesh
turned 72 on December 27, 2007. Tapan Shahed revisits three of
her famous novels to explore to range of her settings and powers
of her description
Rabeya Khatun was born in 1935 at Bikrampur. Because her
father was a civil servant, she constantly moved from
town to town
of the then undivided Bengal. She is versatile in her
range of literary forms having written novels, short stories,
plays, travelogues and memoirs. But her main identity
is that of a novelist. Some of her major novels are Modhumoti,
Ferari Shurjo and Ononto Onnesha. Some of her short stories
are Muktijoddhar Shtri and Lal Chithi. Some travelogues
include Hey Bideshi Bhor, Thames Theke Niagara, Kumari
Himalaya theke Arab Shagore. She has also written some
fine memoirs such as Ekattorer noy mash’ and ‘Shwapner
is Rabeya’s first published novel. The plot
revolves around the changing life of the weavers dwelling in
the Basin of Modhumoti River flowing through the Bikrampur region.
Minara, the central character of the novel, is a soon-to-be graduate
from a college in Dhaka and lives in a hostel at Nilkhet. She
has lost her parents and has no siblings. At the beginning of
the story, she is taken to a village named Karigarpara by the
river Madhumati which is her maternal grandfather’s
home. This home is the setting of the story.
Minara’s great grandfather was a simple weaver of muslin.
But her grandfather abandoned his father’s profession and
took up ‘kabiraji’. In time, the family gained
prominence amongst other families in the village as the sons
of the family
migrated to the cities such as Karachi and Murshidabad, taking
up prestigious professions. Yet, they were not respected
as one of the elites of the village as they did not come
background. Thus, the family tried its best to marry off
their daughters to aristocratic families to elevate their
This created quite a bit of conflict within the family and
beautifully upholds such struggles.
to this storyline, the writer also weaves an interesting love
story between Minara and her distant relative Anwar. Anwar,
is a rebel and is greatly disliked by Minara’s family for
his outlandish ideas. Anwar did not follow in the footsteps of
other family members and defied them by taking up weaving. He
promoted the craftsmanship of muslin and tried to do everything
possible to keep the tradition going. Minara initially disliked
Anwar as his family did not approve of him. But soon, she was
mesmerised by his philosophy, and they fell in love. The novel
ends on an optimistic note with a intonation towards self-respect
and even to nationalism, in the context of the sixty’s
political and cultural struggles of the country.
The most admirable power of Rabeya Khatun as a fiction-writer
is the versatility of her characterisation. She observes and
brings to life very many poeple. In her first novel Madhumoti,
we get a detailed and believable description of the geography
The content of the novel is drawn from the personal experience
of the writer. In that sense it is somewhat autobiographical.
She describes the nature, the landscape, the life lived by people;
quotes their rhymes and songs and even lets us know the name
of various kinds of boats and other means of transportation used
in a village which is on the bank of a river.
Ononto Onnesha (1967)
The story of this novel is set mainly in West Pakistan. In
this fictional work the writer tries to capture the nature of
human relations at that point in time.
plot revolves around the love story between Wahid Murshed and
Nargis. Wahid is a Bengali air steward of Pakistan International
Airlines posted in Karachi. Nargis is also Bengali widower
of a West Pakistani colonel and mother of a nine year old son
lives in Rawalpindi. Wahid also has family in Dhaka- a mother,
widowed sister-in-law Jamila, and nephew Tutul. The two meet
on the Mari highway as Wahid is waiting for a ride home after
his scooter broke down while Nargis was returning home after
dropping her son off at school. Gradually, the two become
and fall in love. But soon, their relationship is in danger
because of Wahid’s mother.
who had lost her husband at a young age starts being pressurised
by her family members to remarry. At this point
in time, Wahid’s mother decides it would be best if she marries
Wahid so that she can still be close to her grandchild. This
creates a complexity which breaks up Wahid’s relationship
with Nargis. Nargis is forced to marry someone else and Wahid
loses his sanity. In the end though, they are united as Nargis,
breaking all norms of society, returns to Wahid in Dhaka
with her son.
From the amount of detail the story contained, it can be deduced
that the writer meticulously researched her stories. The writer
was able to build the life of an air steward with an immense
amount of technical details. It is the sheer abundance of details
which makes her stories so lifelike.
This novel is set on a background of the liberation war of
Bangladesh and interestingly the narration is in first person.
Nishith is the main protagonist of the story and Nilufar alias
Neel is the main female character. Nishith narrates the story
for us. The story illustrates the overwhelming destruction caused
by the war that had affected everything in our country? from
politics to human relationships.
the war, the Pakistani army killed Nishith’s maternal
aunt’s husband and raped his aunt. His maternal grandfather,
grandmother, uncle were also killed. With the rest of his family
Nishith fled to the countryside. Tahiti, Nishith’s
cousin and her tortured mother were with them. Tahiti and
fall in love.
1972, when Nishith and Tahiti were about to get married, they
were rocked by the news that Nisith’s father had married
Tahiti’s mother and they were brothers and sisters.
In despair, Nisith returns to Dhaka and gets involved with
of organised criminals. The gang members were once freedom
fighters but now they had taken up crime as they were frustrated
the improper leadership of the government. Nishith later
leaves the gang and joins the engineering department in Dhaka
But soon, he gets involved in its politics and a world of
narcotics, gambling and womanising.
day during a hijacking heist, Nishith meets Neel as she was conducting
a survey. He is a bit awestruck by her presence
and soon they fell in love again. Nishith inspired by Neel’s
love leaves the world of crime behind to build a new world
for him and his true love.
The strong descriptive power of the writer comes through in
Neel Nishith. The writer is quite successfully able to narrate
an entire story using a male character, even being a female writer.
The writer, as a modern one, does not bother using slang where
appropriate and thus can catch the inside of a male character.
She is also naturally capable of revealing the psyche of the
female characters. Unlike most of our female writers Rabeya Khatun
does not see the world only from a female view of the world.
Even with all those features, Rabeya Khatun’s fiction
is somewhat melodramatic. In the novel ‘Ononto Onnesha’ the
union of the hero and the heroine is unnecessary and somewhat
unrealistic and it may have harmed the novel’s aesthetic
value. In all the three novels we read here, this tendency is
seen in different degrees. Still, with her huge and ongoing literary
activity, Rabeya Khatun is one of the notable female writers