অটোয়া, শুক্রবার ১২ জুলাই, ২০২৪
ASHRAM: Happy 15th Anniversary - Mustafa Chowdhury

I recall, back in 2009, when the first print version of the ASHRAM came out, it generated a lot of comments and conversations - one could find such magazines for a dime and a dozen, and they don’t survive too long. Many made cynical remarks- that Kabir Chowdhury is off his rocker. The word on the street was that it was a waste of time. I recall a few were critical with regard to the very name of the magazine. When I asked Kabir how he picked the name, he was utterly frank about it. The word ashram, as Kabir sees it, is a place where people of diverse backgrounds and interests gather to exchange words and ideas - a sort of cultural hub if you will.  As an enlightened Bengali charged with transformative energy, Kabir simply picked the name with no other meanings or connotations in mind.   

Just a bit of background - Kabir is a firm believer in the nurturing of one’s mother tongue - whether one is living in Canada or anywhere in the world.  One’s vernacular language is not just a means of communication. In fact, it is an integral part of a person’s identity, culture, and cognitive development, argues Kabir. With such conviction in mind, Kabir brought out his first dream magazine ASHRAM in print format in 2009. His efforts were directed towards protecting and promoting one’s mother tongue. 

I was a part of Kabir’s team at that time for a few issues. I miss Mannan Mithu who encouraged me to play my part in the formative stage. I felt honoured to have been involved during the beginning of the project. I recall, with a full-time job, Kabir used to be washed out by the end of the day and yet we would meet at Tim Hortons’ every week. To this day, Mitu dwells in my mind fondly. May Almighty rest his soul in eternal peace!  Ameen! 

When the ASHRAM came out, I became very happy as I recalled my own failure with a hand-written magazine that I tried to put out in the late 1970s. I was not successful. With that history in my mind, I wondered if Kabir was biting more than he could chew. I was wrong. I realized his passionate interest. It was more than a passing fad. Despite everything, there were still many among us who came forward to give the ASHRAM team a hand. 

Kabir is a big promoter of Bangla - his mother tongue. Emotionally speaking, his mind centers around Bangla, Bangladesh, and Bongobondhu. Since many works of literature, poetry, music, and art are created in one’s mother tongue, these forms of artistic expression are often deeply rooted in the cultural and linguistic context of the community, argues Kabir. He told me on sundry occasions how keen he is on seeing the name and fame of Bangladeshi Canadians who have the potential to grow in the field of writing. 
In fact, looking back, his dreams turned into a series of adaptations to unforeseen pressures and challenges. Caught in a cleft-stick, and taking the rough and the smooth in the face of numerous and conflicting stresses, an intrepid Kabir remained optimistic. He knew that the print magazine’s days were numbered. He ought to respond to the available technology if he wants to survive. In the meantime, there had been ups and downs in his personal and professional life, but Kabir is not the kind of guy to fling himself on the ground in a passion of grief. Putting out the ASHRAM magazine is his avocation, an occupation other than the main one.

Little did we know that Kabir is a different kettle of fish who would not give up his quixotic quest. Despite all kinds of hurdles and roadblocks, a determined Kabir. continued to face the challenges stubbornly working closely with his team. Mannan Muhammad Mithu, Sultana Shirin Shazi, and Mohsin Bakht, to name a few of his cronies as dedicated as Kabir. They stuck together all through the troubled time.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, in its eighth year, ASHRAM made its first appearance online with a new look and feel. In traversing the throng of thoughts not always completely embodied, Kabir’s mind moved through an astonishing variety of ideas and experiences. In the meantime, apart from moving from the print version format, Kabir had to undergo numerous challenges, such as finding an IT expert, appropriate, qualified, and emerging writers, who would remain committed to continuing their work with his magazine with dedication. With assurance from his brother regarding financial support and assistance, a courageous Kabir continued his work relentlessly with one single objective in mind- to keep the ASHRAM alive.

In the process, he gained the friendship and trust of everyone he came across. Together, they found like-minded people who are a talented bunch in their own fields of endeavours. There are many contributors from all around the world. A quick browse through the magazine popped up the names of the following: Bazlush Shahid, Nina Hasel, Sufia Farzana, Fahmida Ria, Farid Talukdar, Shahnaz Parveen, Mohammad Harun ur Rashid, Dewan Selim Chowdhury, Mohsin Bakht, Amal Roy, Tumpa Dey Das, Mahmuda Begum, Hamida Banu and many more. 

Their literary work includes a number of genres that often have distinct conventions and expectations that help both readers and writers. In the process the quality of the magazine is enhanced as readers read non-fiction, biographies, autobiographies, essays, memoirs, Poetry, Mystery, Fantasy, Romance, Adventure, and of course, comedic writing, from farce to satire. Many such writings of various genres, widen one’s view of issues implicit in the life of immigrants and deepen our own understanding of many of our enigmas. Every time I browse through the pages of the ASHRAM, I get a feeling of implicit reassurance - that the Bengali-speaking community is growing. It is not confined to just the National Capital Region, but it extends from coast to coast to coast - all around the globe. 

Whether we call it intransigence or stubbornness on Kabir’s part, I see it as a quality, a positive attribute. A risk-taker Kabir believes in the epigram: fortune fvours the bold. He was not just taking a kick at the ken; he was darn serious - he took into his head that he must bring out his dream magazine. Kabir’s tireless work is appreciated more when one considers the fact that preserving and promoting one’s mother tongue contributes to the overall richness of the world’s languages and cultures. To Kabir, the promotion of one’s vernacular language is essential for the well-being of individuals and the preservation of linguistic and cultural diversity worldwide.

Both the editor, Sultana Shirin Shazi, herself a renowned writer, and Kabir, the founder of the magazine, are on the same page with regard to the challenges ahead. With them, there is Mohsin Bakht, himself an acclaimed writer, essayist, song writer well-known among Bangladeshis to advise the editor. Fortunately, Mohsin Bakht is not alone in his endeavour. Guljahan Rumi, his wife and constant companion, is a vibrant member of the community in the Ottawa area. She is there 24/7 to assist the team continually. All of them see the ASHRAM as a platform for emerging Bengali writers regardless of their place of residence. It is their hope that the ASHRAM will provide them with a platform for showcasing the work of their contributors by offering a space for new voices to be heard and recognized, helping them gain much-needed exposure.

Again, hoping that the ASHRAM will help create a sense of community among writers, readers, and literary enthusiasts, the team is also trying to engage the younger Bangladeshi Canadians to write in the language of their choice. The ASHRAM’s Garden is supposed to be its Children’s Corner. This has helped our children and grandchildren write in English, the language with which they are more comfortable. This is an area in which they need a lot of help from their readers. They need ideas and suggestions to improve this area - how to engage the new generation of Bangladeshi Canadians.

As I browse through the magazine, I am filled with an emotion that I can’t easily express. It creates in the hearts of its readers and contributors a sense of wonder, joy, and inspiration of love. This is the ASHRAM’s notion of altruism- a characteristic of human nature that emanates from within. From what I see, thus far, the ASHRAM has been playing a critical role in nurturing literary talent, promoting diversity, and religious harmony among Bengalis of diverse faiths and groups, fostering creativity, and contributing to the broader literary discourse.

Behind the team’s rise to prominence is their sense of dedication. Frankly, I take my hat off with admiration for the team’s painstakingly achieved success – the highest effort and the noblest result. As we celebrate the ASHRAM’s 15th anniversary, we also salute the team for reaching its visionary exaltation. Kudos to the ASHRAM team! Having worked with Might and Main, they have gotten over the hump. A go-getter Kabir has established the ASHRAM as a vibrant magazine among literary-minded readers around the globe the readership of which is growing fast.

While we may consider ourselves fortunate that we may saunter through life easily in Canada, we must, however, engage community members of all ages in an initiative of this magnitude. I see it as an obligation on our part to create more Kabirs of extraordinary firebrands.

Mustafa Chowdhury
Freelance Researcher & Writer
Retired Federal Public Servant
Government of Canada
Telephone: +1 613-830-2566 (Home)
 +1 613-799-0503 (Cell)
 +880 1841030609 (Cell in Dhaka)
Author of: 
1. Picking Up the Pieces: 1971 War Babies` Odyssey from Bangladesh to Canada
2. UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: Story of 1971 War Babies
3. '৭১-এর যুদ্ধশিশুঃ অবিদিত ইতিহাস (Ekatturer Judhoshishu: Obidito Itihash)
Mustafa Chowdhury
Ottawa, Canada 
e-mail: Mustafa.chowdhury49@gmail.com