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Happy 50th Birthday to Rana, Masud Rana, Bangladesh's Very Own James Bond

Golden Jubilee poster of Masud Rana series. Image courtesy from official facebook page of Sheba Prokashoni (publisher of Masud Rana book series).

Golden Jubilee poster of the Masud Rana series. Image courtesy of the official Facebook page of Sheba Prokashoni (publisher of Masud Rana book series).

An ex-military major who now works for the country's intelligence services. A man who travels the world on secret missions and goes by a short and catchy code name. A suave womaniser who never settles down.

Sound familiar? It probably does, but it's not James Bond. It's Masud Rana, code name MR-9, the most popular spy character of the few to be found in Bengali literature, who turns 50 in May 2016.

Qazi Anwar Hussain, Creator and author of Masud Rana Series. Image by Humayra Ahmed via Wikimedia commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Qazi Anwar Hussain, creator and author of the Masud Rana series. Image by Humayra Ahmed via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

The creation of renowned author Kazi Anwar Hussainthis spy extraordinaire of Bangladesh first appeared in 1966 in the book ‘Dhwangsha Pahar’ (The Mountain of Destruction). Readers will find a number of similarities between Rana and James Bond. In fact, he is lovingly known as the Bengali version of James Bond among fans.

Rana has had a long career in Bangladesh's fictional espionage world, and was a cultural icon in the 1970s and 80s. He has appeared as the central character in more than 400 books so far.

Hussain is said to have liberally borrowed plot lines from popular Western spy thrillers at the start of the Masud Rana series, but at the same time it catered to Bengali-speaking young people, who had few entertainment alternatives in an era pre-dating video games, cable TV, Western books and the internet.

The character and a number of stories have been adapted into movies and television dramas in the country.

The popularity of Masud Rana becomes obvious when reading this Facebook comment by Tasdik Aurangazeb:

সেই সময় আমার হাতে তেমন একটা পয়সা থাকত না। এক একটা বই যোগাড় করতে কি যে কষ্ট করতে হত তা লিখে বোঝাতে পারব না। এক একটা বই কেনার জন্য ১৫ থেকে ২০ দিন না খেয়ে টিফিনের পয়সা বাঁচাতে হত। রিকশা ভাড়ার পয়সা বাঁচানোর জন্য মাইলের পর মেইল হেটে পারি দিতাম। আহ কি অদ্ভুত সব কষ্ট-মাখা আনন্দের দিন গেছে সেই সময়!

Back in those days I didn’t have much extra money to spend. It was extremely difficult to buy books; the extent of that difficulty can hardly be explained in a few words. I used to skip meals to save money so that I could buy Masud Rana books. I also used to walk for miles so that I could save on rickshaw fare. Ah, those were the days! Full of bittersweet memories.

Most Masud Rana readers are young. However, the thrillers also hold great appeal for adult readers as well. Morshed Alam Badol wrote:

কৈশোর পেরিয়ে যৌবন । যৌবন পেরিয়ে প্রৌঢ়। আজও মাসুদ রানা সমান ভাবে টানে। সেই স্কুল বয়সের কিশোর ছেলেটির মত।

From adolescence to youth, from youth to middle age, Masud Rana still attracts me the same way. Just like he did back in high school.

Raat-Prohori's comment illustrates how Masud Rana has been an influence on Bangladeshi readers:

দীর্ঘদিন মাসুদ রানা পড়ে মনে হতো আমাকে কোথাও কেউ ঠেকাতে পারবে না। আমি ঠিকই উতরে যাবো। তা পাঁচতারা হোটেলের রিসেপশন হোক, বিলাসবহুল জাহাজ এর ক্যাপ্টেন হোক আর উড়োজাহাজ এর পাইলট হোক যে কোন পরিবেশ সামলাতে পারবো আমি। কিভাবে আগ্নেয়াস্ত্র চালাতে হয়, কিভাবে প্যারাস্যুট জড়িয়ে প্লেন থেকে লাফাতে হয়, কিভাবে স্কুবা ডাইভিং করতে হয় এসব যেন মাসুদ রানার মাধ্যমে আমাকে শিখিয়েছেন আমাদের কাজী'দা।

Being a long-time reader of Masud Rana, I used to think that I was unstoppable. Whether I was at the reception desk of a five-star hotel, or I was a luxurious ship’s captain or an aircraft pilot, I’d have no trouble getting used to my role. Mr. Kazi Anwar Hussain taught me how to use firearms, how to jump from a plane with a parachute, how to scuba dive, and he taught me all this through Masud Rana.

 New book and magazine are published on the celebration of 50 years. Image courtesy from official facebook page of Sheba Prokashoni (publisher of Masud Rana book series).

A new book and magazine were published to celebrate 50 years of Masud Rana. Image courtesy of the official Facebook page of Sheba Prokashoni (publisher of the Masud Rana book series).

However, not all Bengali families welcome Masud Rana into their households. The series has faced criticism due to the sexually explicit content in some books. In some circles, young readers of the series are seen in a negative light because of this reason.

But Masud Rana's most dedicated fans continue to sing the series’ praises undeterred. On a Masud Rana Facebook page, people recall their memories of reading the books. Sottom Haldar remembered:

আমি জানি এখনকার ছেলেমেয়েরা আর রানা পড়ে না, তারা সিডনী শেলডন নাইলে রর্বাট লুডলাম পড়ে। আমি জানি রানার বই সাহিত্য পন্ডিত দের কাছে একদম অখাদ্য। কিন্তু আমার মত যারা 90″s কিড তাদের কাছে এখনো রানা আর কাজীদা এক মহাপুরুষের নাম। আমি কৃতজ্ঞ রানা আর কাজীদার কাছে যারা বিনা পাসপোর্টে আমাকে দুনিয়ার রং রুপ চিনে নিতে শিখিয়েছেন।

I know that today's generation of teens do not read Masud Rana, they prefer [the novels of American writers] Sidney Sheldon or Robert Ludlum instead. I know they would just throw away Masud Rana books as inferior. But for the 90s kids [in Bangladesh] like me, Rana and Kazi Anwar Hussain are legends. I am indebted to them as they showed the world to me through those books.

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