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18 June, 2020 08:42:02 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 19 June, 2020 02:15:07 PM

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The unfolding suspense around Masud Rana

Masud Rana is a series book, not just an alienated book that a ghostwriter can claim the authorship of. What is the cost behind the brand building? How do the scribblers or scribes pay the original creator?
Shamim A. Zahedy
The unfolding suspense around Masud Rana

Students of English literature in Indian subcontinent in the past 30 years or so are quite familiar with the good name of Ramji Lall, who himself is now a ‘brand’, by writing study guides on almost all masterpieces from Geoffrey Chaucer to William Shakespeare, John Milton to John Dryden and John Keats to Charles Dickens, and Joseph Conrad to T S Eliot.
It is hard to consume that Ramji Lall who, according to one of his distributors Amazon, is a formerly principal of Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi, has been this prolific without the aides from ghostwriters.
Lall’s publishers have almost emulated Clifton Keith Hillegass, who founded CliffsNotes in 1958 in the US with “a line of 16 Shakespeare study guides” to help tertiary students meet their examination preparations.
The basic difference is that CliffsNotes does not use particular names of writers, whose rights were bought, while Lall’s publishers use a particular name, leaving a ‘scope of dispute over royalty’ if all the books are not authored by the prolific writer.
The latest intriguing twist in royalty row over Masud Rana, Bangladesh’s undoubtedly the most popular spy book series founded in 1966 by Qazi Anwar Hussain, throws a debate whether a ghostwriter can claim authorship, and thereby the royalty.    

Bangladesh’s Copyright Board, where the dispute was referred to, has pronounced that 260 out of over 460 books of Masud Rana series while 50 out of around 76 books of Kuasha, another detective series by Qazi Anwar Hussain, are authored by ghostwriter Sheikh Abdul Hakim, not Qazi Anwar Hussain, although the books carried the name of Hussain as their writer.

In its verdict, Copyright Board observes the Akbarnama, the official annals of the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (1542 CE-1605 CE), is credited to Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak as author despite direct patronage and tutelage of the emperor. According to media reports, the verdict also says that ‘as per copyright law the authorship cannot be handed over’ and that, despite the original writer’s consent, use of someone else’s name as author goes against ethics.

Certainly, the revenue sharing row leads to dispute of authorship right of ghostwriters, who write books or pieces for other persons and under their names these are published. 
While Sheikh Abdul Hakim, who worked continuously for 45 years with Seba Prakashani, the book publishing company founded by Hussain in 1964, himself concedes that Masud Rana, the fictional character like Sherlock Holmes by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is created by Qazi Anwar Hussain, the discourse comes to the fore over the ownership of the espionage series, also written by a number of ghostwriters including Sheikh Abdul Hakim over more than 50 years.

It is no secret or a clandestine matter that a panel of writers under the unswerving supervision of Qazi Anwar Hussain, who wrote Dhangsa Pahar in 1966, the first of Masud Rana, followed by Bharat Nattayam and Swarna Mriga, continued writing in line with the set standards and pattern revolving around the central characters in the setting of contemporary affairs, keeping generations of readers spellbound.

His subsequent increasing engagement in book publication business with Seba Prakashani that has thus far published around 2,500 books of mainly thriller genre forced him to employ ghostwriters to pen Masud Rana and Kuasha series.

And Qazi Anwar Hussain acknowledged this before.
It is Qazi Anwar Hussain (born 1936) who has built the whodunit surrounding Masud Rana, the title character, who was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh to Justice Imtiaz Chowdhury and Jahanara Imtiaz Chowdhury. Orphaned at the age of 13 when both his parents were killed in a car accident near Chittagong, Bangladesh, Rana was raised by his aunt Ismat Ara abroad.

Rana briefly attended Britain’s famous Eton College founded in 1440 CE by King Henry. Rana joined Pakistan Army and graduated from Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK. Recruited by Major General (rtd) Rahat Khan to Pakistan Counter Intelligence, which later changed to Bangladesh Counter Intelligence, Major Masud Rana took part in the liberation war of Bangladesh against Pakistan.

These are the ‘facts and myths’ concerning the central character Qazi Anwar Hussain has been able to establish, making him a household name among the young people in post-liberation Bangladesh. Stepping into the shoes of James Bond of Ian Lancaster Fleming (1908-1964) Masud Rana of Qazi Anwar Hussain has entertained Bengali readers for decades, though the stories are mere adaptations from Western sources.

In the early 1970’s, the spirited and idealistic Masud Rana no doubt had a huge impact on the young psyche of the war-torn Bangladesh, also contributing to increase in general book readership. In the newly independent Bangladesh, young readers got something of their own to cherish through Masud Rana, though the character is heavily built on foreign materials.

Bangladesh’s second wave of mass book readership came through Humayun Ahmed (1948-2012), the celebrated best-selling fiction writer, with over 200 books. The prolific novelist’s top two famous fictional characters-- Misir Ali, symbolising logic and reasoning while Himu, representing emotion and passion-- literally pulled his audience of all ages and of all classes into the habit of book reading.

Masud Rana is a series book, not just an alienated book that a ghostwriter can claim the authorship of. What is the cost behind the brand building? How do the scribblers or scribes pay the original creator?  
Moving back to the litigation, the Copyright Board verdict rightly says there should have been clear communication regarding the number of copes to be printed, honorarium and royalty between the (ghost) writer and publisher.

As Qazi Anwar Hussain is set to challenge the Copyright Board verdict, saying Masud Rana is his creation, his brand, his trademark, readers are kept waiting in suspense.

The writer is the Executive Editor of The Independent. E-Mail: shamim.zahedy@theindependentbd.com

More Articles by Shamim A. Zahedy:

Moment of truth for AHM Mustafa Kamal (13-06-2020)

Musings on the pandemic: Lessons learnt from Covid-19 (07-06-2020)

George Floyd and beyond (03-06-2020)

Protect purity of every type of media (30-05-2020)

Disturbing disregard for social distancing (24-05-2020)

Interoperability is missing in business (23-05-2020)

“Education divide” in Bangladesh (21-05-2020)

Time to seek alternative financing for news media? (15-05-2020)

Govt needs to be techie to reach out to people in need of aid (09-05-2020)

Handcuffs for journalists (06-05-2020)

New business model required for news media in the post-virus era (03-05-2020)

An apology for print newspapers (03-04-2020)

Thank you, readers (26-03-2020)

A tribute: O Captain! My Captain! (06-03-2020)

Blockchain could be the answer to fair voting in Bangladesh (31-01-2020)

 

 

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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