On Friday, the ongoing 10th edition of Dhaka Lit Fest (DLF) featured a handful of exciting and interesting events for the little ones, including a storytelling session by Hong Kong-based Bangladeshi writer-scholar Maria Chaudhuri of her brand new book for children titled 'Nobo Opens a Door'.

At the Nazrul Stage in the afternoon, Maria Chaudhuri read from the book surrounded by child listeners and introduced them to the character Nobo, an adventurous child who averts disaster at her school's Pahela Baishakh festival with an imaginative twist on traditional sarees, followed by reimagining themselves by creating their own capes, just as Nobo does.

Published in Bangladesh by Ignite Publications featuring Illustrations by Istela Imam, the book was launched on Friday introducing the title character, which is conceptualized by Nobo Dhaka -- a socially aware business enterprise set up to support the preservation of the cultural heritage and traditions of Bangladesh.

Explaining the idea of the character and the book, Maria Chaudhuri told UNB that the reason she was particularly interested in writing Nobo is that this collaboration connects with a great passion.

"The Dhaka society is constantly changing, and the values and experiences that our children are growing up with are completely different from our times. What we want to do with this book, as well as the entire series, is to create a space for the younger generation to talk about things in a way that reflects the different sets of values that they struggle with, in their reality right now."

"Although the society that we grew up in is constantly changing, that's not to say people can't follow tradition in a new way that works for them. That's exactly what the character, Nobo, does in this book and series. She explores a twist within a traditional idea so that she can still be a part of the Bangla new year celebrations without feeling left alone. We have to recognise that the current generation struggles with traditional values to incorporate into their lifestyle, and they also have different sets of values due to living in a constantly changing world, especially after the pandemic."

"So this book based on the 'social superhero' character Nobo can remind the generations -- both children and their parents -- that culture is an ever-evolving phenomenon that we need to accept and get ourselves accustomed to, and we should celebrate our culture. My hope is that when a child reads this book, they will not only appreciate the culture visually but may absorb it more spiritually too," Maria told UNB.

About the book, author and one of DLF's three directors, Kazi Anis Ahmed, wrote: "This is a wonderful and inventive tale about how tradition survives by being made new, again and again. And the courage it takes to do so. The young protagonist will be an inspiration to her peer-age readers. Chaudhuri's lilting, literary prose hits just the right tone. Nobo is a terrific new addition to our children's literature."

Sharing the vision regarding the project with UNB, Nobo Dhaka founder Silmat Chisti said that the idea was to introduce children of the current era to the traditional Bengali fabric doll-playing era of the previous generation who are now parents.

"Nobo had already primarily focused on the textile industry, but it is now making cautious forays into other sectors that are intrinsically Bangladeshi. The concept for Nobo, a fabric doll, was born when reminiscing on childhood memories, as a source of inspiration to introduce our children to our "doll-playing days" which could also be memorialized in concrete terms with a Nobo doll."

"Based on that idea, we asked our talented friend Maria Chaudhuri, a prolific writer, to bring Nobo to life with words. We are thrilled that Maria used Pahela Baishakh, a celebration that unifies all Bangladeshis and is precious to our hearts, as the setting for her storytelling. Here's to sharing with the next generation our love of Bangladesh, handcrafted dolls, and books," she told UNB.

Born in Bangladesh, Maria Chaudhuri received her bachelor's in Philosophy and Religion from Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts. Post-college, she studied screenwriting and feature writing at New York University and went on to pursue her MFA in creative writing at Goddard College, Vermont.

Chaudhuri's work explores the constructs of home, gender, identity and spirituality. Her debut book 'Beloved Strangers' was published in 2014 by Bloomsbury; it was chosen as one of Vogue's Top Ten Books To Look Out For In 2014 and Reader's Digest listed it as one of 17 Memoirs That Everyone Should Read. Her works have been published across the board, starting from literary journals and anthologies to more mainstream forums such as Granta, Critical Muslim, Elle Magazine and the Hindustan Times.

At present, Maria Chaudhuri lives in Hong Kong and teaches creative writing at the MFA/MACC programs at Hong Kong University. She is currently working on a collection of short stories as well as a multi-disciplinary, multi-lingual project that infuses Bengali mystic poetry with historical fiction, to highlight the culture and aesthetics of Bengal.

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