Ayna, a collection of seven short stories by Abul Mansur Ahmed was published in 1935. Written through the span of 1922- 1929, these pieces were published in Saugat edited by Muhammad Nasiruddin. The stories were satiric in structure, reflective in observation, sharp-witted with varied subject-matters. Even though these writings started taking shape in the nineteen twenties, they are relevant to our times too. They remind one that literature is invariably connected to people and life.
Kazi Nazrul Islam, in the introduction of the collection, says, “In normal mirrors, one can only see the reflections of the outside world. But the mirror produced by my friend and artist Abul Mansur Ahmed reflects the inner aspects of a human being. The people that roam around the society wearing different masks have been caught in this mirror in their terrifying and wild characteristics. I have a strong sense of having seen these horrific creatures wearing human masks many times in the temples and mosques, standing at the public speaking dais, in political clubs, and literary arenas.”
Following the threads of the stories, the poet Kazi Nazrul comments on the different aspects of the shape-shifting people and how they abound around us. Abul Mansur Ahmed crafted an amazing world depicting the familiar surroundings he observed.
The first story of the collection clearly depicts what an expert the author was in creating a dramatic atmosphere. The piece is titled “Hujure Kebla.” This one story is enough to demonstrate Ahmed’s assessment of people engaged in harming others, and in the process causing vital damage to the society. These people have little compassion, no sense of morality and hence they have no qualms in taking all kinds of steps in attaining their selfish ends.
Abul Mansur Ahmed used satire as his element in bringing out these social aspects. And satire is indeed a weapon for a crafty and powerful writer. It is surely painful for a writer to look upon the moral offences done at a particular level and sometimes it is difficult to address the problem directly. The book has been dedicated to Abul Kalam Shamsuddin and it reads, “My friends say that in this collection, I have made people laugh a lot. But only you know of the tears hidden behind this writing.” And it is indeed the responsibility of literature to bring out the tears. The author was dissatisfied with the established ways of the society and hence he used satire as a means to bring out those ludicrous aspects.
Therefore, “Hujure Kebla” satirized fanatism practiced in the prevalent society. He sees how religious fanatism affects life, how politics becomes fraudulent and how women are oppressed in the process. Emdad in “Hujure Kebla” suffers from personal crisis. In his search to find truth, he left his widowed aunt to work with a religious leader. After becoming the disciple of the Pir Saheb he discovers that the truth is very different from what he had expected. As he watches the Pir Saheb eat, he becomes convinced that the digestive system of the leader is far more stronger than his spiritual abilities. Emdad notices that it takes longer for the Pir Saheb to make his female audience understand aspects of his teaching. He further realizes that his ideas regarding Kolimon, the beautiful wife of Rajab, the landlord’s son, is quite different from what he had thought earlier. Whenever he holds sessions in the ladies’ quarters, his eyes turn toward this particular woman in question. Emdad also notices that the Pir Saheb expects to be massaged in front of his lady audience more. Even though disturbed, Emdad refrains from asking questions. And yet, he cannot control himself when Hujur claims Kolimon as his own. Rojob has to divorce the wife he had wedded only a year before and leave the premises of his house in tears. The wedding is performed hurriedly while Kolimon keeps on fainting. Unable to contain himself, Emdad jumps on the Pir Saheb dressed as the groom. He pulls the Hujur’s henna-dyed beard in one hand and screams, “You wicked, wicked man! How could you do this to two young souls just so that you can indulge in your sinful pleasure?”
Of course, the other disciples of the Pir Saheb do not agree with Emdad’s actions. And Hujur orders him to be turned out of the village. This is where the story ends.
What is so special about this story? I must say that because of the skillful story telling techniques used by the author the tale affects the reader. His use of Arabic and Persian words helps in bringing out some significant thematic aspects of the story. There are six more short stories in this collection which are no less artistic and throw light on dualistic aspects of human society through sarcasm and wit.
A writer looks on the problems of society and tries to explain and expand them according to his own understanding. And that is exactly what Abul Mansur Ahmed does and makes the reader aware of those issues through his use of satire. As Kazi Nazrul Islam observes in the Introduction of the book, “Satire is a rich contribution to literature around the world… Unfortunately, Bengali literature is not rich in satire because this particular genre requires extraordinary talent and wit…. I once saw a master lyre player play with a stick. I was amazed at his work and today I am amazed at the achievement of my friend Abul Mansur Ahmed. It is an amazing feat indeed.”
Indeed, Ahmed’s talent has transcended his time and reached the readers of the twenty-first century. Religion is an important part of human life. Those that try to use religion for their own selfish benefit are to be condemned. And he has certainly attacked them and proven his duty to the society. Just as he blames the perpetrators, he also shows how hapless women suffer most because of such hypocrisy.