Words that have made a difference | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 02, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 02, 2013

Book Talk

Words that have made a difference


L-R: Shamsuddin Abul Kalam, Abul Mansur Ahmed, Muntassir Mamoon, Rashid Karim, Satyen Sen, Selina Hossain, Humayun Azad.

(The first segment of this article was published last week. This is the second and concluding part)
Spring 1971 Faruk Aziz Khan
Faruk Aziz Khan, yet another Bengali government official, saw every reason to make his way to Mujibnagar and play his role in the rapidly expanding guerrilla struggle for Bangladesh's liberation from Pakistan. In this work, Khan comes forth with a detailed account of his participation in the war, with particular emphasis on his link-up with Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed. The writer then goes on to focus on the various hurdles the struggle was faced with, the political battles that cropped up one after another and the measures taken to contain them.
The work provides a clear, objective perspective on the war, projecting as it does the all-round participation of the Bengali masses in the struggle for national liberation. Khan remains conscious of a need to project his story in all the objectivity he can muster. And he does the job excellently well, which is why Spring 1971 will remain a powerful point of reference for any student of Bangladesh's history.


Shwadhin Bangla Betar Kendra
Belal Mohammad
Of all the works which have appeared on the seminal role played by Shwadhin Bangla Betar Kendra (Free Bangladesh Radio) during the War of Liberation, this account from Belal Mohammad is perhaps one of the most authoritative. The writer was active at the Kalurghat radio station when the Pakistan army launched its genocide in March 1971. With Chittagong yet to be targeted by the army, Belal Mohammad, along with his colleagues, went into the job of organising resistance through the radio. The first individual to announce Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's declaration of independence was M.A. Hannan late on 26 March. It was a message that was not heard by many in the tumult of the carnage going on in Dhaka.
The book brims with details of how Major Ziaur Rahman came to make himself part of history through his declaration of independence on Bangabandhu's behalf. And then the story moves on, with riveting accounts of how the Pakistan air force strafed the station, compelling the staff of the station to cross the frontier into India. It would not be some weeks before Shwadhin Bangla Betar would resume broadcasts. Belal Mohammad takes you on the path and other pioneers travelled in that defining moment of Bengali national life.

Kashboner Konya
Shamsuddin Abul Kalam
Published 1954
Shamsuddin Abul Kalam (1926-1997) remains the great unsung hero of modern Bengali literature, one reason probably being that he took himself off to the West long before Bangladesh became a free nation. And yet his contributions to the literary field here are as incisive as anyone else's, as this work of fiction so amply demonstrates. It is a simple tale of love in a rural clime in Bangladesh, with two men wooing two women they love beyond measure. The tragedy for them, though, is that the women turn their backs on them because of their poverty.
The plot is woven around love, rejection and the materialistic considerations that come into play. If there are Sikdar and Hossain, the two doomed suitors, there is also Sakhina, who quietly, almost meekly, accepts a proposal of marriage from Boro Mia's brother.

Amar Dekha Rajnitir Ponchash Bochhor, Abul Mansur Ahmed
Published 1969
This happens to be an eminently written book from one who knows all about politics. The reason is simple: Abul Mansur Ahmed (1898-1979) was himself a politician in the fullest, professional sense of the meaning, having moved along a trajectory from pre-partition times down to the last stages of Pakistan. In the process, he observed men, influenced events and indulged in that other passion of his, literature. One of that rare breed called intellectual politicians, Abul Mansur Ahmed brings into this work all his accumulated experience in the political world, commenting freely on men and matters in his times.
In this book, therefore, there is promise of portraits and analyses of half a century of politics. The writer does a good job of presenting to readers the image of a past that was not to be matched by those who came after him. A pity. But, then again, not many have had the opportunity or the inclination to bring together such human traits as wit, profound literature and purposeful politics in their career. This work shows how Abul Mansur Ahmed managed to bring all three traits in a survey of a world now gone.

Dhaka: Smriti Bismritir Nogori
Muntassir Mamoon Published 1993
Muntassir Mamoon is the quintessential historian. His portrayals of Dhaka, apart from his analytical studies on Bangladesh's political heritage, have given him a perch not quite matched by others. As the nation's capital goes into an observance of its four-hundredth anniversary, it makes sense for one to go back to the work here noted because of all the old tales, all the historical points, indeed all the nostalgia Dhaka conjures up before a generation that does not have much idea of the city's truly glorious past.
In Nogori, Mamoon gives you the physical Dhaka. Its gardens, its lakes, its shops located on what today are narrow, overcrowded roads, its politics, its rich traditions with all their roots in what we now know as Old Dhaka come to us in this rich enumeration of the life of Dhaka as it were. There are the old marks of heritage in its old buildings. And there is the history of the Dhaka central jail, where famous politicians as well as common criminals have been held for as long as anyone can remember.

Uttam Purush Rashid Karim, Published 1961
Uttam Purush is a simple story of idealism. Rashid Karim (1925-) shows the protagonist, like so many others of his generation, as being caught up in the volatile politics of pre-partition India. But that is no reason to suppose that he is an apolitical being. He certainly is not, for his belief in the idea of a separate homeland for India's Muslims is as firmly pronounced as in other around him. An unabashed admirer of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, he moves from West Bengal to East Pakistan in the great expectation that life will undergo a qualitative experience.
Does the novel speak of all those Muslims who had cause to migrate to the new state of Pakistan in their search for self-assertion as a people? Is the idealism symbolised by the protagonist a mere camouflage for the disillusion the new state will soon come to embody? You can read a whole lot in the work. Then again, you just might not. It leaves you fumbling for meaning. You need to read between the lines.

Obhishopto Nogori
Satyen Sen Published 1967
The work is a comprehensive walk through history. For Satyen Sen (1907-1981), the emphasis consists in depicting the common strand of misery and struggle that people have been afflicted with throughout the centuries. In this novel, therefore, it is as much a historical analysis of human destiny as it is a story of politics and priesthood dominating the lives of common men and women. The writer takes, as his starting point, the 6th century BC, with the prophet Jeremiah in the centre of things. In the background stands Jerusalem, a city which has made history, has been battered by history and indeed has been restored by history. Tales from the Bible add to the richness of the narrative. And by drawing on these tales, Sen projects recurrent historical images of truths that civilisations have endured through the times.
Satyen Sen's work is a brilliant instance of how the historical novel has meant an expansion of the Bengali intellectual horizon.

Hangor Nodi Grenade
Selina Hossain Published 1976
The pre-eminent position Selina Hossain (1947-) holds as a novelist has never been in doubt. One very powerful reason why that has been so has to do with the themes of individual and social struggle that are a recurrent feature of her works. And with that comes the very necessary political underpinning, as in the work in question. Hossain brings into the narrative here her own exposition, one that her readers will easily identify with, of the trials and tribulations Bangladesh's people went through in the course of their War of Liberation in 1971.
Symbolism is all that matters, for it is crucial to the tale. Within the symbolic comes realism. 1971 was that time in the lives of Bengalis where sharks, figuratively speaking, gnawed at the life of a bloodied country. The rivers, timeless, flowed on. And yet change was on the way. The Bengali, long given to poetry and politics, took to the path of revolution. The grenade was what he needed. He used it brilliantly in his new avatar as a guerrilla. Such is the light Selina Hossain's fiction creates, to recreate history.

Nari Humayun Azad Published 1992
Known for his anti-establishment positions, together with his rejection of religious fanaticism, Humayun Azad (1947-2004) sought to convey through Nari the first comprehensive account of the difficulties and dilemma Bengali women faced in their pursuit of everyday life. The radicalism inherent in the work was enough for many to think back on Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. In the work, Azad takes readers on a journey through the broad swathes of experience feminist writers in South Asia have gone through in their writings. At the same time, Azad cannot hold himself back from taking swipes at major figures, including the venerated Rabindranath Tagore, for what he thought was their anti-feminist perceptions of life.
Azad directs his criticism, at once sharp and unambiguous, at the patriarchal positions adopted by males, to a point where he comes down heavily on those who have historically sought to keep women confined in isolation from a religious point of view. The book, considered incendiary by the government, was banned in 1995. Five years later, though, Azad won a legal battle for the ban to be lifted.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is currently Fellow, Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study (JNIAS), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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