M.R. Akhtar Mukul's place in Bangladesh's history was assured in the course of our twilight struggle against the state of Pakistan in 1971. And, of course, those times were also our annus mirabilis. They were because of the epic battle Bengalis of all classes and all professions and all religious persuasions waged against the Pakistan occupation army. Armed with the spirit and courage drilled into us by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and inspired by the fierce resistance put up by the Mujibnagar provisional government to Pakistan's predatory acts, all of us, beyond the country and inside it, went to war to reclaim history and culture.
Mukul was a frontline soldier in that war. No, he did not carry a weapon. He was not on the fields of battle. He did not blow up bridges or shoot down Pakistan's marauding soldiers. Then again, he did all of that. His war was a metaphor. There being ample instances of wars being waged through words, through the magic of the radio, Mukul knew what he had to do. It was his feverish mind at work, a process of thought that forever seemed to be energized by an infusion of ideas. And that was how he went into giving shape to Charampatra, that seminal programme on Shwadhin Bangla Betar which was to capture the imagination of seventy five million battling Bengalis. Day in and day out, with rarely any absence, Mukul churned out words and thoughts which not only demonstrated his rapidly evolving thoughts on the war but also provided Bengalis with renewed ideas about the need to push the enemy into the sea. Charampatra was essentially a one-act, one-man play where that one man became many men, indeed turned into so many freedom fighters.
All these years after that tragically beautiful war, the image of Chhokku Mia, that inimitable voice of freedom and wit Mukul forged in Charampatra, remains part of the Bengali historical consciousness. Chhokku Mia's locale is old Dhaka; his dialect is old Dhaka and yet in his perceptions of the war it is an entire nation that speaks. Ek gada peek phalaya Chhokku Mia koilo . . . that was how the young man came to us. Indeed, with his inflections of language, with his deliberate attempt to be condescending to the Pakistanis, Mukul became Chhokku Mia. Once he did that, he brought into the character all the sarcasm, all the ridicule he could muster against the mighty and the wicked in Pakistan. Yahya Khan was endlessly the inebriated dictator presiding over the genocide of a nation; Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could not but be Larkana'r nawab, Ehia'r ek gelaasher dosto, pyaare Julfikar Ali Buttu.
And Pakistan's soldiers? The smallest of sounds set them scattering, with many of them ruining their trousers in the process. Okko-re bashonti rong oiya gelo gaa, as Chhokku Mia would report gleefully, with that well aimed spitting out of the paaner peek. Speaking of sounds, Mukul sent his audience rolling into waves of laughter with the deep-throated dhaaeen, ostensibly to imitate the sound of a bomb explosion. It was nothing of the sort, but it did go a long way to put across to us the gradually rising fear among the Pakistanis of the Muktis, as they called them in their various states of nervousness.
That was Mukul Bhai for us. He was a light on our dark, tortuous path to freedom, one of the many stars that held out hope for us. He was the Charampatra man. And he was much more. A writer, a book lover, a raconteur, a media man, a full-blooded secular Bengali, he saw the twilight descend on his life on a June day five years ago. An age came to a swift, sad end.
(M.R. Akhtar Mukul died on 26 June 2004).