The surge of Bengali nationalism was first demonstrated during the Language Movement of East Bengal in 1952 and it reached its culmination by the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. However, the vital force behind this mass upheaval was a literary movement which is now almost forgotten by Bangladeshi intelligentsia. The movement was called “Emancipation of Intellect” of which aim was to encourage Bengalis, particularly the East Bengalis, to study art, literature and science and spread the knowledge of these disciplines in Bengali language. The pioneer of this movement was Abdul Quadir, a gifted poet, a prolific essayist, a renowned journalist and editor and publisher of many prominent journals, magazines and newspapers of the undivided Bengal. Edited by Emran Mahfuz and Ashiq Reza, the voluminous book titled Kom Chena Boro Manush reflects on the life and works of this great literary personality of our nation.
Through his lifelong efforts to establish a knowledge-based society in the East Bengal, this polymath laid the foundation of Bangladesh's nationalistic movements and initiated the nation's literary Renaissance, if I may. This great writer and thought-leader can be called the pioneer of free thinking in the conservative Muslim society of East Bengal during the late Nineteenth century. His writings were the unseen inspiration behind many nationalistic and ideological movements in the history of Bangladesh.
However, in the recent few years, the contributions of this significant literary personality seem almost forgotten. Very few of this generation know about him. But this rather impressive book first launched in the Ekushey Book Fair 2017, is a massive collection of Quadir's writing. There is in total 45 articles on Abdul Quadir's life and works, along with an additional compilation of rare letters written by him to different eminent personalities of that time. This indeed provides a unique and detailed picture of Bangladeshi literary society in the late Nineteenth century.
Besides these articles, the book also includes a detailed biographical timeline of Abdul Quadir, his family tree, some of the rarest and historic photographs, list of all of his publications, some of his writings and poems. This book will surely enable our young generation to delve deep into our momentous history through the lived reality of one of Bangladesh's great thought-leaders. His thoughts are still relevant and can contribute immensely to tackle the growing extremism through literary activities. For instance, Abdul Quadir says in one of his articles, “Most of our modern authors do not feel the necessity of thinking about the influence of Wahabist Movement, Aligarh Movement, or Mustafa Kamal's Turkish Revolution in the Muslim society of Bengal.
In the preface of the book, the young editors aptly observe, “Abdul Quadir was completely unaffected by the growing racism, communalism, movement for the nation states and Hindu-Muslim conflicts. His thoughts were centered on the intellectual emancipation of the people of East Bengal through literary activism. While working on his life we feel amazed to see how his century old thoughts are still very relevant to this day.”
In the contents, all the articles on Abdul Quadir have been basically arranged in eight chapters focusing on various perspectives of his life, reviews of his poetry, research and editing works, review of his researches on Kazi Nazrul Islam, his philosophical thoughts, compilation of his interviews, letters written to and by Abdul Quadir and rare historic photos in the two enclosures. In all these chapters, the book offers nearly fifty articles by renowned scholars, researchers and litterateurs on different aspects of his life and works.
The renowned poet and author Abdul Mannan Syed claims in his article, “Abdul Quadir made his magazine Joyoti the pioneer of modern Bengali literature without compromising his Bengali-Muslim identity. Poets and authors like Kazi Nazrul Islam, Kazi Abdul Wadud, Premendra Mitra, Achintya Kumar Sengupta, Mohitlal Majumder, Jashimuddin, Dhurjati Prasad Mukherji were among the regular writers of this magazine and many of them started their literary career with it.”
Throughout his life Abdul Quadir relentlessly tried to establish a knowledge-based free thinking society in Bangladesh. Other than working on his own creative faculties, he preserved some of the best compositions of the rebel poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam. Without his efforts, much of Nazrul works might have been lost forever. He spent a great part of his professional life as the editor of different magazines and newspapers. He edited the literary magazine Nabajug founded by Kazi Nazrul Islam. He was also the editor of Mahe Nao, an illustrated monthly journal published by the Pakistani government. He also edited the works of Kazi Nazrul Islam, Begum Rokeya, Qazi Imdadul Haque and Ismail Hossain Siraji, and authored several reference books on Bengali literature.
For his literary contributions, he achieved numerous awards and recognition both by the Pakistan and Bangladesh Government. For his original research on Bengali literature and Kazi Nazrul Islam, he was awarded Bangla Academy Award in 1963. He was also awarded Ekushey Padak by the Bangladesh Government in 1976. This prolific writer passed away in 1984. About his later life, eminent writer and activist Syed Abul Maksud writes, “Abdul Quadir was an incredible researcher. He used to study a lot. Even during his last days, he never wasted a time without studying. I have learned a lot from him.”
This rich collection, therefore, is fit to be a collectible by all those who want to know about the roots of Bengali Muslim literature.
Md Shahnawaz Khan Chandan studied at the University of Dhaka and now is a feature writer at The Daily Star.