The Essential Humayun Ahmed
You were surprised when the whole country seemed to come to a standstill at his untimely passing because you were too young to understand. Or you never really got into the craze. But take some time to explore his work. You might just end up loving the man. Here's a ranking of five books that will introduce you to Humayun Ahmed, the biggest name in modern Bangladeshi literature.
5. Nondito Noroke
Published in 1972, this was the book that put him on the map. He had a deep understanding of the way the average middle-class Bangladeshi family functioned and his portrayal of the little moments in the lives of families was a large part of his repertoire. Our society is sometimes an unforgiving one and being on the receiving end of tragedy can make you seem like the victim. The book presents that in a striking way, accentuated with typical tongue-in-cheek Humayun moments.
No essential Humayun Ahmed list can be complete without Misir Ali, the veteran psychologist with a knack for running into the surreal. While some of the later Misir Ali books sort of lose the wow factor and can seem repetitive, Debi holds a very strange ability to captivate you. At times you'll find yourself thinking the paranormal seems a bit too real for comfort.
3. Holud Himu, Kalo RAB
Armchair Humayun critics often target the Himu series and its relative lack of direction when taking a go at the writer. But there's no point in denying that the mysterious young man in the yellow panjabi is arguably the most popular character to come out of Bangla literature since Feluda. The Himu books focus on a young man seeking to become a “Mohapurush” and are generally filled with social commentary and urban humour. If you want to see Bangladesh through the eyes of a very interesting vagabond, say hello to Himu.
Released in parts, the books focus on the Bengal region in the build up to and after the Partition of India in 1947. Several perspectives and plots intertwine in a magical way here and if you want a read that's both entertaining as well offering insight into the lives of people back then, give it a try.
1. Aguner Poroshmoni and Jochhna O Jononir Golpo
It had to be a tie for first place. Being the son of a martyr, his ties to 1971 are deeper than that of others and the war has been the subject of numerous Humayun Ahmed books and movies. And these two books outshine the others for very specific reasons. The former was one of the first contemporary novels about '71 that gained mainstream success and inspired countless imitators while the latter is arguably the most encyclopaedic novel ever written about the war. After a near-death experience following a stroke, Humayun devoted himself to writing a novel that he felt could give the younger generation an unbiased view of the war and this lead to Jochhna O Jononir Golpo, which is a heart-rending story of several families being affected by the war and how they dealt with the cruelties of '71 (some of which were based on real events).
No matter what the naysayers may say, Humayun Ahmed had the ability to captivate and he did so without killing off key characters every other episode. He might not be a Kafka but he's the biggest writer we've ever had and that surely makes him worth checking out.
*Special thanks to Mustabeen Qazi and Minhaz Muhammad.