As a schoolboy in the 1980s, Radwan Mujib had difficulty convincing his friends that his maternal grandfather Bangabandhu was a real-life superhero. He turns 42 today, but the burden of memory still weighs a lot after all these years.
Exposure to comics on political icons Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi evoked in him a desire to make comics on Bangabandhu to carry his real-life story to Bangladesh's children.
Decades later, he made it a reality through Mujib, a graphic novel on Bangabandhu -- right from his rural childhood to becoming the nation's founding father.
Now the entire series of Mujib, comprising 10 episodes, are available for the readers.
Growing up on a steady diet of stories about his nana (maternal grandfather) told by his mother and aunt, Radwan could conceive of how best to present the legend of Bangabandhu through stories about his many exploits.
But he was dismayed because his school friends knew nothing about Bangabandhu.
"To my shock, I found that many of my school friends didn't even know who Bangabandhu was. They used to ask – Who is your Bangabandhu nana? Especially, teachers used to get worried upon hearing about Bangabandhu," said Radwan.
"Even one day a teacher said – your grandfather was not Bangabandhu (friend of Bangla), he was Bangashatru (enemy of Bangla)."
Little Radwan was ill at ease with the political climate following the assassination of his grandfather that turned back the great promise of the glorious Liberation War.
Born in 1980, he missed his grandfather, grandmother, and uncles, all of whom had been assassinated by some disgruntled army officers on August 15, 1975. He was curious about his dear ones whom he had never seen. "I used to ask questions about my grandmother, Kamal uncle, Russel uncle. Did Kamal uncle love football or cricket more? Which toys were liked most by Russel uncle?"
Though Bangabandhu never returned in person, he did come back through his writing.
In 2004, long after the death of Bangabandhu, his daughter Sheikh Hasina suddenly discovered some notebooks written by Bangabandhu himself. It was a moment of ecstasy for Radwan as well.
"I never saw him in real life. But his life stories written by him were now with us. Then we felt like talking to him. When two books were published, I had the idea that there were so many stories," recollects Radwan. "If we publish a comic based on his exploits, the young generation will be able to relate. Bangabandhu used to play football like us. He was so playful in his childhood. He used to sleep with hands around his father's neck. From this perspective, to arouse their interest in him, we could start a graphic novel series."
Radwan is now a trustee of not for profit organisation CRI (Centre for Research & Information).
As he was planning to carry forward the idea of comics on his grandfather, he encountered some challenges. Even the genuine admirers of Bangabandhu didn't want to see a person of Bangabandhu's stature in the form of cartoons. "We were lucky that my mother and my aunt (Prime Minister) backed the project from the very beginning. Without them, we couldn't get this done. I used to give the script and cartoonists' draft to my mother and aunt. You know how busy my aunt (PM Hasina) is. I used to keep the documents on her table so that she could check those after getting back from the office. To my surprise, I found, after an hour or two, her observations were clearly written there. Sometimes my team was astonished as they inquired if it was written by Prime Minister herself."
Apart from CRI-published Mujib Graphic Novel, Radwan undertook several initiatives to draw youths closer to history. He is the brain behind Joy Bangla Concert, a concert blending wartime historic melodies with modern millennial choice of rocks. He is also a co-producer of Hasina: A Daughter's Tale, a docudrama featuring the first-person narrative of his aunt Sheikh Hasina about her life following the assassination of her father Bangabandhu and his family.
The writer is coordinator of CRI
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