Today is the 15th death anniversary of Shamsur Rahman, whose poetry can be called an Odyssey of Bangladesh, where we get vivid reflections of our liberation movement, the face of Bangabandhu, personal pleasures and pains as a Bangladeshi, and the nation's journey through great many ups and downs.
Beside the political and social aspects, other persisting aspects of Rahman's poetry are love, human relationship and appreciation of beauty. Rahman also had a philosophy regarding death and dying and the influence or impact of a person after death.
In his poetry we find heaven and hell not after death but in this world; his poetry teaches that love and kindness can make our environment a heaven while hatred and cruelty bring hells. Also, celebrating life with all its pleasures and pains is all the more important in his poetic pursuit.
His poems on death highlight the persisting theme that death finishes all, but the influence of a dead human depends on what he or she had done for others during his/her lifetime.
Rahman was very aware of the fight between good and evil in society. Whenever the evil face of the society made his mind heavy, he relied on picking up small pleasures of life like looking at someone dear, looking at a bird or tree leaf.
He wrote many poems portraying Bangabandhu as a Promethean hero and a Father figure. He was greatly shocked at the tragic assassination of this hero, our Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This wound haunted his mind time and again and he composed many lines of poetry referring to the loss the nation suffered for such a heinous act.
The father figure in Rahman's early poems, says Humayun Azad, becomes a conscience, a protector figure from all the evils that loom large. In the poem "adhamarner gan", father reduces sufferings where "someone unknown is going to devour us/ when the animals of the remote past have appeared/ Piercing the grassless earth as if they will devour us in hunger."
The images portrayed in the poem evoke the emotion of fear, a terror of the enemies and the necessity of a father for protection. The first person pronouns 'ami' 'amra' 'amader' suggest the sufferings of the people of East Pakistan and their desire to get rid of the Pakistani oppression. This father figure takes more obvious shape as an image of Bangabandhu in the poem "Telemachus", though not directly.
Image of Bangabandhu as a towering hero, apparently in a pitiful condition in the prison, can be found in the poem "Samson". Rahman composed this poem when, during the liberation war Bangabandhu was in prison in Pakistan and was going to be hanged through some mock trial.
Shamsur Rahman's poems that reflect on Bangabandhu's assassination in 1975 evoke various emotions– often self-criticism, anger, sarcasm - for doing injustice to father for whose absence the land is bound to take a queer direction.
In the poem "Bangladesh swapna dekhe", the emotion for the loss of Bangabandhu has been captured with the images of a bronze statue that has emerged from the soil. In some poems such as "dhaynya sei purush", "nam", "bhaskar purush", "tomar nam ek biplab", 'sonar murtir kahini, the emotions of loss, repentance, wishful desire for the hero's resurrection, the anger for the enemies who want to erase their hero's name while each dust of the land, the leaves of the trees invite the hero's rebirth etc. have beautifully been captured with vivid sensuousness.
In some poems Rahman predicted a natural turn-back of Bangabandhu to recover Bangladesh. "Electrar Gaan", (Ikaruser Akash, 1982) is such a poem where Rahman reflects on the mythical revenge taken by Electra for her father's death.
Rahman wrote a good number of rhymes for children. Some of these rhymes capture emotions for Bangabandhu very explicitly. Among them 'amar nam' (immortal name) and 'tabuo tini raja' (yet he is a king) are very distinctive.
However, here on the occasion of our National Mourning Day, 15 August, and poet Shamsur Rahman's death anniversary on 17 August, I pay tribute to both the persons whom we remember most in this month of August.
As a tribute here is my attempt to translate a complete poem titled "Jar mathai itihaser jyoti-balay" (On whose head lies the ring-light) appearing in the volume Hemanta Sandhyai Kichhukal published in 1997. The poem is written on the 15 August tragedy at 32 Dhanmondi house. In my translation I have kept some words untranslated in order to retain cultural nuances.
On whose head lies the ring-light of history
In Subesadik, when Muazzin's Azan kissed
The sleeping cheeks of city-buildings
The lips of footpaths and lamp-posts
The chins of shops' signboards,
The sweat-dry foreheads of thin slum-children
The quiet eye-lids of lake water
The heads of trees standing still
In the serene peace of birds' nests
Then some harsh 'amabasyas'
Barged into the house, 32 Dhanmondi,
Suddenly he— that tall broad-chested fine-looking man—
Whose head bears the ring-light—
Woke up with an anguished cry like a dream-disturbed deer,
Came out he, stood staunch and stout
Before some harsh 'amabasyas' from whose darkness
Flicked out the vile tongues of a planned madness,
A throng of violent bullets!
Slightly astounded, yet unshaken and unafraid, he
Raised his fingers to the 'amabasyas' and collapsed on the stairs.
At that very moment the face of mother Bangladesh got pierced.
The rivers—Meghna, Padma, Jamuna, Surma
Arial Kha, Dharla, Dhaleswari, Kumar,
Karnaphuli, Buriganga and Madumati
Got filled with fresh blood
Red 'Forat' flowed through Bangladesh
The hairless chest of Shimar, shrill swords
The gloomy face of Imam Hossain, and the dreary Karbala
Came in view.
Clouds in the sky, trees and plants of this Gangetic delta
Every bird that woke suddenly,
Blades of grass trembling in the air,
Heart of every flower
Metamorphosed into an earth-shaken dirge
Bangladesh wore Maharram's Shia attire.
The naked rattling sounds of tanks in the road
Like the one-eyed monster
Wanted to dive down the sounds of Azan
Assaulted the calm solemnity of nature
Bleak pale face of the dawn got stained with
The blood of a newly-wed woman
Whose hand was still adorned with fresh 'mehedi'
The colour of her own sparkling blood.
The dawn wanted to hide its face
When seeing some 'amabasyas'
Advancing towards the fear-driven boy Russel
The dawn saw in their hayena-eyes naked dances of death.
The dawn stopped, the words of indignation faded into silence.
I don't want to recall those beastly hands
The hands that aimed deadly weapons at his chest
At the man who rescued the miserable mother Bangla;
May our fiery look burn those hands into ashes,
The hands that exulted with sports of killing women and children,
May our spits rot those hands that wanted to put him under earth
In an attempt to delete him from people's memories,
But see, how, despite being laid
Like a frozen stretched chunk of tear
Beside the Madhumati at Tungipara
Surrounded by shrubs, trees and plants,
He came, came back in his own house
In the intimate cuddle of people.
Every Shapla, Shaluk and Doel of this land
Every wave of crops and rural path
Bow down to his phenomenal illumination.
And out of deep pain
The incessant flow of water in Sravan
Freezes and turns into a day of condolence
Stretching to the horizons.
Dr Md Abu Zafor is the Professor and Chairman of the department of English at Jagannath University, Dhaka.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.