It was a typical day of August 17, 2006, the sun was setting down behind the flaming clouds with all its glory, birds were finding their nightly shelter in the nearby Ramna Park, and after fighting a deadly battle for more than a week, Shamsur Rahamn, celebrated poet of Bangladesh, lost his earthly battle in the ICU of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib University, Dhaka.
It was his wish that there would be no rain on the day he would die so that people have no trouble to take his dead body to the graveyard. There was no rain indeed, and the carriers of his dead body faced no trouble. His lifeless body was taken to his dear sacred ground Shaheed Minar, and thousands of people thronged to have a last glimpse of their favourite face.
He was laid into his mother's grave at Banani graveyard. Boastful death has snatched his corporeal flesh, no doubt, but will death be able to snatch his beautiful creations that extend over sixty four volumes of poetry (one published posthumously), ten volumes of juveniles, four novels, five volumes of translations, one volume of short story, two volumes of memoirs, three volumes of essays and two volumes of editing works.
There has not been enough research about his works and only a few poems have been translated into English, but for sure, he is the poet of our nationhood– the poet who has successfully captured the true emotions of his people beginning with the Language Movement of 1952, subsequent movements culminating the emergence of a new nation called Bangladesh in 1971 and the post liberation hopes and frustrations. Apart from such nationalist features of his writings, Rahman, obviously, wrote for love and beauty, and for humanity against the backdrop of a modernist literary trend felt at home and abroad.
Born on October 23, 2029 in a middle class household at Dhaka's 46 Mahut Tuli, Shamsur Rahman dedicated his life to the service of his land and people through his writings. He had to sacrifice a lot for this. He could have earned more money becoming a CSP (Civil Service of Pakistan) officer or a Barrister. His father wanted him to be so and wanted to provide necessary financial support. But one rainy day Rahman felt an inner urge to write a poem. Then he was about 20 years old, and was a BA Honours student in the Department of English in Dhaka University.
With the encouragement and inspiration of his artist friend Hamidur Rahman (who later became the designer of Shaheed Minar) the poem was submitted to the weekly Sonar Bangla Magazine. The poem was published in January 1949 and the title of the poem was "Unishaw Unpansash" [Nineteen Forty Nine], though Rahman had not included this poem in any of his volumes.
Gradually, Rahman was possessed by his muse of poetry. Due to his poetic experiment he paid little attention to his academic study. He was out from the Department of English, Dhaka University for not attending his BA Honours final examination in 1950. Then after having a BA pass degree he had again enrolled in MA class in the same department. This time also he was out for not attending the final examination. A university girl, whom Rahman loved and wanted to marry, rejected him sensing her lover's bad future. Later in his life he had to earn his living by doing jobs in newspaper offices, first in The Morning News (1957 to 1961 apart from a brief period in Radio Pakistan), then in the Bangla daily Dainik Pakistan (1964-1971), then in Dainik Bangla (1972-1987).
He incurred the wrath of the then military ruler President Ershad for not carrying out his order properly, and he was compelled to resign. Having resigned from his job on December 6, 1987 he faced a severe financial crisis. The poet then had to depend on the scanty amount that he had received from his writings. In his old age people often came to him to get a poem and gave him some money.
His daughter in law Tia Rahman said, "Abbu never demanded money from anybody for his poems. But our family needed more money. Abbu needed more money for treatment. Then I fixed an amount of Tk3000 for each poem, and it gave us some advantage." In his old age Rahman was also attacked by the Islamist fundamentalist group in his residence. With prompt and intelligent attempt of Tia Rahman and his wife Zohara Begum he had a hair breadth escape from being killed.
Rahman was an erudite writer and he wanted to be true to his art even at the risk of his life. In the literary scene, he entered slowly and carefully. From the beginning he searched his root. With his own eyes he noticed the poisonous steam of communal politics on his soil. He saw the clashes between Hindus and Muslims– the seeds of which were sown by the colonial masters towards the closing decades of their rule in India, the consequence of which was geographical divisions on the basis of religion resulting one of world's worst refugee crises and killings in this part of the globe.
With his keen insight Rahman could catch the unity-ground of the Bangalis living in Bengal centuries after centuries speaking the same language, inheriting the same glory of a thousand-year old Bangla literature that was always shaping a harmonious relationship and a wider attitude to life irrespective of religion, caste and creed. Shamsur Rahman oriented himself with such harmony, yet being aware of the global impact of the Second World War and the regional ills that had loomed large on the Bangalis of East Pakistan immediately after partition. He could not hail the Pakistan state like some of his contemporary poets who later failed to hold the true emotion and desires of the people of East Pakistan (later Bangladesh). Besides, Rahman's great contribution is his development of a poetic language that comes close to people's day-today language.
Rahman showed us how to imprison life in art. What he has seen and felt he has given that an artistic shape. That is why his writings seem to be a chronicle of his time. Rahman depicted lives of the floating and shelterless people in Dhaka in poems such as 'Parker Nisanga Khanja' (The Lonely Lame Man in the Park), 'Khelnar Dokaner Samne Bhikhiri' (A Beggar in Front of the Toy Shop), 'E Sahar' (This City), and in many other poems. With his extraordinary poetic description Asad's shirt becomes a part of our history and inspiration for independence. Keeping Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's imprisonment in mind Rahman wrote the poems 'Samson' and 'Telemachus' using Greek myth.
When the liberation war was going on the poet took shelter in his village home Paratali in Narsingdi. Sitting beside the pond he was suddenly emotional and wanted to express his feelings about the ongoing liberation war. Sitting there he wrote the two poems "Tomake Paoar Janya He Swadhinata" and "Swadhinata Tumi" which got a classic status becoming the feelings of every Bangladeshi about our hard-earned liberation. Similarly, Shamsur Rahman has depicted almost every aspect of life and often his poetry becomes very personal, but ultimately this personal emotion turns to general and herein lies his success as an artist.
Of course Rahman's poems are academically taught in schools, colleges and in universities in Bangladesh. But undoubtedly, so far he is much less-exposed and almost not focused outside the boundary of Bangla language. His works can be translated more, can be studied and analysed more using various critical approaches such as postcolonialism, modernism, postmodernism, feminism, Marxism, ecocriticism, etc.
Lastly, Rahman wrote a poem on 'A death anniversary' (included in Sunlight on the Scull) perhaps in memory of someone dear, the last lines of which are-
There is movement of silk in the window, I think
How easily they had made you food for worms
Those who got a taste of eternity with your touch
I came to the balcony, my thoughts crumbled
Why I came here, I know you are not here, yet...
Dr Md Abu Zafor, Professor and Chairman, Department of English, Jagannath University; Email: [email protected]