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My days with Tareque Masud in New York

  • Published at 06:43 pm September 14th, 2019
TN AK SK NAM
(From left to right): Salimullah Khan, Tareque Masud, Nasir Ali Mamun and Alam Khorshed | Photo: Courtesy

Tribute

Both Tareque Masud and I had gone to New York in the late 1980s. I went for higher studies at the City University of New York in 1988 while Tareque and Catherine landed there as a newly married couple the year after. Two other common friends of ours, renowned writer Salimullah Khan and photographer Nasir Ali Mamun, had already been there for a year. We were all known to each other from Bangladesh through our common interests and activities, such as literature, politics, Film Society and Group Theater movements. In fact, I had first met Tareque at the rehearsal space of Nagarik Theater; I was then associated with it as an amateur actor. But the common experience of our expatriate lives brought us even closer and we became close friends, very much attached to each other.

(L-R): Tareque Masud, Salimullah Khan and Alam Khorshed 

New York boasts of the largest used-bookstore named Strand, where Tareque used to work part-time. This store specializes in selling previously owned books and brags about showcasing the world’s largest collection which it claims is eighteen miles long, if all the books are arranged in a row, one by one. It was located on the 12th street of lower Manhattan. Salimullah Khan studied and worked at the New School for Social Research on 14th street; I was in the nearby Baruch College campus on 23rd street; scholars Salek Khan and Sudipto Chatterjee were at the New York University located on 4th street, and Nasir Ali Mamun was working then in the Mid-town area. It was our common practice to hop from one bookstore to another, to watch movies at the art house theaters of the Greenwich Village after work or school. We went together to attend the Tompkins Square Park street festival, Allen Ginsberg’s poetry program at the Cooper Union Theater and many other events. Most of us were graduate students then with a small allowance which we used up rather quickly on books, movies and theaters and ended up having lunch often with a 50 cents bagel and dinner with a dollar-worth Frankfurter. But we used to go back home rich with all those rare acquisitions of books and fresh memories of watching fascinating films from around the world. Nasir Ali Maumn often captured those moments of our bohemian lifestyle on his camera and I am sure he can find out quite a few of those even now from his apparently unending collection of old photographs.

(L-R): Alam Khorshed and Tareque Masud

At one stage of my stay in New York, I briefly became homeless when Tareque, perhaps remembering the plight of his own floating life in Dhaka, opened the door of his Staten Island home to me, which I accepted gladly not only as a temporary refuge but also as a unique opportunity to share the excitement of the creative and intellectual lifestyle of Tareque and Catherine. I proudly possess many precious memories of that period, which I am going to reflect on briefly here. 

There was a cute-looking cat which belonged to Umiko from Japan, who also shared the flat with us and who named her cat as Nikochi but we used to make fun of her by calling her Nikuchi, a Bangla slang word. Moving to Tareque’s house proved to be a blessing for me as right at that time they succeeded in salvaging almost 100 hours worth of raw footage of Lear Levin’s unfinished project on our Liberation War from a basement of Brooklyn and started their grand cinematic project named Muktir Gaan. The owner of the house was an India-lover named Jonathan, whom we used to call fondly as Janardan; he tolerated all these disruptions and displacements with an ever-indulgent smile. Tareque used to do the painting and repair works of that house himself in order to raise fund for the Muktir Gaan film.

What we eventually watch in the film Muktir Gaan is a finished product. But this was not how its original dreamer Lear Levin had shot and planned it. This was, in fact, a completely new creation by Tareque and Catherine. And to create this epic of a “complete film” from that humungous heap of raw footage was a huge undertaking for them. I can vouch for this without any hesitation as I was involved with this project right from the beginning till the end. They had to watch all the footage from top to bottom countless times to discern a storyline and to construct a structure to follow. They had to virtually clip away thousands of small pieces of reels, stack them separately to put them together again to create the storyline. Whenever there was a missing link they had to look for complementary materials to fill that up, which took them to many different sources far and wide, such as BBC, Channel 4, Granada TV, Indian National Archive etc. For example, they had to track down Geeta Mehta who made a documentary film on our Liberation War and Allen Ginsberg who wrote that famous poem "September on Jessore Road", to name just a few.

I have to mention another very important thing here: Tareque had also carried out a historic responsibility by salvaging the original announcement read by Major Ziaur Rahman from the Kalurghat Radio Station during our Liberation War. He did it with the help of Abdullah Al Faruk of the Bengali Service of German Radio. It clearly established that Ziaur Rahman had made that announcement on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 27th March, not on 26th March, as claimed by many partisan politicians today. Tareque had done many more researches and discoveries like this to turn this film into an important historical document of our glorious Liberation War.

I tried to pay my debt back to Tareque by doing miscellaneous work for this project. But at one point, since I had a knack for writing, particularly for translation, he requested me to translate the English narration of the film into Bangla, which I accepted gladly and did to the best of my ability. Simultaneously, we were also working to raise funds to complete this project and I played a role there, too, by doing some networking and fundraising activities. When the film was almost done, we planned an informal screening of it mostly for the purpose of fundraising. A booklet was brought out on that occasion and I was in charge of the compilation and editing part of that little brochure, which turned out to be quite an informative and useful one. I consider these two literary acts as my own little contributions to propagating and promoting the spirit of our Liberation War.

At one point, Tareque and Catherine rented a whole editing machine and placed it in their house. This brings back another memory because I accompanied them when they were going to fetch it. She was driving a huge truck and I remember that while going through the Mid-town Tunnel, Catherine hit the road divider inadvertently and our truck was about to turn over but her deft hands at the wheel somehow managed to gain back the control of the vehicle. 

We have to admit that the spirit of Liberation War was on the wane through deliberate attempts from the defeated forces. If one person singlehandedly upheld the spirit and helped spread it among the young generations, it was Tareque who made this historical film Muktir Gaan and showing it to them, with constant support of Catherine of course. The whole nation should be grateful to Tareque and Catherine for this unparalleled feat. 

I will conclude this short memoir with the mention of Tareque’s fascination for Garage Sale, an interesting phenomenon in the USA where people give away their miscellaneous old belongings at a very nominal cost, which usually takes place in their garages or back yards. I have many memories of going to Garage Sales with them to hunt for rare books, records, movies etc as I myself had quite a weakness for these events. This story is about one such Garage Sale. It happened when we, including Salimulah Khan and Nasir Ali Mamun, visited Catherine’s ancestral home at Connecticut. We stayed there for a few days. One day we were going to the Brown University campus at Rhode Island where Catherine studied. On our way, Tareque suddenly spotted a Garage Sale at a nearby locality and made Catherine stop the car there. We collected a few books and other objects at a very cheap price. There I noticed one melancholic young man standing in one corner. I asked him about why the Garage Sale was arranged. He replied that it was because his mother made the “transition” recently. I didn’t quite get the meaning of it but Catherine explained to me later that his mother had died but the son didn’t want to utter the word “death”. Just like the old lady of Connecticut, I believe that our dear friend Tareque too made a temporary “transition” only, from this world to another of his own choice, hidden from our temporal view. 


Alam Khorshed (B.1960), graduated as a Mechanical Engineer with a Bachelor's degree from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka and did his Post Graduate studies at Baruch College of City University of New York, USA.  After working for nearly fifteen years, he has given up engineering as a profession and returned to Bangladesh in 2004 to embrace his real passion: literature and arts. He is now engaged as a full-time writer, translator, critic, cultural activist and an arts organizer. He has authored more than twenty books in Bengali, mostly works of translation and literary essays.