In a fit of fury that betters any muse, he penned the first poem of the Ekushey
In the evening of the 21st of February 1952, Mahbub ul Alam Chowdhury lay in bed, consigned to it by a bout of chicken-pox and fever of a hundred and four degrees Fahrenheit. News reached him of the defiant people’s movement in Dhakato protest Urdu being the only national language of Pakistan. This insult, the latest gambit by an oppressive West Pakistan to subjugate and colonise East Pakistan, was made worse by the fact that Bangla was the most widely spoken language in the whole of Pakistan by a country mile.
Mahbub ul Alam Chowdhury was told about the horrific quashing of the protests that had claimed the lives of innocents and injured countless numbers. In a fit of fury that betters any muse, he penned a seventeen-page demand for justice and end of oppression without pause, thereby quite literally writing himself into history as Ekusheyer Prothom Kobi, the first poet of the Language Movement. Amongst his impassioned lines that conveyed the sentiments of the people was spelt out “independence”, evidence, if any was needed, that it had been conceived by the people nineteen years before their political leaders pronounced it.
For his troubles he was rewarded with a bounty being put on his head and an arrest warrant being issued. The lawenforcement officials that descended on him decided to allow him to recover before being apprehended. They guarded him day and night while he convalesced. Friends and relatives pleaded with him to live, to continue the fight. Once convinced, he was smuggled away, dressed in a burqa, from under the noses of the sentinels. His words of revolution suffered a worse fate. After being read at a large public protest rally on the 23rd of February, all copies were confiscated and burnt. The Kohinoor Printing Press in Chittagong that printed them was ransacked. It was not untilthe 1990s that a public appeal brought a termite-ridden copy to light. The entire poem had not survived, but, as was the case even during the lost years, its spirit and purpose had never waned.
None of this had been made known to me by him, my maternal grandfather. The public and private eulogies that followed his passing informed me of most of it. I was, however, not surprised. I had grown up in the shadow of a man who had only ever allowed the best angels that resided within him to dictate his life and inspire those around. My identity, the answer to all existential questions, became a relentless pursuit of values, history, heritage, culture, equality, justice and revolution. Nanadid that without ever bringing himself or his life’s work into the discourse. He emphasised that it was always about and for the people and humanity. Iacknowledged as an incontrovertible truth that the only motivation, the only reason, for ever doing anything is being on the side of right.
The Poem: I have not come to shed tears where they laid down their lives
Mahbub ul Alam Chowdhury
I have not come, where they laid down their lives
under the upward looking Krishnachura trees,
to shed tears.
I have not come, where endless patches of blood
glow like so many fiery flowers, to weep.
Today I am not overwhelmed by grief, Today I am not maddened with anger,
Today I am only unflinching
in my determination,
The child who will nevermore get a chance
to rush to his father’s arms,
the housewife who, shielding the lamp
with her sari, will nevermore wait
by the door for her husband,
the mother who will nevermore draw
to her breast with boundless joy
her returning son,
the young man who, before collapsing
on the earth, tried again and again
to conjure before his eyes the vision
of his beloved,
in their name,
in the name of those brother and sisters,
in the name of my language,
nourished by the heritage of a thousand years,
in the name of the language in which
I am accustomed to addressing my mother,
in the name of my native land,
I say, I have come today,
here on the open grounds of the university,
to demand their death by hanging,
the death of those who killed
my brothers and sisters indiscriminately.
(This is a truncated version of the full translation of the poem, “Kandte Ashini, Phashir Dabi Niye Eshechhi”, regarded as the first impassioned poem in response to the brutalities unleashed upon the Language Movement activists. The formatting of the translated version has been slightly altered here.)