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Dhaka Tribune

A life well-lived

Kazi Shahid Ahmed always dared to be different

Update : 29 Aug 2023, 06:54 PM

I met Kazi Shahid Ahmed maybe two, maybe three times, soon after joining ULAB in 2014, by dint of being roped in to translate his works. He had published three novels and his autobiography at that point. Although I was asked to translate all four of his books, I agreed to work with just one of his novels and his autobiography because, to be honest, all I knew about this man was that he was the founder of ULAB and president of our Board of Trustees. Before starting work, I was asked to meet him at his office at the Gemcon headquarters. I was amazed at his hospitality and the great respect with which he treated me. I left his office inspired by some of the anecdotes he shared because he wanted to give me a sense of what I had to work with. 

I translated his novel, Bhoirob, first. The novel is about a larger-than-life hero called Bhoirob and spans 73 years. It details the amazing adventures of Bhoirob set against a realistic backdrop. Fact and fiction are inter-woven skillfully and yet, the writing is simple and straightforward. Bhoirob is, at once, mischievous but calm, blatant but caring, wild but soft-hearted, never willing to stand down in the face of adversity. Anyone who challenges him is soon put to the test, usually at their own loss. When he loves, it is with wild abandon and complete devotion. When he rebels, it is for a just cause. He fights wars and faces the enemy head-on. Nothing and no one can beat him. 

Once the translation of Bhoirob was complete and sent off to the press, I dove into Kazi Shahid’s autobiography, Jiboner Shilalipi (translated as Inscriptions in Stone). As I started the translation and read about his life, I realized that his epic hero, Bhoirob, must have been modelled on himself. I worked through the autobiography very slowly, completing it just in time for his 81st birthday, because at the end of each chapter, I had to take a pause to ponder in amazement at the kind of life this man had lived. He had come from a very humble background and built an empire, single-handedly. His life was colourful, full of stories, wild, funny, scary and insightful. 

But Jiboner Shilalipi is not just an autobiography. It is a living history of a time, a city, a country and of a family. Kazi Shahid had lived through poverty, illness, adversity, war and politics. He had been an integral part of the history of this nation. When I drive through Dhanmondi, I note the places he has been through. When I pass by the navy headquarters, I see him in the line of trees he planted after its construction, which, too, he had been responsible for. The descriptions of each place are so vivid and detailed that anyone reading the autobiography can visualize the lay of the land of the time in which he lived. He speaks of his venture into journalism and politics, of the innumerable people he has crossed paths with, of incidents not to be found in history books. And I remain forever grateful to him for the respect he showed by printing my name prominently on the cover of his autobiography as the translator. If you know anything about translators, you know that they are like a guilty secret, their names tucked away in some corner of the publication. But Kazi Shahid had always dared to be different.

Arifa Ghani Rahman is head and associate professor, Dept of English and Humanities, ULAB

Timeline: Death of Kazi Shahid Ahmed
29 Aug 2023, 18:19
A life well-lived
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