I never met Mahbubul Haq Shakil but he was ever familiar to me.
I used to hear stories about him from his younger brother, a senior ex-colleague who became a friend through our works in the central desk of an English-language daily. Our friendship grew because we both kept a low profile, sometimes extremely so, and loved to get nostalgic about the books we had read while in school. I shared how I had grown up with Sheba and Prajapati books, and the Russian and the Bangla classics. It soon turned out he had almost a similar story to tell; his only difference was that he had an elder brother to share all his reading fun with. This was how Shakil’s name came up as a voracious reader and lover of literature, not as the prime minister’s special assistant. Shakil was a poet and short story writer too, one who wrote out of passion and spontaneity.
as I'm reading more and more of his poems, I'm finding his crafts truly engaging and appealing: They touch upon the emotions but they do so without clutching at the maudlin. The storyteller in his short stories would strike one much differently: Mature and having perfect control over the storyline
It came as a little bit of a shock when this part of Shakil’s identity was somewhat lost in the news items that followed his untimely death. In this age when narcissism is a celebrated phenomenon on social networking sites, many questioned whether Shakil was really a poet or a writer. Yes, it is true he didn't fulfil some conditions of being a poet, the most basic of which is apparently to jump on the self-promotion bandwagon on Facebook. Nor did he approach media like his fellow writers do because he was resisted by the feeling that gossip-mongers might think he was using his position to get rave reviews.
I received the first collection of his poems sometime in 2015 but there was no mention of his position. I was only requested to review it if I considered it worth my while. Now I regret not having reviewed it, because as I'm reading more and more of his poems, I'm finding his crafts truly engaging and appealing: They touch upon the emotions but they do so without clutching at the maudlin. The storyteller in his short stories would strike one much differently: Mature and having perfect control over the storyline.
The evaluation of Shakil's political persona should be left to political analysts. Literary and cultural journalists, meanwhile, should shed some light on his contribution to bringing the state closer to the literary world, to making politicians realise that a country's progressive politics cannot go forward without its poets, writers and artistes.
Shakil's love for literature and his rare, articulate ability to engage people in lively conversations about everything from politics to history to poetry to life did pay off. After he died on December 6, 2016, Facebook saw an explosion of posts from his numerous friends and well-wishers who shared his poems, stories and many of their memories with him.
Shakil's third book, Jole Khunji Dhatob Mudra, was launched posthumously on February 6 at Bangla Academy. I hope literature supplements will keep his writing alive through comprehensive evaluation of his works.
Rifat Munim is Literary Editor, Dhaka Tribune.