A review of 'Mujib'
It was March 17, 2016. A packed audience of children, parents and guardians, as well as university staff gathered at Khulna University auditorium to mark National Children Day and the birth anniversary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The excited children from different schools in the city had taken part in a drawing competition that morning and now it was time for the much-awaited award show. I held a delightful conversation with this merry and raucous band of kids during the course of my speech. I pointed to the wrapped prizes, each of which contained books on Bangabandhu and the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Some of the gift packs contained his autobiography, Ausamapta Atmajiboni (Unfinished Memoirs), as well. I asked the parents and guardians to help their children learn about Bangabandhu’s life. What better way to learn about the Prometheus of Bengal than reading his own work?
Ausamapta Atmajiboni is a brilliant work in many ways. It records the tale of the making of a national hero along with vivid descriptions of the momentous events and incidents of the last few years of the Raj and the first eight years of the tyrannical West Pakistani rule. The Pakistan part includes the Language Movement and the 1954 elections in which Sheikh Mujib played a pivotal role in the United Front’s landslide victory. Its historical value apart, Atmajiboni is a grand piece of literature. The graceful ease and the leisurely pace with which he weaves his stories are outstanding. I read the book when it was published in 2012 and have felt ever since that it is a must read for all Bengalis.
The thought that troubled me, however, was whether our children would appreciate it. There have been prolonged periods of state hostility, propaganda and silence since the fateful night of August 15, 1975 when Bangabandhu was brutally killed along with his family members to simultaneously conceal, distort and tailor history. There would be hardly anything about him in the media; his historic March 7 speech would not be mentioned as if it had not occurred at all! The state apparatuses contributed in dishing out the history that attempted to put down his contributions, for which the generations born and raised during the post-1975 era had little opportunity to know about his majestic sacrifice until the latter half of 1996. After 21 long years of silence, Bangabandhu re-appeared in national life. However, with the change in government in 2001, another era of silence began, ensuring his absence from the state. It was since 2009 that the Bangladesh Awami League-led government, coming back to power, has tried to put history in its right course.
The background above perhaps has revealed why our children did not have much of an opening to become familiar with Bangabandhu and Bangladesh’s history, which is why it may be difficult for them to get to the heart of Ausamapta Atmajiboni. The graphic novel Mujib has provided an alternative channel for them and for those interested in learning about him. Based on the journals he kept while incarcerated in the late 1960s of the previous century, the first four parts in a series of twelve have been published so far. The maiden book in the series was launched on March 17, 2015 on his 96th birth anniversary. The three others in the series were brought out in three successive years during Ekushey Book Fair. Published by Bangabandhu’s grandson Radwan Mujib Siddiq and Nasrul Hamid on behalf of the Centre for Research and Information (CRI) and edited by Shibu Kumar Shil, the series draws upon the crucial events in Bangabandhu’s life and presents them in graphics, complemented sometimes by relevant text from his own work, and edited and simplified text on other occasions. While Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy had paired with ABM Salahuddin Shuvo to do the illustrations for the first book, Tanmoy did it singlehandedly for the other three. A quick look at the books would convince anyone both the graphics and illustrations have been brilliantly conceived and brightly executed.
Mujib 1 retains the dramatic beginning of the autobiography in which Bangabandhu provides the setting for writing the book, introduces readers to Tungipara, the remote lush green village where he was born in 1920, his first sojourn in jail and gradual involvement in politics. Mujib 2 depicts Bangabandhu’s growth as an important politician of Bengal and his remarkable ties with his political mentor, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. This part contains his thoughtful understanding of British colonial design. The 1943 famine had struck Bengal – the starving people were dying every day in their hundreds. A discerning Mujib did not require much time to discover that the colonial enterprise, which had confiscated boats to amass rice for the soldiers fighting on the war fronts, contributed to the famine. The part ends, however, with an amusing account of a football match with Bangabandhu playing against his father. The entertaining episode recounts how Bangabandhu’s shot was defended by the opposition goalkeeper and how his father scored the all-important goal for his team to win the AZ Khan Shield trophy. Mujib 3 shows Mujib’s active association with politics and zeroes in on the post- World War II period of his life when he volunteered to arrange food for people. It also emphasizes the lesson that he learned from his father, the lesson that he held to his bosom all his life: “You will never be defeated in life should you have the sincerity of purpose and the honesty of purpose” (19).
Mujib 4, the latest in the series, aptly subtitled Delhi Obhijan (Delhi Adventure) zooms in on Mujib’s return journey from Delhi to Kolkata by train after attending the All India Muslim League Conference, and his firsthand exposure to coterie-based politics (which he hated most). The book portrays how Mujib and two of his associates found that they had nearly run out of money as they lengthened their stay in Delhi to visit historic sites. So acute was the crisis that the trio had to come back to Kolkata with a single ticket, dodging the checkers! The illustrations of the episode are so gleaming that one can easily perceive the perils the three musketeers were in. One would hardly miss the humor of the situation as Mujib’s comrade Nooruddin became the naqr (servant) to one Momen Saab and offered a piece of banana to the departing checker much to the relief of Mujib (11). The book also contains another interesting incident in which young Mujib had a heated debate with his mentor Suhrawardy. Mujib could not agree to Suhrawardy’s proposal for accommodating veteran Anwar on the committee for he had coterized the party. And he had the courage to tell his mentor: “You cannot speak on his behalf.” An angry Suhrawardy retorted: “You are not the one to speak about it.” But Mujib would not take it. He left the room telling Suhrawardy to his face: “I will prove someday that I am really somebody.” Suhrawardy loved Mujib and knew him well. He summoned Mujib back and gave in to his demand for election (16-20). The event foreshadows how unbending Bangabandhu would become for the rights of his compatriots.
Presenting the lives of great personas in graphics is not a new phenomenon. Graphic novels on the lives of Nelson Mandela and Che Guevara have enjoyed enormous popularity. Successful graphic novels have been produced on the lives of Netaji Subhas Bose and Indira Gandhi as well. However, in Bangladesh Mujib is the maiden venture in the genre for which CRI must be congratulated. Radwan Mujib Siddiq’s role in the project needs special mention. Not only had he initiated the daunting project, he also acted as a bridge between the production team and Bangabandhu’s daughters for whom the publication itself was delicate and sensitive in many ways. At the launch of the English version of Mujib 1 at the Dhaka Lit Fest last November, Radwan noted how he sat for hours with his mother and aunt together to resolve any issues: “When the initial drawing was submitted, both of them pointed out a flaw in the hairstyle of their grandfather – Bangabandhu’s father.” (bdnews24.com)
Young readers may indeed feel fortunate because Mujib is replete with many such lively episodes and incidents which unveil a Bangabandhu whose life was full of twists and turns. These twists and turns have contributed to making him down-to-earth, truly a people’s hero. One feels the twelve-part Mujib will serve as an invaluable source for the youths to learn about Bangabandhu who is inseparable from the history of Bangladesh.
Ahmed Ahsanuzzaman is professor of English at Khulna University. A Dhaka University alumnus, he received both his MPhil and PhD from Oslo University, Norway. Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) of Khulna University, Ahsanuzzaman takes interest in theatre, translation, Shakespeare and Ibsen studies.