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Dhaka Tribune

A chronicler of the human soul

What great writers like Rizia Rahman do for us

Update : 22 Aug 2019, 12:02 AM

The death of writers leaves a void in the lives of those who have had the privilege of reading their works or simply known of them. There are writers, like Rizia Rahman, who lose themselves silently in the world of creativity without making demands on readers.

Those writers who outpace the departed ones in a prolongation of life are equally busy writing the stories of men and women they identify with, people who approximate them in the nature of their existence.

Rizia Rahman, who passed away only days ago, was in that class of people whose goal was an exploration of the human experience. That is what writers do. And by writers we do not mean celebrities touched with a dash of pomposity; we mean the chroniclers of the human soul.

It is in the world of Bangladesh’s poetry where you come across a refreshing breeze on which wafts tales of the human spirit, at once cheering and inspiring and yet at times plunging into the morass of gloom.

When we speak of Shamsur Rahman, we speak of the substantive romance he wove through his poetry -- touching the many manifestations of love and the varied contours of politics.

There were Shaheed Quaderi and AZM Obaidullah Khan, who were for a generation the embodiment of literary sensibilities. There was something of a poetic outreach in them, in the way it was in Abul Hasan and Rafiq Azad.

With Syed Shamsul Huq, the diversity was vast, for he combined poetry with drama. If the former was an enumeration of the longings of his soul, the latter was a brilliant exposition of the society he saw around him, rising and falling and splintering and rising again.

Such poets and such writers have in our times given Bangladesh’s literature the glow that has gone into an enrichment of it.

In the region of English writing in Bangladesh, Razia Khan remains a potent expression of literature encompassing the country’s cultural heritage. Her writing was exacting in its formulation, in terms of language and theme.

Diction was an enormous presence in her expression and with it came a remarkable shaping of the characters peopling her fiction.

In her poetry subsisted a strong whiff of mythology dating back to the Greek era, which again was a broad hint of how Khan brought into her works a combination of Western and Eastern motifs, which in turn propelled readers into expanding their intellectual horizons.

A note needs to be made of the singular contributions made to modern Bangla literature by Selina Hossain, who has over the decades carved an enviable niche for herself on the canvas of creativity. Hers has been a quiet pursuit of themes that have always drawn her readers to her.

One could cite here as well the mass appeal which kept Humayun Ahmed in the limelight, fundamentally owing to the images he consistently drew of the happiness as well as the plight of the Bengali middle class. Losing Humayun was the creation of a huge chasm in Bangladesh’s literary universe.

At the politico-cultural level, there was Humayun Azad with the justified indignation he based his writing on. He insisted on keeping readers in touch with values that were systematically being undercut in the country, essentially as a consequence of the rise of right-wing politics in the country.

Speaking of politics, indeed of values, there is the ubiquity of works which Shawkat Osman regularly sent the reader’s way.

His satire, punctuated by mordant wit, was deliberately directed at arousing the conscience of readers against political tomfoolery and state repression. Irreverence was his underlying theme as he pushed the frontiers of thought.

In an earlier phase of literary creativity, Syed Waliullah went headlong into an exposure of the hypocrisy practiced by peddlers of religion anywhere and everywhere.

Into this group, place Anwar Pasha and what you have is a darkening horizon of the state weighing down on those it is supposed to lift to the heights of happiness.

And who can ever forget the tranquil Rashid Karim with his sense of aesthetics, the emblem of quiet nobility he was cheerfully injecting into his creative works?

Darkness brought on by her awareness of bigotry and male chauvinism is an idea Taslima Nasrin has experimented with over the years.

Conviction is what underpins her works, even if one is not willing to share her views of the parochialism she observes in her swath of literary explorations.

Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, in a number of ways, takes a different route. He finds his way to science with the larger goal of reaching the hearts of the very young, indeed the children yet to step out of school.

The young Imran Khan finds happiness in teaching. He discovers ecstasy in producing fiction, in much a manner similar to that in Junaidul Haque, whose short stories and other aspects of fiction come couched in the humility that has been the raiment of writers through the centuries.

Anisul Hoque gives us large doses of wit in black and white. Rashid Askari speaks of a long-ago war, revisiting the age of brutality we emerged free of through beating back the denizens of darkness.

Away in distant London, Saleha Chowdhury travels frequently into realities that once defined the past but are now an eloquent voice of nostalgia.

Kaiser Haq’s application of educated English in his works takes us a number of steps closer to the doorway of modern fiction, at home and beyond.

Meanwhile, Syed Manzoorul Islam rises and with him rise a plenitude of lives and the experiences which have defined the diverse worlds they have inhabited.

Long years ago, in distant Baluchistan, Rizia Rahman put pencil to paper, to bring Rabindranath Tagore out of the past. 

She was Jonaki, the glow-worm, coaxing the sun to rise out of the gloom of a dark day. The work enriched the mantelpiece of a Bengali home in a bitter winter.

The future waited … for Rizia Rahman. The future came. Last week, it mingled with the past. 

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.

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