Syed Shamsul Haq was such a powerful author that he could take the darkness out of the night as well as paint the daytime black with his words. His amazing choice of words made him an exceptional wordsmith. In all of his writings the words that he used always seemed like the only words that could have been used in that particular situation, no matter whether he was describing a scene, an emotion, or an event. He can be considered as one of the most experimental writers of Bangla literature who always surprised his readers by introducing new subjects, forms, and words. His presence in Bangla literature is so all-encompassing and his brilliance is so overwhelming in all the branches of creative writing that he was aptly given the accolade of Sabyasachi. This history conscious literary genius was a fervent advocate of Bengali nationalism. Thus the War of Freedom repeatedly came as a subject matter in his different creations. Syed Haq, as he was called by most of his admirers, was born on December 27, 1935, in Kurigram. Today, on his 84th birth anniversary, ‘morning tea’ pays tribute to this iconic author by discussing the way he portrayed our glorious Liberation War in his novels.
Syed Shamsul Haq came up with his first Liberation War novel Nil Dongshon in 1981. This satirical novel deals with the existential complexity of an ordinary service holder named Kazi Nazrul Islam. After the March 25 crackdown Pakistan Army arrests him due to similarity of his name and birthplace with poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. They repeatedly instruct him to sign in a statement asking the freedom fighters to surrender. Nazrul tells them he is not poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. His father was a fan of the poet and that is why he kept his son’s name Nazrul, but the crazy military don’t believe him. They torture him brutally, but they cannot make him bound to sign the paper. Then they say that if he writes a poem for them, they will release him. This time out of annoyance Nazrul changes his stance and surprisingly states that despite knowing about the consequence he will never write a poem for them! And this is where Syed Shamsul Haq shows his mastery as a story teller by depicting that how Liberation War transforms an ordinary man into a different person who is fearless to reveal his mind.
Syed Shamsul Haq’s another novel Ontorgoto (1984) sketches the post Liberation War Bangladesh as well. The writer wanted to use and accept all the potentials of language. As a passionate aficionado of middle age’s Bangla literature he reintroduced the technique of presenting a tale through verse. Ontorgoto illustrates the journey of a freedom fighter and legendary hero Akbar Hossain who didn’t get the Bangladesh he dreamt for. At the end of the war, freedom fighters were supposed to get their deserved honour as national heroes. But Akbar Hossain shockingly discovers that it doesn’t happen so rather the people who assisted the occupation forces during the war gather strength and attack the freedom fighters. They humiliate them everywhere. When this evil force rapes his sister and kills her, Akbar Hossain asks his fellow fighter Babul to take up his arms again. But Babul refuses him as he compromises with the anti-liberation force. Then Akbar Hossain fights a lone battle but ultimately is hanged by accusing him of killing people! The novel’s style of presentation reminds the readers of Syed Waliullah’s celebrated novel Kado Nodi Kado.
Syed Shamsul Haq’s 1990 novel Nishiddho Loban speaks of a woman named Syeda Bilkis Banu who shows unprecedented courage to take revenge against the Pakistan Army. She doesn’t know the whereabouts of her husband Altaf since March 25 and feels worried for her mother, sister and brother who live in Kurigram’s Jolesshori. One day desperate Bilkis starts a journey by train from Dhaka to reach her village but her train stops at Nobogram. On the way she meets Prodip alias Siraj who suggests her not to go to Jolesshori as the village is attacked by the army. When ignoring his suggestion she walks towards Jolesshori, Prodip joins her. They find that Bilkis’s mother and sister have taken shelter in a village located on the other side of the river but the army has killed her brother Khoka. Pakistan Army strictly warns everyone and tells not to arrange funeral for the martyrs. While searching the dead body of her brother Bilkis gets caught by the army. Thinking her as a Hindu woman Pakistani captain Jamshed tries to develop physical relationship with her. Bilkis convinces him to arrange funeral of her brother. Setting fire on the dead body of Khoka she pushes the captain into it. Nishiddho Loban portrays how time makes an ordinary middle class woman a valiant warrior.
With the publication of the first and second volume of Brishti O Bidrohigon respectively in 1989 and 1990, Syed Shamsul Haq gifted the readers of Bangla literature an epic novel on Liberation War. Blending history, myth, and social and political reality together this novel covers Bengalis’ long struggle for freedom in a larger canvas. Protagonist of the novel freedom fighter Mohiuddin is a progeny of pir Shah Syed Kutubuddin. Adhkosh River encircles his village Jolesshori like a horseshoe. With an aim to cut the dams of the river during the monsoon to isolate the village from other parts of the locality he asks his uncle Syed Abdus Sultan (a khadim who works for Shah Syed Kutubuddin’s shrine) to disseminate that many valuable goods, including gold and diamond jewelries, are stored under the tomb of Shah Syed Kutubuddin. According to him, if Pakistan Army comes to know about the precious treasures, they will dig the tomb. It will make the people of Jolesshori furious as the shrine is considered as a holy place for them. In the face of their attack the army will find no way to escape. But after refusing to do anything that will disrespect his forefather, Syed Abdus Sultan states the long history of his clan. Albeit he thinks that the Liberation War is a plot of India, he doesn’t assist the Pakistan Army. Through the disagreement between two generations of a family Syed Haq illustrates the internal crisis of our whole nation. Simultaneous depiction of past, present and future goes beyond the tale of Mohiuddin’s family, his love affair, and his relationship with fellow fighters. The experiment in form and language is an asset of Brishti O Bidrohigon, but the author’s sudden change in the style of presentation (from third person point of view to first person point of view) disrupts the natural flow of the tale.
Since Bangladesh obtained its much-anticipated independence in 1971 through a bloody war, many writers have penned novels on the nation’s greatest achievement. Most of them have failed with a few exceptions. These authors narrated their tales based on their personal experiences, memoirs, devastation of war, and agony of the family members of martyrs. They hardly illustrated the significance of the War of Freedom and depth of its great spirit in their novels. Syed Shamsul Haq is an exception in this regard. He didn’t write conventional novels rather he chose fresh concepts. His focus was on the impact of Liberation War on individuals’ minds. He also concentrated on how time prepared a person to face the hardest phase of his/her life.
Besides, Syed Haq highlighted the gradual social, political and ideological transformation of the people in independent Bangladesh. He intended to create some meaningful accounts which will last forever as Bangladesh’s history-based novels and inspire the next generations to realise the sacrifice of their ancestors. Thus his characters from the novels based on our Liberation War carry the indomitable spirit of our nation and show how Bengalis can turn around strongly tackling even the most difficult situation. Delving deep into our root Syed Shamsul Haq strived to figure out the source of our courage and confidence and ultimately discovered an epic canvas that speaks of the historical, social, and cultural base of our independence.