On 17 August 2006, a star fell from the sky of Bengali literature. It was not anticipated, yet alleged since he had been suffering from cardiovascular diseases for years. Probably he too was ready to depart. He wished to take the final leave on a dry day when there would be no rain. He wanted to have a smooth ride to his last destination—his graveyard where his mother had been sleeping for long. He peacefully went back to his mother’s lap after a massive press conference at the sacred ground of Shahid Minar where he could neither speak nor even respond. Thousands of people were crowded to see just a glimpse of him—a man which finally turned into a corpse. On 17 August, the country lost its unofficial poet laureate Shamsur Rahman.
The multi-dimensional writer Shamsur Rahman was born on 23 October 1929 in a middle-class family in Dhaka. He was the fourth among fourteen children of his parents. Like all the fathers, his father also wanted him to do a decent job and become an earning member of the family. However, Rahman was highly influenced by the words of Rabindranath Tagore as he used to read Golpo Guccho. He read Michael Madhusudan Dutt and adapted his way of writing in Poyaar style. Thus, the poet was born in him.He started writing poems at the age of eighteen. He got admitted to Dhaka University in the Department of English. Literature added feathers to his wings of imagination and he kept on composing poetry. With the inspiration of his Artist friend Hamidur Rahman—designer of Shahid Minar—he submitted his poem to the weekly Sonar Bangla Magazine. The poem was titled “Unishow Unopanchash” as it was published in 1949. Surprisingly, he did not include this poem to any one of his sixty four volumes of poetry. We can say that among many published poems, many were still unpublished. That’s surprising!
Calling him just a “poet” would be an understatement. Shamsur Rahman is a phenomenon. Besides poems, he published ten volumes of juveniles, four novels, and five volumes of translations, one volume of short story, two volumes of memoirs, three volumes of essays and two volumes of editing works. Cut the long story short, he was a poet, novelist, biographer, translator and journalist. Such multi-talented and multi-dimensional persona could not receive the exposure he deserved. He translated other’s works. But his works are not widely translated.
When he started to enter the world of literature, he observed the communal riots very closely. He was reared up in a Muslim family. However, he always searched for his roots. He clearly understood how the colonial masters planted the hateful seed of communalism and drew a discriminatory line between the Hindus and the Muslims. All these observations and understandings took place in his poems. He wrote with an open mind. He did not believe in caste and creed. He wanted to orient himself in harmony. Still he was misunderstood and even attacked by fundamentalists. However, that could not stop Rahman from blooming as a poet. His poetic diction attracted the young generation. He successfully created a bunch of young readers and writers who admire his works.
Shamsur Rahman published his first book of poetry Prothom Gaan Ditiyo Mrittyur Agey (First Song Before the Second Death) in 1960. After that he had to go through some political turbulence between 1960 and 1970. He wrote his brilliant and widely known piece Asader Shirt (Asad’s Shirt) with respect to the mass uprising of 1969 led by Maulana Bhasani. Asader Shirt became a milestone which reflects our national identity and struggle before the liberation war. During the war of Liberation, the poet wrote many poems which inspired the freedom fighters. Later on the poems published in Bondi Shibir Theke (From Confinement in Enemy Territory) in 1972. After the war, he continued to write poems on the independence which we secured after a bloody struggle for 9 long months.
His poems, written during the war, “Tomake Pawar Jonnye Shwadhinota” and “Shwadhinota Tumi” became signature poems of all the Bangladeshi people. His use of First Person Narrative became a generalised voice of the millions. He also wrote poems on The Father of the Nation. Bangabandhu had to spend one-third of his lifetime in prison. Keeping Bangabandhu’s life in Prison, Rahman wrote “Samson” and “Telemachus”. He used Greek mythology to make it sound fictional. What a great poet he was!
It is an English dominated world. People, from the other parts of the world, get to know about an author and his/her writings from the translations. Most of the translators in our country are interested in translating Nazrul, Tagore and Jibanananda Das. Poets and writers like Shamsur Rahman need to receive international readership. He truly captured the true essence of the struggle of Bangladeshi people starting from the Language Movement in 1952. He depicted pre-liberation suffering and post-liberation anxiety in his poems. Besides nationhood, he promoted love, beauty, brotherhood and humanity in his writings.Shamsur Rahman’s poems are included in the syllabuses of National Curriculum. His poems are taught in schools, colleges and universities. However, his works need to be more critically analysed. His poems portray almost every aspect of life. Some poems can be analysed from postcolonial perspective. Some are to be read from a Marxist point of view. His poems, if read chronologically, represent an Odyssey from Pre to Post liberation war. A researcher can witness the suffering, struggle, heroism and pride by reading his poems thoroughly. Whatever he wrote, he added his piece of soul while composing a literary piece. This is why his works are still very close to our essence.
Shamsur Rahman, as his daughter-in-law stated, never looked for money for his poems. He was an erudite and passionate writer who wrote to feed his soul. But when he was critically examined, his family needed money for his treatment. His health condition worsened. So, his family fixed 3000 taka for each poem which brought them good fortune for the time being. It is a matter of such embarrassment that an artist, in our country, is financially insecure. We, unfortunately, cannot give proper value to art and artists. Artists die and art remains alive. Let’s keep Poet Shamsur Rahman alive in our hearts, brain and mind by reading, translating and analysing his works.
The writer is a Lecturer, Department of English Language and Literature, Premier University Chittagong