Friday, 17 September, 2021

Bangabandhu and Sheikh Hasina as Portrayed in a Poem

Bangabandhu and Sheikh Hasina as Portrayed in a Poem

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  • Prof Hossain Ahmed Arif Elahi
  • 31 August, 2021 12:00 AM
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Shamsur Rahman's Electra's Song [Electrar Gaan] goes beyond the limits of time as it tends to interact with contemporary politics without compromising the literary grandeur of Sophocles’ majestic tragedy. The poem could be understood to be bearing on the two barbaric tragic events that transformed the life of Sheikh Hasina as a new Electra, the protagonist of the political allegory in the poem. The first one was the bloodiest murder of  Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation and the Founder of the independent sovereign Bangladesh along with the members of his family, a host of  relatives and domestic staffers— orchestrated on August 15, 1975 by a cabal of renegade soldiers, their cronies and the insidious conspirators of the state machinery. Bangabandhu was the first Prime Minister and the first President of Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana survived the appalling massacre as they were in Brussels (Belgium) on the fateful day. Sheikh Hasina was the eldest among her siblings. Another was the brutal carnage perpetrated on August 21, 2004 against Sheikh Hasina astoundingly paralleling the horrendous predicament of Electra.

Following the tragic death of Father of the Nation, a chasmic political divide has been visibly cleaving the nation apart. The vicious mass-murder, which was one of the worst events in the political history of the world, unbelievably committed by Bangabandhu's fellow countrymen severed the integrity and strength of the nation which, therefore, has since been suffering from a schism among politicians, people, professionals and the intelligentsia in the country. Furthermore, August 21, 2004 is distinctly memorable too as one of the bloodiest dates in the national calendar of Bangladesh when Sheikh  Hasina, the then Leader of the Opposition, with her party’s rank and file, came under the atrocious grenade attack and escaped by the skin of their teeth. But even that event did not pass without a toll on the precious souls of some of the top-ranking members of Awami League: they were either killed or maimed and left with lifelong traumas. These two heinous incidents tremendously rocked the foundations of our politics—widening the ideological rift, deepening its fault lines and putting further stain of distrust and malice on the complexion of Bangladesh's body politic and its institutions— seriously shocked the stalwarts and the stakeholders playing out storms in their minds. As a consequence, in the almanac of Bangladesh, the Gregorian month of August has metaphorically taken on a gloomier atmosphere adopting the graver epithet "the month of mourning", thereby casting shadows in our political climate and pouring out several implications.

Published in 1982 in the book of poems titled The Firmament of Icarus [Icaruser Akash], the Electra's Song merits a special mention as it adapts the myth of the Greek prominence with a view to putting its crux into the tapestry of his native country  and bringing the two vital voices to the forefront— keeping them vibrant and alive:  one is the voice of Electra's plea for justice for her murdered father— ( justice for Bangabandhu) and another is her unyielding voice of defiance showing herself to be a potential leader on the future political scene— (Sheikh Hasina's emergence). As regard to the intertextuality, the poet casts our national tragedy into the mythic mould of Agamemnon and his daughter Electra, suggesting the timeless continuance of the recurrent pattern of tragedy through our time exemplified by the tragedy of Bangabandhu and his daughter Sheikh Hasina. The two Electras have a common goal—accomplishing their filial duty i.e., restoring the moral order and bringing the murderers of their fathers to justice, nevertheless the Greek Electra's familial cause is not the same as Sheikh Hasina's  in the modern perspective of myriad setbacks. Accordingly, Shamsur Rahman's treatment of the plot and portrayal of the protagonist to certain extent, depart from the genre and the occasion of the classical provenance. Vindicating justice, the poet puts spotlight on the nefarious act of assassination of "the apostle of liberty" who was inhumanly killed by the traitors intrigued with the global agents for their hidden agendas— needless to say, unlike the mythical motives that were behind Electra's conclusive purpose. Electra received the wholesome countenance from her brother Orestes to redress the regicide while Sheikh Hasina, alienated  but resilient, counting on the allies inclusive of every stripe and the party hegemony, reinforced their spurs and spirits to get on with bringing the perpetrators to trial and had been to the fore at the political crossroads. And, braving all vicissitudes, Sheikh Hasina had overwhelmingly risen from the ashes of colossal disasters. At the end of the day, with renewed vigour and farsighted vision, she took hold of  her father's party's helm— to reconstruct in time of crisis, and of her father's founded state's power— to rule in the age of multiple challenges.

 Electra's Song is deemed to be a threnody in its form and presentation on a first look as the title sounds, but going deep, the poem comes out as a glorious tribute to the regeneration of a rebellious self as well as of a naïve self— kept suppressed and silenced in the dungeon of deprivation for years. The protagonist enables us to cast insights into her predicament and traumatic psyche plagued by the wounds of orphancy and the woes of solitude. She deliberately speaks of her resentment and plight, without allowing the elegiac undertones to loom large and without deviating from her unwavering resolve to push forward. As history tells, it was late Humayun Rashid Chowdhury, the erstwhile Bangladesh Ambassador to West Germany, who valiantly came forward as the guardian of the two daughters of Bangabandhu and played the decisive role in patronizing and according their short-spanned status and sustenance in the overseas country after the ruination of their family. With a sense of shared sorrow, the afflicted sisters have been weaving together the saga of their sorrow since the massive loss of the dearest lives. Their eternal togetherness, bereft of the valuable stewardship of parents and the vigorous warmth of siblings, has made them soul-mates forever. The death of Bangabandhu left a void no one could fill, yet they look forward to the long-cherished dreams of their towering father who stands high as their iconic hero leaving his imprint on them for the rest of their life and stamping his unfinished vision on his living successors, committed and forward-looking, for the transformation of his beloved country—the land liberated at the cost of millions, and to whom the land owes its birth—into Shonar Bangla, the much-longed for land of peace and prosperity—to which he lent his dreams and for which he embraced the tragic death.

Very notably, the poem ends with a striking note of resuscitation and optimism that envisions a robust leadership in the making. Much to the applause and expectations of the supporters and well-wishers, Sheikh Hasina became the Prime Minister of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh for the first time on June 23 1996 reinstating the legacy of Bangabandhu. Pledge-bound, she reiterated that the innocent blood spilt by the killers would taint the whole nation unless it is cleansed by the sponge of justice. History sets oozing out from the mournful craters of  dormant volcanoes to witness the spectacular emergence of the Electra of Bangladesh on its political stage back from the brink as well as the justice for Bangabandhu and the victims of August massacre. Electra's Song, from the narrative of utter trauma and devastation, has eventually turned up as the poem of hope—hope for justice:

"Blood was shed not on foreign soil but in his own land—

Inside his very palace; unarmed, he was slain unawares!"

Also, hope for victory— heralding  Sheikh Hasina's historic comeback as a leader in the path to victory :

"Alone, I walk on the blood-thirsty path strewn with thorns

  Breathing into the future— keeping my head and my voice up.”

Last but not least, Electra’s Song, conveying the invaluable message of history, echoes the energizing words of Seamus Heaney's seminal poem The Cure at Troy that—essentially sing of the awakening of justice and hope from the burial of lawlessness and the abyss of despair:

“History says, Don't hope

On this side of the grave,

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.”


The writer is Director, Directorate of Secondary & Higher Education, Chattogram Zone