A historian searching roots

I do remember him, like most of his living acquaintances, who interacted with him in any phase of his not-so-long life of seventy two years. He is Abdul Huq Chowdhury, a humble folk researcher and historian, attired in white lungi and kurta, as far as I recall his figure. He departed twenty two years back, on 16 October 1994, leaving a legacy of his own as a peerless scholar growing out of grassroots outfit on the fertile soil of Chittagong, the gateway of the East that has been harboring the ethos of diverse races and cultures since time immemorial. The seventh descendant of the illustrious poet Koreshi Magan in the middle age, who authored a long verse narrative entitled `Chandravati’, Huq was born on 24 August 1922 to the wedlock of Alhaj Sharfuddin Engineer and Momena Begum Choudhurani in Nowazishpur village under Raojan thana of greater Chittagong. He started and completed his schooling in his birth-village, and subsequently took the profession of teaching there in a primary school at the age of eighteen, following the untimely death of his father. Thereafter he came into close contact with Abdul Karim Sahityavisharad, the pioneering folklorist and collector of medieval manuscripts of Muslim poets in the main, a venture that compelled our literary historians to reconstruct the history of Bengali literature as a whole. Furthermore, Huq was a classmate as well as a close associate of Professor Ahmed Sharif, who contributed enormously in deciphering and interpreting rare puthis or medieval verse manuscripts, collected by his uncle and literary guide Shahit­yavisarad. This interaction proved rewarding in multiple ways to A Huq Chowdhury, who was inspired to dedicate his life to collect and record rare documents and confessions by living tradition bearers roaming around the rural and urban areas of Chittagong and adjacent areas. Though Huq never received college or university education as per prescribed syllabus, he studied and practiced the method of close reading as well as documentation in his humble manner, resulting in a paradigm of his own, characterized by clarity, accuracy and poignancy of thought and wisdom. He was slow and steady all along and waited till the fiftieth year of his life before gathering himself to draft the manuscripts on the history, culture and allied disciplines, mostly relating to his known regions, where he grew up. The first title he published was ‘Chattagramer Itihas Prasanga’ (About the History of Chittagong) in two volumes in the year 1976. And then onwards he wrote and published as many as eleven book-length research works on diverse issues and perspectives. These are Chattagramer Ithas Prasnga (second edition 1980), Chattagramer Samaj Sangskriti (1980), Syleter Itihas Prasanga (1981), Shahar Chattagramer Itikotha (1985), Chattagramer Samaj Sangskritir Ruprekha (1988, Bangla Academy), Chattagram Arakan (1989), Chattagramer Itihas Bishayak Probandha (1992), Prachin Arakan, Rohingya, Hindu O Barua, Budhdha Odhibashi (1994, Bangla Academy) and Bandar Shahar Chattagram (1994, Bangla Academy). Bangla Academy published his last title Probandha Bichitra : Itihas O Sahitya posthumously in 1995. His magnum opus is undoubtedly Chattagramer Samaj Sangskritir Ruprekha (Outline of the Society and Culture of Chittagong), with new findings and insight into the traditional history of the region he belonged to. A veteran freedom fighter, he was arrested by the Pakistani occupation army on 11 August 1971. He was recognized for his contribution by the father of nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Bangabandhu Sangskriti Sebi Kalyan Trust was generous enough to extend monetary grant for publication of his first book.
Besides, he won a number of awards for his original contribution towards redefining the individual and national identity of the people of Bangladesh, now a nation-state. However, he deserves to be decorated with highest state honor such as Swadhinata Padak or Ekushe Padak posthumously for his invaluable achievements as a self-trained researcher and historian searching roots.

Author / Source : Mohammad Nurul Huda, The author is a leading poet of Bangladesh.

Bangabandhu’s long shadow on History


Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a tall man for a Bangali but his larger than life image in history is not because of his physical size, it is because of his giant-like ability to mould events and his unique success is creating new reality in the form of an independent country.  Thus when he was tragically cut down along with his family members on this day in 1975, instead of being forgotten or diminished his memory has risen continuously, now containing the tragic aura of his death and creating for all Bangalis a timeless national myth.  In a survey of BBC listeners he was described as the Greatest Bangali of all times, even surpassing such legend as Rabindranath Thakur.

Death is common and inevitable; we all will succumb to it in one way or another.  But the truly great surpasses physical annihilation precisely because they manage to etch their presence in our collective psyche so powerfully that physical absence does not make them forgotten or invisible.  Bangabandhu etched in our minds a dream of Nationhood and then made  it  a reality through undaunted struggles lasting for a decade.  Through his life’s work he turned our diffuse aspiration for autonomy into a vibrant and inevitable struggle for National Freedom.  No death can ever make his work forgotten.

To me the awesome power of what he had managed to accomplish came long after I left Bangladesh .  In Bangladesh through the endless drama of unfolding events seen from close proximity I did not have a good perspective of the grand sweep of history that made our nation.  But after leaving Bangladesh in 1979, long after Bangabandhu had been killed I encountered the power of his presence in New York in front of the UN plaza one afternoon.  I remember standing there and witnessing the flag of Bangladesh fluttering in the wind.  But that flag resplendant in the green and red is also not what made me realize the role of Bangabandhu.  What made me realize the uniqueness of our Nationhood and his role in it is when I witnessed all afternoon processions after processions of diverse would-be nationalities coming to UN plaza and putting up the case of their own Nationhood.  Large masses of humanity, Kurds, Basques, Tamils, Palestinians, people who aspire for Nationhood, but perhaps would have hard time ever getting it,  congregated in front of  the UN and  showed their passionate wish in speeches, festoons, and through plain anguish on their faces.  I watched them intently for a few hours and suddenly it dawned on me how lucky we were that we have been blessed with those unique events in 1970 and 1971 that culminated in what even five years before, in 1965  would have been considered impossible.

To be sure at an abstract level Bangali Nationhood has been a  fuzzy poetic dream of many great Bangalis.  Rabindranath spoke about Bangladesh but never really saw it outside the map of India ; Netaji, though a great Bangali only thought in the context of United India; Shyamaprasad-  Fazlul Haque alliance was only a short dream and Suhrawardy-Sharat Basu proposal for united Bangla was only a proposed confederation.  It took  twenty plus years of tortuous journey through the dream of Pakistan for the audacious Bangali dream of complete and unquestionalble nationhood to emerge.   It took unique events of 1952 and then 1969 to mature it.  It took visionaries such as Sirajul Alam Khan to nurture it through days of adversity.  It transformed Awami League from a electoral party of Pakistan nurtured by Mr. Suhrawardy into an agent of National Liberation.  And through all these events it was the powerful persona of Bangabandhu that galvanized it, shaped it and propelled it in the direction of total and uncompromising nationhood.  It was a psychological transformation of stopping to  think about a province with autonomy, into thinking of a Nation.  And that audacity of dream was delivered by the win of Awami League in the National elections of 1970.  It was a grand strike where the volatile feeling of cultural awakening mixed with powerful electoral win and through blood and fire suddenly converted a whole population into a custodian of a true Nation.  It was a unique event in the history of South Asia and probably the most important event in the lives of Bangla speaking people.

Many years ago while describing India ’s independence Pandit Nehru wrote

 “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

For us, that historic utterance was in Bangabandhu’s voice in Ramna in March 1971

 “The struggle this time is one of Independence ”.

Today let us remember him through those pronouncements that electrified the Bangali Nation.  For every day that Bangladesh lives we pay tribute to this great son of our soil, who through his passionate courage, and indomitable energy, harnessed the aspiration of our timeless yearning of nationhood and turned it into reality.

The events of 1975, tragic though they are will never tarnish or weaken the name of Bangabandhu.  He has made his mark on history itself; where his long shadow will display his presence for untold years to come.

Author : Abed Chaudhury