Zillur Rahman Siddiqui :
Shamsur Rahman (1929-2006), poet and journalist, was born on 23 October 1929 in his grandmother’s house at 46 Mahuttuly in old Dhaka. His ancestral home was at village Pahartoly in Raipur thana of Dhaka district. His father’s name was Mokhlesur Rahman Choudhury and his mother’s name was Amena Khatun.
When seven, he was admitted to class two of Pogos School in Dhaka. From this school he did his Matriculation in 1945 and Intermediate of arts from Dhaka College in 1947. He then got admitted to Dhaka University in English department. Although he completed the three-year course he did not appear in the final exam. In 1953, he obtained BA (pass course) degree. After a lapse of some years he got admitted to MA in English but did not obtain MA degree.
During his years in the University he came to close contact with them who in later years became well-known poets, litterateurs, writers, educationists and journalists.
They included Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, Hasan Hafizur Rahman, Syed Muhammad Ali, Saber Reza Karim, Tariqul Alam, Abu Zafar Obaidullah, Badruddin Omar, Abul Maal Abdul Muhit, Mustafa Kamal, Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed, Syed Ali Kabir and Abdul Gaffar Choudhury.
When eighteen, Shamsur Rahman’s first poem Unishsha Unapanchash was published in Sonar Bangla in 1943 edited by Nalinikishore Guha. While a University student, five of his poems was published in Natun Kavita (1950) an anthology of poems of thirteen young poets, edited by Ashraf Siddiqui and Abdur Rashid Khan. This helped his poetical talent attract attention of intellectuals.
In 1953 a literary festival was held in Santiniketan, five-member team of litterateurs represented East Bengal and Shamsur Rahman was one of them. From a detailed account of the festival it became apparent that for the young poet it provided a unique experience. The festival’s primary inspiration came from Annadashankar Roy. But its pioneers were Vice Chancellor Rathindranath Tagore, Ashokvijoy Raha, Surojit Dasgupta and Gouri Dutta (later to become Gouri Ayub). Others who attended it included Buddhadev Basu, Protiva Basu, Ajit Dutta, Ammlan Dutta and Naresh Guha. Their friendship and cordiality overwhelmed Shamsur Rahman. In 1955, a literary conference ‘Purba Pakistan Sahitya Sammilan’ was held in Dhaka.
In this conference several poets from West Bengal including Narendra Dev, Radharani Devi, Subhash Mukhopadhyay, Debiprasad Chattapddhay and Shantiranjan Bandyopadhyay, jasimuddin attended.
Shamsur Rahman began his career as a journalist in 1957 as Sub-Editor of the English daily Morning News. But journalism as a profession was not up to his liking.
After serving in the paper for some time he went for a change and joined Radio Pakistan as Programme Producer in 1960. He returned to Morning News in 1964 as a Senior Sub-Editor.
Despite this instability in his professional life, there came stability in his personal and poetic life. His first book of poems Prothom Gan Dwitiyo Mrityur Aagey, published in 1960, established him in the domain of poetry and received appreciation of critics and awarded Adamjee Prize. The prize was handed over to him by President Ayub Khan himself. Ayub Khan's seizure of power was satirized in his poem Hatir Shur (elephant’s trunk). In those days no literary journal of high standard was published from Dhaka. The publication of his poem Rupali Snan in Kolkata’s journal Kavita, edited by Buddhadev Basu, signaled his arrival in the literary arena of greater Bengal. Rupali Snan may indeed be regarded as the poem that heralded his arrival. The poems of Prothom Gaan Dwitiyo Mrityur Aagey proved his proclamation right. Even before publication of these poems, his poetry saw a phenomenal change. He quickly came out of the spell of the poets of the thirties and from the sphere of clogged remorse and wrote his next book of poems Roudra Karotite (1963).
Shamsur Rahman’s poems appeared regularly in a high-quality quarterly journal Songlap, jointly edited by Abul Hossain and Syed Sajjad Hossain. His poems Parker Nihsanga Khavja and Khelnar Dokaner Samne Vikhiri were first published in this quarterly.
He joined the Dainik Pakistan as Assistant Editor. It was edited by veteran journalist Abul Kalam Shamsuddin. For a whole decade between 1977 and 1987, Shamsur Rahman served as Editor of Dainik Bangla (changed name of Dainik Pakistan after Liberation of Bangladesh) and of Weekly Bichitra. During this time Shamsur Rahman was highly respected by Hussain Muhammad Ershad. Ershad used to send his poems to Shamsur Rahman and as editor he used to print them with due importance. But this relationship of the two came under stress when the poets of the country joined hands with the political parties opposing Ershad's autocratic rule. In 1992, the Jatiya Kavita Parisad was formed and Shamsur Rahman as the leading poet of the country was chosen as its President.
Shamsur Rahman was selected as Editor for a year-long literary project of Bangla Academy with funding from the BCC Foundation.
The selection committee approved a proposal to translate Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, along with its preface and footnotes. The committee had to find an answer to the question if translation fulfilled the project’s criterion that the work had to be original. The committee’s decision went in favour of Shamsur Rahman. For this full-time job the poet initially had to take leave for six months from his editorial responsibility in the newspaper. Meanwhile, the poet fell under the rage of President Ershad for his anti-autocracy role as the head of the ‘Jatiya Kavita Parisad.’ This found expression in the form of the poet’s name appearing in Dainik Bangla as Chief Editor and not as Editor. This so-called promotion was in fact a demotion. The poet could not accept this insult in the veil of a promotion. He tendered his resignation and it marked the end of his career as a journalist in 1987. He spent over a month in New York while attending the UN General Assembly session as a member of the Bangladesh delegation. Although the main work of translating Hamlet was completed in time, the delay in translating its preface and footnotes held back its publication until 1995.
While living in Dhaka and working in a newspaper it was not possible for him to remain free from the evil influence of conflicts around him. The veil of impenetrable inner sphere of the poems of his early phase now started lifting slowly. In 1967, Radio Pakistan stopped broadcasting Tagore songs at the instance of Information Minister Khwaja Shahabuddin. In protest, Munier choudhury drafted a statement and it was signed by several teachers of Dhaka University and Dainik Pakistan’s Hasan Hafizur Rahman, Ahmed Humayun, Fazal Shahabuddin and Shamsur Rahman. There was a surge of patriotism when in September 1965 Pakistan got entangled in a war with India. In the excitement of the 17-day war Shamsur Rahman, like many others, wrote several poems and a poetical mini-play. None of the pieces formed part of any of his books. He has, however, held out the assurance that those pieces were not intended to agitate the people; rather to raise his voice in favour of peace. But his poem Asad-er Shirt was his instant reaction to his coming face to face with a huge procession of protesters that proceeded holding high the blood-stained shirt of Asad after he was killed in police firing. This scene of 20 January 1969 so deeply moved him that he could not regain his peace of mind even after reaching his office. From office he returned home with a heavy heart. At night he wrote Asad-er Shirt.
The aspiration of the Bengalis for self-determination was a matter of deep suspicion for the military rulers of Pakistan. At one stage, President Ayub even proposed that there should be a common Alphabet, Latin, for all the languages of the country and that the aim should be to move towards evolving a common language. In protest, forty Bengali litterateurs, artists and journalists issued a statement on 31 August 1968 and it inspired the poet to write his famous poem Bornomala, Aamar Dukhini Bornomala.
The world outside began to cast a shadow on his poems from the time his second book Roudra Karotite was published. His poems in the book Bidwasta Nilima (1967) were a step further into his awareness of the world outside. He dedicated his 1970 book Nij Bashbhumey to the martyrs of eternal Bengal. The reflection of a turbulent time can be seen in every line of his poems Bornomala, Aamar Duhkhini Bornomala, February 1969, Police Report, Hartal and Yei Laash Amra Rakhbo Kothay. In these poems, a new kind of nakedness gushes out in both thoughts and language, as if an extreme shamelessness of time has snatched away the modesty of the language.
Shamsur Rahman’s autobiography Kaler Dhuloy Lekha (Written in the Dust of Time) first appeared serially in the daily Janakantha. It was published in book form in 2004. Written in leisurely style, this autobiography speaks elaborately and candidly about his life and time although he pleaded repeatedly that his memory was failing and the story lost continuity again and again. His novel Adbhut Andhar Ek (1986) based on his experiences of the time records his indirect feelings. While living at Paratoly he wrote his very popular poems Swadhinata Tumi and Tomakey Paoar Janya, hey Swadhinata.
After the liberation, his book Bondi Shibir Theke was published from Kolkata. Among the rich crop of innumerable short stories, novels and poems generated by the liberation war Bondi Shibir Theke could claim a unique place of honour. This bunch of poems symbolising the bleeding of his heart, his respect for the freedom fighters and solidarity with them, pain and helplessness for his own confinement and aspiration for freedom gained an exceptional poetic glory for the liberation struggle of 1971. He also wrote his poem Samson in 1971. Shamsur Rahman superimposed the Israeli hero Samson in place of the Bengali hero Sheikh Mujib in Pakistani prison. The killing of Sheikh Mujib along with almost his entire family in the early morning of 15 August 1975 severely jolted him and he wrote one of his best poems Bangladesh Swapno Dekhey. The same admiration appeared in his later day poem Dhonnyo Shei Purush. Contd on Page 9