Humayun Ahmed was the writer of avid, hungry reader. A teacher of physics at Dhaka University, Humayun Ahmed quit teaching to become a full-time writer and before long proved his mettle in fiction writing. I first came to know about this prolific writer when I bought Nandito Noroke, his very first book, one that was an overnight success, because of how, just like many others, it kept me engrossed to the very last page.
Driven by my love for and keen interest in literature, I used to attend and take part in literary Adda (discussion) during my university days back in the mid 80s. Such Addas were often led by Abdul Mannan Syed, a poet and literary critic of the 60s, and Abid Azad, a poet of the 70s. Al Mahmood, a romantic poet of the 50s, used to attend them as well. Write-ups of various local and international authors, including poets would become hot topic for discussion in those evenings as we sat at the office of ‘Shilpataru’, now-defunct a literary magazine. Humayun Ahmed’s popular novels would inevitably be talked about on several of such occasions.
In his lifetime, the popularity of Humayun Ahmed grew from peak to peak. Someone, who could not afford a colour TV as university teacher became one of the wealthiest men of the country, a few years into his writing career. His work can be compared to that of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay in terms of how, through their work, they touched the hearts of millions.
After Rabindranath Tagore, Bangla literature has been blessed with a good number of God-gifted writers in the fields of fiction, poem, short story and literary criticism. In the 30s, we found writers like Buddhadev Bosu, Amiya Chakravarty, Jibanananda Das and many others.
Among these writers, Buddhadev Bosu is remembered for his fantastic powerful prose. He was the writer who is said to have given the Bangla language a place in the modern times. Buddhadev’s literary work broke out of the boundaries of the elite audience and touched the hearts of the middle class—the very masses. His collection of essays is still referred for reading by the university teachers, as material that can be used to enhance the students’ Bangla prose writing skills.
When it comes to Bangla poetry, it is Jibanananda Das who has given it, it’s best collection of poems. One whose work was barely recognised during his lifetime, today Jibanananda Das is acknowledged as the pioneer poet of post-Tegorian literature in India and Bangladesh. It was for the first time that a poet explicitly wrote about the emotional turmoil of Man’s inner world. This is why ‘Banalata Sen’ is still read, recited and remembered.
He is considered as “Bengal’s greatest modern and best-loved poet, too, his poems being regarded as part of the Bengali consciousness on the both side of border between India and Bangladesh.”
In the 40s we saw many more poets like Ahsan Habib and Syed Ali Ahsan. Syed Ali Ahsan, in his prose, has brought another dimension of sharpness and lucidity. This poet also taught us how to be a good orator. His style of talking was unique, giving an impression that Bangla is much stronger language than it is thought to be. Critic and poet Abdul Mannan Syed is considered to be his true successor, particularly as an orator.
Then joined the fleet popular poets: Shamsur Rahman, Al Mahmood and Syed Shamsul Haque and others. As poets and fiction writers of the 50s, they were joined by Abdul Mannan Syed and Nirmalendu Goon in the 60s.
Humayun Ahmed stepped into in the Bengali literary world in the early 1970s and over the subsequent decades, became the most popular fiction writer of the country. His breakthrough came with the help of Ahmed Sofa and the publication of his first novel, Nandito Noroke in 1972.
Humayun Ahmed is a phenomenon who still makes me wonder how one can be this popular as a writer. There must be very few people in this world, upon whose demise, thousands of others show up to bid goodbye like they did Humayun Ahmed’s funeral.
He was neither a politician nor a guru. He was someone won the hearts of millions by capturing and depicting through his words, the feelings and problems of the middle class…the emotion of the urban youths.
I came across many Bangladeshi expatriates who were always keen on staying updated about the latest release of Humayun Ahmed whenever their relatives visited them abroad or whenever they came home.
Bangladesh is a small but proud nation with a very versatile culture, but the average readership in the country is still very low for various reasons.
Humayun Ahmed did a commendable job at creating and increasing readership and prodding people to buy books. It is because of him, that number of people who buy books has grown drastically. People today buy his books, irrespective of genre or author and that is tremendous improvement in itself.
Humayun was not only popular at home. In neigbouring Kolakata, he was immensely popular and had a growing number of fans. As written in Indrajit Hazra in Hindustan Times on July 21, 2012. “Ahmed’s writings have been very popular, not only in his native Bangladesh but he also has a growing fan base in India’s Bengali-speaking West Bengal.”
As one of his million fans, I would like to recall that I also had a scope of interacting with this legendary writer at his the then Dhaka University residence in 1989. I had been there to interview him for a monthly magazine I used to work for. As the editor of that magazine asked me to make an appointment with him, I was planning to go to his department at the university. Fortunately enough, we bumped into each other at a sweetmeat shop at Green Road in Dhaka. When I asked for an appointment, the author gracefully invited me over to his place, the following day.
And there I was at his door there right on time (how could I not be?). His wife (first) opened the door at my bell and I saw his daughters (who were children back then) playing around in the house. We chatted for a while and it was then that I interviewed him.
As a writer, Humayun Ahmed often displayed a fascination for creating stories around supernatural events; his style is characterised as ‘magic realism’.
Now the great man is gone, but the memories will live on.
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