Humayun was a social rebel but in his quest to become happy by taking the unconventional path he also made money and fame. Here is remembering the raconteur who made a shrewd blend between Bohemian philosophy and modern day living.
Being a Bohemian went out of fashion in the early eighties when a consumerist culture began seeping into the once tranquil and laid back lifestyle with an assertive force. An adult who just went about enjoying the world and nature around him with the lowest possible expenditure was just another vagabond – a social outcast and, to a large extent, a pariah. These people roamed about, made ends meet by doing informal work, spent time, not by making plans to acquire material possessions, but by resting by the pond on a lazy afternoon gazing at the sky, munching nuts and reading poetry. To some, well, maybe to all those fervent aficionados of the consumer culture, time spent by relaxing in nature during work hours may sound like sacrilege but we do have amidst us a lot of people who do just that – take life in its stride and make it a delicious treat rather than a dreary test. Humayun may have lived and died a rich man with assets in different parts of the country but he was the Bohemian who assiduously blended an insatiable desire to break free from rules with a life which would never stifle him under the pressure of so called corporate obligations. That his book sold and he became wealthy are different things altogether. He wrote when writing offered very little money and only after writing allowed him enough to maintain a livelihood, he gave up teaching. Some may call that shrewd but hey, no one can survive by being a one hundred per cent social renegade. One has to survive to enjoy life’s simplest pleasures and so, one has to work. Himu, Humayun’s eccentric social wanderer is also a poet and though his profession is never specifically mentioned, one has to assume that he does something to carry on living. But money, in the case of these people, is an item which is one of the requirements but not the main thing. And there we have the definition of the modern day wanderer. Humayun was a total Bohemian because though he had excellent academic results he never opted to become a top notch official or a bumptious government functionary. He chose teaching – a profession which is on the fringe of ordinary existence. In fact, teaching is also an eccentric’s choice of profession because there is no dress code, hierarchy and strict rules and a teacher can be excused for permitting his whims to take over. That is why, a teacher, who, in his spare time, studies old stamps and envelopes is not regarded as mad. But can one imagine a banker or a corporate executive to have such hobbies? Of course, there are exceptions but one in a ten thousand does not set a trend. So, as the general society mourns Humayun’s death, book lovers ask exactly where Himu the Bohemian stands in today’s ultra fast society. Will he survive since his illustrious creator is dead or, will he go on to inspire a new generation of writers and persuade people to leave the 9-5 template of a monitored existence to take the plunge into the beauty of the uncontrolled?
The truth is that no matter how prominent consumer culture is, the seduction of the freewheeling life will always be there. Believe me when I say, we are all Himus. There is the natural streak of rebelliousness in all of us. Most decide to shackle it and allow a set of rules set by society to dictate life. That suppression soon becomes the norm and, slowly, the freedom loving soul is killed. And there are rewards for this too – a systematic life brings money, fame, material possessions and consumerist thrills. No one is complaining, life is short, so if it’s comfortable then why complain? Only caveat: live by a system! But then, there are others, the freedom worshipping kind, the sort that hates to be put into a formula. They revolt and leave the formatted existence – some make it big, as writer Humayun did while others remain way behind at the edges of social recognition but both kinds have one thing in common – the voraciously enjoy life’s wonders from the drop of dew on wet leaves, the scorching afternoon summer wind, the dark and gloomy monsoon sky in some rural Bangladesh or the soft and soggy twilight with the rustling of the leaves of the pre-winter wind. Irrespective of success, they are poets of nature. Himu and Humayun both were just that. In fact, it would not be wrong to think that Himu, the nondescript happy go lucky person, is actually Humayun. Despite the defiance of many, we are all social creatures and in pursuing a free life we make certain compromises. People marry, have children mingle with neighbours and all this is done by maintaining a certain level of freedom. Let’s just call them then 21st century non-conformists. After all, in a poor country it’s often impossible to simply push the issue of economic security under the rug. That is why we see bankers, after a successful decade in number crunching and corporate formality, suddenly giving up and taking the pen to become writers. Yes, that one decade was spent creating a bank balance so that the life of a free will is not hampered. Humayun falls in that category and there is nothing wrong in that. Reality is, when someone is a Bohemian with money, people wonder at their lives, calling them avant garde but when someone breaks free from social restrictions without the needed monetary support, society simply rejects them as rubbish not worth a Penny. Himu, the character in the novel does not have a financial support yet he is respected and loved and that we must accept as the story writer’s discretion to paint a character of esteem. This embellishment can be accepted but not pursued in real life. Humayun the Bohemian will inspire many but let’s not be fooled into becoming a wanderer who sacrifices all. The best formula is given and lived by the writer himself – make an acceptable compromise. The writer made enough money but decided to lead a secluded life within nature. With the money he built a natural paradise filled with trees and wildlife. This is also a Bohemian lifestyle but one where someone can also enjoy some material backing. Himu’s character will never fade away; in fact, there will always be eccentrically dressed poets around us who will wake up very early in the morning, not to start a working day, but to go to the park to see the birds wake up. When others will chalk out meetings for the rest of the day locked in a clinically decorated office room, the Himus will sit by a road side stall munching hot paratha and eggs, eyeing a hot mug of tea and a morning of magical revelations. But, to savour the best of life, become a Himu once you have enough to lead a comfortable life.
The thing is when the Bohemian in us is killed, we only want more and more and that is when the soul dies. Here is to Humayun Ahmed, the Himu, who knew when to say no to the conventional life and take out his time to get wet in the rain, marvel the moon and weave the ethereal Bohemian rhapsody. Let’s be a smart Bohemian not a stupid one!
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