Belal Chowdhury: Departure of a good soul

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Belal Chowdhury – our dear Belal Bhai was not among the leading poets of our country, nor was he known to be a riveting intellectual. Nobody could say that he was boisterous during any meeting or chat. But it is only at the news of his death that many leading poets, intellectuals and even top politicians expressed their sadness and talked about their personal loss. But the loss is not only theirs alone, it is also a loss for the country, which many have reiterated.

There probably is one reason for this grief and utterance of wounded sadness – it is that he was completely different from others. Those who have seen him will all say that he lived for others, not for himself. One cannot say that he was very powerful, but whatever he could do within his capacity – he never hesitated to carry it out. There is no end to how many people who benefited from him. When he could not muster help himself, he looked towards his friends for assistance – not for himself, but for those whom he knew, however remotely the acquaintance.

I myself have benefited from him many a times. My first opportunity for employment came through his hands. It was back in 1980, when I had just returned to the country from abroad, neither a journalist, nor a writer. An energetic friend of mine, Mofidul Hoque, took me to Belal Bhai’s office, introduced me to him and told him to see if I could be of any use. Back then he was the editor for the weekly Sachitra Sandhan, which was considered by everyone as the most aesthetic and well-round weekly in the country. A moment’s conversation formed a bond, which grew deeper with time and was only severed during his death.

Belal Bhai was the editor, but he never made any editorial demands. Back then only a handful of youngsters could write for the weekly. Famous people obviously used to write, at the personal behest of Belal Bhai, but we only witnessed them once in a while. He was our charioteer, our teacher and friend. I made so many mistakes, wrote so many confusing statements, but he never once yelled at me. He rectified my mistakes by informing me, or, more often than not, without my knowledge. I remember when John Lennon was killed in New York, I was assigned to write a lengthy feature on him. He explained to me what he expected, which topics to give importance to and all. After it came out of print, I noticed the Bangla translation of Lennon’s “Imagine”. I was given credit for it, also the translation, which was obviously not mine. Not once did he reveal to everyone that he had done the actual translation.

As an editor, he never imposed his “ideas” on his writers, but wanted to know from everyone what they wanted to write about. I remember when a grand public reception was given to Debabrata Biswas in Kolkata, where he and Hemanta Mukherjee gave a duet performance. After reading about it and expressing my interest to write about the fading singer, he gave me a copy of “Bratyajoner Ruddhashangeet”, the artist’s autobiography for research. As far as I can remember, my piece was turned into a cover story, which was titled “Ei Monihar Amay Nahi Shajey (This jewel does not suit me)” which was a play on his popular track “Ei Monihar Tar e Shajey”. What difference the change of a single word can make!

After leaving Sachitra Sandhan, he was made the editor of Bharat Bichitra, which was a publication of the Indian High Commission in Dhaka. A lot of conversation took place back and forth, with us exchanging views on how the magazine should be like. Then he had told me that he had a surprise for me in the first issue. After going through the issue, I found out that he had published some of my works, which included Paritosh Sen’s memoir review and a discussion on Zinda Bahar. I myself could not recollect when I had written those, but Belal Bhai had those in his collection. Later I found out that it was under his instructions I wrote those in Sachitra Sandhan. Perhaps he liked them and had planned to publish those elsewhere. As a small writer, I could not be more honoured.

Belal Bhai struggled financially for all his life, but never talked about it, at least to those I know. But many people came to his door asking for financial support instead. Even when he had nothing to give, he send them to people who could help. Once a gentleman had come to me for such help, who gave me a torn paper which conveyed Belal Bhai’s message “give him the money” and a figure of money. I was delighted that he considered me for such help.

He did not speak much, always had the lowest voice during a discussion. I noticed that he live with an undisclosed sadness and stoicism, the reason for which I could never find out. Yet he never abandoned a deep sense of optimism, ever.

I remember a day, in the late hours of the night, when Belal Bhai and another senior friend of mine, Kalam Mahmud, was talking about something. Kalam Bhai, like his usual self, was aggressive and loud, taunting Belal Bhai about something. After listening to him intently, Belal Bhai retorted in his signature voice that “Kalam, when this night will make way for morning, remember that all this humidity and darkness will fade away, and light will be illuminated.” His words still echo in my ears.

 (This is translated from original Bangla write-up first published in the Prothom Alo)

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