The cultural identity of a nation is highly dependent on writers, as they depict the ideology and portray the philosophy of their people in their writings. People from anywhere in the world can get through their write-ups and have a fair evaluation on the mentality of people of a country. If Bangladesh can be acknowledged as a country with some great minds and prolific writers, one man should certainly share the credit behind this success, being an iconic maestro for his clear and spontaneous stream of thoughts. On 28th July, 2001- Bangladesh lost Ahmed Sofa; one of the greatest minds and a writer with a majestic view on social philosophy.
Often being considered as one of the most influential and charismatic Muslim writers after Mir Mosharraf Hossain and our national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, Sofa was born and brought up in rural Chittagong. He never intended to hide his root rather than celebrating its glory, even though he portrayed the urban lives and philosophy in his writings very successfully.
“I came from a family of farmers. It is very hard to overlook this fact. I do not want to exaggerate anything. My forefathers had been directly involved with agriculture. I feel proud to be a part of them. I want poor farmers and laborers to eat rice and sing in a jovial mood.”
The above mentioned quote attributed to Sofa, taken from photojournalist and writer Nasir Ali Mamun’s book ‘Ahmed Sofar Samay’ (Ahmed Sofa’s Times)- is enough to understand what type of a person Sofa really was.
After completing his schooling, Sofa intended to obtain his Bachelor degree from the University of Dhaka; however, he dropped out, and obtained his BA as a private candidate from Brahmanbaria College. Later he successfully obtained his MA in 1970, from the same university in Political Science. He was then granted a fellowship by Bangla Academy in the same year to do his PhD, under the supervision of countries renowned genius professor Abdur Razzaq, and his topic was "The Growth of Middle Class in Bengal as it influenced its literature, Society and Economics from 1800 to 1858."
This fellowship later changed his life. Although he could not complete and get his Ph.D, he got bestowed with a broader gift of nature. He met his mentor, one of the most prolific and eminent educationist, philosopher as well as one of the first national professors of the country, Professor Abdur Razzaq.
“When you will feel the need to share your knowledge with someone, make sure that the person has interest in learning. Otherwise, your effort can get interpreted as a forced attempt. We usually force animals, not human beings. Human will revolt.”
This type of thought process were developed within Sofa’s soul through the nature’s scholarship he received- and for most of the part, the teacher was Professor Razzaq. Sofa paid his tribute in his much acclaimed memoir titled ‘Zadyapi Amar Guru’ (Although He is My Mentor, 1998) on his experience of philosophical learning from Razzaq, through which anyone would be astonished that how naturally Professor Razzaq taught Sofa the aspects of life and all the other subjects, mostly social science and politics- throughout their friendly conversations. If that type of bonding would have been shared in between all the university students and teachers in our country- imagine how much our country would have benefitted and progressed further, with a great number of intellectual minds.
Sofa felt that lacking in our system though, and revolted with his fiery yet sarcastic expressions in his books and write-ups. In his 18 non-fiction books, 8 novels, 4 collections of poems, 1 collection of short stories, and several books in other genres- Sofa, who was by profession a writer- always spontaneously expressed his feelings without any fear. Notable writer Akhtaruzzaman Elias felt that Sofa mastered his unique style of storytelling through his upbringing.
The lacking in the university education system which is mentioned above, Sofa brilliantly portrayed that inside the scenario of dirty politics in the university ecosystem- in his satirical book “Gavi Brittanto’ (Tale of Cows, 1995). His non-fictions such as Buddhibrittirr Natun Binyas (A New Mode of Intellectualism, 1972) and ‘Bangali Musolmaner Mon' (Minds of Bengali Muslims, 1981) not only portrayed the reality of those periods with some harsh and hard- to swallow- truths, but also inspired future legendary writers such as Humayun Ahmed, Muhammed Zafar Iqbal and filmmaker such as Tareque Masud- and all of them portrayed that spontaneous flow of emotion in their creations, which is credited to Sofa.
However, it was not welcomed and adored by everyone- he was disliked by his contemporary intellectuals. He was called rebel, mad, insolent, devoid of respect for authority, and an overly uncompromising figure among the intellectuals. Sofa did not care the critics and their criticism, he never compromised his style. The nation can actually thank him for that (which it sort of tried to do, by posthumously awarding him the Ekushey Padak in 2002), and for this rebel genius, Bangladesh found some of its groundbreaking litterateurs and philosophers who later became iconic for their spontaneity as the preachers of free speech.
The tale of this ‘Mad’ genius can go on and on literally for pages- yet, it would not be enough to explain his calibre. In between the month of June and July of 1943 to 2001, Bangladesh was lucky and privileged enough to foster the land’s greatest philosophic mind. The people of this country were lucky, too- as there was an Ahmed Sofa for educating them.