By Enayetullah Khan
The Liberation War is a seminal event in history for every Bangladeshi. It is a source of both horror and ultimately glory, wrought in the unlikeliest of circumstances, where a population of poets and farmers, under occupation by one of the strongest militaries in the world, with a just cause as its only weapon, fought and won its independence. It is one of the great, affirming stories that help to restore our faith in humanity, that might is not right, that no amount of military prowess can indefinitely suppress a people’s yearning to be free. And none of it would have been possible without the peerless leadership of Bangabandhu SHeikh Mujibur Rahman - the subject of the volume under review.
To his enduring credit, author Enayetullah Khan, a leading entrepreneur as founder and managing director of The Cosmos Group, has through all his success never quite let go of his early tryst with journalism (he even taught in the journalism department, before discovering his penchant for enterprise), and the written word. Be it through a steady stream of output on subjects ranging from archaeology to nature conservancy, or his continued stewardship as editor-in-chief of Dhaka Courier and UNB.
He is of the generation that came under the man’s influence such that they swore by Bangabandhu as their leader and still do so today. Bangabandhu - Epitome of a Nation is a labour of love wrought in the signature style of Khan’s publishing house, Cosmos Books: certified scholarship in a visually stunning setting, capturing historic moments, for a book (hardback) to be something more than the words, for it to be inspiring.
In their execution, Khan, who is known to maintain a hands-on presence even for many titles not authored by him, often recalls the role of the auteur in film theory. Here, as always, Khan consults the leading experts in the field for the shaping of his narrative, all the better for it to maintain its stamp of authority. For this volume we have redoubtables such as Professor Anisuzzaman and Dr Mofidul Hoque, among others.
Here, side by side with the significant waypoints along the way, are the images of the life of Bangabandhu, of the Bangladesh that might’ve been, and they sear you still. A leader who doesn’t maintain his distance, who is so naturally of the people? It’s there in the photographs pooled together from a variety of historic sources, turning up some rare items. So where do you suppose Bangabandhu might have been on arguably the most important date in the Indian Subcontinent’s violent and tumultuous 20th century, Partition 1947? It’s included here among the images, depicting a historic setting worthy of meditation.
In keeping with the growing idea of print being more than a store of words, some of the historic documents also come with their own QR codes, so they may be explored on one’s smartphone, which in itself opens up whole new avenues for learning. By using the innovation one may read Syed Badrul Ahsan’s excellent, judicious, translation of Bangabandhu’s immortal March 7th speech (when Khan was in the audience with the late Mishuk Munier) in English while listening to a recording of the original, and still appreciate its remarkable flow in another language.
How Bangabandhu, from that incredibly touching start, launches into a historic condemnation of the Bengali people’s, his people’s, life as Pakistanis, and packs it in with a call to independence, in 11 electrifying minutes, sprinkled with debriefings on meetings with the West Pakistanis, sundry instructions on how to observe the non-cooperation movement, and punctuated throughout by a rising, unrelenting, soaring cry for justice.
That shift in momentum that Bangabandhu represents in the history of his people. In a nation’s becoming, its stirring, its epitomising, to the point that it moves history, marks him out as one of the giants among all the leaders of independent nations, that the world witnessed in the second half of the 20th century. This book never veers from that, while also capturing some of the inspiration that he offered. Its there in the series of paintings by Shahabuddin, some of which appear here from Khan’s personal collection. The canvases like vast oceans of history, upon which Bangbandhu has struck for his people.
The narrative follows that singularity in Bangabandhu - a leader for the East Bengalis, such as there hasn’t been before or since, as he emerges, and remains by them always, as he grows, and yet remains by them only, always maintaining a conversation with his people, always giving them a voice, in that booming baritone for the ages. And when they make it eventually, against unspeakable odds, you know they did it for him only. He certainly does, at Heathrow in that classic press conference, oozing the charisma of a liberated nation. Like all worthy heroes, the end must remain tragic. But while it lasted, there was a magic. That is what the volume under review attempts to recreate. And must be commended for doing a mighty good job of it too.
Reviewed by Shayan S. Khan