On the evening of the 20th, of February 2023, three people with a friendship older than 1971 met at one of their homes. Our host was Wasi Ahmed and it was to welcome Hasan Ferdous (Saadi), visiting Dhaka from the US. There were our spouses and none else and three friends who had never stopped being one for over half a century.
It was like any other gathering of old friends chatting about the past and present, and yes, future plans. We all three have crossed 70 years but haven't really aged well. The old Beatles song, "Old friends, winter companions ... How terribly strange to be seventy".... didn't touch us much.
Wasi and I are hard at work while Saadi is more retired but still very active. We chatted, shouted-I admittedly the most- laughed and did what friends do when they sit together after many a summer or winters. But all good things come to an end and in the end we did go down the elevator and said good-bye.
As I was leaving in Wasi's car, the farewell moment hit me hard. An unfamiliar tightness of the chest gripped me. I told Wasi, I am horribly sad. Wasi held me and said, "Oh come on. You of all people can't be sad."
I replied, "Shall we ever meet like this again?"
Dhaka College +
We all met at Dhaka College where in those days only the best students went. Exams were not on our worry list and we all wanted to go beyond the smallish space of academia. It was Hasan Ferdous, member of the SSC merit list - who first floated the idea of a literary magazine. We had very quickly become close friends and I also had literary ambitions so we jived and I was soon his deputy of sorts. The little magazine was titled, "Purbopatra".
We were rude, brash, and arrogant but also produced some of the most brilliant stuff at that time, beyond our generation's interest, circle and intellect. Khan Md. Farabi, our late friend penned some of the most astute and intellectually powerful essays of the period.
Hasan Ferdous often wrote about 'taboo' subjects, tackling gay sex in literature while I pondered on erotica, especially BDSM in the poems of Jibananda Das. Other members of the group were Wasi Ahmed, Daud Haider, Towfiq Khan Majlish, Manzurul Huq and several others. Enayetullah Khan was a close friend and he and I tried to initiate a short story magazine too later but it didn't take off. But we carried on. Shahdeen Malik, the lawyer, is another close friend now still walking on.
Dhaka University +
In the post liberation world of Dhaka University we three +all others joined but Hasan Ferdous, Monzurul Haq, Shahdeen Malik and a few others left for Russia on scholarship to study. Soon Farabi passed away, Daud went into exile and Enayet was more into entrepreneurship. Wasi and I were the "left behinds" and we continued to walk on the same path. I kept "Purbo Patra" alive for a few years but time took its toll and it passed away as many little mags do. I also drifted into journalism and kept on, reporting and writing for dailies and later joining "Endeavour"- edited by the late M. Anwarul Huq, an English magazine entirely run by students. Was it the first English magazine in post 1971 Bangladesh?
We passed out in 1977-8 and went job hunting. Both Wasi and I had done well and I hoped to join the academic world but that glitched. Luckily, I ended up in the "History Writing Project" and my life took a new turn which has decided my trajectory so much.
I also continued my media work largely as an income supplementing work while Enayet continued to become more rich. Wasi, already a published author, joined the Bangladesh Trade Service in the by-gone era when civil servants also needed a second job to keep going. It was around this time that Hasan Ferdous returned from Russia with a degree but no job offers. Luckily, he found some space in the Bangladesh media world.
Sunday Star +
Hasan Ferdous was heavily into freelance journalism while waiting for a better opportunity. Not many may know or remember that the returnee students from Soviet Russia faced high stigma in employment and many were literally left jobless in those days. To even get considered, they all had to wash their Russian degrees clean with local degrees. It was around this time Hasan took charge of the weekly Sunday Star.
The now defunct paper was owned by the UPL owner Mohiuddin Ahmed who had a long history in media, particularly print and academia. Hasan joined and asked me to help him out which I gladly did. My pay was taka 1000, almost the same as my full time job. Many others wrote for the paper including many of our friends. But two souls I remember well. One was the accountant -cum-everything else, Tapan babu and the other was the typist cum-compositor and everything else, Bojoy babu.
It was great fun working together. We even ran features on our successful friends in business and sports and other fields. This included Enayetullah Khan and cricket player Shakeel Qasem. However, finally HF had a lucky break and joined the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC). Manzu, another Russian returnee friend, joined him there. It was great to see them happy at last.
Bangladesh Today +
Sunday Star was ailing when we joined but soon after it started to gasp for breath. Later, I was managing it alone and it was a dying fall for all to see. And then Sadi called one day and said, "A new paper was coming out, a fortnightly magazine called "Bangladesh Today". Let's get together."
This mag was fantastically produced, written and edited by a very well-resourced team. Saadi was an advisor of sorts having played in many magazines before. It was steered by Syed Mahmud Ali, an ex-army and later BBC. Others included author and editor Isharat Ferdousi, Saleem Samad, Shariyar Molla who later joined the civil service and many others. Later after S.M. ALi left, poet and journalist Belal Chowdhury took over.
It was around this time that the Sunday Star breathed its last. I learned a lot there about managing a paper including the dirty nitty gritties from advertisement to captioning to desking to reporting to getting used to work without months of delayed payment and the rest.
And then one day Enayatullah Khan called me and said, "Can you and Saadi and I meet?"
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