People who grew up or bloomed in the 70s are also in their seventies now and so many are departing in this fateful decade. Every day we hear the bells ring and it always rings for thee. There will never be a decade like that, the first after liberation when the world was very difficult but also the most promising and fateful. It was a time when people hoped and dreamed, even if in black and white images. Things could only get better felt everyone.
The class or group that felt this intensely was the cultural activists and writers. The shackles had finally been shed and the inevitable dawn waited. They saw culture as an essential ingredient of political life and that often congregated at the center of the Bangladesh universe, the Dhaka University.
At the shanty tea stalls in the campus, the small kerosene wicker lamps would flicker in the evenings. The best and the brightest sat discussing how the world was going to change and they would do it. And one of the stars of many conversations was Syed Saluddin Zaki who passed away on the 18th of September last.
Zaki bhai was 77 and had been ailing. To many who knew him it would almost seem like an excuse for dying. People like him are supposed to go on and on.
The war was just over and the smell of victory was in the air, physical and real. And the Dhaka University campus saw an explosion of cultural activities. Of course a small minority went to politics of the extreme variety but most went slightly Left anyway, the flavour of the day mixing social justice in the perfumed garden of independence.
In the University, DUCSU was in the Chatra Union, the students' wing of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB). It was always called "harmonium party" because of its focus on cultural activities. So the environment that was, wasn't just politics, increasingly getting angrier but cultural activities as well.
But it wasn't just Salahuddin Zaki bhai. M. Hamid, Nasiruddin Yusuff Bacchu, KM. Harun and many others too. And together they could make many conversations and activities glow.
The 70s saw the rise of the film society movement and many came from the theatre world which was in full swing. Zaki bhai's play on post 1971 life was a searing indictment of the situation. An FF deeply frustrated with it all, says, "my hands feel empty." He was referring to a hand which once held a gun that gave him an identity but in the play it became a symbol of the helplessness many felt as challenges grew. Zaki bhai spoke for many.
Pune and afterwards
Zaki bhai and Badal Rahman who later produced "Emile'r goyenda bahini" (Emile and the Detectives) both went to Pune to learn more about the art of film making and returned after getting degrees. They perhaps returned to a slightly changed world that had changed somewhat but the DU campus was a bastion of the 70s culture.
It was also changing but perhaps we noticed it less because the campus scenario had sort of lazy, still hanging onto dreams ambience. It was where the greatest influence on the young wasn't Marx or Tagore but Shareef Miah, the man who ran the iconic tea stall canteen of Dhaka University selling cheap snacks and a space to dream.
I remember an evening adda at that canteen as the wicker lamp cast shadow and light. Zaki bhai had been busy the whole day and asked for two singaras instead of the usual one. "Haven't had lunch", he explained, sipping the sugary tea and munching the dough rolled snacks.
I consider the moment almost symbolic of his time and our era. Missing lunch was common, making it up with two singaras was common too. There was no takeaway number to call and order a fancy on the run lunch in those day, as one spent the evening in a shoddy canteen discussing dream projects.
But the 80s were a time not just of change but assimilation too. Zaki bhai's most remarkable film was also his first, " Ghuddi". The film story was based on an FF who suffers from PTSD and later falls in love with Shuborna Mustafa. Nasiruddin Yousuff Bacchu bahi was also in it. It bagged two National Film Awards. Zaki bhai won for the Best Screenplay and Shafiqul Islam Swapan for Best Cinematography who is also an FF.
He later did important official jobs in the media including DG, BTV and so on but his later creative outputs were less. Ghuddi defined his cinematic works. He continued to be active but that sense of the 70s mission and ' 'two singara" attitude was less. It's inevitable and affects all of us. But as the 70s faded away, the new decades brought new challenges and rewards for many. And he had done his bit for his time.
So farewell Zaki bhai, you did so well but what you did even better was lead a life which embodied the cultural ethos and history of the 70s. Best wishes and see you soon.
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