By the time we had left school and entered Dhaka College in 1969, poets were social icons too. To the middle class shushil readership of Bangladesh risking to run the last mile to Bangladesh in 1971, literary figures were at the top of the pack. What had made them so popular and readily acceptable is where the psyche of the middle class lies. In describing the protests that defined the politics.

The poets of the time including Shamsur Rahman, Hasan Hafizur and others came from the 4Os and as young kids experienced the birth of the Pakistan state. It was never popular among the class they belonged to for they wanted an independent state not part of a centralized machine. The Bengali Muslim middle class was very happy to get rid of the Brits and the Kolkata elite whom they saw as their barricade to growth and prosperity but they certainly didn't enjoy being held under by the new Karachi elite.

There is no doubt that it was better than living under the shadows of others who had a longer run as professionals particularly under British patronage but they had already emerged as a competitor and the Brits were willing to concede to their demands. They were a majority but with minor privileges in Bengal. Nobody enjoys that. They didn't either. So the new Pakistan, a politically dishonest amendment of the Lahore Resolution of 1940 of two independent states into one centralized Pakistan in 1946 came unhappily into being in 1947 for them.

It was better than life in 1946 but by 1948, Dhaka was up in political arms as unbowed by Jinnah's presence and began to protest. Pakistan was not a politically smart state and its decision to limit access of the East Pakistani middle class to jobs by curtailing language equality was a disaster. It hit the middle class where it hurt the most - their belly.

It's against this background that the language movement can be seen.

Poets and protest

1952 is an iconic moment in history which created the new generation. Till date, the middle class of the educated variety were protesting but it was a general protest which perhaps lacked a supreme poetic and literary imagery. And the February firings and the spilt blood provided that. The body of the martyrs filled the gap in the explosive burst that almost overnight created the new poetry of East Pakistan Bengali poetry. It was not a new imagination but a renewal and resurgence of the already established political trading and aspiration.

While working with poet Hasan Hafizur Rahman at the 1971 History Documents Project, I would meet Hasan bhai's friends which included Shamsur Rahman and others. Hasan Hafizur Rahman was an activist of 1952 and a poet while Shamsur Rahman was not an activist but focused more on words.

But I understood that both belonged to the imagination of the era.

The second of the many deaths of Pakistan

Those who have read the Ekushe volume (1953) edited by Hasan Hafizur Rahman can gather the literary rebellious mind of the Bangladeshi resisting class best. A survey would show the words of protests and rage such as the poems of Shamsur Rahman and others, resolve in the poetry of Alauddin al-Azad and the fundamental rural sylvan roots of the newly emerging middle class in others.

Hasan hafizur Rahman was in the thick of things, pelting stones at the police and demanding the resignation of the ministers while others were less active but equally enraged. Shamsursur Rahman's poem has more rage, "May I never see another kartik morning." While Hasan Hafizur Rahman was more sad and mellow, "Mother will not call out his name anymore ever again."

However, the essential nature of the movement was great fillip to the literature of the resistance or perhaps the imagination of resistance. What did this mean?

Looking back at the events, it would seem that Pakistan definitely had suicidal tendencies as a state. It seemed to take decisions that were meant to end its own being. The language issue was not a cultural one though it wore the robes of language. Its objective was economic exclusion using language by limiting which could be used in offices. This policy lasted barely months as Jinnah gave in and announced that East Pakistanis could use the language they wanted at home but the state language was to be Urdu. Yet when the first constitution was passed, both Urdu and Bangla had secured their position as state languages because it was politically impossible to do so.

By then all the damage possible was done and Pakistan moved from an active state to a reactive state. It took decisions which were self- destructive, be it the various martial law regimes, the fatal elections of 1954 and 1970 and the killings later but the seeds of a state that is so hell bent on proving that manipulations of history as JInnah did in 1946 by amending the Lahore Resolution can't survive history. That is why poetry mattered, more permanent than politics.

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