Intellectuals are greatly important for progress of any nation. They are people's heart and brain. If a country lacks a good number of honest and courageous intellectuals, it is doomed to fail. They give direction to people and are like the lighthouse of a nation. A country consists of not only economic, political and cultural elements, but also intellectual identity. This identity is made up by its writers, artists, teachers, journalists and all those who do the thinking for people.
Bangladesh has been in want of great intellectuals since long. And the situation has been worsening day by day. Ahmed Sofa paid attention to this fifty years ago in his book Buddhibrittir Natun Binyas (New pattern of intellectualism), which is an expression of his anger and bitter criticism against intellectuals in the country of that period. He took up the pen against intellectuals of his time because he felt responsibility to unveil the faces of the deceptive and embolden the sincere ones. But his last minute effort to rescue his peers from falling into a hole of compromise has not been so fruitful.
Sofa believed in the role of intellectuals for progress of the nation. In his words, "Poets, litterateurs and writers are like women in pregnancy." They point to the direction for moving forward. They predict what is going to happen and what will happen. But he lamented that Bangladesh did not have such wise men to rely on.
Of course, Sofa was one of such intellectuals among a few of his time. He stood ahead of many of his contemporaries. He was honest, courageous, patriotic, farsighted and outspoken. That number of such intellectuals is dwindling day by day and we are being left with a sack of flattering, compromising, opportunistic, corrupt, greedy and unpatriotic people in the garb of intellectuals. Real intellectuals for whom a nation craves and stands in waiting are becoming fewer and fewer.
This is because when economic, political and social organizations of a country worsen, its intellectual lives also struggle to survive and the country as a whole suffers. Intellectual life of a nation can be in any of the states of being embryonic, babyish, adolescent, grown-up or even old. The intellectual environment can be greenish or rotten, anything. Its intellectuals can be flatterers, treacherous, selfish, corrupt and any other thing in the range of negatives. But they can also be honest, patriotic, courageous, people-oriented and progressive. In fact, there is always a struggle within the intellectual circle between its good and bad sides, progressive and reactionary groups.
Ahmed Sofa belonged to this dwindling circle of intellectuals in his time. He was one of those few people who spoke for the interests of the exploited, downtrodden and marginalized portion of the society and spoke to the arrogant in power eyeball to eyeball. Sofa lived a struggling life and so did not have to fear anyone for losing anything and at last died in an inexpensive hospital as an ordinary man. And the men in power were mercilessly thrashed in his hands for their greed, hypocrisy, cowardliness, etc.-Gavibittanto (Story of a cow) is a novella written about such a person in the neighborhood of power. And had he lived now, he might have started writing the story of a goat for the decline and rot that class has fallen into.
Though some intellectuals have still not sold their souls to the political and corporate power, many have done so. The political and corporate identities are blending in the present condition. One has to have either a political or a corporate branding for quick and sure success, which is enough to bend the backbone of an intellectual to the ground level.
Sofa was at the opposite pole of such people and did the critique of intellectuals in his Buddhibrittir Natun Binyas, which is an unforgettable and one of the most quoted lines in our time: "Bangladesh would not have achieved independence if people had listened to what the intellectuals used to say. If people believe what they are saying now, there won't be any radical change in the structure of society."
In this book published in 1972, Sofa lamented how intellectuals of his time had been singing the praise of the state policy without limit. They had been writing stories, novels, poetry, history, even textbooks from primary to university levels, all to make the powerful happy. Any protest usually resulted into starvation or imprisonment. Politics was in his view a tool for grabbing power by winning elections through cheating. No one cheats nowadays, they just make elections unnecessary!
Our bankruptcy in the practice of knowledge gave pains to Sofa, who wrote about the lag in our science study, "Science is taught in our schools, colleges and universities, but the real aim of science study remains unknown even to science teachers. When a person recognized as the best of all of our scientists writes a poor book for religious study for earning some money, we cannot but get surprised."
The condition of science study in our country has further declined. Though our markets are flooded with the latest scientific technologies, our minds are the oasis of blind beliefs. Beliefs go very well with greed, corporatism, human exploitation, enjoying unearned profit, etc. But scientific views question not only how nature appears to our bare eyes, wrongly in most cases, but also how society appears before our bare eyes, more wrongly in fact. One should learn how to question.
Sofa's dream of a country which belongs to every working man and woman is fast receding from our view because of the despicable role present intellectuals are playing as the mouthpiece of the dominant media nowadays. Let us dream of a country, which was dreamt by Sofa fifty years ago in his remarkable book on intellectualism-a country where everyone belongs.
The writer is Editor, Biggan O Sangskriti.
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