Published:  12:00 AM, 17 March 2017

Recollecting Bangabandhu's aesthetic thinking


There came an ominous phase in our national life when we were facing a crisis of existence. To obviate this crisis we sought the depth of our learning, farsightedness, intense welding between the aspirations of the leadership and the people and above all, Himalayan courage such as Bangabandhu had. That's when we refocused our attention to trace the origin of his courage, the basis of his bond with the mass, the source of his unflinching inspiration to be faithful to truth. We started to fathom the aesthetics of his politics, palpate the root of his humane and aesthetic sensitivity.

The language movement of '52 began really in '48. Mujib was deeply in it from its early days. He was one of the first batch of young leaders who was arrested on 11 March 1948 when agitating for Bangla as a state language of newly created Pakistan.  In '62 thru '54 it transformed itself into a war for education reforms. In the six points of '66 the demands for autonomy got formulated. Added in '69 were the demand for economic and cultural freedom, all of which conflated into a demand for a sovereign Bangladesh in 1971. Sheikh Mujib was active in all those phases as the core leader.

1971 in all senses was a golden time, the greatest time for us to be fused as a nation. In March 71 Bangladesh was really born. The entire period of non-cooperation during that tumultuous March was a travail for the birth of a nation. In that preparatory stage of the war of liberation, representatives from all trades, professions and cultures expressed their solidarity with him and helped the inevitability of an independent Bangladesh. All social, cultural, economic and administrative forums expressed their allegiance to his leadership. A prolonged war of independence followed. Despite his physical absence( as he was in jail in West Pakistan) the experience of an unforeseen unity in the hardest time was a unique one. Cultural workers opened a new war front with patriotic songs on the air. The Swadhin Bangla Bater (Independent Bangla Broadcasting Centre) was a tremendous enthusiasm for the war front. Mujib's thunderous voice was a constant inspiration for the freedom loving people of Bangladesh. His slogan `Joy Bangla' (victory for Bangla) was a war-mantra for all Bengalis. According to Humayun Azad, "In March '71 Sheikh Mujib created an auspicious conflagration, auspicious delirium, auspicious volcano which forged the Bengali Muslims anew". So, we earned independence. 

`You can no longer subjugate us', Bangabandhu said in a mix of provincial dialect, local intonation and an all-embracing feeling loudly vocalized on historic 7th March 1971. Many congratulated this address as an epic in politics. Such epics are not made in a day. Because he was ever committed to the culture and politics of the soil, he could utter impromptu the rhapsody of his heart to the millions listening to him that day. His contribution to the efflorescence of Bengali psyche was so great! We will now discuss some of his deep felt intellectual and cultural ideas.

The words Bangladesh and Bangabandhu are knit together on the basis of the proven contribution by Bangabandhu for our independence and sovereignty. We cannot imagine Bangladesh keeping Bangabandhu away from our thoughts.

Just a few examples of his commitment for Bengali art and culture.Bangabandhu was the chief guest at the foundation day celebration of hotel Purbani on 31 December 1970. His address reveals his deep love for Bangla language and culture. He said, "Artists, poets, literati, must reflect in their work the aspirations of the common man. They belong to their people, country and culture. I appeal to them to devote wholeheartedly to mould anew our language and culture for the benefit of common man. I assure them that I and my party will resist any obstacle to the expression of their creativity. Gone are the days of conspiracy against our culture, of control and guidance. Artists will no longer work for a small number of elite beneficiaries. I appeal to them to make common people, the deprived, their struggle and joys and sorrows, the motif of their art and literature". His incremental love and bias towards the common man find pungent expression in every speech be made.

Even after liberation Bangabandhu initiated many activities for the healthy expansion of our culture. Before liberation Bangla Academy and central Bangla Development Board were two separate institutions. These were merged into one to widen the scope of research in Bangla. He involved many dedicated scholars and intellectuals in this merged institution to facilitate their contribution to language and culture.

Before liberation, there was no Ministry of Culture. At Bangabandhu's behest this ministry was instituted. The Indo-Bangladesh cultural agreement simplified exchanges of artists between the two countries. Bangladesh audience greatly enjoyed the performance of Indian artists as our artists could also easily travel to and perform in India. Bangladeshi students availed chances to get higher studies on drama, music etc. in India. Back home they are contributing immensely to the development of our art and culture. Bangabandhu knew that the cultural roots of the two countries are the same, as also he knew how the artists of the two countries went together to inspire us with songs of liberation. That was the reason for his eagerness to increase cultural contact between the two countries.

He created a 'Bangabandhu Cultural Welfare Foundation' for the creative artists and their dependants. Its aim was to offer scholarships for their relief and rehabilitation. Sports are another facet of culture. Another endowment named 'Bangabandhu Sportsmen's Welfare Foundation' was installed for the development of sports. This foundation played a significant role in the development of sports.

Bangabandhu's love and respect for poets, artists and litterateurs was sincere. He tried his best to harness them in the development of a liberated Bangladesh. In the Planning Commission he brought Dr Nurul Islam, Professor Rehman Sobhan, Professor Anisur Raman, Dr Musarraff Hossain and many other teachers, engineers and professionals. Professor Kabir Chowdhury was made Education Secretary.  After his exit he urged Dr. Anisuzzaman to join the post. Dr. Zaman was intently involved in the formulation of the constitution and could not take up that assignment. Professor Muzaffer Ahmed Chowdhury and Dr. AR Mallick were included in the cabinet. Abul Fazal was made V.C. of Chittagong University. He respected Zainul Abedin and other artists as his own teachers and benefited from their advice on many occasions. He himself was a voracious reader as well.

The brilliant collection of his personal library is well known. Robert Paine in his novel ''The Tortured and the Damned' says, 'He glances at his library. There is the set of Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell. On a bookshelf stands an autographed picture of Mao Se Tung, silver-framed. It reads: 'to my friend Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman-Mao Se Tung'. The signature sparkles like fireworks. He looks at the picture. Years ago when he led a Pakistan delegation to Bejing, Mao gave an exclusive interview to him".

He also established a library at the central office of his party. It was open from 3 PM to 9 PM except Fridays. It contained 7 thousand books donated from USSR plus a few thousand from India, USA, East and West Germany, Bulgaria, Japan, Australia.

The influence of Tagore on Bangabandhu was pervasive. In an interview Begum Mujib said, "Kabi Guru presides in the heart of his heart. During the ups and downs of his political career, he drew solace from the recitation of Tagore. The lines of his songs such as "you protect me from danger is not my prayer. Pray, make me fearless in calamity" or "if no one harkens to your call, go it alone"   he hummed in the calamity stricken days he passed through'.

Simultaneously he was inspired and charmed by rebel poet Nazrul Islam also. Immediately after liberation he made arrangement for bringing him over to Bangladesh on the occasion of his 73rd birthday. Here is an excerpt from his letter to Nazrul : "I invite you on behalf of myself and the people of a free and sovereign Bangladesh. On the occasion of your birthday, allow Bangladesh to be saturated with your ideals. We are eagerly awaiting your arrival." The poet responded to his call. He touched down at Dhaka in a rain of flowers. In a touching scene the two giants met. This momentous meeting between two rebels of Bengal ushered a golden chapter in the history of our country.

It is expected that litterateurs and artists of this country will continue to re-create Bangabandhu in their art. Be it remembered that, the travail of a free country was entirely borne by Bangabandhu. But for him, the name 'Bangladesh' would not have occurred in world map. We could not have been free citizens of a free country if he were not our captain. We owe it to him to make him a part of our song, poetry, novel, drama, cinema, painting and sculpture. Without him Bangladesh and Bangla are incomplete concepts. We are lucky to have his daughter in charge of the government. Her government has already started observing his birth and martyr days in right earnest. Yet, why the ordinary citizens of the country would not put their hands together to make him a part of their lives? Let us remind our children about the supreme sacrifice made by the freedom fighters at the call of Bangabandhu. He is the other face of Bangladesh. Let us constantly remember him who indeed coexists with us. Let us, therefore, vow:
As long as I will open my eyes every morning.
Watch the play of sunshine and shadows,
I will be kissed by the passing breeze, watch the deer prance.
So long shall I nurse my bereavement
(Shamsur Rahman: Song of Electra)


The writer is Professor, Department of Development Studies, Dhaka University & Former Governor, Bangladesh Bank.

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