Smrity Bismrity Antoral by Mohammad Rafiq, Publisher - Papyrus, published in: February 2002
Liton Chakraborty Mithun point out the hope, desire, hardship and pain of poetry that uttered by the author
The very first time I heard the name of poet Mohammad Rafiq was in one of Prof. Tahmina Ahmed's classes in the first year of my university life as a student of Dhaka University's English Department. While talking about the power of poetry, she made a mention of the poet's famous poem "Sob Shala Kobi Hobe" which shook the throne of the then military dictator of the country. But the irony is that the dictator's henchmen went on to arrest the poet whereas the poem did not mention anyone's name.
This poem and the subsequent arrest rather shot him to an unprecedented fame, Tahmina ma'am added. Since then, the name Mohammad Rafiq has been etched on my memory. So, when I came across the poet's collection of essays Smrity Bismrity Antoral in a shop on the sidewalk at Nilkhet two years ago, it was a eureka moment for me.
As I have re-read the book, this time with the purpose of reviewing it, I find the book opening more windows to me than before. The furniture of Mohammad Rafiq's literary mind being basically poetic, he concentrates his focus on poetry throughout the book. In the very first essay of the book, he puts emphasis on the primacy of studying the classics for they are the ground to base your literary edifice on.
He rues the tapering off of the study of the classics in the literary practice of contemporary Bengali poets. Surprisingly, he does not think high of the caliber of the poets of the thirties, including most popular and loved of them Jibanananda Das. He also observes a similar situation in the global poetry around the last century. However, in another essay, he provides a list of enemies harming poetry.
This includes -free market economy, corruptive democracy, unreadable novels, colorful visual media, poems growing out of the garment of poetry- among others. Later on, he suggests that poetry should be more straightforward in dealing with its subject-matters and content.
Mohammad Rafiq is largely dedicated to poetry. He believes in its immense power and potential. He is confident that it will always push its way through all the problems and adversities facing it. He makes a bold statement as far as poetry is concerned, that is 'As the pre-condition to death is life, so is poetry to life.' However, he goes on to diagnose further causes for its downswing.
He blames most of the poets for chewing the chewed in terms of messages and contents. In addition, he finds the lack of practicing and composing music as well as writing lyrics on the part of poets quite harmful to the craftsmanship and musicality poetry as an art form requires. However, he goes on to say that Bengali poetry should nourish from the socio-cultural milieu and historical achievement of the nation. As a matter of fact, poetry can survive through all difficulties if it taps into the cultural vibrancy, social energy and shared experience in the national life.
In another essay, Mohammad Rafiq tries to offer an insight into the historical evolution of the Bengali nation, its language and poetry. He laments the break-up of Bengal and decries the mental distance between the two major religious communities inhabiting the geography. He also attempts to draw a picture of how Bengali poetry evolves itself and incorporates materials from the socio-political changes the Bengali nation has undergone.
On top of that, he explains why the fifties of the last century is marked as a watershed moment in the history of Bengali poetry, and why Bangladeshi Bengali poetry is mostly political in nature. For the most part, he underscores the indivisibility of Bengali literature, poetry included, despite the political division of the nation. Besides, he expresses his expectation that Bengali poetry will assert its global identity in addition to retaining its national character.
To put it simply, Smrity Bismrity Antoral functions as an amazing shorthand for Mohammad Rafiq's poetics and poetical career. We get to know how the poem "Kajla Didi" by Jatindramohan Bagchi amazed him as a child the way it does to many Bengali children. I think you will not get a better interpretation of the poem than the one given by the poet in an essay of the book. Moreover, you will find a 'portrait of the artist (Mohammad Rafiq) as a young man' in the book. Furthermore, his profound admiration for German poet Rilke is described in some length in another essay.
Similarly, Rafiq's respectful account of the Spanish poetry great Federico Garcia Lorca is available in this extraordinary collection. Likewise, Mohammad Rafiq touches upon post-colonial thinkers, writers and poets like Aime Cesaire and Leopold Sedar Senghor in the volume, which I find praiseworthy as a student and an admirer of 'African and Caribbean Literatures', a course offered in the MA program of Dhaka University's English Department. Besides, he reminisces about the late playwright Selim Al Deen, talks about literature and newspaper, and recounts the memory of our Language Movement and War of Liberation in the book. In fact, it appears to me that this book is a miniature of Mohammad Rafiq's poetic self.
In conclusion, Mohammad Rafiq is one of the poster boys of poetry in independent Bangladesh. His is a mighty prose with a magical charm to keep the reader thoroughly captivated. As an aspiring writer, I have found his language and style worth imitating. The main takeaway for me from the book is that excellence in writing requires continuous struggle and effort.
However, given the dearth of powerful prose in the contemporary Bengali literature, Mr. Rafiq is certainly a beacon light. Accordingly, his Smrity Bismrity Antoral is a specimen to the literary genius that he is. This can also be taken as a manual of poetry. I hope this gem of an essay collection will enjoy its due coverage and circulation among the reading public and the budding writers in newer editions.
The reviewer studied English literature at the University of Dhaka, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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