Syed Waliullah's grave in Paris
Syed Waliullah is a remarkable name in Bengali literature. He is most famed for his novel "Lalsalu" (The Red Tapestry). Syed Waliullah was a novelist, story writer, poet, literary connoisseur and a journalist.
Syed Waliullah was born in Chittagong on 15 August 1922. He died in France on 10 October 1971 at the age of 49 years. We visited France to quest for Syed Waliullah's grave in France recently. Syed Waliullah died of brain hemorrhage. He was buried in Paris.
Syed Waliullah wrote about Bengali heritage, moral degeneration and superstitions in his books. His literary creations have enriched Bengali literature in many ways. His books Lalsalu, Chader Omobossa (The Moonless Night), Kado Nodi Kado (Cry River Cry) have obtained applause from readers and scholars both.
In 1945, he joined as a subeditor the daily "Statesman" for two years, becoming the first non-hindu to be staffed in that prestigious newspaper.
Meanwhile, he founded "Comrade", a publishing house named and a literary review publication "Contemporary" where he reviewed contemporary pieces of work literature.Following the partition of the British Raj in August 1947, he resigned and joined Radio Pakistan as an assistant editor of its Dhaka regional office.In 1949 he was transferred to Karachi station as a news editor.
After that, he joined the Pakistan civil service first as a Press Attaché in New Delhi from 1951 till 1952.
Then he was posted to Sidney, Australia where he served until 1954.
There he met his french wife Anne-Marie Thibaud where she had been working with the French Embassy.
The couple had two children, Simine and Iraj.
He went back to Karachi where he married her and became Information Officer for two years in Dhaka before returning abroad in Djakarta, Indonesia, where he worked in the Embassy of Pakistan.
He returned once again to Karachi in 1958 where he worked as an officer on special duty at the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting before he left for London in 1959. Then, he was transfered to Bonn, Germany till 1961 and finally moved to Paris, France as First Secretary of Embassy of Pakistan.
In 1967, he was appointed at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, Headquarters in Paris, France) as a program specialist
When the Liberation War began, he was readily committed to defending his homeland, stepping up contacts and seeking active supports from French intellectuals and government officials. He even went to London to pledge allegiance to the emerging nation's government which was known as Mujibnagar Sorkar (Baidyanathtala).
His father, Syed Ahmadullah, was a government officer. He was a district magistrate of British Raj period. Waliullah spent his childhood inMymensingh, Feni, Krishnanagar and Kurigram. His notable novel, Lalsalu, was inspired by a shrine covered with red cloth that he would often pass when he lived in Mymensingh.
Syed Waliullah passed his matriculation examination in 1939 from Kurigram High School. He completed his Higher Secondary Exams from Dhaka Intermediate College in 1941and bachelor's degree from Ananda Mohan College in Mymensingh in 1943. He then moved to Calcutta to complete his master's in economics. But he couldn't complete his master's due to untimely demise of his father. He joined The Statesman newspaper and worked until 1947.
In 1947, Waliullah moved from Calcutta to Dhaka. He joined Radio Pakistan. In 1950, he was transferred to Karachi. In 1951, he started serving as the press attaché at the Pakistan missions in New Delhi, Sydney, Jakarta and London. In 1960, he was appointed as the First Secretary at the Pakistan embassy in Paris. In 1967, he joined the UNESCO in Paris.
Waliullah is often considered the pioneer of existential analysis of the characters psyche in the literature of Bangladesh. The last two of his three novels, especially ' Kando Nadi Kando (Cry, o river), (1968), show his mastery in revealing the inner depths of his characters.Chander Amaboshay, (1964) was another famous novel of him. Nayanchara, (1946) and Dui Tir O Anyanya Galpa, (1965) are storybooks written by him.
Lalsalu tells the story of Majid, a poor man from a devout Muslim background. Majid comes to a remote village. He declares an old grave to be the Majaar that of a Peer, covers it with the traditional red cloth used for mausoleums, and establishes his stronghold on the life of the people using the reflected power on him of the supposed saint. The novel shows his struggle with other religious figures trying to establish dominance, the undercurrent of pagan ideas among the people, and his own weaknesses.
The novel was adapted to a Tanvir Mokammel film with the same title in 2001. Waliullah met Anne Marie Thibaud (1929-1997), a French woman, in Sydney. They were married in 1955 and had two children, Simine and Iraj. He was a cousin of Jamal Nazrul Islam, a physicist and mathematician.
Waliullah died in Meudon in Paris on October 10, 1971.
From his early childhood, he had an ambition to become an artist; he wanted to be either a painter or a writer. He eventually dabbled to both the artistic lines.
Though he continuously engaged in both artistic disciplines, he found his true calling and passion in writing.
Throughout his life, he always focused on writing novels, short stories and dramas.
His early literary works were published in the form of short stories such as "Nayanchara (1945)" while he was still a student in Calcutta.
His most famous book Lal Shalu was published in 1949 at the age of 27.
As a bureaucrat, he couldn't devote himself full time to literature, though he had always wanted to make a living entirely from his art.
Syed Waliullah was awarded and recognized for his works several times.
* 1955 Pen Prize (Bohipir)
* 1961 Bangla Academy Literary Award for Novels (Lal Shalu)
* 1965 Adamjee Prize (Chander Amaboshaya)
* 1983 Ekushey Padak posthumously
We placed flowers on the grave of Syed Waliullah paying homage to this immortal author.
The writer is a columnist and a freelancer