Every year I have to answer questions on how and where I wrote the song on Ekushey February when the International Mother Language Day arrives. It comes to my mind that I should also write about the people who inspired me to write this song. I remember them with honour.
First I would like to write a few lines about Syed Ahmad Hossain. Justice Mohammad Hossain was his elder brother. Both of them are dead now. Ahmad Hossain was a very good friend of mine. Ahmad Hossain was involved in leftist politics and progressive activities. Ahmad Hossain was also a boyhood friend of Dr. Anisuzzaman. Dr. Anisuzzaman was a cordial friend to poet and translator Neyamal Bashir. Neyamal Bashir later on became my classmate at the university. Ahmad Hossain was introduced to me through Dr. Anisuzzaman. We became very intimate afterwards.
When police opened fire on agitating students on 21 February 1952, we went to Dhaka Medical College Hospital to see the corpses of the students who got killed in police firing. Nazrul expert Dr. Rafiqul Islam and journalist Shafik Rehman were also with me. They both were students at that time.
A poetic line dawned in my mind as soon as I saw the dead body of martyr Rafique. It was "Amar bhaiyer rakte rangano Ekushey February". Rafiqul Islam and Shafik Rehman took photographs of martyr Rafique. People gathered in front of Dhaka Medical College Hospital. There was a burning smell of tear gas in the air.
I met Ahmad Hossain at that time. He had a small figure. He was around my age. Ahmad Hossain and his friends moved around Dhaka city riding bicycles. Ahmad Hossain asked me, "Gaffar, did you participate in the procession?" I replied, "Yes, I did." I entered the medical college hospital when police started firing. I saw a dead body on the floor of the medical college hospital. He looked like my own brother.
I read out the poetic line "Amar bhaiyer rakte rangano Ekushey February" to Ahmad Hossain. He liked it. Ahmad Hossain asked me to write the poem instantly. Ahmad Hossain said, "You take my bicycle and go to the hostel immediately and write down the poem before you forget it." I asked Ahmad Hossain how he would go back home. He answered he would manage and told me once again to go back to the hostel quickly.
I was at that time an intermediate student of Dhaka College. The college was at that time located at Siddique Bazar of Dhaka city. The hostels of the college were scattered in different houses in various parts of Dhaka city. I lived in a hostel named Bandhab Kutir. When I reached Bandhab Kutir, I saw a notice hanging on its door which said that all colleges and hostels were shut down following a government order.
I went upstairs to pack up my belongings. I thought about writing down a few lines of the poem. I wrote down five to six lines sitting at my table. I was thinking where I would pass the night. Dhaka College had another hostel at Begum Bazar at that time which was called Nupur Villa. Famed philosophy Professor Syedur Rahman was the hostel's superintendent. Shafik Rehman was his son. I passed the night with one of my classmates at the hostel guesthouse. I wrote down some more parts of the poem over there.
The next day was 22 February. That was another historic day. Salimullah Hall was at that time the headquarter of language movement. It was decided that a gayebana namaj-e-janaza would be offered for the language martyrs on the premises of Dhaka Medical College hostel. It was conducted by Mawlana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani. A mourning rally would be brought out to parade different parts of Dhaka city-it was also decided.
Our classmate Borhan Uddin Khan Jahangir also lived at Nupur Villa. Our another classmate Daud Khan Majlish also arrived. We decided to attend both the janaza prayer and the mourning rally. Me, Shafik, Daud and Borhan wrote down our names and addresses on pieces of paper and put it inside our shirt pockets. We did it so that we could be identified if we got killed in police firing or firing by army.
I did not see such a big janaza and such a large mourning rally at that tender age. The entire Dhaka city huddled on the premises of Dhaka Medical College Hospital to participate in the janaza. Police started charging baton when our rally reached Curzon Hall. The army opened fire. I was slightly injured by the baton charge of police force. We took shelter inside Curzon Hall.
My friend and classmate Daud Khan Majlish took me to one of his relatives' house in Bangshal. He lived inside a garret on the second floor of that house. I tried to complete my poem on Ekushey February over there. My ankle was still aching. I also caught fever. That's why I was admitted in a general ward of Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Ahmad Hossain showed up there one day suddenly. He also found his bicycle at the house of Daud Khan Majlish. Ahmad Hossain brought some fruits for me. He asked me whether I had completed my poem on Ekushey February. I said it was half done.
Ahmad Hossain pressed me to complete the poem on that very day. The language activists decided to publish a manifesto on the language movement. My poem would be printed in that manifesto, Ahmad Hossain said. The manifesto would be distributed after printing it secretly from a press. Ahmad Hossain further said that they hold secret meetings in Gendaria. Abdullah Al Muti Sharfuddin was its initiator.
I was very intimate with Abdullah Al Muti Sharfuddin during my student life. We both were activists of Mukul Fauj. Abdullah Al Muti believed in socialist thoughts. He wrote a good number of scientific books for children in an easy language. He was a student during 1952. Abdullah Al Muti was a frontline language activist during the language movement. I completed my poem on Ekushey February under duress from Ahmad Hossain. As soon as I completed it, Ahmad Hossain grabbed the poem and rushed out of the place.
The first manifesto on the blood-spilling Ekushey February was published within a few days. The second manifesto was published by Hasan Hafizur Rahman. Abdullah Al Muti Sharfuddin wrote most part of the first manifesto. My poem was published on the second page with my full name. I must admit that perhaps I could not have completed the poem without pressure from Ahmad Hossain. Same goes for the manifesto on the language movement.
Composer Altaf Mahmud transformed my Ekushey February poem into a song which is chanted at the provat feri every year when Ekushey February comes.
Ahmad Hossain was my co-ager but he did not get a long life. He was highly dynamic all his life. Ahmad Hossain was deeply involved in Students Union during his academic life. He was directly associated with all the progressive organizations that supported the language movement. Ahmad Hossain was Secretary General of Bangladesh UN Society. He was a leading activist in Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts and many other cultural platforms. He visited me in the United Kingdom whenever he travelled to London for medical treatment.
I met him for the last time in Dhaka in 1993 at a program organized by Bangla Academy. He said, holding my hand, "Gaffar, your song is now in everyone's voice. Please refer to my name if you ever write the history of your song on Ekushey February."
Abdul Gaffar Choudhury is a prominent journalist and author based in the United Kingdom. This article was first published in the Asian Age last Ekushe February 2022