Bidding farewell to Syed Shamsul Haq

Shihab Sarkar | Thursday, 6 October 2016

The huge gathering of people from the literary and cultural worlds at the farewell tribute to late Syed Shamsul Haq on September 28 is set to go down in history as a memorable event. Many present at the solemn ceremony have referred to similar pre-funeral assemblage of mourners after the death of a few greats in our literature. The list is topped by Rabindranath Tagore. The poet died in Kolkata on August 07, 1941. The trend of keeping bodies of famous litterateurs at culturally important venues to allow people to have a last glimpse of the dead had not yet started. Like with many others before him, Tagore's farewell was marked by a large mourning procession. According to historical records, Kolkata on August 07 ground to a standstill as the flower-bedecked vehicle carrying the poet was inching through the crowds of grieving people. It took hours for the hearse procession to complete the journey from Jorasanko, the poet's paternal residence, to the Keoratola crematorium. The great turnout of mourners at the procession reminded Kolkata of the special place people had in their heart for the Nobel laureate. As time wore on, it found place in history as one of the unforgettable events involving Bengalee writers. Almost the same scenario was enacted in Dhaka in 1976 after the death of the National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. Thousands of mourners gathered in the city's Shahbagh area on August 29 that year. The poet was buried in a grave close to the mosque on the Dhaka University campus.
Not all the outstanding and major writers can draw large crowds after their deaths. Jibanananda Das, acclaimed as the greatest poet after the Tagore-Nazrul era and the pioneer of modernism in Bangla poetry, died almost unnoticed. The funeral procession of the poet in Kolkata on October 22 in 1954 comprised just over a dozen people, all of them his contemporary and younger poets. The farewell procession for novelist Manik Bandyopadhyay had even fewer people. 
However, the numbers of people attending functions to say goodbye to authors do not always determine their position in literature. Exceptions are plenty. The shabby treatment meted out to Edgar Allan Poe after his death (1849) from too much drinking prompted the later-generation Americans to feel awfully ashamed. The sense of guilt and pricks of conscience haunted the American elite for long. Half a century later, the author emerged as one of the greatest short story writers in the world.
Given the nation's middle-class propensity not to come up with the accolades deserved by creative people, authors in general in this country leave the world unsung. Despite this hostile backdrop, a few poets and novelists emerged in our literary landscape and won scores of admirers. To the amazement of the characteristically incredulous people, they have also attained the heights of celebrities. It was sheer literary genius and devotion to creativity that won them laurels. Death did not deprive them and their work of the reward they owed. The love and admiration of the readers for them poured in as they rightfully deserved those. Shamsur Rahman, Syed Shamsul Haq, Humaun Ahmed included these authors. In spite of his living abroad for a greater part of his life, and his death in the USA, Shahid Qadri could also find for himself a distinctive place in this galaxy of lavishly admired authors. Syed Shamsul Haq's death on last September 27 (born  December 27, 1935) reminds us of the truth that many of the honest artists enjoy their recognition during their lifetime.
The degree of admiration and acceptance, though, varies from writer to writer. After remaining deprived of proper recognition, lots of writers come into focus long after death. Except the close circles of his contemporary poets and a few editors, Jibanananda Das had been virtually unknown to the general poetry lovers. The most celebrated poet of his time was Premenda Mitra. In the following decades, Mitra's poetic fame began ebbing. But his stature as one of the major short story writers remained firm and secure.
The magic of Jibanananda Das began to be explored in the 1970s, two decades after his death in a tram accident. The poetic achievements of the 17th century British metaphysical poets such as John Donne, Andrew Marvell or George Herbert remained unidentified until the 1920s.  After their mention in a reference book by the 19th century poet and critic Samuel Johnson, it was TS Eliot who had focused on them widely. It was this great poet of the 20th century who delved into the excellence of metaphysical poetry. Or else this unique group of poets may have already disappeared into oblivion.
Proving the brilliance of many of his work and the smooth access of readers to his literary corpus, Syed Shamsul Haq did not require critics' support to carve out a distinctive place in Bangla literature. Death took him away from this temporal world at the mature age of 81. This parting was like putting his work to the test of time. All artists, be they minor or major, have to face this transition. The potential writers never fail to survive the critical test. After death, nothing goes with the writers. There are no favourable establishments or institutions to back them. They find none beside them --- no friendly critics, no admiring readers. Amid worldly realities it's only the creative output that stays back to be constantly judged by the cruel time. The accomplished writers cross the test with ease. The fake or pretentious ones get lost in the black hole of time. With his over two hundred books, ranging from fictions, poetry, short stories, plays, essays to translations, to lyrics of popular songs to movie screenplays, Haq has left behind a mindboggling volume of creative output. Thanks to the varied nature of his works and his ability to innovate poetic dictions and styles of prose, he could be called a wizard of writing. His facile and prolific nature of writing has aptly earned him the title of Sabyosachi. It derives from the mythological character Arjuna, who had the capability to use a bowstring and arrow with both right and left hands.
When it comes to devotion to writing, the tendency to pick unconventional subjects and engaging in experiments, few modern Bengalee writers can stand parallel to Haq. Despite passing his first thirty years of life in varied types of trauma, he did not waver from his literary mission. Many view his occasional stints with the cinema, that too middle-class entertainers, as a self-driven detraction. To others this meant his casual attitude to serious arts. But Haq was the embodiment of marvelous qualities. That he would eventually return to the pure arts never to leave it eluded many. After frittering away a considerable part of his life, the consummate author got down to the task which he thought he was born to complete. By the time Syed Shamsul Haq had turned 50, he was a different man. He directed all his aesthetic passion to writing. Thus we saw the rebirth of the author Syed Shamsul Haq, with the added virtues of reflections on truth and illusion. We were fortunate to bid farewell to a writer who had almost completed his creative cycle at 81.
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