Few will believe that in his 75-year life, Abul Hasnat had led eventful phases since his early youth up to the weeks before his death on November 1. Fewer will realise that like his least-known subtle sense of humour, he had also nurtured a penchant for 'drama'. To our utter sadness, he demonstrated the latter quality with his sudden passing-away. It came as a bolt from the blue to almost all who had been acquainted with him. Few events could be more dramatic than one's leaving this world without the faintest symptoms. After hearing the news of his death, lots of his friends and admirers were found in a dazed state for hours. Although he had crossed the threshold of 70, five years ago, Abul Hasnat at 75 looked as if he were in his late forties. He had maintained this youthfulness throughout his active, multi-faceted career. In his tolerably long span of life, Abul Hasnat (1945-2020) had stints with innumerable types of activities. All of them demanded endless energy and a buoyant state of mind. Hasnat Bhai was abundantly gifted with these two qualities. Besides ceaseless cultural and political activities throughout his youth, he actively took part in the 1971 Liberation War.
Tasting the greater horizons of life in his post-teen youth through the passion for reading 'out books', he had eventually found himself involved in myriad types of activities. As he grew up, his interests covered lots of areas of the arts that had attracted youths in the decade of the early 1960s. Those ranged from cultural activism, involvement with left politics, contesting in central students union (DUCSU) elections and winning at the university to involvement in socio-cultural movements. In the later years, he made his debut in Dhaka's fast-emerging literary world. Like all educated youths in general, he took to poetry. The later-time turbulent decades proved to be the phase of preparations for this romantic yet committed youth's eventual landing in an area filled with uncertainties. Although he found himself directly involved in the country's left movement, he did not let politics overcome his love for the arts, especially literature.
This conscious stance finally charted the future path for this Dhaka city-born youth destined to remain attached to the domain of aesthetics. He began his career in literature with his closest of friends Matiur Rahman, then young leftist-turned-journalist and later founder-editor of a high-circulated and esteemed Bangla daily. Both of them published their poems in journals of the time. Although Matiur Rahman remained engaged in left journalism, Hasnat Bhai joined the then daily Sangbad as sub-editor. Later, he was transferred to the literary section of the daily as page editor. With that assignment, Abul Hasnat entered a completely new phase in his career.
The then East Pakistan, and later Bangladesh, produced a handful of brilliant editors of literary journals and daily newspapers' literary page. Mohammad Nasiruddin, the legendary founder-editor of the 'Saogat' literary journal, is unanimously acclaimed as a pioneering editor in the country. 'Saogat' helped the writers in erstwhile East Pakistan assemble together once a week at his journal's office in old Dhaka. The Kolkata-based magazine moved to East Pakistan after the 1947 partition. At the 'Saogat' literary sessions, the participating authors used to read their poems and stories to be reviewed later at the same venue by critics or other authors. This tradition came to Dhaka from Kolkata, the then undeclared capital of Bangla literature. Dhaka in the 1950s had yet to have journals of its own that could equal Kolkata's 'Progoti', 'Kabita', 'Porichoy', 'Kollol', 'Kali-Kolom' etc. The Kolkata-origin 'Saogat' was the only regular literary platform for the Dhaka writers. By that time, it had been on the wane and lost a major portion of its lustre. In this vacuum, with no tempting literary magazines before the poets and short story writers and critics, Poet Sikandar Abu Zafar undertook the venture of the monthly 'Samakal'. This journal eventually emerged as the first-ever lovingly edited and sophisticated literary magazine in Dhaka.
The 'Samakal' dominated the Dhaka literary landscape for two decades. In those days, publication of a piece of writing in 'Samakal' was compared to being recognised by the time's literary establishment. 'Smakal' should have continued for at least ten more decades. Unfortunately, the poet-editor's ill health led to its closure. Abdullah Abu Sayeed's 'Kanthaswar', first published in the early 1960s, tried its best to uphold the exclusiveness of 'Samakal'. Thanks to Sayeed's organising capability and his being a flamboyant member of an anti-establishment literary movement, 'Kanthaswar' drew talented, young writers in large numbers.
Abul Hasnat embodied the virtues of these two editors. As a result, he proved himself to be both strict and patronising to the younger writers. It had paid him great dividends. Apart from his privilege of appearing before readers every week, he had the compulsion of attending office daily. It offered him the chance of keeping regular contact with his writers. Besides, like all daily-based literary page editors, Abul Hasnat enjoyed the opportunity of picking new and young writers who would visit his workplace. Perhaps the trait of excelling in literary page editorship had been latent with him. It was due to his perseverance and innovation that the Sangbad literary page emerged as a much adored one soon after he took its charge. In the 1970s, the names of literary pages of the dailies Dainik Bangla, Sangbad, and also Ittefaq, would be mentioned in the same breath. The Ittefaq's was a sought-after page for the writers due to the daily's wide circulation. In spite of its formidable competitors, the Sangbad literary page stood out with its well-edited and neat character.
Abul Hasnat was a highly fastidious editor. But he would warmly welcome the genuine writers. At the same time, the talented emerging writers discovered in him a warm-hearted editor. In Hasnat they found a person who was always prepared to promote their literary output. Abul Hasnat also kept considerable space for the revered senior authors. They included, notably, Shamsur Rahman, Syed Shamsul Haq and Wahidul Haq. Two of Syed Haq's weekly columns superbly added to the page's reputation.
The editor has made a few breakthrough additions to the content of the literary page. He was recognised as the pioneer in including scholarly art reviews in his page. The same applies to his regular publication of analytical and lengthy reviews of books of every nature.
Abul Hasnat left Sangbad in 2003 to join the monthly Kali O Kolom. It was brought out by Bengal Publications Limited, a house dedicated to the promotion of the arts, especially literature. The new responsibility of working as the editor of a literary monthly emerged as a formidable challenge to Hasnat Bhai. Like seen on many occasions in the past, Abul Hasnat accepted the new responsibility in a stoic heroism. Amazingly, he proved his excellence in editing the literary monthly in just a few years. Presently in its 18th year, Kali O Kolom is considered one of the now-few Bangla monthly journals in Bangladesh and West Bengal. All credits for this achievement go to the monthly's editor Abul Hasnat. Among many other new features, Kali O Kolom has generously invited writers from Bangla-speaking areas around the world. Thanks to the editor's warm style of request, very few of the senior poets and prose writers in the country and abroad would fail to respond to it. A creative person ought to drop his or her egotist self as long as they are in the editor's post. Abul Hasnat has followed this adage throughout his career of editorship. His humbleness and amiability was proverbial. He would not hesitate to entreat younger authors or give them reminders for writings. All this has led to the birth of a literary editor with extraordinary qualities.
Abul Hasnat began his literary career with poetry. The poetic self dormant in him, under the pseudonym Mahmud Al Zaman, would come alive quite often. The busy editorial responsibility seemed to have suppressed the author in him. Yet Abul Hasnat wrote and edited over 20 books on varied subjects, poetry being his strongest passion.