Sunday, November 17, 2019

A tribute to Al Mahmud

Monday, February 18, 2019 - 838 hours ago

Eminent poet Al Mahmud is no more. He died on the night of Friday at Ibne Sina Hospital in Dhanmondi, Dhaka. He was 82. The poet is survived by   five sons, three daughters, and a host of relatives, friends and well-wishers to mourn his death. He had been suffering from various old-age complications. The poet lost his wife a few years back. Al Mahmud started writing poetry in the fifties of the last century. His first poem appeared in literary magazine ‘Samakal’ edited by Sikander Abu Jafor at the age of 18. His poems appeared in the prestigious literary magazines of Kolkata like Notun Sahitya, Chotushkone, Moyukh, Krittibash and Kobita. Soon he became subject of discussion among the literary enthusiasts of Dhaka and Kolkata. With the publication of his first book of poems titled ‘Lok Lokantor’ in 1963 he managed to attract the attention of the poetry lovers. With the appearance of his poetry books titled Sonali Kabin and Kaler Kolosh in 1966 he managed to establish his position in the domain of Bangla poetry. He started to enjoy wide readership. His deep imagination, poetic sense, thematic variety, imagery and metaphor endeared him to the    vast number of readers. His name began to be discussed next to poet Shamsur Rahman. In fact, Shamsur Rahman, Al Mahmud and Shaheed Quaderi dominated the poetic scene during the fifties decade. The trio would spend hours together discussing literature at different places in Dhaka, including the historic ‘Beauty Boarding’ in Old Dhaka.    

Born at Morail village in the then Brahmanbaria sub-division of greater Comilla district, Al Mahmud went through various trials and tribulations in his early life. Uncertainty for making a living haunted him for a long time. The poet started his career as a journalist. He was editor of the weekly Kafela in 1955. He participated in the Liberation War in 1971. After the independence of the country he joined the daily Ganakantha, a newspaper with radical political views, as editor. The newspaper earned the wrath of the government. The newspaper was closed down and Mahmud was put behind the bar. However, at the instruction of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Al Mahmud was appointed an Assistant Director of the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in 1975. Later he retired from the organisation as director. Though mainly a poet, Mahmud was equally proficient in writing short stories and novels. He was also a columnist. His long association with journalism gave him power of analysis, insight and acumen.

Al Mahmud’s place in the Bangladesh’s poetic domain is unassailable. He is a modernist with a difference. His modernism is firmly struck in the soil of his native land. Themes of his poetry are love, nature, women, domestic life, the common people’s struggle for existence. A mix of history and legend of Bengal’s past, river, alluvial soil, moisture and tenderness have found expression in his poems. Reading Mahmud’s poetry may lead a reader to an emotional exploration. His assiduously crafted words, use of imagery and metaphors have given a new dimension to poetry.                          

Unlike Shamsur Rahman, who depicted urban life in various ways through his poems, Al Mahmud has concentrated himself to the portrayal of rural life. He has used regional dialects widely in his poetry. His poetry smell of the village soil that he represents. Mahmud has been influenced more by poet Jibanananda Das than by poet Rabindranath Tagore. Idyllic rural life came alive in his poetry.      

I got introduced to Al Mahmud in January 1987 through the translation of his poems into English. I was working in the now-defunct Daily News, an English daily newspaper, at that time. My first translation of Al Mahmud’s poem into English appeared in the Daily News on December 26, 1986. The second poem came out in the same daily on January 9, 1987. Before publication of the poems, I had no interaction with the poet, though I saw him at different literary gatherings. I somehow collected his phone number and tried to contact him. On a bright sunny day in January I telephoned the poet from my office at Naya Paltan (opposite to Jonaki Cinema Hall). The poet told me to meet him immediately.     I came down from my office, took a rickshaw and reached Shilpakala Academy within half an hour. The poet was one of the directors of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy at that time. He received me cordially. I spent an hour with the poet. He gave me his book of poems titled Arabya Rojonir Rajhash (The Goose of Arabian Nights), published a few months ago. We talked on literature, art and culture, took tea.  From that day onward I met the poet on many occasions.

Apart from his other poetical works he is noted of his prose pieces. The  collection of short stories named Pankaurir Rakta, novels Kabiler Bon and Upamahadesh and his autobiographical pieces of Jebhabe Bere Uthi and Bichurna Aynay Kabir Mukh where he showed his dexterity that hardly comes from a poet. He was particularly noted for rhymes, some of which have been included in the national school curriculum.  Al Mahmud’s poetry has been translated into English widely. Professor Kabir Chowdhury, Professor M Harunur Rashid, Zakeria Shirajee and Pritish Nandy of India are successful translators of his poems. I translated fourteen poems of the poet into English. Those appeared in different English dailies.

Renowned Indian scholar and academician Professor Dr Shibnarayan Roy wrote a long piece evaluating Al Mahmud’s achievement as a poet.  Al Mahmud received Bangla Academy Award in 1968 and Ekushey Padak in 1987. Other awards he received included Sufi Motaher Hossain Literary Gold Medal, Farrukh Ahmed Memorial Award, Kabi Jasimuddin Award, Alokta Sahitya Puruskar, Phillips Literary Award and Lalon Award.  A noted Indian filmmaker Mukul Roy made the film Taan based on ‘Jol Beshwa’(water prostitute), a short story by Al Mahmud.  In this writer’s opinion Al Manmud’s works will definitely stand the test of time. His poems will continue to inspire both the future poets and their readers.

The writer is Assistant Editor of The Independent

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