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Rahman, Shamsur


Rahman, Shamsur (1929-2006) poet, journalist. He was born on 23 October 1929 in his grandmother's house at 46 Mahuttuly in old Dhaka. His ancestral home was at village Pahartoly in Raipur thana of dhaka district. His father's name was Mokhlesur Rahman Choudhury and his mother's name was Amena Khatun.

When seven, he was admitted to class two of Pogos School in Dhaka. From this school he did his matriculation in 1945 and intermediate of arts from Dhaka College in 1947. He then got admitted to Dhaka University in English department. Although he completed the three-year course he did not appear in the final exam. In 1953 he obtained BA (pass course) degree. After a lapse of some years he got admitted to MA in English but did not obtain MA degree.

Shamsur Rahman

During his years in the university he came to close contact with them who in later years became well-known poets, litterateurs, writers, educationists and journalists. They included Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, Hasan Hafizur Rahman, Syed Muhammad Ali, Saber Reza Karim, Tariqul Alam, Abu Zafar Obaidullah, Badruddin Omar, Abul Maal Abdul Muhit, Mustafa Kamal, Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed, Syed Ali Kabir and Abdul Gaffar Choudhury.

When eighteen, Shamsur Rahman's first poem Unishsha Unapavchash was published in Sonar Bangla in 1943 edited by Nalinikishore Guha. While a university student, five of his poems were published in Natun Kavita (1950) an anthology of poems of thirteen young poets, edited by Ashraf Siddiqui and Abdur Rashid Khan. This helped his poetical talent attract attention of intellectuals.

In 1953 a literary festival was held in santiniketan, five-member team of litterateurs represented East Bengal and Shamsur Rahman was one of them. From a detailed account of the festival it became apparent that for the young poet it provided a unique experience. The festival's primary inspiration came from Annadashankar Roy. But its pioneers were Vice Chancellor rathindranath tagore, Ashokvijoy Raha, Surojit Dasgupta and Gouri Dutta (later to become Gouri Ayub). Others who attended it included Buddhadev Basu, Protiva Basu, Ajit Dutta, Ammlan Dutta and Naresh Guha. Their friendship and cordiality overwhelmed Shamsur Rahman. In 1955 a literary conference 'Purba Pakistan Sahitya Sammilan' was held in Dhaka. In this conference several poets from West Bengal including Narendra Dev, Radharani Devi, subhash mukhopadhyay, Debiprasad Chattapddhay and Shantiranjan Bandyopadhyay, jasimuddin attended.

Shamsur Rahman began his career as a journalist in 1957 as sub-editor of the English daily Morning News. But journalism as a profession was not up to his liking. After serving in the paper for some time he went for a change and joined Radio Pakistan as Programme Producer in 1960. He returned to Morning News in 1964 as a Senior Sub-Editor.

Despite this instability in his professional life, there came stability in his personal and poetic life. His first book of poems Prothom Gan Dwitiyo Mrityur Aage, published in 1960, established him in the domain of poetry and received appreciation of critics and awarded Adamjee Prize. The prize was handed over to him by President Ayub Khan himself. Ayub Khan's seizure of power was satirized in his poem 'Hatir Shud' (elephant's trunk). In those days no literary journal of high standard was published from Dhaka. The publication of his poem 'Rupali Snan' in Calcutta's journal Kavita, edited by buddhadev basu, signaled his arrival in the literary arena of greater Bengal. 'Rupali Snan' may indeed be regarded as the poem that heralded his arrival. The poems of Prothom Gaan Dwitiyo Mrityur Aage proved his proclamation right. Even before publication of these poems, his poetry saw a phenomenal change. He quickly came out of the spell of the poets of the thirties and from the sphere of clogged remorse and wrote his next book of poems Roudra Karotite (1963).

Shamsur Rahman's poems appeared regularly in a high-quality quarterly journal Songlap, jointly edited by Abul Hossain and Syed Sajjad Hossain. His poems 'Parker Nihsabga Khavja' and 'Khelnar Dokaner Samne Vikhiri' were first published in this quarterly.

He joined the Dainik Pakistan as Assistant Editor. It was edited by veteran journalist Abul Kalam Shamsuddin. For a whole decade between 1977 and 1987, Shamsur Rahman served as editor of Dainik Bangla (changed name of Dainik Pakistan after liberation of Bangladesh) and of Weekly Bichitra. During this time Shamsur Rahman was highly respected by hussain muhammad ershad. Ershad used to send his poems to Shamsur Rahman and as editor he used to print them with due importance. But this relationship of the two came under stress when the poets of the country joined hands with the political parties opposing Ershad's autocratic rule. In 1992 the Jatiya Kavita Parisad was formed and Shamsur Rahman as the leading poet of the country was chosen as its president.

Shamsur Rahman was selected as editor for a year-long literary project of Bangla Academy with funding from the BCC Foundation. The selection committee approved a proposal to translate Shakespeare's play Hamlet, along with its preface and footnotes. The committee had to find an answer to the question if translation fulfilled the project's criterion that the work had to be original. The committee's decision went in favour of Shamsur Rahman. For this full-time job the poet initially had to take leave for six months from his editorial responsibility in the newspaper. Meanwhile, the poet fell under the rage of President Ershad for his anti-autocracy role as the head of the 'Jatiya Kavita Parisad'. This found expression in the form of the poet's name appearing in Dainik Bangla as Chief Editor and not as Editor. This so-called promotion was in fact a demotion. The poet could not accept this insult in the veil of a promotion. He tendered his resignation and it marked the end of his career as a journalist in 1987. He spent over a month in New York while attending the UN General Assembly session as a member of the Bangladesh delegation. Although the main work of translating Hamlet, was completed in time, the delay in translating its preface and footnotes held back its publication until 1995.

While living in Dhaka and working in a newspaper it was not possible for him to remain free from the evil influence of conflicts around him. The veil of impenetrable inner sphere of the poems of his early phase now started lifting slowly. In 1967 Radio Pakistan stopped broadcasting Tagore songs at the instance of Information Minister Khwaja Shahabuddin. In protest, munier choudhury drafted a statement and it was signed by several teachers of Dhaka University and Dainik Pakistan's Hasan Hafizur Rahman, Ahmed Humayun, Fazl Shahabuddin and Shamsur Rahman. There was a surge of patriotism when in September 1965 Pakistan got entangled in a war with India. In the excitement of the 17-day war Shamsur Rahman, like many others, wrote several poems and a poetical mini-play. None of the pieces formed part of any of his books. He has, however, held out the assurance that those pieces were not intended to agitate the people; rather to raise his voice in favour of peace. But his poem 'Asader shirt' was his instant reaction to his coming face to face with a huge procession of protesters that proceeded holding high the blood-stained shirt of Asad after he was killed in police firing. This scene of 20 January 1969 so deeply moved him that he could not regain his peace of mind even after reaching his office. From office he returned home with a heavy heart. At night he wrote 'Asader shirt'.

The aspiration of the Bengalis for self-determination was a matter of deep suspicion for the military rulers of Pakistan. At one stage President Ayub even proposed that there should be a common alphabet, Latin, for all the languages of the country and that the aim should be to move towards evolving a common language. In protest, forty Bengali litterateurs, artists and journalists issued a statement on 31 August 1968 and it inspired the poet to write his famous poem 'Barnamala, Amar Dukhini Barnamala'.

The world outside began to cast a shadow on his poems from the time his second book Roudra Karotite was published. His poems in the book Bidvasta Nilima (1967) were a step further into his awareness of the world outside. He dedicated his 1970 book Nij Bashbhumey to the martyrs of eternal Bengal. The reflection of a turbulent time can be seen in every line of his poems 'Barnamala, Amar Duhkhini Barnamala', 'February 1969', 'Police Report', 'Hartal' and 'Yei Laash Amra Rakhbo Kothay'. In these poems a new kind of nakedness gushes out in both thoughts and language, as if an extreme shamelessness of time has snatched away the modesty of the language.

Shamsur Rahman's autobiography Kaler Dhuloy Lekha (Written in the Dust of Time) first appeared serially in the daily Janakantha. It was published in book form in 2004. Written in leisurely style, this autobiography speaks elaborately and candidly about his life and time although he pleaded repeatedly that his memory was failing and the story lost continuity again and again. His novel Adbhut Andhar Ek (1986) based on his experiences of the time records his indirect feelings. While living at Paratoly he wrote his very popular poems 'Swadhinata Tumi' and 'Tomakey Paoar Janya, hey Swadhinata'.

After the liberation his book Bandi Shibir Theke was published from Calcutta in 197. Among the rich crop of innumerable short stories, novels and poems generated by the liberation war Bandi Shibir Theke could claim a unique place of honour. This bunch of poems symbolising the bleeding of his heart, his respect for the freedom fighters and solidarity with them, pain and helplessness for his own confinement and aspiration for freedom gained an exceptional poetic glory for the liberation struggle of 1971. He also wrote his poem 'Samson' in 1971. Shamsur Rahman superimposed the Israeli hero Samson in place of the Bengali hero Sheikh Mujib in Pakistani prison. The killing of Sheikh Mujib along with almost his entire family in the early morning of 15 August 1975 severely jolted him and he wrote one of his best poems 'Bangladesh Svapna Dyekhe'. The same admiration appeared in his later day poem 'Dhanya shei Purush'. Despite his firm admiration for him and unbroken confidence in his leadership, the poet remained one of the exceptional few who did not join Bangabandhu's 'Baksal'. Its only meaning was that he did not approve of the proposed one-party rule.

Towards the end of Hussain Muhammad Ershad's autocratic rule (1982-1990), Shamsur Rahman became involved in the anti-autocracy movement of the people. He was one of the 31 distinguished citizens who issued a milestone statement demanding end of the autocratic rule and restoration of democratic policy (30 March 1987). At about the same time the country's poets formed their own 'Kavita Parishad' to join hands with others in opposing the rule. Shamsur Rahman was made its president. For three years from 1988 to 1990 the country's poets led by him observed with great enthusiasm on February 1 and 2 a poetry festival under a huge canopy in front of the Teacher-Student Centre (TSC) of Dhaka University. The sharpened arrow of poetry was targeted at the hated autocrat.

In his poetic life of over half a century, Shamsur Rahman continuously experimented with the subjects and language of his poems. His autobiography has again and again voiced the truth that poetry was his constant companion in all matters of his personal life ' good or bad, ups or downs. When looking for rise or fall in his poems a common factor comes to the surface ' he reached the pinnacle of his poetical life in the five books published prior to the national life's crucial year 1971. In the next three decades or more the number of his poetical books was sixty. With every passing day the flow of his creation became stronger. In mere number of published books, his position may not be equal but close to that of Rabindranath Tagore. But he falls back in the sphere of regular change in poetical scenes. In every one of his sixty books published after 1971 he presented at least several poems that were of superb quality. Since 1976 'Sahityaprakash' had been publishing regularly 'Shamsur Rahmaner Shrestha Kavita' (Shamsur Rahman's best poems) and every new edition became larger than the previous one.

Being a journalist many of the journalistic elements found place in his poems but all fermented in the liquid of poetry. The symbols we saw him using repeatedly in the poems of the first phase ' horse, deer, lame man, ditch, beggar' all disappeared yielding place to new symbols. There may be a debate as to which of these symbols were real and which were mere pictorial representation. From the very beginning his poems had clear manifestation of pictorial representation. In course of time this trend became more pronounced. Even at times it became apparent that because of over-picturisation the poems often became too heavy overshadowing his message. The poem 'Bangladesh Svapna Dyekhe' written after the tragic assassination of bangabandhu sheikh mujib with dazzling glow and abundance of complicated picturisation was a typical one. This poem hides in it answers to many questions like how mysteriously contemporary time and events come out clean through the indirect ways and pictorial symbolism of poems, how poems cover up scenes and give expression to things that lack expression, how readers are enthused and numbed in following the poet's footsteps along the dense forest of symbols and many other similar questions. In this poem the sick king and the third prince have come from the land of a native fairy tale. But the poet did not confine himself in the fairy tale or the ancient story. The theme of his poem becomes superimposed in the European literature's Electra, Hamlet, Agamemnon, Telemacus, and Greek myth's Icarus-Dedalus. He enthusiastically joined the efforts of Elliot and bishnu de (1909-1982) in superimposing the old into the present. Shamsur Rahman believed in the combined tradition of the poets of the thirties. This way he got into the international arena of poetry, into the world of Baudelaire (1821-1867), Aragon (1897-1982) and Neruda (1904-1973).

Shamsur Rahman's deepest link was with the group of poets of the thirties, especially with the trio of jibanananda, buddhadev and bishnu de. No true poet is, however, a product of mere combination of some elements or influences. He has to have originality, ability to gather, awareness of the environment, abundance of his imagination and eagerness, inwardness of emotion and uncertainty of philosophy. A combination of all this makes a poet's personality. The tradition that has touched him as a poet and his own environment must complement each other. In this environment there is his country and time but more than that there is his mind's world. The picturisation talked about is a manifestation of the fusion of countless inner and outer pictures.

Shamsur Rahman wrote poems in innumerable trends but his translated works also form part of his overall poetical output. Among his translations are Eugene O'Neil's Marco millions (1967), Robert Frost's Nirbachita Kavita (1968), Khwaja Farider Kavita (1969, Tennessee Williams' Hridoyer Ritu (1971). He did these works at different times at the persuasion of some people. His last work of translation done after a lapse of nearly two decades was Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Shamsur Rahman has left a distinct mark of originality in his poems. He has added a new dimension to modernism in Bengali poetry. He has assimilated contemporary time in his ever alert sensitivity and in his poetic activities until his death he has let his inner self coexist with the visible world outside. He has relieved the poetry of Bangladesh of its geographic limitations to let it become part of the mainstream of Bengali poetry and become part of his own modernism. At the same time he has let the strong wind of world poetry blow into his own poetry and into the poetry of Bangladesh. This was his indelible achievement. His deeply-felt perception of life and the world and his liberal humanistic mind free from any narrowness have converged in the character of his poems. In his poems nothing is untouchable, nothing is inexpressible, their doors are open for the noblest of thoughts as well as for all feelings of conscious or subconscious minds. In this sphere all comparisons are futile for he can be compared only with himself.

For recognition of his contribution Shamsur Rahman received many honours during his life. He was awarded Adamjee Prize (1963), Bangla Academy prize (1969), Jibanananda prize (1973), Ekushey Padak (1977), Abul Mansur Ahmed Smriti prize (1981), Nasiruddin Gold Medal (1981), Bhasani prize (1982), Padaboli prize (1984). He received Mitsubushi prize from Japan in 1982 for his contribution to journalism and in 1992 he was awarded the highest state honour Swadhinata prize. In 1994 Calcutta's Ananda Bazaar Patrika awarded him the Ananda prize. The same year the Jadavpur University conferred upon him the honourary degree of DLitt. In 1996 the same degree was conferred upon him by Calcutta's rabindravarati university. He died on 18 August 2006 in Dhaka. [Zillur Rahman Siddiqui]

Bibliography Shamsur Rahman, Shamsur Rahmaner Shreshtha Kavita; Shamsur Rahman, Kaler Dhuloy Lekha, Oinyaprakash, Dhaka, 2004; Shamsur Rahman, Kavitasongraha (1st vol 2005, 2nd vol 2006, 3rd and 4th vol 2007), Ononya, Dhaka; Saleh Choudhury ed, Shera Shamsur Rahman, 2004; Bhuiya Iqbal ed, Nirjanaota Theke Janaronney Shamsur Rahman, Maula Brothers, Dhaka, 2006; Mizanur Rahman ed, Mizanur Rahmaner Traimasik Patrika, Shamsur Rahman edition, Dhaka, 1991; Abul Hasnat ed, Kali O Kalam, Shamsur Rahman souvenir number, Dhaka, 2003.