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A Man Ahead of His Time

August 11, 2011

We had to move around a lot, from one floor to another floor and one building to another building, to attend different courses within the University of Dhaka campus. Humayun Azad Courtesy: Photo.net

One afternoon on the second floor of theater building while I was going to attend a class, I met this pleasant looking, plainly dressed  professor who was ready to talk to anyone. While he was smoking I inquired about the subject that he was working on. He said, “There are some people who still believe the sun moves around the earth! I’m working on them!!”

This is our Azad Sir.

Humayun Azad, born in Bikrampur, now Munshiganj, was Bangladesh’s leading linguist, writer and a strong critic of the extremists. His sharp political commentary about what was going on around him and the growing Islamization of Bangladesh caused lots of anger among the radical establishment.

He was outspoken and took great pride in his works, which he really deserved. This, however, made him very unpopular among his peers.

I’ve first heard of Azad Sir when I was a college student. He was the favorite writer of our English teacher Terence Pinero. Later I read his interview on Subarnarekha, a literary supplement of Daily Aajker Kagoj. I did not read much of his works. My orientation with his works began with Chappanna Hajar Barga Mile, followed by Kabi Othoba Dandito Opurush. He was deeply moved by the criminalization of society, decaying values and rise of the Islamists.

Azad Sir was a great father.I have come to learn from an interview that he used to dine with his kids. As Ananya’s, his son who also suffered a lot at the hands of radicals, plate depleted, he served and filled his son’s empty plate telling him, “Eat as much as you can. Who will serve you when your Baba(father) will be no more?”

His work Pak Sar Zamin Saad Baad, which was later banned by the Government of Bangladesh, made the extremists furious and led a radical member of parliament, also an infamous war criminal, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, now detained for War Crimes, to raise the issue of introducing Blasphemy law in the parliament in 2004. Just a week later, while he was on his way back home from Ekushey Book Fair, a bunch of medieval thugs attacked him with kitchen tools. He survived the attack, but he was so traumatized by the incident that it ultimately caused his death in Munich, where he was doing a research on German Poet Heinrich Heine.

With his demise, Bangladesh lost a great linguist and writer of our time. He was born much ahead of his time and in a regressive society like our ones very few were ready to hear what he tried to say. I think, in future, at our difficult times we will have recourse to his writings.

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