Cosmos Books have pulled off a publishing and literary feat by doing a coffee table book which is actually a serious social history narrative. It pens the profile of a time when history stood between two pages of chains and freedom. Monzurul Huq, the author who is a long time journalist and academic, now living in Japan, has crafted a detailed socio-political diary which is also a personal memoir.
The book will draw many readers because it's told so well without pretending to be an academic discussion. The writer tells the story of his time as seen through his own, his family's and friends' eyes. Increasingly, people are looking for answers to the historical riddles of why 1971 happened. People want to discover the era and its people which resisted Pakistan from birth and became Bangladesh in the end. Or is it that it was never Pakistan at all?
A long journey
The author comes from the "historical middle class" that grew strong between 1947 and 1971. I use the term "historical" because they played a role that made a historical difference. If readers look at the current swatch of the middle class with its consumption hungry aspirations, social climbing approaches and focus on FB as their primary location, they wouldn't be able to recognise the class that the author talks about in the book.
"Our generation is the generation that collided with history head on, without knowing where it was to take us to. But the resolve was firm, so the commitment too. Yet, not many of us were ready for confronting a situation that would call for extreme sacrifice. How come then we could face such a situation and not run away?"
"In our days of adolescence, we never thought about fighting a real enemy in a real battle and liberate the country. Yet, when the call came, many of us did not hesitate to do the same that we did not even dream of doing. "(Introduction)
This introduction sums up an entire generation's attitude and approach. In so many ways, Monzurul has captured the winds of history that blew over this land that changed it forever, better than many thick tomes of history and culture. He locates the sources of historical aspirations. And he does so without words of anger or rage but peaceful and powerful paragraphs.
Curating a past
The writer talks about his growing up in Dhaka where traditions were being built anew for a fresh new state.
He talks about his policeman father who was on duty during the fateful days of February 1952 and performed them honourably. He also came across a poem from one of the places he had raided at that time. He immediately understood the political and literary worth of the poem and refused to hand it over. Instead he rushed home, had it hand copied and once assured of its safety, returned to his office and handed over the poem as part of confiscated items.
When policemen become such desperate lovers of poetry, what chances can an artificial state have of surviving? It also says of something greater. That the great middle class, the ones who were the big supporters of the language movement, the educated middle class, already had their loyalties cut out.
It's no accident that on the night of the 25th 1971, the resistance of Rajarbagh Police line became so significant showing how even the paid law enforcers of Pakistan had already transitioned long back to become volunteer warriors of the Bangladesh liberation war.
A treasure hoard of glittering memories
While chatting on the book, one is tempted to quote from every page so it's a dangerous task to do so. That is because Monzurul also chats -not writes- about his life and incidents as one melds into another. Whether he is describing the "neem" tree , giving shade and calming the heat in summer or his friend Priyotosh who leaves, he is really narrating the past of his world in which both society and the individual live.
An important part of the book is of course the makeup, design and illustrations. The chapter divisions to decorations of pages and notes are lovely. Bishwajit's drawings, designs and paintings are not just there for heightening the enjoyment of the book but they became works of art, a very powerful contributor to the project where the author, the designer and the publisher all collaborate to make it so significant.
Thanks also to Cosmos Books for bringing this out. This is not a commercial product but an act of love for books and helping such important memories survive and become part of a very important way of describing our many histories.
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