In memoriam: Humayun Azad

It has been almost thirteen years since the news came from Munich, Germany, that Humayun Azad had been found dead in his apartment. Rumours were spread about cause of his death, but doctors claimed it is a fatal heart attack that took him away. To his fans, followers and family, it was unexpected that shattered their hearts. On February 27, 2004, he had been the victim of a vicious assassination attempt by assailants near the campus of the University of Dhaka during the Bangla Academy Ekushey Book Fair. But he survived. His readers hoped to get him get back with those powerful words which formed our society as always. But his tragic death put an end to their hope.

Azad, the most powerful and influential writer in the history of modern Bengali literature, was a poet, critic, political commentator, scholar and linguist. He was born in the village of Rarhikhal in Bikrampur, Munshiganj. He served as a faculty of the department of Bengali in Dhaka University.

Towards the end of the 1980s, he started to write newspaper column focusing on contemporary socio-political issues. Thus, his commentaries continued throughout the 1990s and were later published as books when they grew in numbers. Through his writings of the 1990s, he established himself as an individualist. In his works, he openly criticized the mistreatment of many religions. Such controversial write-ups resulted in threats from several groups. In 1992, Azad published the first comprehensive feminist book in Bengali titled Naari (Woman), which is largely akin to The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir regarding contents and ideas. Naari gave him popularity as an author.

In this work Azad painstakingly compiled the feminist ideas of the West that underlie the feminist contributions of the subcontinent’s socio-political reformers and drew attention to the anti-women attitude of some acclaimed Bengali writers including Rabindranath Tagore. This work of his was critical of the patriarchal and male-chauvinistic attitude of the society towards women, drew negative reaction from the conservatives. Bangladesh Government banned the book in 1995, but subsequently lifted it in 2000.

The fans of Bengali literature know the scholar Azad always busy with his writing or discussing about the country and society with his colleagues and students. As his works are controversial enough he is often considered as a person against society. But he was actually a freethinker who sensibly questioned every practising customs and beliefs in our society. Many got offended and considered him the opposition where he is attempted to be a fact finder.

Inside and outside of home, in professional and personal life, to his readers, Azad tried to help people create their own values rather than following the sterotype. On the basic of humanity, he inspired us to respond to the doubts of our mind.

Azad has received numerous awards, mainly for his all literature works. In 2012, Bangladesh Government honoured him with Ekushey Padak. He was awarded the Bangla Academy Award in 1986 for his contributions to Bengali linguistics. This bright star may suddenly left the sky of Bengali literature but his words had already made the marks on the face of the earth.

Bipasha Barua is schooling with the Department of English Language and Literature, University of Chittagong and Mohin Uddin Mizan is with The Daily Observer

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