FE Today Logo

Bangabandhu centennial, golden jubilee of freedom: Ekushey Book Fair's tribute

Shihab Sarkar | March 26, 2021 00:00:00

Like a transcendental alignment, the year of 2021 has perhaps been predestined to observe and celebrate three great national events. Few nations are fortunate enough in their ability to commemorate these occasions in a row. No sooner had the nation completed the countdown to the birth centennial of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman last year, than it sparked off the festivities of another historic event: celebration of Golden Jubilee of the country's independence. The 2021 Bangla Academy Book Fair, as a mark of respect to Bangabandhu, started on 18th March, one day after the completion of the supreme leader's birth centennial events. But the people and the authorities have been all set to extend the celebrations' tenure into the current year's golden jubilee of independence. In addition to the Ekushey Book Fair's innate festive nature, the mood of 'Mujib Borsho' and the Independence War's Golden Jubilee this year has made the Amor Ekushey Gronthomela an epic occasion.

Few have ever thought that the two national commemorations plus the Ekushey Book Fair would ever coincide in such an amazing way. Book festivals are a part of the popular culture practised in many countries involving the educated urban class. Traditionally centred on the observance of Language Martyrs Day, asserting the distinct cultural identity of Bengalees had continued to become a dominant theme of the day. This led to a large-scale awakening of the Bangalee ethos in 1952 based on the demand that Bangla should be declared the state language of Pakistan. Finally, it was found that the seeds of the 1971 Liberation War had been sown in the Language Movement. It's now part of history that the now-festive Ekushey Book Fair has its origins in the 1952 Language Movement, which later heralded a Bengalee cultural renaissance. It eventually transformed into the prelude to the final strike on the citadel of the then Pakistani injustices and oppression. It finally emerged as the Liberation War of 1971.

The Ekushey Book Fair, enthusiasts calling it a festival, has long helped give permanence to a new cultural feature in Bangladesh, especially in its cities. The development may have gone unnoticed by the average fair visitors, but the book fair has always stood witness to the undercurrent of political and cultural phenomena in the country's 50-year history. This trend could be detected tentatively in the very early phase of the open-air fair on the Bangla Academy premises. Although due to the mass character of the fair, it had been made to wear a festive look. The conservative segments of the fair-going educated people, the avid readers, couldn't approve of the adjective 'festive' added to the character of the fair. But in spite of the quintessential character of the event featuring self-absorbed book lovers moving from stall to stall in silence, the book-centred festivity can hardly be averted. Along with the compulsive readers, amateur and event-based readers also swarm on the fairground every year. Mostly university and college-going students, they enter the fair in groups. Purchasing little, they spend more time leafing through books, enquiring about the arrival of publications of their favourite novelists and, at one point, engaging in gossip or 'adda' at one side of the ground. These ebullient youths, and the teenage and child book lovers bring about a festive atmosphere in the fair. Coming to the overall atmosphere of the Bangla Academy Ekushey Book Fair, what the seasoned fair-visitors are used to is one of an event having mixed characters. The same picture has been prevailing in the last few years, after the larger segment of the event has shifted to the western part of the Suhrawardy Udyan.

According to the genuine book lovers, the Ekushey Book Fair this year is set to wear a look not seen any time in the past. Books on two nationally important anniversaries are expected to be dominantly present at many stalls and pavilions at the fair. Of them, three books written by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman stand out with their distinctive glory. The books are 'Oshomapto Atmojiboni' (Unfinished Memoirs), 'Karagarer Rojnamcha' (The Prison Diaries) and 'Amar Dekha Naya Chin' (New China as I have Seen It). These three books amply prove that had not Sheikh Mujib turned to politics during his early youth, the great leader would have emerged as a writer with a rare gift for keen observation of things and people. Although he couldn't finish his memoirs thanks to his turbulent life, Bangabandhu brilliantly narrated the political ups and downs that spanned two decades. The autobiography carries enormous historic and documentary values. On occasions, the emerging leader observed the murky developments in the then Pakistani politics throughout the 1950s, without being involved in the happenings. He had the power, befitting genuine authors, to stand apart and look at things dispassionately. Yet at the end, time commanded him to play a proactive role in the politics of East Pakistan as well as the whole Pakistan. However, Sheikh Mujib's destined role was not that of a passive observer. He couldn't resist being in the eye of the storm. The unfinished memoirs conclude abruptly with 113 Awami League assembly members preparing to table a no-confidence against the then chief ministerial hopeful. The no-confidence motion exposes domestic political feuds and groupings in East Bengal during those days.

'Amar Dekha Naya Chin' is a book set in the post-revolution China. It is apparently a rare travel experience gathered by Sheikh Mujib during a China tour in 1952 as a member of a peace delegation to that massive land after Mao Zedong's revolution. Bangabandhu in the book chronicles his days in what would soon become a regional, and later a global power. A keen observer as a political leader as he was, he showed his interest more in the commoner's day-to-day life, and the socio-economic development phases China was undergoing then. The Pakistani delegation had been invited by a Chinese peace platform. It was attended by teams from different countries including India and Pakistan. The Pakistani delegation comprised Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, Ataur Rahman Khan, Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia and Khondoker Mohammad Ilias. The delegation also included some politicians from West Pakistan. An interesting aspect of the book is Sheikh Mujib's eagerness to have a glimpse of the founder of the New China ---Mao Zedong. The opportunity visited him soon. On a special day dinner-cum-celebration, the future Bengalee founder of an independent country was able to see the Chinese living legend from close proximity. However, Bangabandhu and Mao could meet each other intimately in 1957, during the former's second visit to China.

During the first China visit, the Bengalee leader met and also warmly talked to a number of the influential leaders of the time. The period was just after the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island of Taiwan with his loyal soldiers and followers. While in the mainland China in 1952, Bangabandhu's sharp eyes did not elude the insidious and veiled imposition of censorship on freedom of speech. He derived a lot of amazement from the local community leaders' tendency to stop midway while talking about a state-sponsored infrastructural plan. In spite of these petty hiccups, Bangabandhu felt overwhelmed by the China tour. What had moved him most was the Chinese people's unalloyed love for their country.

Books on the movements for East Bengal's autonomy, and, finally, independent Bangladesh, starting from the 1960s, and those on the 1971 Liberation War, have already won wide readership. On the occasion of Bangabandhu's birth centennial, many new books on the subjects have been written by new writers. Many earlier books have seen new editions. The Liberation War was the most glorious chapter in the political history of the Bengalee nation. The countdown to the Freedom War, following the historic 7th March speech by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Non-cooperation Movement, start of genocide on the night of March 25, the formation of the Bangladesh Provisional Government at Mujibnagar, the generous Indian military and diplomatic backing to the Liberation War and the Freedom Fighters' resolve to see a sovereign Bangladesh, the critical Soviet veto on the proposal of a ceasefire after an all-out war broke out, and many other topics have aptly been analysed in hundreds of books.

In order to help readers make a dispassionate judgement on once-heated issues, both writers and readers need a minimum length of distance. In the gap of a long distance, many warped individual views and smokescreens get finally removed. Fifty years after the War of Bangladesh Independence, readers are eager to lay their hands on such authentic books.

[email protected]

Share if you like