Gaffar Chowdhury, Ekushey anthem & journalism

| Updated: June 02, 2022 13:03:14

Gaffar Chowdhury, Ekushey anthem & journalism

The least he could think that destiny would make him an integral part of the blood drenched 21st February Language Movement of 1952. In his early youth, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury was still a student of Dhaka College, located then in the Siddique Bazar area in the older part of Dhaka. Gifted with a flair for cultural activities, especially literature, and yet not lacking in knowledge about the political realities of East Bengal, with the West Pakistan-based rulers hatching conspiracies to impose Urdu language on the Bengalees, the young arts enthusiast Gaffar Chowdhury found it his moral responsibility to attend the students rally at Amtola. It situated then on the erstwhile campus of the Dhaka University at the present Dhaka Medical College. The day was February 21, 1952. 

Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury (1934-2022) had witnessed all the tense and turbulent developments of that day since morning. Few present at the rally had the least hunch that the day would come to be known as the 1952 Laguage Movement Day. And it would be the precursor to all the movements leading to the independent and sovereign state of Bangladesh. The young Gaffar Chowdhury witnessed everything as an enthusiastic onlooker. The general students' decision to break the movement restricting Section 144, bringing out small processions in small groups, the abrupt gunfire on the peaceful processions with female university and college students at the front, the deafening sounds of bullets --- all these events took place around a dazed Gaffar Chowdhury. In the thick of these occurrences, the young literary enthusiast found himself looking into the bullet-hit and brain splattered and bloodied skull of a student martyr. Chowdhury was in a speechless condition. An otherwise budding poet as the young man was, a few lines of poetry instantly began doing rounds in his impressionable mind. In time those became the opening lines of the anthem of the Language Movement Day, the observance of which became a yearly ritual for the Bengalees. 

The practice of observing the Language Movement Day began in 1953, and is being observed for the last seventy years. The full song written by Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury by the end of 1952 and put to a tune by the composer Altaf Mahmud eventually became integral to the solemn observance of 'Shaheed Dibas' (Language Martyrs Day). It would be observed on February 21every year. The full song in its finished form appeared in the commemorative publication 'Ekushey February', edited by Poet Hasan Hafizur Rahman, in 1953. That very year, another talented music composer and singer of the time --- Abdul Latif, also put tune to the poem written first in a creative burst of sorts and given final shape latter. However, the pathos-filled tune of Altaf Mahmud was finalised. And the song was spontaneously accepted by the people as the theme-song of Amor Ekushey (Immortal Ekushey). 

Although later in his life, Gaffar Chowdhury became a consummately active journalist, working in areas of reporting, news editing, editorial writing, he finally emerged as an incisive column writer. Simultaneously, he performed the responsibilities of the editor in many dailies and weeklies. By that time, he carved out a distinctive place in the domain of Dhaka's literature separate from Kolkata's. Along with Shamsur Rahman, Syed Shamsul Haq, Al Mahmud, Alauddin Al Azad, Shaeed Quaderi. Omor Ali et al, he joined the 'movement' of creating the platform of a new literature based in Dhaka. Gaffar Chowdhury's impressive start notwithstanding, he didn't confine himself to literature. Almost all of East Bengal's authors parallelly remained involved in literature and journalism. However, in independent Bangladesh, many returned to literature for good. A few, talented younger poets and prose writers, fared in both the areas with equal ease. In his later career, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury opted for full-time journalism. By the time he had veritably stopped writing, he offered the readers dozens of short stories, a few novels, a couple of political plays, and, of course, poems. 

The books which have made a remarkable place for Chowdhury in Bangla literature are not many. But all of them bear his distinctive identity as an author. The books include his first novel 'Chandrodwiper Upakhyan', 'Nam Na Jana Bhore', 'Somrater Chhobi', 'Neel Jamuna',  'Shesh Rojonir Chand', 'Sundar Hey Sundar', 'Bangladesh Kotha Koy' etc. A few of the books are short story collections. The two plays by the author are 'Polashi Theke Bangladesh' and 'Ekjon Tahmina O Roktakto August'. In the early part of his career, Gaffar Chowdhury's  short stories appeared in the monthly 'Saugat' (1949), and later in the literary journal 'Ogotya' edited by Fazle Lohani, and the other magazines of the time. 

By mid-1970s, Gaffar Chowdhury had emerged as a celebrity in the journalism sector of Bangladesh. He started working for 'The Congress Hitoishi', a mouthpiece of the Congress party. Later, the young Gaffar worked for 'Dainik Insaaf', 'Dainik Sangbad', and 'Monthly Nokeeb'. In 1956, the young journalist joined  'Daily Ittefaq'. During the 1971 Liberation War, Gaffar Chowdhury worked for 'Weekly Joi Bangla' as Executive Editor and remained associated Kolkata's 'Jugantor' and 'Anondobazar Potrika' as correspondents.  Besides, he worked as Editor for 'Weekly Purbodesh'. He was at the helm of` 'Weekly Banglar Daak', 'Weekly Notun Din' and 'Weekly Notun Desh` and 'Weekly Jagoron' --- all published from London during his long stay in the British capital. Gaffar Chowdhury was not the person to remain detached from Bangladesh for such a long stretch of time. Despite his being a successful editor and close associate of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the other leaders, he had to leave Bangladesh in 1974 and opt for a lengthy stay in the UK to ensure effective treatment for his wife. She was suffering from an 'incurable' disease. 

Apart from being a senior editor, Gaffar Chowdhury had in the early 1970s, proved his mettle as an extraordinary columnist. Meanwhile, he launched an ambitious daily newspaper project. The daily was called 'Janapad' with a staff of talented young journalists. Unfortunately, the daily didn't last longer. After remaining closed for some time, it came out from Rajshahi under a new editor.  Gaffar Bhai's regular column 'Tritio Mot', published in the Daily Purbodesh, had earned him the fame of one of the finest columnists in Bangladesh and West Bengal. While expressing his views in the column about the burning politico-social and economic issues of the newly independent country, Gaffar Chowdhury would take the role of an unsparing critic. Even Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's party-approved decisions and steps couldn't escape the critical scrutiny of Gaffar Chowdhury. The supreme leader and the head of government of the country would take the criticism of Gaffar Chowdhury quite seriously. It was because, as a seasoned political leader Bangabandhu had fully assessed the patriotic virtues of Gaffar Chowdhury. He could realise that through the occasionally caustic comments of the journalist,  contained in Tritio Mot, Gaffar Chowdhury tried to alert the leader to the impacts of a certain step he had taken innocently.  Eventually, the columnist became one of the most trusted unofficial advisers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. 

In his early youth, Gaffar Chowdhury wanted to pick a writer's career like Syed Shamsul Haq or Alauddin Al Azad. Destiny guided him into journalism with the overtone of radical humanism. This young-age political orientation overtook him during the 1952 Language Movement. Just a glimpse of the mutilated skull of a language martyr metamorphosed him into a universal humanist. It also aroused in him the latent timeless artist who has never stopped protesting against social injustice and all kinds of oppression. Thus Gaffar Chowdhury's  "Aamar Bhaier Rokte Rangano …." deserves to be placed alongside 'The Internationale', the immortal anthem of the general masses worldwide.       

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