An outstanding poet of the country, first appearing on the literary scene in the decade of 1960s, Poet Mashuk Chowdhury (1947-2020) recently passed away to the other side of the rainbow. He was born in the then Brahmanbaria sub-division of East Bengal on 16 November 1947. Entering the journalistic profession after doing his Master's in Bangla literature from Dhaka University, he served in many newspapers including the daily Sangbad, Ganokantha, Dainik Banglar Mukh, Dainik Janapad, Dainik Desh, Khabor and Dainik Dinkal. He was working as the chief news editor of the mass-circulated Bengali daily 'Bangladesh Protidin' at the time of his death.
A weaver of poetic dreams, the main focus of Mashuk's poetry had been love and society of his fellow beings. The famed poet late Al Mahmud wrote about him: "The poems of Mashuk Chowdhury have been a matter of great delight for me. A poet hides behind his poetry with closed eyes. I could garner the right to visit that place by calling him Mashuk". He further wrote, "All words used by the poet Mashuk Chowdhury are full of fragrance. Although love dominates his poems, he focuses on nature, and this effort makes us euphoric". Another leading poet late Shamsur Rahman wrote in 2005, "During the liberation war and shortly afterwards, some of our elderly and powerful poets as well as some contemporary progressive poets carried forward the poetry of Bangladesh. Mashuk Chowdhury was the first to join his senior poets at that juncture".
Emeritus professor Serajul Islam Choudhury of Dhaka University wrote in 2015, "The feelings are very intense in Mashuk Chowdhury's poetry. The known history and the familiar world assume a new shape here, which is essential for any accomplished artwork. His poems are like the rains and the cool-mat, serene but expressive". Another literary giant late Abdul Mannan Syed opined, "Mashuk Chowdhury has successfully mingled the dreams of people with the political landscape of his poetry". And the writer cum journalist Raihan M. Chowdhury had written on the flap of Mashuk's anthology of poems, "The compiled poems depict the innocent cries of small children, the mildness of green nature, and the euphoria of eternal love".
The titles of Mashuk Chowdhury's books of poetry over four decades were as follows: Bishwasher Agun (Fire of Faith), 1984; Hriday Dekhar Galpo (Story of Seeing a Heart), 1984; Chhinna-bhinna Mohakabya (Scattered Epic), 1986; Dujoner Ekti Akash (One Sky for Two), 1991; Nodir Nam Duhshomoy (Bad Time is the River's Name), 2011; Muktijuddho Priyotama Amar (Liberation War, My Darling), 2012; and Swarger Replica (Replica of Heaven), 2017. He also published two anthologies of his poems titled 'Atyagsahon' (2018) and 'Kobita, Nirbachita' (Selected Poems, 2019-20), as well as two novels 'Ek Rajanir Lajja' (Shame of a Night, 1994) and 'Sei Shahorer Meyey' (Girl of that Town, unpublished).
Always shunning the limelight and media glare, Poet Mashuk Chowdhury received many literary accolades including the Titas Literary Prize (1967), UNICEF Award (2006), Lalmohan Foundation Prize (2008), National Press Club Honours (2009), Brahmanbaria Shishu Natyam Reception (2013), Swadhinata Sangsad Award (2014), Poet Fazal Shahabuddin Memorial Prize (2015), and Ghashful Award (2015). He was a life-member of Bangla Academy, and a National Press Club member serving in the editorial panel of its journal of poetry 'Kobitapatra'. In personal life, Mashuk was married and blessed with one daughter.
The following are three poems of Poet Mashuk Chowdhury, translated into English by this scribe.
The way you keep the mischief of your
Unruly loose hair tucked inside a bun,
The way you pierce a poet's heart
With the coloured pins of your hair-roll,
The way you shackle with silk the
Kadam-flower garden atop your bosom,
The way you decorate in your palm
Five fingers of Rajanigandha flower,
The way you make the heart bleed
With the thorns of Roses,
The way you keep the loose ends of your sari
Docile like a slave with the love of safety pins,
My revolt is not less fragile
Than that beauty of yours.
I am that Red Rose
I am that red rose
On colourful wings like the butterfly
Sprinkled with the fragrance of a breeze
I fly from the garden every day
And sit on your very own bun.
I am that fallen Bokul flower
A loving narcissus captivated by own fragrance,
I bloom flowers daily out of heartfelt pain
And remain cast off everyday
On the dewdrops of the path you tread.
I am the butterfly of the red roses
I am the love of fallen Bokul flowers.
Now I do not call the sky blue
The hawks now fly in the sky,
Hawk - the ferocious Hawk, with sharp claws
Splits the blue sky and shreds it into pieces.
I do not call the heavens azure anymore
Now the bombers fly on the sky,
They break the vast space with sonic boom
Caustic knowledge arises by shaking the earth.
I do not call the skies azure anymore
Blueness is not the sky's name now
Black crows now fly on its white bosom
And bad times fall from its blue bosom.
Once by pitching the colours of heart
Man saw the swan fly in the sky
He uttered: my love is in the blue space,
That blueness is no more in the sky.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.