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Gazi Shahabuddin: Portrait of a unique kind of activism

| Updated: October 22, 2017 14:29:53

Gazi Shahabuddin Ahmad (1939-2017) Gazi Shahabuddin Ahmad (1939-2017)

The publication of the now-defunct Bangla literary-cultural monthly Sachitra Sandhani is inextricably associated with Gazi Shahabuddin Ahmad (1939-2017). Coming to the market in 1956, its publication was considered in the later times a watershed in the country's world of periodicals. The observation was unanimous. The magazine made good its promise with which it had hit the market. Since the very first issue, Sandhani was a spectacular success, aptly edited by the standard of the time. It was filled with many a pleasant surprise too. The lavishly printed colour magazine was edited and published by Gazi Shahabuddin Ahmad, who breathed his last in Dhaka on June 09 last. To their amazement, readers found in the very first issue of Sachitra Sandhani the characteristics of a completely new-genre magazine. It dedicated lots of pages to local and Indian movies as it did to literature, and humour and satire. It was the time when popular Indian Bangla cine-magazines like Ultorath, Jalsa, etc., used to dominate the country's market --- then the eastern wing of Pakistan. The thought of making inroads into this apparently unassailable field thus proved audacious to many. Yet, Gazi Shahabuddin and a few of his friends did not feel it to be inhibitive to express their audacity of hope. They came up by adopting a dauntless approach; and went ahead with their youthful challenge with little hesitation. The common passion of Gazi's friends added a lot to the force of this camaraderie.
Instead of the tradition of a jumbled-up page design, the periodical offered readers a breathing space by emphasising elegant illustrations and drawings as well as long gaps between write-ups. It instantly caught the fancy of discerning and tasteful readers. Unlike its contemporaries, it earned a distinctive place among the monthlies of the time with its new look. Thanks to its printing using offset technology, the Sandhani's photographs were bright, vivid and lively. The types were evenly set, giving the text an elegant look. The magazine, which came out as the brainchild of a group of Dhaka-based young arts enthusiasts, led by Gazi Shahabuddin Ahmad, emerged as a movement of sorts.  The movement or the aesthetes-led campaign was unlike those launched in the past.
To define it precisely, the Sandhani eventually became a strong platform of prose writers, poets, artists and movie makers. Almost invisibly and at the subterranean level, it was making history in the cultural world of the Bengalees in the then East Pakistan. None of the youths seems to be aware at that time that this monthly stood witness to the birth of a new generation engaged in creativity in different branches of the arts. Although it ceased publication in 1966, after an eventful 10-year existence, the far-reaching impact of Sachitra Sandhani kept being felt well after the independence of Bangladesh. It resulted in the publication of the monthly as a weekly in 1977. That was the period of the roaring days of the now-defunct weekly Bichitra. This magazine was also founded on its earlier form of a monthly. Because the Sandhani's publication was driven by a purely youthful passion, it could prove itself a unique venture with its unwavering confidence. This resolve had enabled it to care little about the formidable presence of Indian cine-cultural monthlies in the market in the mid-1950s. The Sandhani editor and publisher summoned a similar challenging mood in 1977, when he embarked on the venture of the weekly Sachitra Sandhani. During his 1956 initiative, his editorial team comprised Ataus Samad, Quayyum Chowdhury, Zahir Raihan, Humayun Khan, Sharfuddin Ahmed et al. Twenty-one years later he found himself at the centre of a new clan with Poet Belal Chowdhury as the magazine's executive editor. A number of post-Liberation War poets, short story writers, and film society activists appeared on the list of its journalists. It's this fresh batch of writers and cultural activists who made up the creative power of Sandhani. In its new appearance, the magazine was no longer a movie and entertainment-focused one. It began its fresh journey as a mouthpiece of the independent country's literary activities in particular. The allied genres of culture were not overlooked; but they were attached a secondary importance. Unlike weekly Bichitra, Sandhani preferred to remain centred on socio-cultural issues of the newly emerged sovereign Bangladesh. With its content accommodating a wide variety in subjects, the magazine developed a character hitherto unknown to local readers. In the literature section, its early-phase writers included Zahir Raihan, Shamsur Rahman, Anisuzzaman, Syed Shamsul Haq, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, Anis Chowdhury and other authors belonging to the 1950s. In the late 1970s, the list welcomed the relatively younger writers including a number of noted authors of the time. Although Syed Shamsul Haq resumed writing after a decade-long gap, Mahmudul Haq, Bipradas Barua et al joined the literary circle born around weekly Sachitra Sandhani. Shafiq Rehman emerged as a regular writer of the weekly. Poet Sayyid Atiqullah and painter Kalam Mahmud were also part of the Sandhani team. However, according to the late editor Gazi Shahabuddin Ahmad, it was Jahanara Imam in whom he had discovered one of the most brilliant authors of the Sandhani. Her chronicle of the days of Pakistani forces' occupation of Dhaka in 1971 was serialised in the magazine. The write-up was later compiled in a book, which sold thousands of copies. Sandhani Prokashani published it.
By nature introvert and publicity-shy, Gazi Shahabuddin Ahmad continued to keep a flame alive within him. It took shape as he matured together with his close friends, who were emerging in the country's cultural world. Ranging from progressive authors, critics and artists to film makers, these people helped build a cultural front in the 1950s that would later put up resistance to the exploitative reign of the Pakistani rulers. The war would, eventually, fought in the spheres of ideology and creative activities.
Although he avoided limelight and public focus, Gazi Shahabuddin led a life which was eventful in his own way. Throughout his active career, he remained aware of the politico-cultural realities of Bangladesh society. He was averse to the very thought of compromise. Although he had to wind up the publication of the weekly Sandhani in 1996 due to many constraints, he had never stopped dreaming of bringing out the magazine again. In the meantime, he got fully engaged in his book publication business. In fact, business was not his forte. Material fulfilment meant little to him. He searched for the meaning of existence in the positivity of the arts.

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