a year ago

Portrait of a lyrical yet inscrutable poet

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Mohammad Rafiq and his contemporary poets belonged to generation of the 1960s. Despite his camaraderie with the poets of this batch, Rafiq has all through maintained a unique and distinctive character. This generation of the last century witnessed an era of political and cultural turbulence. In fact, after the sowing of the seeds of independent Bangladesh in the 1950s, in 1952 in particular, the following decade passed through the times which elaborated on the latent dream of self-rule or autonomy --- and finally independence of Bangladesh.

Like the socio-cultural activists in the then East Pakistan, those in the literary field didn't take time to fix their agenda. Instead of being directly involved in political movements, the major literary voices of the time chose the path of pure arts that had clear political overtones. In this batch, poet Mohammad Rafiq distinguished himself as someone different from the others. While his contemporaries found themselves immersed in pure arts or the ideological streams of Begalee nationalism, Mohammad Rafiq began leaning towards progressive ideologies. Thus this poet had carefully maintained his unique status in the batch of the writers of the 1960s.

The literary activists of the generation of the sixties comprised poets Rafiq Azad, Abdul Mannan Syed, Sikdar Aminul Haq, Proshanto Ghoshal et al. They didn't fail to draw the blessing of Abdullah Abu Sayeed, senior to them, and editor of the literary journal Kanthaswar. Mohammad Rafiq belonged to them very much in literary and aesthetical commitment. In spite of this, Rafiq was different and unique. It was because he dedicated half of his creative self to the commitment of the art for life's sake. Perhaps due to this, apart from the 1971 Liberation War, Mohammad Rafiq's is found to be an active voice in the anti-autocracy movement of the late 1980s as well, especially in the mass movement of 1990.

After leading an eventful life, poet Mohammad Rafiq left this world on August 6 at the age of 80. Serving as a teacher of English at different colleges, at one stage he joined Jahangirnagar University as Associate Professor. Earlier, in 1967, Rafiq completed his Masters in English at the University of Dhaka. He served for a commercial bank in Dhaka at the early stage of his career for some time. For his contribution to Bangla language and literature he was honoured with the Ekushey Padak in 2010. Earlier, he was awarded the Bangla Academy Puroskar in 1987. Poet Mohammad Rafiq's maiden book 'Boishakhi Purnima' was published in 1970. It was followed by 'Dhulor `Sangsarey Ei Mati' (1976), 'Kirtinasha' (1979), 'Kopila' (1983) and nine others. The poet in his career developed a self-styled lucid diction; but it was interspersed with a veiled inscrutability. He wrote his autobiography 'Pothik Puran' in three parts.

Hailing from Boitpur, Bagerhat, Mohammad Rafiq (b.1943) spent a large part of his life in the capital. But he also had a stint in Chattogram in the 1970s. There he published a literary magazine called 'Ochira' from the port city along with his local fellow-poets.

In spite of his composed mien, Mohammad Rafiq was essentially a vibrant and lively person. He used to love travelling, and getting acquainted with new people. In the 1970s and the `80s a new trend took root in the literary circles of the country. It came in the form of the travel of the writers, poets in particular, in groups across different parts of the country. The programmes centred round one- or 2-day literary get-togethers or fairs at district or smaller towns. The organisers would bear the expenses of travel by reserved buses, or by train, food and lodging and sight-seeing. For almost two decades these long-awaited tours remained a common event among both the senior and younger writers. Of the various programmes, it was the poetry reading that would draw the local people in large numbers. Mohammad Rafiq and a few of his contemporaries were regular participants in these literary tours outside the capital. Outwardly a self-absorbed person, Mohammad Rafiq used to appear with a different look among his known circles on these literary excursions. Before going to these spots, he would try to know about the areas as minutely as possible; get ideas about the tourist attractions, and the historical sites. On several occasions, the poet would be chosen as the team leader of the writers on a visit to far-away places.

Few had a clear idea about the organising capability of Mohammad Rafiq. It was during the maiden anti-autocracy poetry festival of Jatiya Kabita Utsab in 1987 that his fellow-poets and poetry lovers could see him in different roles --- those combining the role of a leader, i.e. a person making an appeal to the poets to unite against autocracy and fight for democracy. It was upon the impassioned request made by him and the younger poets, that a lot of senior poets, painters, journalists and intellectuals joined the festival. They included Shamsur Rahman, Quamrul Hassan, Fayez Ahmed and a lot of senior members of the elite. Befitting his firebrand and impassioned nature, Mohammad Rafiq, along with others, was capable of bringing hundreds of poets from across the country under the banner of the anti-autocracy movement. At one phase of the movement, thanks to his hypersensitivity, Mohammad Rafiq withdrew himself from the role of the movement's leadership. According to insiders, it was a petty misunderstanding that had led to this schism. The otherwise well-read and erudite poet had an air of folksiness also.

As he has hardly displayed his scholarly superiority, everyone could approach him with ease; these people ranged from his direct students to admirers. On the other hand, the poet had developed a liking for the plebeians, with whom he would mix freely. A few authors and artists through the ages are found to be gifted with this exceptional virtue. These people are born without inhibitions. Despite being a renowned poet and a university teacher, Mohammad Rafiq would be found engaged in sharing views on different aspects of life with the social under-classes. Many attribute this trend of the poet to his left-leaning political activism. 

Except a handful, none of the poets belonging to the decade of the 1950s are alive today. Abu Bakar Siddiq has long been bed-ridden at his ancestral home in Khulna. Almost all the mainstream poets of the early 1960s have left us, the notable exception being Abdullah Abu Sayeed, poet-editor-academic, who crossed 84 not long ago --- and Asad Chowdhury. With the passing away of Mohammad Rafiq, the clan of the original sixties appears to have petered out. A few of the poets belonging to the late-sixties have also left us. Majority of them now alive will, hopefully, continue to be creative in the coming days.

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