The Financial Express

Readership growth: Humayun and 'Masud Rana'

| Updated: September 17, 2021 12:24:51

Readership growth: Humayun and 'Masud Rana'

Few of Humayun Ahmed's readers thought that he would leave this world so early. But death took him away from this world at an age when the author was placed at the zenith of his popularity and fame. After the passing away of Humayun Ahmed in 2012, observers of reading habit among the country's young people were prepared to encounter the same old frenzy over the writer's books. Many predicted Humayun's leaving the literary scene would result in a remarkable drop in his popularity. But some said it would not happen anytime soon. For a veritably stellar writer of any country to lose his triumphal place, it normally takes a few consecutive years.

Admitting the reasonable absence of book lovers at the Amor Ekushey Book Fair `21, the writer being no more, Humayun's books, however, enjoyed the similar craze among his avowed fans. The popularity of this novelist emerged as a phenomenon in the modern history of reading and book purchase in Bangladesh.  Yet history cannot progress without executing its dictates. The aura of fame, too, had to lose at one phase of time its earlier shine. The sales of Humayun's books began undergoing a slump. This ebbing demand for his books was predicted to continue in the coming years. Thanks to Humayun Ahmed's rise in popularity, viz. his books', the novels churned out by him soon became veritable consumer items. Whatever came from him in the form of books became an instant success. The author eventually became a totem of the popular culture of Bangladesh. Unlike the literary figures like him across the world, the author had developed a skill in portraying in minute details the urban middle and lower-middle class Bangladeshi people. In this field Humayun Ahmed proved unbeatable. At the same time, he had developed the command over a lucid and communicative prose. Literature and almost all the allied media outlets remained focused on his creative activities. As a result, it didn't take long for him to become a culturally iconic figure in Bangladesh. Barring pure literature, the other branches of the arts one is engaged in have always been seen being incapable of withstanding the assaults of time. In his post-death era, the creative corpus left by Humayun found itself in a void. As time wears on, the vacuum runs the risk of becoming wider and deeper. Depressing signs begin emerging, pointing towards the cruel passivity of time. Under the unbiased screening of this test, few can manage to remain in place under their earlier limelight.

According to a section of critics, had it not for a few novels and short stories, the Humayun Ahmed corpus would have already begun feeling the heat of the test of survivability. But the caustic truth is, except a handful of B-grade novels, almost all literary pieces in Bangladesh have earned their capability to transcend their contemporariness.  These pieces also include works by a number of critically acclaimed modernist Bangladeshi authors like Hassan Azizul Huq, Syed Shamsul Huq, Mahmudul Huq, Hasnat Abdul Hai, Rahat Khan and a lot of younger ones.

In the post-Humayun void being created now and set to become prevalent in the future as well, new-generation writers were expected to enter the scene. We have started to see them become distinctive amid a haze of uncertainties. But in time, it is a few of them who'll carry the legacy of Humayun Ahmed forward; while some others are born to carve out completely new bearings in the branches of literature. The new-generation writers had been waiting in the wings. They would have pronounced their presence even in the event of Humayun being alive, but at the phase of bowing out of the scene.

  Side by side with Humayun Ahmed, it's worth admitting that Bangladesh once earned the capability to create generations of simple pleasure-seeking readers. Belonging to all ages, especially the youths, these readers didn't crave for or care about being termed aesthetically disposed. They even didn't know if they would take pride in being called readers under a trance. But, in fact, they remained hypnotised from their very senior school or college years. The books which kept mesmerising many of them well into their early university days were no sombre, serious books of literature written by Saratchandra and their kind. Showing little interest in those 'library-centred' books, the average youths in the pre-independence Bangladesh fell for two thriller series. The first one called the 'Kuasha'series appeared in the mid-1960s, to be followed by another, a little 'adult-oriented', in the later part of the decade. Both of them were action and suspense-filled. Although the books under the second series bore individual titles, those were widely known as 'Masud Rana' books after the name of the protagonist, a 'secret agent'. With no adolescence-friendly Bangladeshi detective books available at that time, the adolescent and post-teenage readers had to turn to books of this genre published from Kolkata. In this situation, Qazi Anwar Hussain and his publication house Sheba Prokashoni opened a new vista of books meant for light reading. He raised a group of writers, whose job was to write or adapt foreign spy thrillers to the Bangladeshi setting. Eventually, they emerged as Sheba's writer-employees maintaining office hours. The group comprised youths having a flair for reading overseas thrillers and a passion for writing.

The Sheba's team had 4/5 youths --- Sheikh Abdul Hakim, Rakib Hasan, Niaz Morshed et al. Of them, Hakim later emerged as the chief writer of Sheba. It is him who wrote some books of Kuasha series. Besides, he also wrote a few thrillers and mystery novels using his own name. Sheikh Abdul Hakim left this world on August 28. The void created by the death of this prolific writer is set to keep widening. Sheikh Abdul Hakim was no match for Humayun Ahmed, who was a novelist in the purest sense. But Hakim's contribution to the creation of young readers in the country can in no way be belittled. It's him, among a few others, who latter prompted many readers to switch over to the 'serious' books written by Humayun Ahmed and others. Although Humayun wrote a few horror novels, his stories in essence remained within the day-to-day sagas of the urban middle class. He was born with a rare gift of story-telling and observation of humans in different situations. Coming to this writer, even highly discerning readers and critics have to admit his single-handed contribution to the increase in readers among the college and university-going youths. Many reading experts do not agree to this fact. According to them, Humayun has, indeed, increased readers. But in fact, the author has helped increase the readers of 'his books' only. These Humayun fans haven't graduated into mature readers.

Despite enjoying long tints with 'Kuasha' and 'Masud Rana', as well as Humayun, a few of us have developed the passion for the Bangla classics. Some of the readers eventually turned into authors themselves. Humayun Ahmed is no more; but many of his younger fans, who turned into avowed lifelong readers later, cannot deny the debt they owe Humayun Ahmed.

It has been nine years since Humayun left this world which he loved so much. The Bangla Academy Ekushey Fair's ground sees the long queues for his autographs on his books no longer. At this point a cogent question arises: Have the newly emerged writers been able to take his place? Many new authors, novelists in particular, have been found claiming themselves to be the proponents of new themes and dictions. It's nice to see that efforts to make breakthroughs have not stopped on the part of the post-Humayun younger writers. In a couple of years, readers may start judging the rationality of their claims. A litmus test awaits the new writers. It will become tougher as years go by.  


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