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The unique poetic world of Asad Chowdhury

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Had he not been settled in Canada for the last several years, the passing-away of Poet Asad Chowdhury would not have been this subdued. The large number of friends, acquaintances and admirers which had grown around him since the 1960s would not have allowed him to leave this temporal world in such a humble way at 80. He left this world in Canada on October 5, 2023.

A popular young teacher, poet, and a literary activist, Asad Chowdhury eventually emerged as veritable 'folk figure' in different cultural circles in which he grew. The poet's colourful career began in the sub-divisional town of Bangladesh's Brahmanbaria, now a district headquarters. Through the time-span of over a decade, Chowdhury was able to make an initial footing on the Bangladesh cultural firmament. In the later years, his boundaries just kept widening. Poet Asad had been a genuinely creative and multi-faceted talent since the beginning. Apart from being a popular college teacher of Bangla, he eventually discovered himself to be a literary-cultural activist developing connections with Dhaka, the capital.  By nature and temperament, Chowdhury was not the person to remain confined to a small and placid town. He was born to be placed in the centre having multiple outlets.

Although it was the bonhomie with the modernist Dhaka poets of the 1960s that opened his new phase, Asad Chowdhury eventually discovered himself as one belonging to the centuries-old Bangla literary heritage. Amid the different streams of greater cultural movements centred in Dhaka, Poet Asad discovered himself to be a 'different poet'. He hasn't written modern poetry out of conviction; nor did he have any avowed goal of becoming a writer of modern literary pieces. In reality, he placed literary modernism against the multi-faceted Bengalee heritage. Despite being an active voice of the Dhaka-based modernist campaign, Poet Asad maintained an almost imperceptible distinctiveness in his poetry. By the early 1970s, his contemporaries began publishing their anthologies; some enthusiasts even published angry pamphlets denouncing Bangla poetry written so far. Against this backdrop, Chowdhury's oscillation didn't escape the notice of the keen readers.

In the span of a decade, Poet Asad has found himself to have been completely disillusioned with Dhaka's poetic modernism. His poetic diction also differed from that of his major contemporaries Rafiq Azad, Abdul Mannan Syed, Sikdar Aminul Huq et al. The list has also a place for Shaheed Quadri. It was both Shamsur Rahman and Al Mahmud in whom Asad Chowdhury found the poetic elements that resembled those of his. It's interesting to note that the poetic temperaments of Rahman and Al Mahmud are sharply different from each other. Yet both of them have appealed Poet Asad equally. This is an enigma. The lukewarm response of both the senior modernist poets to literary movements only adds to the riddle. But this is also true that Asad Chowdhury has never tried to dissociate himself from the mainstream Bangladesh poetry. He maintained his uniqueness in his own way.

Asad Chowdhury, born on February 11, 1943, in Barisal, hasn't shown much ardent desire to publish his books. Thanks to the pressure of a few younger poets-cum-friends, his first collection of poetry 'Tobok Deoa Paan' came out in 1975. It was followed by 'Bitto Nai Besat Nai' (1976), 'Prosno Nei Uttorey Paharh' (1976) and six other collections. Those include essays on Urdu Poetry in Bangladesh (2000). The poet directly took part in the Bangladesh Liberation War. A number of his inspiring war poetry still moves readers. Those who were in their early youth in the 1970s have seen a tireless Asad Chowdhury, along with the younger poets, travelling throughout the country on poetry reading missions. There are few places in the country which haven't been visited by the county's then younger poets led by Asad Chowdhury. In fact, the poet loved to visit new and obscure places. Places known for their folk heritage and aged bards would attract him the most. To the poetry lovers outside Dhaka, especially those in the smaller towns, Asad Chowdhury is viewed as an underrated poet. According to them, the typically lucid diction of the poet has been misinterpreted by the so-called scholarly critics.

In reality, the readers outside Dhaka would defend the poet for his eagerness to communicate with the general readers. This image of Poet Asad as a 'non-abstract' or 'easy' poet had a lot to do with his accessible poetic themes and his use of day-to-day terms. Many of his poems refer to raw rural scenes, characters, and the rural people's typical way of life. An in-depth reading of many of his poems gives the impression that the poet was born and brought up in a place outside urban areas. It's true the poet had all along been acclimatised to rural or sylvan landscapes; and the people residing there. Strangely enough, few serious and learned readers had ever bothered to give in-depth readings of Poet Asad's work. It would have allowed them to have a wide grasp of his poems. Like a lot of modern poets, including those of greater Bengal and Bangladesh, poets like Asad Chowdhury speak of many a universal truth under the surface of plain narratives. Only a handful of readers seem to be aware of this truth.

Bangladeshi modern poets like Asad Chowdhury at times prove quite abstruse, as well as multi-layered. Most of the conventional readers are not prepared to cast a look at the quintessential message of his poems. Many discerning readers are also found among them. Both the classes get swayed by the popular myths that surround a poet or his/her poems. In the case of Asad Chowdhury, it has been said that regular TV appearances have played a great role in the increase of popularity of his poems and the poet himself. In a couple of decades, Poet Asad has conducted a number of literature-based magazine programmes. Those were clean, deftly produced and participated by the noted literary and arts personalities of the country. Apart from the focus on arts celebrities, the poet occasionally turned to the lesser known but talented creative people. That TV programmes add to the popularity of a senior anchorperson has been proven several times in the past.

If the persons happen to be well-known in creative fields like writing, painting and performing arts, they begin enjoying celebrity status in a short time. Impeccably creative persons do not have to strive for it desperately. Had Asad Chowdhury not emerged as a successful TV host, it would not have detracted the least from his stature as a poet.


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