The nearly silent exit of novelist Rahat Khan (1940-2020) from this colourful world which he loved so much is baffling. He belonged to that group of persons who would like to enjoy every moment of survival. But he was not a hedonist. He was also not indiscriminate in his choice of friends and acquaintances. All along his profession of journalism, and a stint in teaching, Rahat Khan proved his high level of taste. He used to maintain a sharp sense of balance and discipline. During the middle part of his writing career, Khan emerged as one of the most highly admired writers of the country.
For reasons known best to him, during this peak period of his literary career, 1990s to be precise, Rahat Khan began showing signs fatigue. It was the period when he had just finished his major work 'Iman Alir Mrityu'. The readers in Bangladesh have already discovered a major novelist-in-the-making in Rahat Khan in his fictions 'Amol Dhobol Chakri' (1982), 'Ek Priyodorshini' (1983), Chhayadompoti (1984), Hey Shunnyota (1984), ' Songhorsho' (1984), Shohor (1984), Hey Ononter Paakhi ( 1989), Moddhyomather Kheloarh (1991) etc. Few of Rahat Khan's readers know that he began his literary journey with the short story collection 'Onishchit Lokaloy' (1972), followed by some others published in 1975 and 1981. His entry to the Bangladesh literary world was made by a collection of juvenile stories 'Dilur Golpo' in 1967. Although his readers detected a drop in his prolificacy in the 1990s, he was still considered a potential novelist and short story writer in the country.
Despite being a gifted story-teller with an enviably lucid prose style, he had never hankered after the fame of a popular writer. Rahat Khan had never backed any ambition to be known as a best-selling novelist. It is amazing that he knew the art of how to become one by applying some hackneyed techniques. He had under his command a facile prose and the nitty-gritty of developing plots. They constituted his creative strength. He knew the style which makes a pulp fiction a 'hot cake' and a mediocre writer a celebrity overnight. Khan averted this short-cut quite carefully.
Rahat Khan had never trodden the path to cheap popularity. There is another basic feature unique to this author. In spite of being the master of an inimitable form rich with lucidity, he stood out with his messages which underlay almost all his fictions and stories. Unlike the fictions by the country's now-stellar writer Humayun Ahmed, almost all of Khan's works carried the undercurrent of a message. Humayun had, in fact, put special emphasis on the aspect of detailed observation of his characters. In this area, he was able to prove himself unrivalled in Bangladesh. Belonging to the generation that passed immediately before Humayun's, Rahat Khan developed a penchant for a distinctive literary style in his very first published novel 'Amol Dhobol Chakri'. It came out in 1981. It was a marvellous combination of story-telling, narratives and observation of characters and situations. The period was the decade of the turbulent 1960s, which witnessed the emergence of several potential and 'classicist' Bengalee writers in the then East Pakistan. They included Mahmudul Haq, Akhtaruzzaman Ilias, Selina Hossain, Bipradas Barua et al.
Compared to Rahat Khan's maiden fiction, Humayun Ahmed's 'Nondito Norokey' presents the bitter realities of a lower-middle class family living in the capital. Although Humayun offers the detailed portrayal of a family drama, he never turns to any message aimed at the readers. He, however, developed an unparalleled style of story-telling. Eventually, it got merged with his deft character portrayal. In fact, the average readers bother little about what their favourite authors present to them in the forms of message. The genuine authors do not perform the task too consciously. The attempt to present before the readers the hints of a universal truth is seen in place at the very beginning of their books. Humayun followed a completely different path. In many of his fictions, he delves deep into the hidden psychological layers of the main characters. He used to undertake tours of the subconscious of his characters. Many other popular writers in Bangladesh and elsewhere go straight into the story from the beginning. They do not pretend to present any message to the readers.
A chief impediment to Rahat Khan's evolution as a prose artist was his journalistic identity. On occasions it seemed to have overshadowed his identity as a consummate novelist. Buddhadev Bose said around seventy years ago that journalism and writing are two occupations diametrically opposite to each other. After resigning from The Statesman when he felt that journalism had begun sapping his creative energy, the poet wrote in a column that authors should not let themselves be overpowered by journalism. Journalism has an inherent mesmerising power. It is rich with the elements which instantly devour the poise and the reflective self of a writer.
Many blame Khan's preoccupation with journalism which prompted him to eventually detect, though irrationally, the futility of creative writing. When at the zenith of his writing career, Khan's journalistic self got the better of him. It's really painful to discover that he has tried desperately to return to writing. But that was too late.
There are different instances, too. Active journalism did not stand in the way of the literary pursuits of Ernest Hemingway or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In many of his fictions, Marquez shows a marvellous blend of incisive reporting and creative narration. This blend finally emerged as his unique magic realism. Perhaps Rahat Khan had little interest in such blends. But remaining engrossed in journalism resulted in his isolation from the country's creative fraternity. No literary segment remains vacant for long. In the wide gap created by Khan, we saw the emergence of younger novelists and story writers. Most of them were fully committed to writing. Some of them, however, chose journalism, teaching or bureaucracy as means of livelihood.
Rahat Khan didn't publish books for years in a row due to his engagement in non-literary works. It is more or less true with a lot of major writers in the country. Syed Shamsul Haq remained engrossed in the commercial cinema world throughout the 1960s. After his literary emergence in the 1950s, Syed Haq's career went through repeated distractions caused by the silver screen. But he continued his literary journey with utmost dedication. The spectacular return of this ever-creative writer in the 1970s onwards stands proof to the fact that there are born writers even in a poor country like Bangladesh. We can name some other authors belonging to this class --- like Shaukat Ali, Hasnat Abdul Hye, Hasan Azizul Haq et al.
Readers in a poorly enlightened country do not take much time to shut their door on a 'once-major' and 'now-inactive' author. Perhaps in an ambitious bid to stage a comeback, Rahat Khan published two novels in 2015. The publisher had reposed a lot of hope in the two books, one being an autobiographical one. Both the books fared poorly in the market. Despite being critically acclaimed, and praised by many readers, the two new books earned lukewarm response from the others. Rahat Khan has around 40 assorted books to his credit. Of these publications, a number of them were spontaneously accepted by all sections of readers. It was the time when the writer could still boast of his youthfulness and prolificacy.
Bouts of aging also make a writer lethargic. However, the truth is once a previously energetic poet or novelist begins developing a stoic and resigned attitude towards life, most of them fizzle out. Readers still nurtured high hopes in Rahat Khan. Maybe it's to his misfortune that he did not click. To speak forthrightly, we needed the novelist for some more days. Circumstances did not allow him to attain his cherished literary goal. Unlike many so-called popular or major writers, he was gifted with a number of rare qualities. Prominent of them was his nearly insatiable thirst for exploring the different layers of life in a less developed country like Bangladesh. But at the end of the day, we find ourselves deprived of seeing a gifted writer complete his literary mission to his satisfaction. That we had to bid the author farewell with his mission incomplete is a misfortune for all of us.