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Too much of a price to pay for poetry

Written By: HarunurRashid
11/07/2013 17:50 11/07/2013 17:48
Thoughts and Ideology

Ahmed Ilias, Urdu poet from Bangladesh

Ahmed Ilias, who is considered the doyen of Urdu poetry in Bangladesh, was given a rousing reception on his 80th birth anniversary celebrations at a city community centre. The event was synchronized with the publication of his research on Urdu in Bangladesh – a meticulous work that digs deep into the past and present of Urdu language and literature in Bangladesh. The ceremony was jointly sponsored by Bangla-Urdu Shahitya Foundation and Al-Falah, an NGO working for the welfare of the Urdu speaking minority. 

Ahmed Ilias was born in Kolkata in 1934. He was dogged by the spectre of death that snatched away his mother within hours of his birth. At six he was adopted by a childless couple. His adopted father died in a road accident. So he came back to his own father who had remarried. The step-mother was not altogether bad, but she too died. His father married for the third time and the new step-mother, when he was a sixth grade student in Kolkata Alyah Madrasa, forced him to leave school and earn a living. That was the end of his schooling and by 1950 he fled home and took a train to Dhaka. 

In Dhaka he had to work as a security guard at a shop in Johnson Road. He did not like his stay in Dhaka, so he went back to Kolkata. His friends came to his help and he got a place in Islamia High School. It was during this period that he read one of his ghazals at an annual conference of the poets in Kolkata. Allama Jamil Mazhari, a famous Urdu poet, liked his poems and encouraged him to keep on writing.

Disaster struck him once again when he was preparing for his matriculation examination. He met with an accident and could not take the examination. Later he obtained necessary papers from the Pakistani Mission in Kolkata and came to Dhaka once again. He took the matriculation examination as a private candidate in Dhaka and secured the 7th place among the private candidates. He served the Geological Survey of Pakistan for a brief while and then joined the Dhaka Press Club as a manager. Here he got to know some of the Urdu journalists and joined Urdu Daily ‘Pasban’ in1964.

So, here is a person who fought throughout his life. Though life badly mauled him, he never gave up. He had an innate love for poetry. Maybe at times he did not have anything to eat, but the Muse never left him. He would softly sing his verses while working. He was tremendously moved by the spirit behind the 1952 Language Movement and was one those poets like his friend Naushad Noori who stood beside the Bangalis in their legitimate demand for the recognition of Bangla as a state language. They stood by the Bangalis during their struggle for independence. I know no other poet except perhaps Al Mahmud who has kept alive the fire of inspiration despite acute poverty. After Independence he has served as an executive of Heed Bangladesh and is still working for Al-Falah.

His first book of poem, Ainey Rezey (Broken Mirror) was published in 1989. The delay is quite understandable for a man who has had to pay a high price for poetry. The name of the book quite clearly brings out the aesthetic perception of a soul that knew the misery of being treated as an exile in his own country. A sense of alienation pervades his poetry.

Here are some lines from one of the poems entitled ‘Watan Badar’(The stateless):

Woh roushni woh zindagi 
Jo kho gayee Khalaon mein
Ke jiski justaju mein ab 
Khuli huyee fezaon mein
Phalak pe bhi nazar nahi 
Zamee bhi rah guzar nahi
Yeh kayenaate khair-o-shar 
Koyee bhi mo’atbar nahi
Mein bezameen –o- bewatan 
Kahi bhi mera ghar nahi
Kahi bhi mera ghar nahi 
Kahi bhi mera ghar nahi.

[That light and that life which have been lost in a vacuum
Whose longing has left me under this open sky; 
I cannot even look up at the sky above.
This land is not where I can walk on;
This world and its good and evil (persist)
No one is innocent here;
I am without a land, I am without a state;
Nowhere I have a home
Nowhere I have a home
Nowhere I have a home.] 
(Tr. Mohammad Hasan)

This emptiness and the wretchedness of being is not representative of just the Urdu speaking minority of Bangladesh – it is a universal cry of all the refugees and the exiles the world over. 

His second book of poems was published in 2010 under the surrealistic title ‘Harfe Darida’ (Torn letters). This volume dedicated to his friend Naushad Noori, is a continuation of the despondent feelings and brings out the pang and suffering of one who is so downcast and broken-hearted that he hardly can recognise his own identity.

Here are some lines from his second book ‘Harfe Darida’:

Mein ne puchha tum 
se ke mein kaun hoon
Tum rahe Kahmosh
kuchh bole nahi
Mein ne puchha sabse 
ke mein kaun hoon,
Koyee kuchh bola nahi,
Mein ne puchha aynee se 
tu bata mein kaun hoon?
Ayeena Khamosh tha
Mein ne puchha Khud se 
ke main kaun hoon?
Mein bhala kiya bolta, 
mein choop raha.
Sanakht ka bohran (identity crisis) 
I asked you, tell me who am I?
You kept silent, didn’t say anything.
I asked everyone, who am I?
Nobody said anything.
I asked the mirror tell me who am I?
The mirror kept silent.
I asked my own self, tell me who am I?
Well, what I could say, I kept silent.
(Tr M Harunur Rashid)

Ahmed Ilias is a researcher who has published books on his findings. ‘Biharis: The Indian Emigres in Bangladesh’ was published in 2003. ‘A brief profile of Urdu poets of Bangladesh’ was launched in 2010. His last research work ‘Urdu in Bangladesh – A glance at the history and literatures’ was launched on 5th July. 

The Bangladesh government has honoured some Urdu speaking Pakistanis for their contribution to our Liberation struggle. Naushad Noori, Syed Yusuf Hasan and Ahmed Ilias deserve to be honoured by the government for their contribution to our Liberation Struggle. 

Bangla Urdu Shahitya Foundation and Al-Falah deserve thanks for having given him a rousing reception on his 80th birth anniversary.

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Ahmed Ilias Urdu speaking poet in Bangladesh Biography 


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About HarunurRashid

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  • Name: Professor M Harunur Rashid
  • From: Dhaka
  • Nationality: Bangladesh
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    Professor Harunur Rashid is a Cambridge Gradute, former professor of North South University, now Teaching English at International Islamic University Chittagong(IIUC), Dhaka Campus. Contributing as an Associate Editor of The Independent and former DG of Bangla Academy.


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