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How little we know of the person next to us !

Written By: HarunurRashid
18/07/2013 13:47
Social Issues

Ever since my column, ‘Too much of a price to pay for poetry” was published last Thursday, I have had two very intimate responses from abroad. Ms Hannah Sholder, a masters student at Berkeley, University of California wrote: ‘I am writing to thank you for the very kind editorial you wrote about the life and poetic works of Mr. Ahmed Ilias. I have known Mr. Ilias for 6 years now, and yet I did not know these intimate details of his life. Mr. Ilias is an inspiration to us all for his resiliency, and the world is a better place because of him. After reading your article I feel inspired to refresh my knowledge of Urdu so that I can read Mr. Ilias' books of poems. 
I have copied Mr. Ilias and Hasan here, and must now ask them, is it possible to get a copy of Mr. Ilias' first book, Ainey Rezey? I believe I have a copy of the 2010 book, Harfe Darida, at my parent's house. Would it also be possible to get a copy of A brief profile of Urdu poets of Bangladesh? 
Thank you again, Professor Rashid, for writing such a touching editorial’. 
Hannah stayed in Dhaka between 2009 and 2010 as a Fullbright scholar and got to know Ahmed Ilias while working with Al Falah. I can imagine what tremendous impact Ahmed Ilias might have made on her young, delicate mind while she came in touch with him. She must have seen the Biharis living in subhuman condition in the city’s ‘Geneva Camp’. Ahmed Ilias worked for Heed Bangladesh and its affiliate Al Falah to promote the cause of fellow Biharis. He tried to mitigate their suffering, championed their cause and stretched out his helping hand to the agonized and underprivileged humanity caught miserably in the maze of history. When the Urdu speaking minority in Bihar, India migrated to East Pakistan in 1947, they had little idea of what awaited them in the coming years. When civil war broke out in 1970, most of them sided with Pakistan and clashed with Bangalis fighting for independence. After Bangladesh became independent, these Urdu speaking minorities opted to go to Pakistan. 
But Pakistan was unwilling to accept a cultural group that would destabilize their society. Hence they were herded into Camps with little opportunities for livelihood, poor sanitation and health care facilities. 
It continued like this for nearly 36 years, the Bihari leaders still wanting to go to Pakistan. But in 2009 the High Court issued a landmark verdict declaring Biharis born in Bangladesh after 1971 eligible for Bangladesh citizenship. 
Hannah worked with Ahmed Ilias who stood out like Moses among these fellow Biharis. Ahmed Ilias along with Naushad Noori and Syed Yusuf Hasan were among those who supported the cause of the Bangalis in their struggle for freedom. he famous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz condemned the genocide in East Pakistan much to the consternation of the Army junta. Faiz Ahmed Faiz has been posthumously honoured this year as a friend of Bangladesh. This honour should also go to Ahmed Ilias, Naushad Noori and Syed Yusuf Hasan. 
Hannah could immediately discover what was the best of Ahmed Ilias. ‘Mr. Ilias is an inspiration to us all for his resiliency, and the world is a better place because of him’. Yes, I fully agree with her. The best of Ahmed Ilias is his resiliency, the tenacity to go ahead without submitting to the freaks of destiny. 
He has written about the condition of the Biharis in his book, ‘Biharis: The Indian Émigrés in Bangladesh’. Both his books of Urdu poems are full of intense agony of the dispossessed, a sense of alienation that his generation has suffered. His latest publication ‘Urdu in Bangladesh A Glance at the History and Lteratures’ is aimed at giving his readers a faith in the continuity of the language and literature in the society which today is known as Bangladesh. 
He is indeed a titan living amidst us trying to inspire us all with a sense of harmony. In a country that has protected its mother language by sacrificing their lives and has become an inspiration to the whole world for all mother languages, Ahmed Ilias wants a decent corner for his and his fellow beings’ mother tongue, Urdu. 
Hannah, you’re right. We don’t always know who the person next to us really is. And perhaps it is time to ask – do we know ourselves? Let me quote from Ahmed Ilias: Mein ne puchha khud se/ Ke main kaun hoon? (I asked my own self, tell me who am I?) Perhaps a sufi-poet like Maulana Rumi could have answered that question. Ahmed Ilias prefers to keep silent. Clever, isn’t he?

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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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