Shamsur Rahman was a Bangladeshi poet, columnist and journalist. Rahman, who emerged in the latter half of the 20th century, wrote more than sixty books of poetry and is considered a key figure in Bengali literature. He was regarded the unofficial poet laureate of Bangladesh. Major themes in his poetry and writings include liberal humanism, human relations, romanticised rebellion of youth, the emergence of and consequent events in Bangladesh, and opposition to religious fundamentalism.
Early Life and Education
Shamsur Rahman was born in his grandfather's house 46 no. Mahut-Tuli, Dhaka. His paternal home is situated on the bank of the river Meghna, a village named Pahartoli, near the Raipura thana of Narshingdi district. He was the fourth of thirteen children. He studied at Pogos High School from where he passed matriculation in 1945. Later he took his I.A. as a student of the Dhaka College. Shamsur Rahman started writing poetry at the age of eighteen, just after graduating from the Dhaka College. He studied English literature at the Dhaka University for three years but did not take the examination. After a break of three years he got admitted to the B.A. pass course and received his B.A. in 1953. He also received his M.A. in the same subject where he stood second in second division.
In his leisure after the matriculation, he read the Golpo Guccho of Rabindranath Tagore. He told that this book took him into the extra ordinary world and transformed him into an altogether different personality. In 1949, his poem Unissho Unoponchash was published in Sonar Bangla which was then edited by Nalinikishor Guho.
He had a long career as a journalist and served as the editor of a national daily, Dainik Bangla and the weekly Bichitra in the 1980s. A shy person by nature, he became an outspoken liberal intellectual in the 1990s against religious fundamentalism and reactionary nationalism in Bangladesh. As a consequence, he became a frequent target of the politically conservative as well as Islamists of the country. This culminated in the January 1999 attack on his life by the militant Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. He survived the attempt.
Shamsur Rahman's first book of poetry, Prothom Gaan Dwityo Mrittyur Agey (First Song Before the Second Death) was published in 1960. He had to go through the political turbulence of 60's and 70's which also reflected in his poems clearly. He wrote his famous poem Asader Shirt which was written with respect to the mass uprising of 1969 led by Maulana Bhasani. During the Bangladesh Liberation War he wrote a number of extra ordinary poems based on the war. These poems were so inspiring that they were recited at the camps of freedom fighters. Later these poems were published in Bondi Shibir Theke (From Confinement in Enemy Territory) in 1972. Later he continued writing poems in the independent Bangladesh and remained as the poet whose poems reflect the history of the nation. During the historical movement against Ershad he published his book Buk Tar Bangladesher Hridoy indicating the great sacrifice of Nur Hossain.
Shamsur Rahman wrote most of his poems in free verse, often with the rhythm style known as Poyaar or Okhshorbritto. It is popularly known that he followed this pattern from poet Jibanananda Das. He also wrote poems in two other major patterns of Bengali rhythmic style, namely, Matrabritto and Shwarobritto.
Career in Journalism
Shamsur Rahman started his professional career as a co-editor in the English daily Morning News in 1957. Later he left this job and went to the Dhaka center of the then Radio Pakistan. But he returned back to his own rank at Morning News in 1960 and was there till 1964. After the liberation of Bangladesh he wrote columns in the daily Dainik Bangla. In 1977 he became the editor of this daily. He also jointly worked as the editor of Bichitra, a weekly published since 1973. During the period of President Ershad he got involved with internal turbulence in the Dainik Bangla. A rank 'Chief Editor' was created to take away his position as the top executive and rip him off all executive powers. In 1987 he left the daily as a protest against this injustice. He also worked as the editor of monthly literary magazine Adhuna for two years since 1986 and as the main editor of the weekly Muldhara in 1989. He worked as one of the editors of Kobikantha, an irregular poetry magazine, in 1956.
His health broke down towards the end of 1990s and on two occasions he received major cardiac surgery. He died of heart and kidney failure after having been in a coma for 12 days. He was 77.
Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, a friend and critic, describes Shamsur Rahman as one who is "deeply rooted in his own tradition." In his opinion, Shamsur Rahman "still soaks the language of our times, transcending the limits of geography. In his range of sympathy, his catholicity, his urgent and immediate relevance for us, Shamsur Rahman is second to none."
Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam has similar praise for Rahman, "It is true he has built on the ground of the 30's poets, but he has developed the ground, explored into areas they thought too dark for exploration, has added new features to it, landscaped it and in the process left his footprints all over."
In the year 1993 renowned Bangladeshi writer Humayun Azad wrote a book about critical analysis of Shamsur Rahman's poetry titled Shmasur Rahman : Nisshongo Sherpa (A Lonely Climber).
However, it is often alleged that Shamsur Rahman revolved around his own poetic formula created in the 1960s and exhausted himself in the same fashion. He could not transcend himself during the next forty years of his poetic career.
Adamjee Award (1962)
Bangla Academy Award (1969)
Ekushey Padak (1977)
Swadhinata Dibosh Award (1991)
Mitshubishi Award of Japan (1992)
Ananda Puroshker from India (1994).
TLM South Asian Literature Award for the Masters, 2006.
Roar, O Freedom
What shall I do with the spring
when I hear only the cuckoo moaning
and cannot see gorgeous flowers blossom?
What shall I do with the garden
Where no birds ever pays a visit?
Oh, how rough and stony is this earth!
Skeletons of trees stand, row after row,
like so many desolate ghosts.
What shall I do with the love
that places on my head a crown of thorns
and hands out to me the cup of hamlock?
What purpose the road serve
On which no one treads,
Where vendors of coloured ice-cream
Or waves of city-inundating processions
are never seen?
I had called you, dearest
When we started our journey
With our face turned to the rising sun.
When the back-pull of bourgeois charm
Kept from your ears the soaring sound
of the people singing.
You are still prisoner under the claws
of a fierce eagle.
you cannot yet walk on a road
with the rainbow coloured carpet spread on it.
Oh, how tough it is to keep going
without you by my side!
A horrid monster comes, casting dark shadows
in a moment he crushes under his heels
the foundation of new civilization,
he hangs the full moon on the scaffold,
declares unlawful the blossoming
of the lotus and the rose.
He bans my poems, stanza by stanza,
quietly, without any fanfare,
he bans your breath,
he bans the fragrance of your hair.
By the bent body of the young girl
sitting on the lonely porch of old age.
waiting for the dawn of happy days.
By the long days and nights of Nelson Mandella
spent behind the bars.
By the martyrdom of the heroic youth
O Freedom, raise your head like Titan,
give a sky shattering shout,
tear off the chain around
Roar, Freedom, roar mightily!
[Translated by Kabir Chowdhury]