of an iconoclast whom I never met
Prof. Humayun Azad (1947-2004)
things that fly there be, --
hours, the bumble bee:
these no elegy.”
friend Humayun Azad has gone to a place where he could have a staid
sleeping. He does not have
to worry about the constant barrage of threatening and menacing phone
calls from few his countrymen who never saw flowers in his writings;
only the thorns that adorned his creative works bothered them immensely.
in the morning on Friday, August 13, 2004, Jahed Ahmed, an activist from
Atlantic City, New Jersey, woke me up.
His grave voice in the telephone gave me a chill.
He told me that Prof. Humayun Azad of Dhaka University had passed
When?” I asked
impatiently. A nervous
Jahed Ahmed told me that the writer had gone to the other world in his
sleep in a dormitory room in Munich Germany.
was privileged to know that Professor Azad was heading to Germany
anytime soon. He badly
wanted this. For him, life
in Bangladesh was synonymous to living in the hell.
Thanks to some of the menacing Islamic extremists who were
hell-bent on killing him on the charge of being an apostate.
all of us who have to die once in their lifetime, Professor Azad died
twice. On February 27,
2004, as he exited the Book Fair from Bangla Academy premise, a bunch of
religious extremists jumped on him trying to decapitate the pedagogue.
The sustained injury put him into death-like condition for over
four-five days. He was in
coma. He came out of his
transient death and went on to live for extra 166 days.
The army doctors in CMH gave him the critical care in the wake of
his deadly attack. Then he
was sent to Bangkok by the government for additional medical treatment.
Among other medical treatment, he needed an extensive plastic
surgery to erase the signs of the brutal attack.
Prof. Azad returned to Dhaka triumphantly after a month-long
treatment in abroad. And we
wishfully thought his trouble with Islamists was over.
But how wrong we were in our simple assumption!
sooner Professor Azad could rehabilitate to his normal life, a fusillade
of threatening phone calls starts coming to him and his family members.
In July 2004, his only son, Anonnya, had a run in with some
virulent Islamists as he was returning from school.
They tried to abduct him. However,
due to Anonnya’s presence of mind, he foiled the Islamists’ attack.
Another tragedy was averted.
However, that incident gave Professor Azad a jolt.
In the fag end of July 2004, sheer out of desperation Prof. Azad
took up the pen to write one of the most heart-wrenching articles in
Bangla. He was bitter about
the way life was treating him. Islamists
who hated him for his writings were constantly calling threatening him
over the phone. He became
virtually a prisoner in his own home.
As a last ditch effort he penned a short article in which he
beseeched the prime minister, the main opposition leader, and the
compatriots. He wanted to
live amidst his loving and caring family members and be productive.
But the extremists had other sneaky ideas.
They unleashed their barrage of threatening phone calls.
They even said they would plant a bomb in Professor Azad’s
vernacular newspaper Janakantha published Professor Azad’s moving
article. A copy was rushed
to us for translating it to English.
It was an emotional write-up.
The translated copy was rushed electronically to Professor Azad
for his approval, as he was getting ready to visit Germany.
He however took time out to read our translation of his swan
song. He approved it for
publication. That was the
last I heard of our professor friend.
We knew that he was heading for Germany.
We, his well wishers, heaved a great sigh of relief knowing that
he would be far from harm’s away in Germany where he could devote his
time to passion, i.e., writing. But
little did we know what was in store for him.
Death’s cold hand had touched him so abruptly.
Now we are grieving his untimely death.
Azad and I were born in the same year.
Therefore, his death has special meaning to me.
The very impermanence of life must have bothered every one of us.
His premature death is a poignant reminder that life is short but
art is long. Professor Azad
belonged to a rare literati class of Bangladesh whose number is
diminishing by the day. His
family members, colleagues, students, freethinkers, and well-wishers
will sorely miss him.
Azad was a lifelong fighter whose only weapon was his pen.
He was a rare breed of freethinker in Dhaka.
I consider him a true iconoclast for his writings were directed
against traditional or popular ideas and institutions.
is time for grieving and not pointing fingers at those who are
responsible for his premature death.
With saddened heart, I am reminded of this short poem written by
American poetess Emily Dickinson perhaps directed to our fallen angel,
fight aloud is very brave,
gallanter, I know,
charge within the bosom,
cavalry of woe.
win, and nations do not see,
fall, and none observe,
dying eyes no country
with patriot love.
trust, in plumed procession,
such the angels go,
after rank, with even feet
uniforms of snow.”