Remembering Humayun Azad

Gone but not forgotten

Jahed Ahmed

 

He was a multifaceted genius: a talented writer, a renowned linguist, a poet, and an accomplished critic. Yet the reason why I mourn his absence today is a little different one. Today’s society, whether within, or outside Bangladesh, does have enough people of his talent. Therefore, the loss of an Azad-like talent doesn’t become so much a matter of regret to me, as does the loss of a man whose commitment to uphold people’s right to live with freedom and speak freely is something which my country, Bangladesh, unfortunately has not found in most talented persons. And there lies late Dr. Humayun Azad’s uniqueness. History shows- human society, more or less, always had talented persons. For that matter, even Hitler was a talented man. And so are today’s Nizami, Saidee and many other anti-progressive forces. Alongside the presence of talented individuals, unfortunately, human society has not been lucky enough to have equal number of honest, benevolent and outspoken individuals. Probably, that’s why history is full of so many, otherwise, unnecessary bloodshed. We have only a handful of Socrates, Bruno, Galileo, Montaigne, Voltaire, Locke, Darwin, Karl Marx, Emerson, Thoreau, Iswar Chandra, Ram Mohan, Ahmed Shariff, Ahmed Sofa, Humayun Azad and likes. However, the most prominent feature that has put them all in the same wavelength is that all of them believed in the freedom of conscience and that the prime dignity of human life lies not in submission to any society imposed dogmas/doctrines but in the defiance of same! To them, nothing went unchallenged. Such people were born not simply to conform to the conventional doctrines, but to what they believed was right.  It’s no wonder, the vested groups in almost all primitive-minded societies across the globe did everything they could to silence the voice of those thinkers. And it does continue even today.  

Why did Humayun Azad become the target of religious fundamentalist? Did he physically harm any of them? Or looted their property? No. Even in 21st century, in Bangladesh a Professor Azad was brutally attacked just because he expressed freely what he believed was a truth. It’s not that Azad was unaware of the risks of having spoken freely in a country where radical Islamists define the morals of the people, and control the politics. Yet he decided to speak because he felt it within very much that his beloved Bangladesh was heading toward a very wrong direction. “Many people said to me, ‘you are very courageous,’ but I replied, ‘I’m never’. I don’t dare to jump from an eighteen-storied building; I don’t stand in front of a bullet. I simply speak the truth. And when speaking truth becomes a matter of courage in any country, we need to understand, that country is living under darkness”, said Humayun Azad during a video interview taken at the time of his post-attack treatment in Bangkok. Yes, in today’s Bangladesh, nothing endangers your life faster than expressing your belief freely.  

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” once said great American President Roosevelt. The moment we panic, the evil forces start winning. The very people whose footsteps have advanced human civilizations are NOT those with a closed mind, but those who believed in freedom, democracy and human reasoning. Azad knew it as well. To his fellow countrymen, he, therefore, announces: 

The river Padma might dry and the ocean might vaporize

Nature might also be distorted

But, we, Bengalis, will find a new Padma,

A new Nature and

A new village that was once destroyed. 

(Blood Bank by Humayun Azad, Translation: HassanAl Abdullah) 

Despite many odds, I’m an optimist. Today, or tomorrow, the dream of a secular and progressive Bangladesh would come true. And the breeze that would flow across a new Padma will not only delight the Bengalis, but all the freedom lovers of the world. 

(Written remembering the 1st anniversary of Islamic Fundamentalist’s brutal assault on late Prof. Dr. Humayun Azad.)  

New York

02.27.2005 

Jahed Ahmed is a moderator at www.mukto-mona.com