A politician and journalist Abujafar Shamsuddin (1911-1989) is considered as one of the pioneer fictionists of Bangladesh. Though his debut novel Parityakto Swami (The Forsaken Husband) was published in 1947 which was followed by Mukti (Freedom), in the following year, it took more than one decade to bring him recognition as a novelist. Bhaowal Gorer Upakhyan (The Stories of Bhaowal Gore, 1963) contributed mostly to win the Bangla Academy Award in 1968. His novel Padma Meghna Jamuna, written in 1961-1968 and published in 1974, is categorised as the largest epic novel Bangladesh has ever produced. In this novel Abujafar Shamsuddin has illustrated the development of the Muslim soul through the first fifty years of the twentieth century.
Abujafar Shamsuddin had a long career as a journalist. Before the partition of India he started his career in the Daily Sultan and Daily Azad. Later on returning Dhaka, he served moreover in the Weekly Ittefaq, the Daily Purbadesh and the Daily Sangbad. Along with those his involvement with many government and non-government organizations are worthy to mention. Excepting his service as the Principal of translation Department of the Bangla Academy, he busied himself in organizations like Bangladesh Shantiparishad, Bangla Academy Executive Committee, Bangabandhu Parishad, Bangladesh Afro-Asian Lekhak Union and Bangladesh-Bharat Maitry Samity.
A progressive writer Abujafar Shamsuddin wrote hugely on national and cultural issues. His books of essays include: Chintar Biborton O Purbo Pakistani Sahityo (1964), Sociology of Bengal Politics (1973), Sochchar Uchcharon (1977), Somaj, Sonskriti O Itihash (1979), Modhoprachya, Islam O Somokalin Rajniti (1985), Lokaoto Somaj O Bangali Sonskriti (1988), Boihashiker Parshwochinta (1989) etc. His contribution as a short story writer began simultaneously with his novels. Jibon (1948) is his first volume of short stories, which was followed by Shesh Ratrir Tara (1966), Rajen Thakurer Tirthojatra (1978), Langree (1984) and Nirbachito Golpo (1988).
Padma Meghna Jamuna is originally the final part of a voluminous trilogy of Abujafar Shamsuddin. In respect of chronology the first and the third volumes are Bhaowal Gorer Upakhyan and Padma Meghna Jamuna; whereas Sangkar Songkirton (Mixed Celebration, 1980) is the second volume. This epic trilogy examines the people and society of this region called Bangla through centuries. The revival and nationalism and the evolution of Muslim thoughts are the focal themes of them. The other novels, authored by him, are Proponcho (Manifestition, 1980) and Deyal (Wall, 1985) among which the later one drew the attention of huge number of literati. In most of his novels Abujafar Shamsuddin draws connections of political events with the stories of his novels.
Padma Meghna Jamuna, the most mega literary effort Bangladeshi fiction has ever made is divided into five parts: ‘Unmesh’, ‘Udghurna’, ‘Mohanogori’, ‘Jhor’ and ‘Ulanga Adam’ among which the last one takes the largest area. ‘Unmesh’ starts with Idrish Mian around the year 1909 and covering the whole childhood of Mamun ends with the abolition of the family problem of Idrish Mian, his wife Hajera and his cousin Komruddin. Before the end of the first part we have seen Mamun at Dhaka but after the death of Idrish Mian, when ‘Udghurna’ begins Mamun falls in a problematic situation with his lodging and studies. In this 46-page chapter Mamun decides to do something for the society and starts for the City Kolkata with which the third part ‘Mohanogori’ opens. During these days Mamun is a full-grown youth and experiences variously that a human being may happen to face in his life. Around the year 1935 the fourth part ‘Jhor’ i.e. ‘Storm’ opens which continues upto the end of the Second World War. Everyone knows that all the tumultuous incidents that our Bangla faced were mostly during these years. The last part ‘Ulanga Adam’ spans from 1941 to the partition of India. Thus Padma Meghna Jamuna covers the most tempestuous time of Bangali nation when the most significant events took place. Abujafar Shamsuddin sketches the long historical time along with the development of a Bangali Muslim intellectual springing from a very agrarian base.
The first part covers from the birth of Mamun till his coming across the Matriculation Examination. This part is an if the ‘Bildungsroman’ of Mamun, a man born in a very agrarian and superstitious Islamic milieu. The opening lines of the books are the Suras of Esha prayer. Idris Mian, who conducts the prayer, says in the Munajat: ‘Give me a child…. Oh Allah, give me a child’ which are very eager and painful words from a childless father. Later on to beget a child he wishes to marry for the second time. Seconded by his first and barren wife Hazera, he marries Jobeda Khatun who subsequently offers Idrish Mian a male child named Gulam Mohiuddin Muhammad-al-Mamun-al-Idrish and the first child is followed by the second son Harun Immediately.
Line of another subplot emerges when Idrish Mian makes conspiracy with Bishnucharan Bhattacharya, an influential and moneyed Hindu acquaintance. From the conversation it becomes clear that Hazera Bibi and her brother Kamaruddin, who has been missing for about fifty years, are also partners of the land property of Idrish Mian and the later is now planning to erase those two names from the government documents. Though at the very initial stage it does not appear so clear, but at the end of the first part when the conflict about the property reaches the climax, it becomes obvious that the father in Idrish Mian instigated him to involve in that conspiracy. Which Idrish Mian did very secretly gets exposed when in Chapter 27 Kamaruddin comes back to his village home with his wife Nurunnahar and son Nuruddin. The arrival makes the pious man mad; he denies any past existence of such a person and tries to oust him from his household. But the problem gets more entangled when Hazera Bibi recongnises her brother and takes his side. As Idrish Mian commands her to leave the place and the begana (unknown male) person-
Hazera Bibi shrieks. She stares at her husband as one made speechless by sudden shock. What the man wants to say? Isn’t this man her husband? Who is begana? Kamu Bhai or the man who scolded her? Suddenly she realises that the man named Idrish Mian is in fact a begana person to her: though they slept in the same bed, they didn’t see each other’s face. What a miracle that she didn’t understand it before. (Translation)
The behaviour of Idrish Mian gets harsher rapidly and very soon everyone of the village turns enemy to him. After a long quarrel and debacle the episode ends through a process of case in which Idrish Mian gets defeated but Hazera Bibi distributes her part of the land property between Mamun and Harun.
The episode of Idrish Mian-Hazera Bibi–and Kamruddin is not an insignificant one, but in this part the more significant point is that of Mamun’s development through his childhood and boyhood days to his adolescence. In his early boyhood the incidents that give permanent impression on Mamun’s mind are his visit to his aunt Amena Bibi’s house and his admission in the village school. When Amena Bibi’s husband Abdul Haq comes on a visit to Mamun’s, Mamun insists him for taking to their village. There from the childless couple, Mamun receives parental attitude, which, after some years, helps them to take decision about Mamun’s schooling from Abdul Haq and Amena Bibi’s house. At the early stage Mamun gets acquaintance with Arabic alphabet a home and later on he is admitted into a nearby Bangla Pathshala i.e. elementary school of Ramcharan Pundit. The new environment of the school shows Mamun a wider world – at least in respect of his first familiarity with Hindu fellow students. But unfortunately within a very short time the Pundit takes a better job and the school meets discontinuation.
During these days the whole Bangladesh was moved by Swadeshi Movement. The wave of politics reached to a village like Sayestabad also. Due to Idriah Mian’s involvement in the political activities Mamun also gets to be acquainted with political terms. In the meanwhile Nurnullah Moulavi, recommended by a cousin of Mamun’s Abul Ali, the first Entrance-passed man of the region, now working in Kolkata, comes to their house. He is given lodging at Mamun’s and soon he opens a Madrasha at their household. Nurullah’s doubtful approach to a girl student Fazila and his being arrested by the police in case of Swadeshi dacoity leave new experiences of Mamun’s mind.
As there is a school near Noorpur, of which Abdul Huq is a resident, it is lastly decided that Mamun would be admitted there. In these years Mamun goes across many new incidents which create permanent treasure in his life. During these days we meet the inner desire of Mamun for woman. On his way to Noorpur with his father, he found the Vairagini woman on the verge of the village. The physical features of the woman spring the manly existence in Mamun. At that age of only twelve, he can not but look at the woman time and again; and the question ‘what’s there in a woman body’ torments him. Moreover in Noorpur days he comes closer to a girl Munni of aobut of his own age. Though we discover a childlike relationship between these two people, their sincere liking for each other does not remain hidden. After some years when again this school got closed for a social crisis, we get a conversation between Mamun and Munni which is worthy to quote:
Let me go Munni. Will you forget me?
Rubbing a wild leaf in her hand and with tearful eyes Munni answers: No, I won’t forget you, Mamun Bhai, never I will forget you. Going to the town, you’ll forget me.
In a choked voice Mamun replies : No, Munni, I won’t forget.
Are you speaking true?
Yes, swearing by Allah, I’m speaking true – I’m speaking from my own heart. But you? (Translation)
The other noteworthy incident occurs this time – Mamun comes in touch of some Swadeshi activities, which create political consciousness in Mamun that influence hugely in his later years. One day being invited by Keshto, a senior student of the school, Mamun goes to watch a ‘Jatrapala’ of Mukunda Das, a famous folk singer. During the ‘pala’ when Keshto explains the Swadeshi themes of it, he suddenly asks Mamun whether he is eager to meet any Swadeshi activist. Getting positive answers Keshto takes him to a remote place where Ali Ahmad, Ramesh, Abinash, Samar etc are busy in their usual meeting. During their discussion, a lot of new things related to patriotism and freedom begin to prick Mamun’s conscience.
Another momentous experience of Mamun in this phase is his contact with Abdul Haq and his second wife Rowsanara. The reader has been introduced to Abdul Haq’s slang language immediately after his first appearance. During Mamun’s stay at their house, Rowsanara’s illicit love with her male servant Nojor Ali, and her quarrel with her husband centering this event and finally Rowsanara’s giving birth of a baby-girl opens before Mamun new horizons which he might not have gone through in other situations. Moreover due to the birth of the child, Mamun gradually begins to be treated as a problem of the family by both his uncle and auntie. All these situations open new worlds before Mamun which shape the development of his attitude. After the closure of the school Mamun returns back to his own house from where he again leaves for Dhaka with his father having an intention to receive schooling. In the perplexing experiences in Dhaka Mamun takes admission into a school and the hotel of Amjat Ali becomes his first dwelling.
The second part of the novel, though a very thin one, contributes vigorously in moulding Mamun’s intellect. Here Mamun gets Jaigir i.e. lodging in a mason’s house. During his stay there, Mamun feels a sort of inclination to Aklima, his student Asgar’s sister. Moreover, he gets a letter containing the message of Munni’s marriage, which creates a deep impression on him. But the radical change that we observe in Mamun’s character in this period is related to his vision which is caused by his meeting and further contact with Ali Ahmed whom he met on the day he went to see a Jatrapala. Mamun’s interaction with Ali Ahmed helps him to see the bulk of different between the Hindus and the Muslim. Gatherings by the radical Hindu community enhance Mamun’s discriminatory attitude. He discovers:
They [the Hindus] are the sons and daughters of bureaucrats, lawyers, barristers, physicians, jamindars, and tradesmen. May be they are Hindus, and he is a Muslim – but aren’t both the Hindus and the Muslims citizens of this country? Don’t they speak in the same language? But why there is a wall – a mountainous wall – there’s no question to go there breaking the wall. A wall made of bricks and stones can be broken, but this wall can’t be – the mist can be dispersed only by sunlight – not force. When will that sunlight come in this country? Or won’t it come ever? Where’s the possibility, which hasn’t been in thousand years! The time’s passed – now is only darkness (Translation).
For this Mamun gradually gets involved in the terrorist activities of Ali Ahmed. The routine works of the day become meaningless to him. The philosophic man emerges in him very soon. When he receives the marriage–news of Munni, he finally decides that ‘he will sacrifice himself for all, not for making an individual family: the ups and downs of the community will settle his own position.’ And with this determination Mamuns leaves for Kolkata.
On his way to Kolkata, Mamun meets poet Abdul Gafur on the steamer deck and being introduced with each other they decide that Mamun would reside at Abdul Gafur’s mess at first. Thus the young boy of Sayestabad starts his city life, which in no time gives him a very intellectual area comprising poet Monsur and later on Ali Ahmed among many others. Mamun’s acquaintance with these persons continues till the end of the book and helps his intercourse with the political and social changes, movements and ideologies. Through these senior friends Mamun meets people like Moriom, Mamtaj and Reba who influence hugely on Mamun during these days. The novelist has elaborately presented the interaction between these people, which actually give forth the different ideas and opinions of Kolkata society especially the Muslim sect. The dilineation of the owner and editor of the weekly Ah’le Sunnat Moulavi Akbar Khan and his son Nurul Alam and assistant Bazlur Rahman is also very significant because they represent the pseudo Muslim conscience of the then Bangla.
Meanwhile Mamun has been much more related with the intellectual society through his poems and fictions, which have achieved fame among the Hindu literati also. The female characters Moriom, Momtaj and Reba open before him different worlds. In different times we discover Mamun’s attachment with them whose appearance prove very significant. This part of the book has exhibited the intellectual and psychological development a Muslim intellect very clearly. Moreover this is the part where Mamun undergoes sexual experience also. Once he makes a visit to his village home and the amorous approach of Jabeda, a village girl makes him mad. Gradually it becomes a common phenomenon of Mamun to meet Jobeda every night secretly.
The characters who have got sketch in full depth in this part of the novel are Monsur and Moriom. They appear before us as very lively personalities. And the point very relevant in this regard is that Abujafar Shamsuddin has created most of these characters based on real personalities. If one goes through the memoirs of the novelist Atmasriti-First Part (Dhaka, 1989), he will be able to detect many semblances between the characters and the incidents of Abujafar’s personal life and that of the novel. Though in his introduction of the book the author has formally declared that excluding some historical personalities and events, rest of the characters is fictitious, it does not take a long time to discover those semblance. Possibly the novelist should not be condemned for this because he is developing the episodes of the novel on the large historical canvas of Bangla time. For this reason to fictionalise the whole scenario of especially the fourth decade of the century, the writer had no other way but do this. Yet we must acknowledge that Abujafar Shamsuddin has proved himself successful in his mission; Padma Meghna Jamuna has not been a replica of the political history, rather it has been a fiction finally.
In the fourth Part ‘Jhor’ Abujafar Shamsuddin has juxtaposed all the crises during the years since 1937 that tormented the whole Bangali nation. In these days the conflict between Hindu-Muslim people reached its climax because of the incorporation of more members from Muslim community in different sectors and because by then the Muslim community has achieved that minimal to boast of. The other point of crisis is related to the Bangla politics, which was initialted, by A.K. Fazlul Huq, the founder of Krishak Praja Party. We all know that in this period Huq’s party participated in the national election and received victory but this election did not bring any change in the life of common people of Bangladesh. Huq himself joined the Muslim League and finally played in favour of the British Government. But time reached the eleventh hour when the Second World War began which demolished the everyday life of every Bangali people and caused panic and suffering for them. The war even turmoiled the intellectual pattern of the society. People began to consider things from a new point of view. All political parties including Congress, Muslim League and Communist Party appeared with different voices.
At the outset of the fifth part ‘Ulango Adam’ (Naked Humanity), the bombs are dropped on Kolkata which brings a great change in Kolkata life. Thousands of millions of city people begin to leave which no how can be restrained. Mamun, Reba and their fellow men try to convince some of the leaving people, but they fail. The forthcoming incident is the tragic famine of 1943. History says millions of Bangali people were the victim of this man made crisis, which drag down huge number of Bangali women to the streets only to earn their livelihood. The novel ends with the partition of India, which enhanced huge migration of Muslim people from West Bengal to East Bengal and Hindu people from East Bengal to West Bengal. The novelist has drawn the time of partition through various episodes, not directly inter-related with the main story line of the novel. And every one must admit that in respect of delineation of partition and its aftermath Padma Meghna Jamuna is a major fiction written in Bangla language.
Through the character of Mamun, the novelist has sketched the development of a Muslim individual as he has shown the ongoing process of the making of the Bangali nation. Abujafar Shamsuddin has tried to do it in an epic canvas, incorporating every related national phenomenon in his novel and thus he has composed most the comprehensive saga of our country.