Shahidulla Kaisar (1927-1971) is one of the most noteworthy names among all the highly celebrated novelists of Bangladesh. He was well known as a journalist but more than that he was a political activist. A devoted worker of socialist politics Shahidulla Kaisar is above all a novelist. His Sangsaptak (Ever Fighting) has been considered as a mile stone for the last four decades in Bangladeshi fiction.
Shahidulla Kaisar was born on 16 February in the district of Feni. His paternal name was Abu Nayeem Mohammad Shahidulla. His father was a professor, later on Principal, of Kolkata and Dhaka Madrasha-e-Alia. Shahidulla took his Matriculation from the Department of Anglo-Persian of Madrasha-e-Alia in 1942. Later on he obtained his Intermediate and BA (Honours) degrees from Presidency College of Kolkata. Though he enrolled himself in the Department of Economics of Kolkata University, he could not complete it for the tumultuous situation during the partition of India and left Kolkata for Dhaka. Afterwards he became a student of Dhaka University but failed to continue his studies due to his over involvement in politics. Since his Presidency days he had been a devotee of leftist politics. In 1951 he was elected member of the East Pakistan Provincial Communist Party. On behalf of the party he was one of the leading pioneers of the Language Movement of 1952 for which he was arrested on 3 June 1952. Later on jail days became a common phenomenon in his life. In 1949 Shahidulla Kaisar began his Journalist days joining the then Weekly Ittefaque. The prestigious daily Sangbad became his journalistic foot in the following years.
Shahidulla Kaisar’s famous novel Sareng Bou (The Serang’s Wife) came out in 1962. With the story of Kadam Sareng and Nabitun Bangladeshi novels experienced a new horizon where the struggling Bangali mind has been pictured. Sareng Bou brought Kaisar the most prestigious two awards of East Pakistan – Adamjee Award and Bangla Academy Award – both in 1962. His epic creation Sangsaptak, published in 1965, brought him huge acquaintance and fame. His other novels Krishochura Megh (The Crimson Cloud, written in 1959), Kusumer Kanna (The Cry of the Bud, written in 1961) Digonte Fuler Agun (The Fire of Flower in the Horizon, written in 1961) and Kobe Pohabe Bivabori (When Will the Night End, written in 1971) were not published during his lifetime. The only volume of short stories of him is Eki Chhobir Dui Pith which also he did not publish in book form. Rajbondir Rojnamcha (1962) and Peshwar Theke Taskhand (1966) are his memoirs and travelogue.
Shahidulla Kaisar contributed actively and hugely to every movement of Pre-liberation Bangladesh. On 14 December 1971 when Bangladesh was on the verge of meeting independence, he was brutally killed by the collaborators of the Pakistan army.
Sangsaptak can be categorised as one of the very few novels of Bangladesh that have taken a longer time, its society and people in full detail. The time covers the 3rd and 4th decades of the twentieth century, which proved the most poignant for the country now called Bangladesh. These decades of political unrest, famine, second world war and partition of India i.e. partition of Bangla have come up in Shahidulla’s pen in a meticulously designed plot and setting. As a comparison of Sangsaptak we can cite only one name which is Abujafar Shamsuddin’s Padma Meghna Jamuna (1974). Another novel, which has adopted the similar time in so large a scale is Haripada Datta’s (b 1947) Ojagor (1989-1991). Syed Shamsul Huq’s (b 1935) Bristi O Bidrohigon (1998) is also considered as on epic version of the history of Bangladesh, the decades of 30’s and 40’s are not painted there with so much emphasis – rather the history and legends of the arrival of the Muslim in this locality has been delineated there. The story of our liberation war also encompass a long part of Bristi O Bidrohigon as it is treated in Selina Hossain’s (b 1947) Gaayatree Sondhya(1994-1996) though the later starts with the partition of India and covers the whole 50’s and 60’s in full political perspective.
Sangsaptak is not a story of an individual person, as some may say that it is the story of Zahed. Rather the protagonist of the novel is the time where Zahed himself is a component alongside many other ones such as Hurmoti, Malu, Rabeya or Sekandar Master. Zahed demonstrates the development of a Muslim mind, which experiences the Pakistan movement and later on socialist movement. Hurmoti or Malu are the symbols of non-communal human soul – to whom religion never causes the upheaval; humanity deserves the highest priority to them. Rabeya herself is also a significant role who deserves the same plane of Hurmoti or Malu. But the truth is Sangsaptak comes up above all of them – it portrays the age and surrounding of the people it comprises.
The novel opens with the village court scene where Hurmoti is the convict and Felu Mia is the judge. The village head Felu Mia has Ramjan, the hooligan and the Khatib the religious representative at his side. What is the crime committed by Hurmoti – she did some misdeed for which she is carrying now. And the reason for which Shahidulla Kaisar deserves acclamation is that for the long and detailed narrative he does not hesitate to select such a scene for his epic novel. Moreover it becomes obvious from the outset that Hurmoti is being judged wrongly because the male person, who also deserves punishment, is not detected even after such a question having arisen. With the mark of a burning coin on Hurmoti’s forehead, the first chapter concludes which throws the reader into vagueness and ambiguity towards which the story is planned to rush. In the first chapter two things get exposed the falsity of Felu Mia and his fellow men as well as the bravery of Hurmoti and Leku, who represent the down trodden people of the society. And thus it becomes clear that Kaisar is not interested is portraying the so-called characters like the protagonist and others. Rather the novelist is inclined to sketch the representatives of the society.
Two different categories of characters are present in the novel – one comprises the Darbes, Khatib Shaheb, Syed Shaheb, Syed Ginni, Felu Mia etc who represent the decaying middle class society. On the other hand there are Zahed, Rabu, Sekendar Master, Malu, Hurmoti who are full of live elements and aspiration and enthusiasm. The novelist has drawn the never dying conflict of these two categories. And if we look into the deep of the characters we will observe that all these are different from each other. No two of them emerge from the same familial and social context. All of them are different and unique.
The story of the novel takes place at Bakulia and Taltoli first; then it shifts to Kolkata and last of all to Dhaka. The Muslim people of the locality reside at Bakulia. After the exposition of this village, gradually penetrates the story of Taltoli where the Hindu people inhabit. After about fifty pages the juxtaposition of these two villages is exposed very clearly. And thus Sangsaptak becomes the novel of these two villages – Bakulia and Taltoli. In presenting them, Kaisar has delineated Muslim and Hindu communities individually as well as Hindu-Muslim relationship which later on turned to enmity. Moreover, the prejudiced scenario is also given forth through them for which the question arises in Malu: ‘Why doesn’t Ranu go to Bakulia? Or, why doesn’t Rabu come to Ranu’s’ which is dashed against Malu himself ‘What! You’re a Muslim?’ Thus Malu realises that he is hated by the Hindus, but the truth is he is loved by Ranudi, an individual. Thus Shahidulla Kaisar has emphasised on the existing conflict between an individual and the community in a society.
In the meantime we meet the character Sekandar, a teacher of Taltoli school. In spite of being peasant born, he is the only person, excluding the Mia family, who has got two degrees. Consequently he becomes the representative of the educated poor Muslim conscience. Leku and all others become united under the leadership of Sekandar.
Meanwhile comes the first hit – the Syeds decide to leave the village for Kolkata. Syed Ginni decides to impose the responsibilities of looking after their household and other property on Sekandar, not on Felu Mia, her brother. Moreover for this incident Malu first begins to realise the pathos of separation with Rabeya and Arifa. Thus gradually he begins to be experienced. During this period the growing up of Malu is focussed more closely.
But what about Zahed – the young man having Muslim education and culture from Aligore? When Zahid emerges on the scene, the novel has come across about one hundred odd pages. The first appearance of Zahed strikes anyone because of his enthusiastic words full of Muslim influence, not of non-communal feeling. The novelist has shown the transformation of a Muslim spirit through Zahed who now he fights for a separate Muslim state Pakistan, but later on he becomes a changed man because he realises the footlessness of the emergence of state based on religion.
Whilst the news of global crisis reaches the villages, we can again identity the plot makers and beneficiaries of these situations: Felu Mia and Ramjan again. But we understand that Ramjan is getting more powerful than Felu Mian. Though Felu Mia was successful in his endeavor of spreading his Taluk, but Ramjan exceeds him when the Second World War breaks and Ramjan becomes a supplier or broker. The war made everyone helpless except Ramjan and Ramdoyal. Common people lose everything in this trauma, even Felu Mia cannot avoid the deep marks for which he loses everything. But the treasure of Ramjan and Ramdoyal increases tremendously – they earn so much money that they have to use sacks for storing notes. Ramjan doesn’t care how the notes come – whose daughters or sisters or wives are to sacrifice their chastity for it. Money becomes his only goal – where nothing like morality can hinder him from doing the immoral activities.
In respect of the effects of Second World War on village life Sangsaptak may be treated as a very significant instance. The novelist describes it in the following way:
The mindless war touched every aspect of life in Bangla. Itself in havoc the hitherto smooth order of things, upset an entire system of life, brought with it unimaginable misery. It was an upheaval on a gigantic scale, un-paralleled in the history of this region. Cities were hit, but what was going on in the countryside was indescribable. Evacuation orders fell on villages after villages, its inhabitants had to vacate this premises, clear out of their dwelling places. No alternative was provided, and there was no recourse. It was just that they could no longer live in their own houses, till their own soil, as they and their ancestors before them had done since time immemorial. Because of a war, far far away, fought by others, against others. A cruel, all destroying war, its tentacles clamped them all, sparing none.
(Translated by Shahruk Rahman, Sangshaptak, Bangla Academy, 2001, p. 190)
Possibly no other Bangladeshi novel could picturise this time so meticulously. In Sabitry Roy’s (1918-1985) Pakadhaner Gaan (1956-1958) and Abujafar Shamsuddin’s (1991-1989) Padma Meghna Jamuna (1974) we have got worthy descriptions. Pakadhaner Gaan illustrates the demolition of agrarian Bangladesh life, on the other hand Padma Meghna Jamuna gives forth the havoc and sufferings caused by this war on Kolkata city life.
Shahidulla Kaisar has focussed on multifarious aspects of the war. This was the war for that the British government ordered to collect all food grain for the army which caused the historic famine in Bangla in 1943. Scarcity of livelihood became so severe that common womanhood had to serve for the sexual gratification of the soldiers, only to survive. The above mentioned Padma Meghna Jamuna gives true pictures as it was in Kolkata life. Some stories of Sulekha Sanyal (1928-1962) could be cited as lively pictures of that situation. Shahidulla Kaisar exposes it through the eyes of Malu. One night a lorry came in which was supposed to load five sacks of sugar. While loading them Malu saw:
As he heaved one sack into the truck, he was astonished to hear cries of pain. He peered in and was astonished further. The lorry was packed with young peasant girls, wide eyed with terror. So tightly packed, they could hardly move. Silently he threw the other sack. What could he say – so this was Ramzan’s – and Sultan’s business. Human trade! The war had degraded human beings. So, farmers were selling their daughters now. (Translation: Shahruk Rahman, ibid, p. 194)
Hindu-Muslim riot is another aspect that has been demonstrated very skillfully in this novel. Just before the partition of India on August 16, 1946, the Kolkata killing occurred for which the venom of riot spread through most of the parts of Bangla. The other two epic novels of Bangladesh, which have encapsulated this inhuman incident, are above-mentioned Padma Meghna Jamuna and Aktaruzzaman Elias’(1943-1997) Khoabnama (1996). Reference of this incident has also taken place in Shaukat Osman’s (1917-1998) Janani (1961), Haripada Datta’s (b 1947) Ojogor (1989-1991) and Selina Hossain’s (b 1947) Gaayatree Sondhya (1994-1996). When the riot occurs Malu along with Rakib Shaheb is in New Grand Hotel managed by Shachin Babu in Kolkata. That night when the Hindu orthodox processionists attack the Hotel to take off these two poor Muslim people, Shachin Babu is the man who saved them at the risk of his own life. The other picture of the riot is extended to the hostel where Rabu resides.
Shahidulla Kaisar is so conscious a writer that he has not missed any of the social phenomena unnoticed. As he has treated the development of Malu who represents the ongoing Muslim soul, he has also examined the change of an educated Muslim soul Zahed – from a pro-Pakistan fighter to a humanitarian socialist. The novelist has also treated the Muslim orthodox society very openly and skillfully. Rabu’s father’s arrangement to marry his daughter with his Peerbaba is a very significant example of it. Rabu’s father had left home much before but when he returns to his house with his Peerbaba and fellow disciples, he takes over all the authority of the family. Denying everyone’s opposition he arranges the marriage because, by then he is no more a father, rather he is a seeker of heavenly blessings at the cost of anything. But the merit of the novelist has rightly exposed the emptiness of it. For this very reason he has made Zahed a rebellious character against all these dogmas. On the very marriage day Rabu cannot behave against his father but much later when the Peergroom Alhaj Shah Sufi Golam Haider Mozaddedi appears at Rabu’s house in Kolkata time has made her able to take up and be resolute to her own decision. So before the eyes of everyone, when all the people of the family are scared of the Peergroom, she leaves home. The following excerpt will help us understand rebellious Rabu:
“Cover your head!” he shot out. He was gaining control. “Cover your head, I say!” Rabu’s face was paper white. “You are disobeying your husband!” his tongue lashed out like a whip. “I said to cover your head!”
She was on the verge of collapse. Her bitter past and her uncertain future unfolded before her eyes. They began to glint with an inner glow. Her spirit was fighting to get back control.
But Rabu regained her spirit now. She looked back at Shahsufi’s eyes with contempt and hatred. “Never”, she shouted back with a sneer. “Never”, she repeated.
(Translation: Shahruk Rahman, ibid, p. 257)
Thus the novelist has pointed out the development of Muslim society as well as the development of religious attitude of Muslim women.
In the last part of Sangsaprtak Malu, the radio singer, and his fiancée, later on wife covers a greater part. Here the changing attitude of the emerging urban Muslim society of Dhaka has been drawn. Malu gradually begins to discover the falsity of his wife; he realises that money is the principal factor of that society; love and sincerity are meaningless to them. Critics may signify this as the fickle mindedness of this society for which a new liberation war of Bangladesh was imminent. Zahed, whom we first meet in the novel as a propagandist of Islamic views and later on as an activist of Pakistan movement, is arrested by police at the end of the novel. The tumultuous politics of Bangla changed him a new man for which he turned to non-communal politics and stood courageously against Hindu-Muslim riot and afterwards got involved in labour-politics. Returning to Dhaka, after the partition of India, his involvement does not cease as a result of which the Pakistan government throws him behind the bars.
In the enormous canvass of Sangsaptak, Shahidulla Kaisar has developed many characters that deserve to be discussed elaborately. Hurmoti, Leku, Sekendar Mastar, Ashokeda are a few of them. All of them possess human spirit with which one can establish oneself as human beings. The novelist has exposed the true human quality through them and they are the characters who uncover the dogmatic religious practices.
Sangsaptak translates the transitional period of Bengali nation. The author of this well-written epic novel has tried to cover all the changes of society in a well-planned scheme. None of the significant events of that historical period missed his attention. And thus Sangsaptak has become a epic of our nation.