Bangladesh: Commemorating poet Begum Sufia Kamal

She was a multifaceted genius who was a poet, a short story writer, but above all a humanist who inspired and elevated his fellow women and men. We wish to commemorate one of the greatest luminaries of modern times.

by Anwar A. Khan

( November 23, 2017, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) A generous; a very noble; and a woman of perfect refinement was born on 20th June 1911 in Bangladesh. She lived 88 years. The cruel cold hand of death snatched away this grand lady from this part of land on 20th November 1999. She was buried four days later with full state honours, the first woman to receive that recognition from Bangladesh. As the national flag was lowered and buglers saluted, more than 10,000 people paid their respects to this famed poet at her funeral in Dhaka. One needs a certain amount of nerve to be a writer and she had that much of capacity. She had the power to learn or retain knowledge; and the ability to understand the facts and significance of the substance. She knew a word after a word after a word is power.

She was like: the conduct is three-fourths of our life and its largest concern; culture is properly described as the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection; culture, the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human spirit; for the creation of a masterwork of literature two powers must concur; the power of the power and the power of the moment; and the poet is not enough without the moment. The pursuit of perfection, then, is the pursuit of sweetness and light. It is very sad that Poet Begum Sufia Kamal’s 18thdeath anniversary passed away on 20th November 2017 so silently.

She was a multifaceted genius who was a poet, a short story writer, but above all a humanist who inspired and elevated his fellow women and men. We wish to commemorate one of the greatest luminaries of modern times. The Great Sentinel – as Khalamma (maternal aunt) called her so dearly – was a moral force behind our freedom struggle and one who gave a vivid and expressive voice to the depressed soul of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu Mujib addressed her as Apa (elder sister) with all his veneration. Reading her sublime poetry, one wonders if humankind today has lost some of the finer sensibilities that inspired her works – the intimacy with nature, the quest for inner truth, the sense of solidarity and community that transcends borders and breaks down presumed barriers of religion, race or language.

As a Bengali poet and political activist, short story writer, poet Kamal was an influential cultural icon in the Bengali nationalist movement of the 1950s and 60s and an important civil society leader in independent Bangladesh. For a writer only one form of patriotism exists: his or her attitude toward language and in her writings, patriotism truly exists. A short story ‘Shainik Bodhu’ which she wrote was published in a local paper in 1923. Poetry is rather an approach to things, to life; than it is typographical production. Her literary career took off after her first poetry publication. Her first book of poems, ‘Sanjher Maya’ (Evening Enchantment), came out in 1938, bearing a foreword from famed poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and attracting praise from Kabi Guru Rabindranath Tagore. This poetry book was translated into Russian language in 1984. In 1937, she published her first collection of short stories, ‘Keyar Kanta’ (Thorns of the Keya Tree).Though she called herself a romantic poet, her work more and more reflected the struggles to preserve the Bengali language and culture and to fight Pakistani oppressive rulers. She let her pen dwelt on guilt and misery. She was a great literary icon to be of love a little more careful than of anything.

Born into wealth, she had devoted her life to fighting for the rights of women and the poor and against the forces of religious fundamentalism. She said, “I had an indomitable nature and I crossed my limits to get a taste of all there was. I was allowed to learn Arabic and a little Persian, but not Bengali. I made it a point to learn Bengali from people working in the house” and that became the language she used for her writing. She was such a grand lady that vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us. Ebullience is beauty. For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life. Great things are done when poets and mountains meet. Her thoughts filled immensity. When she told the truth, it was not for the sake of convincing those who did not know it, but for the sake of defending those that did. Where mercy, love, and pity dwell, there good deed is dwelling too. Throughout her whole life, good deeds were her dwelling house. The temple bell stopped but we still hear her sound coming out of the flowers.

Sufia Kamal showed her bravery several times. On one occasion, General Ayub Khan, the military ruler of Pakistan at a meeting with social elites of Dhaka, commented that ordinary people are like beasts and as such, not fit to be given franchise.  She at once stood up and retorted, “If the people are beasts then as the President of the Republic, you are the king of the beasts.”  The then regional director of Radio East Pakistan forwarded a paper to Sufia Kamal to sign with the statement, “In 1971 no massacre took place in Bangladesh.” When Sufia Kamal refused, that radio boss threatened, “If you don’t give your signature then it might create a problem both for you and your son-in-law Kahar Chowdhury.” She told him that she didn’t care for her life. She said, “I would rather die than put my signature on the false statement.” She was not the sun like a great visiting presence that stimulated and took its due from all animal energy; when it flung wide its cloak and stepped down over the edge of the fields at evening, it left behind it a spent and exhausted world. She was her exception only.

She strongly felt un-being dead is not being alive. From politics, it was an easy step to silence, but she was never silent though she was never a politician. She actively, but secretly helped freedom fighters of the Liberation War in 1971. She took care of the sense and the sounds would take care of themselves.  She was a poet ought not to pick nature’s pocket. She borrowed, and so borrowed as to repay by the very act of borrowing; and examined nature accurately, but wrote from recollection, and trusted more to the imagination than the memory. She was the best physician who was the most ingenious inspirer of hope. She was the happiness of life which was made up of minute fractions – the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss or a smile, a kind look or heartfelt compliment. To see her acts are like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning. Works of imagination should be written in a very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are the more necessary it is to be plain. This bears testimony to her life. She is like the famous words of Gregory Corso, “They, that unnamed “they,” they’ve knocked me down but I got up. I always get up-and I swear when I went down quite often I took the fall; nothing moves a mountain but itself. They, I’ve long ago named them me.”

She worked to help women hurt by the liberation war. She also worked with an organisation to try to bring to justice those Pakistani officials whom the Bangladesh’s people considered war criminals. She was an excellent organiser. In the politically charged atmosphere of 1970, she organised the Bangladesh Mohila Parishad. Earlier in 1956, she had organised the children`s organisation “Kochi-KacharMela”. This legendary poet Sufia Kamal was also a pioneer of Bengali women`s emancipation. Her struggle for a society free of disparity and her good deeds earned her over 50 awards including the “EkusheyPadak”, “SwadhinataDibashPadak” and “Bangla Academy Padak”. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh said at the ceremony in honour of her, ”This poet was the beacon for our great language movement and liberation war, and inspiration for all democratic movements of the nation.  She was a vast source of inspiration for building up womenfolk as self-reliant.”


She played a crucial role in the emancipation of women in post-liberation of Bangladesh. She was uncompromising about communalism and fundamentalism. So, we should cherish and convey her sprit to combat against communalism and fundamentalism. Where there is great love there are always miracles; where there is great love; there are always wishes; winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. And that is life. But a prayer that she sends from her heart’s deep core from the grave. Sufia Kamal was part of our dream, of course – but then we were part of her dream too. There is another sky, ever serene and fair, and there is sunshine, though it is darkness there; never mind faded forests, never mind silent fields – here is a little forest whose leaf is ever green; here is a brighter garden where not a frost has been; in its unfading flowers, we hear the bright belvedere. Aureate lady, come into our garden, once again, to shower your light beam on us! Let us pay rich tribute to this grand lady.

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.

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