End of an era
LOVE him or hate him but you cannot ignore him — such was the towering presence of Humayun Ahmed in the post-1970s Bangla literature. His death, thus, leaves a vacuum that would be difficult to fill, if at all. The most popular storyteller since Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Humayun breathed his last in Bellevue Hospital in New York late Thursday night after a prolonged battle against colorectal cancer, marking the end of an era that saw him almost single-handedly reviving the reading habit of the middle class and, equally importantly, helping to bring about qualitative and quantitative change — for the better, of course — of the publishing industry. As the readers, especially in the urban middle class, found themselves enamoured of Humayun’s works and yearned for more, the publishing industry found itself striving for better printing and packaging of books. Gone were the days of shoddy printing, shabby binding, and lacklustre cover, as the publishers switched to better technology and hounded and honed creative cover designers.
The fairytale began in the early 1970s when Humayun had his novels — Nandita Narake and Shankhanil Karagar — published. The two novels caught the imagination of the urban middle class readers; they readily identified with the stories told and the characters portrayed. Notably still, Humayun introduced a simple but rich technique of storytelling; the readers found, to their delight, the characters of novels talking in their language and living their lives. The rest is history, as they say. Humayun produced one bestseller after another and, in the process, created a literary genre of his own that the next generation of writers took inspiration from. Soon, Humayun, a chemistry professor in Dhaka University with PhD from North Dakota University in polymer chemistry, found himself confronted with a crucial choice — between his profession and passion. Passion won over as he resigned his post at Dhaka University and dedicated himself completely to writing.
Meanwhile, Humayun’s novels had been adapted into television dramas. He also wrote the scripts of several extremely popular drama serials for television, e.g. Ei Sab Dinratri, Bahubrihi, Kothao Keu Nei. The big screen always attracted him and it was thus little wonder that he would try his hand in producing and directing films. Not only screenplays, Humayun also wrote lyrics for songs in his dramas and films. Perhaps because of such versatility and dizzying busyness in different forms of creativity, Humayun did not have the time to venture into more serious genres of literature. When he finally decided to switch his attention to such historic novels as Jochhona O Jananir Galpa, time was fast running out of him. Soon, he was diagnosed to be suffering from colorectal cancer; the last few days, weeks and months of his life were spent shuttling between Bangladesh and the United States for treatment of a malady that eventually proved incurable.
Humayun Ahmed expressed, on several occasions, his wish to die in a moonlit night. Ironically, as pointed out in a write-up published in a leading Bangla daily, the night he died the moon was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, he is chuckling right now at the supreme irony. After all, irony and wit were two of his strongest suites.
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