Published: Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tribute

Of poetry and intellect

Of poetry and intellectKhondakar Ashraf Hossain is a senior professor and former chairman of the Department of English, University of Dhaka. He is a well-known poet. He is a poet of the 1980s. In fact he is one of our finest poets, one of the best to have come out of Bangladesh since it became an independent nation in 1971. His admirers included Shamsur Rahman, one of the finest of all Bengali modernists and who had great faith in his talent.
Khondakar Ashraf Hossain was born in Joynagar of Jamalpur in 1950. He has published eight volumes of poetry and three volumes of essays. He has edited Ekobingsho, a little magazine, for more than twenty five years. It fetched him the West Bengal Little Magazine Award in 1998. He has also translated Sophocles, Euripides, Paul Celan and Terry Eagleton (‘Literary Theory’). His poems have been translated into English, German, French, Telegu and Hindi. He is a popular poet in Bangladesh as well as West Bengal. He is certainly a star in the Bengali literary sky.
Khondakar Ashraf Hossain has been a popular teacher at the Department of English, University of Dhaka. He has been teaching there for almost four decades. He was my teacher in the second half of the seventies and the very early eighties. I had good rapport with him. We were even neighbours for sometime. He had long hair, as Kazi Nazrul Islam had, when he was young. He was a friendly teacher, well-versed in English and Bangla. He was a Bengali nationalist and not a brown sahib. Both of us belong to greater Mymensingh.
An active poet for the last three decades or more, Khondakar Ashraf Hossain is at the same time prolific and deep, serious and playful, exciting and thoughtful. He has written a lot and written well. He celebrates Bangladesh, its myths and metonymies, its political and social demands. But he also walks the grounds of existentialist philosophy and mysticism quite often, as he touches on such timeless themes as Life and Death, Time and Eternity. In his love poems he has mixed passion and intellect. In a number of poems he is concerned with the conditions of womanhood, particularly against the backdrop of religious bigotry and persecution. His insight into the human condition makes him a serious poet, worthy of the attention of the most thoughtful of readers.
Among his eight volumes of poetry, special mention must be made of Nirbachito Kabita
(Selected Poems), Teen Ramanir Qasida, Partho Tomar Teebra Teer, Jiboner Soman Chumuk and Janma Baul. He was awarded the Alaol Literary Prize for poetry in 1987.
His doctoral thesis, Modernism and Beyond: Western Influence on Bangladeshi Poetry, has been published as a book. On Behula’s Raft is his first collection of English poems written on a kaleidoscopic variety of themes. In the introduction he tells us that his ‘fond
wish is that the reader’ .. ..take these poems as ‘English versions’ rather than as translations of the originals in Bangla.
Khondakar Ashraf Hossain is a teacher, poet, translator, essayist and editor. Ekobingsho, his master little magazine, has reached its late twenties. He has also edited Selected Poems of Nirmalendu Goon. He is a brilliant essayist, both in Bangla and in English. He had his PhD from the University of Dhaka in 2006. He had earlier had an MA in Linguistics and ELT, University of Leeds, United Kingdom, in 1981. He also had a Postgraduate Diploma Teaching English Overseas from the same university earlier. His MA from Dhaka University was done in 1971 but the examination was taken a year later. He has been the Provost of Surya Sen Hall. While teaching for nearly four decades, he has been Director, Centre for Advanced Research in Humanities. He has taught English and American Literature, Linguistics and Phonetics. He loves to teach modern English poetry, American poetry, European poetry, fiction and drama and Literary Theory.
Khondakar Ashraf Hossain began with a bang. Teen Romonir Qasida, his seminal poetical work, announced the arrival of a brilliant poet a number of years back. Al Mahmood was very impressed with the book and wrote an essay to welcome the poet. Since then he has written very good poetry as well as meritorious literary criticism. He loves to write on the various facets of Bengali literature. His respectable position as a poet and critic was complemented by his academic pursuits as a very senior teacher in the Department of English. Both as a poet and a scholar, he has carved a significant niche for himself.
Despite his being a talented poet, despite his poetry being deep and beautiful, despite his being one of our best voices since 1971, Khondakar Ashraf Hossain has not come by the fame he has deserved. Lesser poets were always after him, were negatively active against his talent and superior craftsmanship. He never went for sentimental poetry or political slogan-mongering. The media didn’t initially give him the attention he deserved. As a result he withdrew himself and wrote poetry quietly. He went on editing Ekobingsho. People criticized his late entry into the world of Bangladeshi poetry too, after stepping into his thirties. He made good preparations and then started writing. He had to fight a greater battle than others for the recognition due his talent. He always had confidence and never gave up. It came late but today he has the fame and respect he has always deserved.
Khondakar Ashraf Hossain overcame the influence of Jibanananda Das, Shamsur Rahman and Al Mahmood long ago. His is a voice different from those of others. Today he is a truly successful poet. The wealth of his poetry, his deep utterances and his craftsmanship have many admirers now.

Junaidul Haque writes fiction and essays.