Homage to ekushey
Sing with me, sing for the years
The song that is synonymous to Ekushey is without doubt the haunting composition by Altaf Mahmud. Originally a poem by Abdul Gaffar Choudhury, the original composition, however was by Abdul Latif. The song was initially written as a poem but Abdul Latif made it into a song, a masterful creation that presented a heartfelt cry, a saga of grievance and a demand for justice at the death of our brethren. Altaf Mahmud, on the other hand took the song to a new level. His version is a melancholic depiction, sown in melody- a requiem if you may. Voted third in a survey of popular Bangla songs by BBC, the appeal of this song has only increased over the last five decades. As we helplessly search for an identity among cultural imperialism, creations like amar bhaiyer rokte rangano takes us back to our roots.
The Shaheed Minar that now stands near Dhaka Medical College Hospital differs considerably from the original plan. The main dais remains the same- the mother with outstretched hands standing along with her martyred sons. Designer Hamidur Rahman however envisaged additional features now absent. Many yellow and deep blue pieces of glass were to be embedded in the column as symbols of eyes from which the rays of the sun would be reflected. Also, there was to be a railing adorned with the Bangla alphabet in front of the monument complex and also two footprints, one red and one black, symbolising the two opposing forces. The design had also included a museum, a library and a series of murals.
Over the past half century, the Shaheed Minar has evolved into a sacred precinct symbolising an undying thirst for freedom from oppression. In its simplistic structure, it binds the emotion and the spirit of Language Movement and countless movements that followed- choy dofa, 1971, democratic movement of the eighties and on. Political pledges are made before the minar, at its feet theatre activists present social satires and people form human chains demanding the trial of war criminals. We have learnt to incorporate Shaheed Minar in our lives, naturally, as it is a symbol of our first true struggle for an identity. Our homage to the martyred brothers takes the form of placing wreaths, but the spirit has blended into all boughs of life from songs, to poetry, art and literature, even to ways in which we express ourselves.
The language movement was essentially a student movement founded upon the ideology of Dhaka University students of that time. Although renowned politicians were instrumental in the initial stages of the struggle, the final outcome of 8 Falgun was an effort by student bodies. It is hardly an astonishing fact that the first Shaheed Minar too, was built by students. The memorial was formally inaugurated on the morning of 26 February 1952, and soon became ground zero, so to speak. Police raided the Medical College hostel that afternoon and demolished the monument. Although the memorial was demolished, the Pakistani ruling coterie could not efface the memory of the martyrs. Innumerable small memorials on the same model were built all over the country, especially at educational institutions.
In 1953 the students and youth community of the country observed 21 February as 'Shaheed Dibas.' A replica of the memorial in red paper was installed in 1953 in the yard of the Medical College Hostel at the spot where the first memorial had been built. It was covered with a black cloth. From that symbolic Shaheed Minar, students launched their prabhat pheri (mourning procession) on 21 February for the first time. The prabhat pheri is a tradition that is still with us today.
At the strike of 12, people flock around the Shaheed Minar. As they walk bare foot, some sing amar bhaiyer rokte…This has been a tradition, now almost half a century old. Wearing designer clothes on Ekushey motifs has become the latest trend. Paying homage to the slain brethren of the language movement has found a new meaning. But tradition still bears with us. It comes straight from the heart. It is something we simply can't forget.
By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Model: Iffat Nawaz
Photo: Zahedul I Khan