the Piper of Hamlin cast a spell on the children and
made them follow him with the music of his pipe, Muhammed
Zafar Iqbal has kept childrn enchanted with the magic
of his pen. He has not only filled in the vaccum of
writers in the field of children's literature he also
deserves kudos for successfully bearing the legacy
of this extremely rich treasure of Bangla literature.
He is prolific, powerful, imaginative yet combined
with a pragmatism that appeals to the younger generation.
He is one of the finest happenings in modern Bangla
is not sure exactly when he started to write. Writing
came too naturally for him to remember the precise
timing. Iqbal attributes this knack for writing to
his family environment, where 'reading' was very much
a part of life and 'writing', a passion every member
of the family shared. "In our house all of my
brothers (his elder brother Humayun Ahmed and younger
brother Ahsan Habib would become reputed writers)
and sister used to write, so 'I can write' was hardly
a revelation to me," Iqbal explains.
“We, brothers and sister, took to reading since our
early childhood. Our house was full of books, in fact,
the collection was, 'disproportionately larger', for
a middle class family as ours. When a new book arrived,
a fierce competition would ensue among us to read
it first. There were many books at home which all
of us including my father and mother had read and
enjoyed," Iqbal reminisces.
However, it was his father who had exerted the greatest
influence on him as well as his brothers and sister.
To such an extent did the influence work that they
discreetly vowed that when they would grow up they
would smoke, because they just loved to watch their
father smoking, “particularly the way he elevated
the task of smoke to an artistic level”. Humayun realised
the vow quite early and the younger ones also picked
it up in time.
A police officer by profession, his father was a great
connoisseur of literature and an avid reader. And,
it might take many by surprise, he was also an enthusiastic
writer. He used to write short stories, travelogue,
essays etc and in fact had a few books published.
During the liberation war when their house was looted
most of his manuscripts got lost. He spent most of
his spare time reading or writing, and sometimes reading
to the children who would sit encircling him. "One
of my fondest childhood memories is that of my father
reading to an eager battalion of audience comprised
of all of my brothers and sister," Iqbal recollects.
So did their mother. Iqbal's memory of those great
moments when his mother used to read to him from Thakurmar
Jhuli is still fresh and so are the effects they caused.
Young Iqbal's imagination would be greatly stimulated
by those fairytales; he would lose sleep at the ill-fortune
of the prince who had been transformed into stone;
his afternoons became gloomy for the princes who had
been kidnapped and imprisoned in the patalpuri by
the one-eyed wicked rakkhosh; and in his dream he
would undertake deadly missions to rescue the princes
from the prison. No doubt, Iqbal had his lessons to
fly on the wings of imagination in his early childhood.
Iqbal was writing off and on, more often just for
the fun of it and only occasionally in school magazines
and other amateur publications. Iqbal was at Dhaka
University doing Honours in Physics, when his first
story got published in the now-defunct but once the
most influential Bangla weekly magazine “Bichitra”.
But even before he could savour his achievement, one
of his acquaintances accused him of plagiarism. The
young writer's pride was greatly offended, but he
didn't know what to do to disprove the allegation.
“I thought the best way to prove my innocence was
to show more evidence that I could write,” and so
he started to write with mighty speed. Within a very
short time some half-a-dozen new stories were born,
and published under one cover. It was Iqbal's first
book, Copotronic Sukh Dukkhu. The book was a hit.
success of his first book not only healed his wounded
pride but, more significantly, it gave the aspiring
young writer great confidence in his ability. He now
sent Haat Kata Robin to the publishers, a novel, which
he actually wrote even before Copotronic Sukh. Very
soon his second book hit the market and fared even
better. Before he left for America for higher studies
Iqbal got another of his book published. It was 1976
when Iqbal went to the University of Washington on
a scholarship to do PhD. He then went to Caltech University
to do post Doctoral. Around 1989 he joined Bell Communications
Centre as a Research Scientist where he worked on
of course, never stopped writing. Though he had little
time after enduring long hours in classrooms and longer
hours in the laboratory, he always had time for writing.
Writing for him was the greatest refuge to escape
from homesickness. The very process of writing gave
him the opportunity to recreate the scenes and sound
of the homeland; thus enabling him to enjoy the familiar
fragrance of the soil, birds flying away along the
familiar skyline, rains creating that great familiar
symphony and all those simple pleasures of life he
had been sorely missing living abroad. But from time
to time he used to have a vague feeling, as if something
was missing somewhere. Perhaps he was suffering from
a lack of motivation, as he couldn't have the first
hand knowledge of exactly how his books were faring.
Suddenly something significant happened.
It was around 1988. He met writer Jahanara Imam, who
was on a visit in America. He introduced himself as
the younger brother of Humayun Ahmed, but to his great
surprise, she told she knew him very well. She also
mentioned she liked his writing very much and went
out of her way to find his books and read them. "I
was overwhelmed by such compliments from someone of
her stature," Iqbal recounts. He felt extremely
inspired, the way he never felt before. And suddenly
the mystery of his vague feelings was solved. What
he was missing was 'inspiration' or 'the feedback
of the readers', which Jahanara Imam had just showered
on him, unknowingly though. He now started to write
with renewed enthusiasm and by the time he came back
he had written 27 books.
1995, Iqbal finally decided to put an end to his expatriate
life, after 18 years. He joined Shahajalal Science
and Technology University in Sylhet as a professor.
At present he is the Chairman of the Computer Science
and Engineering department.
"But why did you come back?"
During the last eight years since his homecoming he
has again and again had to face this, what he feels,
a rather unsavoury query, from relatives, well-meaning
friends and interviewers alike. That he doesn't see
reason in such a question is obvious in the way he
answers it: "You ought to instead ask why I didn't
return after five years, the time I took to accomplish
my goal (obtaining PhD)." One reason for his
belated return is, he wanted 'to save some money'
before coming back. "But somehow my progress
remained disappointing on that account," Iqbal
what was it that was drawing Iqbal to his motherland
with such an irresistible force. Was it 'patriotism'?
Iqbal laughs. "It was just that I used to miss
Bangladesh badly. I heaved a sigh of relief when I
came back. It was as if I was again breathing freely,"
he tries to explain why he came back. There were other
reasons too which, through worldly eyes might seem
worthless, but with Iqbal's romantic temperament they
were invaluable -- rains and frog's croak. "Every
time it rains I cannot help thanking God for I am
here, in Bangladesh," Iqbal says.
And, of course, he never regretted his decision. Not
even when bombs were being hurled on my house and
I had to buy tickets for my family members using fictitious
names so that they could board the plane safely,”
he says in one breath. Iqbal refers to the brawl centring
around the naming of residential halls in the university,
where he was targeted for not complying with the illegal
demands of Jamaate Islami and other like-minded communal
Back home Iqbal discovers that he enjoys quite a sizeable
readership. In a couple of years' time Zafar Iqbal's
books were in the short-list of best sellers in the
Ekushey Boi Mela. He kept writing on…
Zafar Iqbal has established himself as one of the
major writers of contemporary Bangla literature. What
earned him the position? His greatest achievement
is that he has almost single-handedly borne the legacy
of that extremely rich genre of Bangla literature,
which we call 'children's literature'. This particular
stream in Bangla fiction had had the service of great
craftsmen like Dakkhinaranjan Mitra and Sukumar Roy
with Thakurmar Jhuli and Abol Tabol or
Hojoborolo marking the highest point of that
genre. A decade on another master arrived on the scene,
Satyajit Roy, the internationally acclaimed Oscar
winning filmmaker and an exponent in this genre, pushed
the limit of children's literature still further by
his detective (Feluda) stories. In comparison the
last two decades or so has experienced sort of a lean
period, at least when it comes to champions of that
stature just mentioned. There have been, to be sure,
some powerful, creative practitioners of this form
of literature, who might not have surpassed their
predecessors but certainly have carried along the
legacy of one of our richest treasures of Bangla literature.
Muhammed Zafar Iqbal certainly leads the pack. Surely,
Iqbal has written for adults, but his recognition
and fame rest on his works for children. (Out of some
84 more than 60 books are for children).
does he write for children? Iqbal believes it has
a lot to do with his own childhood. “Children are
naturally very sensitive and impressionable. Every
great book I read then had left a permanent impression
in my mind. An intense feeling of pleasure remained
in the heart for a long time after I finished a book.
When I started to write I remembered those feelings
of great pleasure and thought what greater achievement
a writer can aspire for than invoking those feelings
in a child as I had experienced in my childhood?”
Iqbal explains. It's very challenging and if popularity
can be considered a criterion, Zafar Iqbal certainly
has that the gift to handle that challenge very well.
It is almost impossible to read his children's fiction
and not wonder how a middle-aged man understands how
a child thinks and feels. The way he depicts the child
characters and their peculiar way of thinking, manufacture
their behavioural pattern go to show his great understanding
of child psychology. Perhaps this is what Masheed
Ahmad, means when she says. 'While reading his books,
it seems the narrator is a child'. Masheed, a 4th
year student of Mechanical Engineering Department
at BUET and a long-time fan of Zafar Iqbal, doesn't
take time to think when asked why she loves his writing
-- “I can easily relate these stories to my own childhood
experience. The pranks and mischievous acts that he
described were so interesting that as kids, we wanted
to adopt similar kind of tricks to bunk studies at
home.” The animated accounts of school scenes appeared
in many of his fictions. Another Zafar fan Subrata
Saha, Assistant Manager of Basic Bank remembers from
one of his most favourite 'Amar Bandhu Rashed',
“Reading Iqbal is like revisiting my sweet school
days. The classroom environment has been portrayed
so authentically that every time I read the book it
seems, I might very well have been one of those child
characters. Those universal school-boyish practice
of giving names both to classmates and teachers, the
hate-at-first-sight for the newcomer gradually transforming
into great friendship and the general ill-feeling
among average students for the first boy of class
so truly reflect my own school days”.
is another aspect of Iqbal's writing his fans love
very much. This is one quality common to all the three
brothers, (Humayun Ahmed, Zafar himself Ahsan Habib)
“Perhaps, this is in my genes,” Iqbal observes half-seriously.
And, he hastens to add, we come from an area (Iqbal's
home district is Netrakona) where people have a great
sense of humour. Be it the regular children's fiction
or science fiction, humour abounds in Iqbal's writing.
The reader finds it hard not to break into laughter
or at least a giggle at regular intervals. The book
which is most frequently named in this connection
is Bigyani Safdar Alir Moha Moha Abiskar.
This is the story of a crazy scientist who spends
years to discover the already discovered fact that
trees have life; equips his spoons with a tiny fan
so that when he injects it into jeelapis
they get cooled immediately; gives advertisement in
the newspaper looking for a monkey whom he wants to
assist him in his research, because a human assistant
might collaborate with the FBI and CIA and help them
getting hold of his invaluable discoveries. Harun-ur-Rashid,
a lecturer at Asian University, likes this character
of Safdar Ali very much: “Life wouldn't have become
so boring if there were a Safdar Ali around”. Masheed,
another admirer of the book, wonders why he doesn't
write such fiction any more.
branch of Bangla fiction Zafar Iqbal has immensely
contributed to is science fiction. He is perhaps the
first major author who has so extensively experimented
with this form and certainly the one who has popularised
science fiction among the mainstream readers.
What makes his science fiction interesting even to
those who have no knowledge of science is that he
never allows science to get the better of fiction.
His focus remains in the story and he exploits science
only just to create a certain kind of situation where
he wants to stage the original drama. One recurring
theme of his science fiction is the encounter between
the aliens and humans as well as the consequences
they affect. These encounters are imaginative manifestations
of the meeting between the present and the future
represented by the conflict between man and machine,
human values and superior intelligence. At his best
he can engage the reader and even make him feel the
tension. Though his science fiction is very popular,
some of his long-time fans feel that Iqbal is becoming
repetitive and sometimes predictable these days.
being a very popular writer Iqbal has also established
himself as a popular columnist in the last few years.
Iqbal, however, doesn't have great fondness for the
columnist title. "It seems to me that the only
task of the columnists is to find fault with everybody
and everything. They seem to be writing on everything
as if they knew everything,' he reasons. "I am
not a regular columnist. Sometimes one particular
event or another 'disturbs' me and on those occasions
I feel like sharing my views with my readers,"
he explains. At present he is writing on such a topic--
on the controversial question setting in the HSC final
where examinees were asked to write a paragraph on
At a time when newspaper columns are seen only as
another place of mud-slinging among the intellectuals
belonging to opposite camps, Zafar Iqbal is one of
the very few exceptions, who have managed to save
the chastity of his pen and has obstinately continued
to express his mind. Neither has he been cowered at
the face of continuous overt and covert assaults from
the communal might and has relentlessly espoused of
liberal thinking and secular beliefs. What distinguishes
Iqbal's columns from those of others is his courage
to say what he believes in. "Since I don't want
to be the VC, I don't have to bother who I am making
unhappy as long as I am writing the truth," he
The characteristic simplicity of his language and
clarity of perception give his columns an easy motion.
Like other columnists he never burdens his columns
with overdoses of information, neither does the reader
lose track in the maze of logic and references. Instead,
he brings in personal experiences and interesting
anecdotes, which make his writing very easy and enjoyable
his return Iqbal has been working for the development
of our IT (Information Technology) sector. He had
both the experience and expertise in this field and
he had before him the encouraging example of India,
where IT revolution has changed the lot of thousands,
not to mention the huge boost it has had to that country's
Unfortunately things didn't work the way it should
have been. Programmers have been created but the opportunity
to employ this workforce could not be worked out.
"The reason was our failure to create the situation
where we could develop software industrially,” Iqbal
specifies where we went wrong. The non-resident Bangladeshis
didn't do what the non-resident Indians did by 'bringing
in orders' from the big clients abroad.
communication gap between the client and the producer,
that was to be bridged by the expatriate Bangladeshis,
never really gave us the chance to develop software
industrially," Iqbal points out. The two successive
governments since 1991 also did precious little. In
the first place they were late to realise that the
potential of this sector remained short and even when
it did, it continued to act in its own usual wishy
washy, visionless way.
In his 25 years writing career he never won an award.
He however doesn't have any regret for that: “It also
has its advantages, I am often invited to various
children's programme and asked to distribute prizes
among the winners. On those occasions I can console
those who haven't received any prizes, saying that
I also never have got any.” He however is always receiving
the greatest award a writer can aspire for-- love
of his readers. Everyday Iqbal receives numerous letters
from his child admirers. In their flawed sentence
structure, faulty spelling, immature hand-writing
and inarticulate expressions they send lots and lots
of love for him.