In Search of a Story
Nusrat Jahan Pritom
Mahammad Hassan Begh, an emerging writer.
Bursting with enthusiasm, I was the one who implored for the interview of an underprivileged, devastated or desolate person. I walked out and realised that this was perhaps a prejudged choice. Once out, gazing across the ongoing scenario of people walking, talking, sitting, laughing, anything! -- that was when reality smacked hard. Things aren't quite the same there. Well, 'time might be a guide-line and with that thought I went on only to encounter fleeting disappointments. Maybe looking for a cow dancing ballet would've been easier to find! As a pair of eyes bore through individual to individual -- some bony, or sunburnt, weather-beaten, some looking very forlorn indeed; most looked too busy and too much in a rush to have a chit-chat with an overenthusiastic interviewer . The whole ratiocination of the matter hit me. How would it be? To find somebody who has nothing to be happy about -- to fire a dozen or two questions at him/her and then complacently walk away never to meet that 'stranger' again. All with a wide, elated-semicircle of a smile!
Somewhere near Dhanmondi Lake, a wrinkled, white-bearded man sitting all by himself with some paraphernalia caught my attention. After a few moments of hesitation, I retraced on my steps and found myself before him. Elderly, about 60 with a black shawl wrapped around, he had deep-set, twinkling eyes and a toothless smile as he agreed to have a conversation with me. "Why are you here alone?" I raised the question with raised spirit, assuming to have found whom I sought. His reply was direct -- he lived off other people. Second question -- does he have anybody in Dhaka? His answer was in the positive. Then I got somewhat business-like and plainly told him my purpose. That's when he went somewhat berserk and wildly shook his head. Bemused, I began to walk away when he called again -- this time the glow in his eyes was steely and stern. He inquired suspiciously, "Who sent you?" As if I was the latest female JMB bomber! I reinstated my identity as a journalist to him and reassured him that it was part of my work. The expression on his face told me that I was just wasting my time. I moved on with a self-conscious grimace, promising myself - never again! However, the next day I found myself in that same wild goose chase again.
Sometime around 8pm one Wednesday -- hoping to get a good reading, I asked the hawker for what's new and good in his stock. He showed me a few. Then, unintentionally, he practically handed me the story I was looking for. He asked me coolly whether I had read his book. His book! And much to my amazement, he showed me the book called Neetimala by Mahammad Hossain Begh.
This is how his story goes.
Muhammad Hossain Begh is a visionary. Born as the eldest son, he could never complete his studies. But he made sure that his six brothers and four sisters were not deprived of education. He has three daughters and a son. He maintains his family by working as a hawker of newspapers and magazines. Most people see such a trade with contempt. Yet writing is his raison d etre. He writes what he loves. He does not know what the effect of his poems might be but already he has received recognition from a segment of journalists, writers, poets, etc, who have known him.
His work per se is not sufficient for his family's needs. So much that he needs to rely on debts. "But those who know me, love me, that's why they give me," says an optimistic Mahammad Begh. His literary works have a shade of pessimism, but the positive outlook is definitely prominent.
With a limited income he somehow, managed to publish three books of poetry and two 'chotis' (leaflets). At present, he is working on his Mahakabya or epic. He writes with lucidity, about contemporary realisations. So, wake up honorary people of Bangladesh. Those who assumed the literati and the intelligentsia could only be confined to bourgeois circles and beyond that the leftovers are illiterate fools--think again. Here's a good reason why. This man who so far has composed, with ingrained talent, about 10,000 to 20,000 poems, in simple, eloquent language -- where nothing but a dream inspired him to proceed -- gives us a clue of what a 'mere' human can do if his/her motivation is positive. 'Goriber kotha bashi hole phole' (A poor man's words are taken into account once they are rotten).
So where can you find this remarkable man? He is in New Corner, Zakir Hossain Road, opposite Townhall, Mohammedpur. Sitting and waiting for those who want to know what he composed. Out of flustered curiosity as I asked him why does he not advertise or actively promulgate his writings to attract readers en masse, the reply I received was welcoming "When the moon will shine then everybody will get it (it's light)." Of course he would like his writings to reach everyone but he explains enigmatically, "There is something for everybody. It's about neeti (principles). With God's Grace, I shall proceed. I want to write more, but I need financial stability... I'll give my asset (of literature) to a nation who will give me a pecuniary asset in return." He adds that he does not want any monetary help for himself, he can carry on howsoever, but only necessitates "so that he can publish his works".
He entreats the readers not to feel disgusted by his identity as a newspaper hawker and back away but to give him the chance to show his talent.
"Amanush ke manush kora boro kothin kaj,
Nayyer cheye onnay beshi shara bishshe aaj.
Aparadh ke ghinna kora nayyer prothom kaj
Shobag hoi rongbaj shoyog peley aaj."
-Mahammad Hassan Begh.
So this was the story. Funny, I've known him over six months, but the whole matter of his poetic inclinations unfolded strikingly at the right moment. Maybe there is something called destiny. This man who lives an honest, noble life without cheating, robbing, somebody so artless and unpretentious, what does destiny hold for him -- isn't it a wonder?
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