A Peerless Lyrical Genius
Dr. Syed Naquib Muslim
After poet Samudra Gupta, and producer-actor Abdullah-al-Mamun, we have lost another genius, a celebrated lyricist of the country. Mohammed Moniruzzaman, a lyricist, a poet, a scholar, and a Bangla teacher, passed away on September 3, 2008 at the age of seventy-two after a protracted illness. The demise of Monir has deepened the shock of a nation already bereaved for losing so many rare personalities in a span of a few weeks this year.
It was in 1968. I had first met Prof. Monir in the Department of Bangla. During breaks from work, I came across him almost regularly in the bookstores of New Market. Monirdriving a car bound for New Market to raid the bookstores in search of books and magazines was a common sight for us in those days. Since then, we became close to each other and used to meet occasionally at various cultural gatherings.
Academically, Monir was highly systematic and this earned for him the position of first class first in the honours examination in Bangla literature from the University of Dhaka where he joined as a teacher in 1962 and worked as the departmental chairman in 1972. After accomplishing Ph.D in 1969, he did return home to continue teaching without shifting his vocation to which he was genuinely committed.
Monir was every-inch a pacifist. Taciturn and an introvert, he was never found involved in open political activities and in joining any agitation programmes. Violence he shunned all through his life. If he had to raise any protest against any injustice, it was through his favourite weapon -- pen and poetry. Being an icon himself, he never chose to be an iconoclast. He perceived teaching as the principal responsibility of a teacher and, the ethos of a teacher consists of the professional commitment to his or her students.
The lyrics of our songs are one of the ways in which we can define who we are as individuals and as a society. To Monir, lyrics constituted the most powerful avenue to vent patriotic as well as romantic passion. As part of his style, he chose ordinary words so that people could relate to his feelings and messages. A solitary, shy person, Monir sought to communicate with his compatriots through his lyrics and through these he craved to unify the diverging sections of people. His love for his homeland finds its expression in the immortal song: “Amar desher matir gondhe bhore ache shara mon” (My entire mind is filled with the fragrance of my homeland's soil). As one listens to the tune of this song, one experiences an aura of a sublime serenity to be found only in perhaps, the poems of the English Victorian poet Matthew Arnold.
He was one of the pioneers in composing lyrics for the Bangla movies since the days of the then East Pakistan. He had the rare gift of empathising emotions and of visualising the tone of each episode and then compose lyrics precisely according to context. The popular songs like “Ossru diye lekha e gaan jeno bhule jeyo na” (Forget not this song of mine written with tears), and “Premer nam bedona she kotha bujhini aage” (Love is the other name of agony, that I did not realise before) are immortal. Minus tune-making, Monir is comparable only to the legendary musician Salil Chaudhury of India.
Like Nazrul, Monir had to stop writing prematurely as he had developed cardiac and renal complications that sapped his vitality as a prolific writer. Psychologists believe there are deep differences in the ways in which people approach and face life. We get baffled when find that greedy, dishonest people happily go on enjoying life whereas honest and innocent persons suffer either physically or mentally. However, Monir was willing to make adjustments to live the life without complaints; he never believed that life has to be negated and one has to be a fugitive to stay away from the perils and pangs of life.
Loved by colleagues, classmates, students and readers alike for his innate modesty and perennial smile, Monir never looked melancholic. His optimism, like Shelley and Browning, was mirrored in the lyrical lines that seemed to smile along with his lips and eyes. The blotless modesty of Monir was exemplified at a reception arranged by Jatiya Lekhok Forum in honour of him at the Public Library auditorium in 2004. A few songs composed by him were being sung alternating with speeches to shed light on the achievements of Monir as a lyricist. Rafiquzzaman, another popular lyricist and his younger brother were present on the occasion as an invitee. At one stage, a speaker remarked hinting at the superiority of Monir, “Rafique is not a parallel to Monir; he can never assume Monir's stature.” Moniruzzaman's ever-smiling face at once turned pallid, as he felt deeply embarrassed at this aspersion on Rafique. A chance for repairing the damage however ensued. When in my turn I was invited to speak as a special guest, I declared, “Moniruzzaman reigns in his realms and Rafiquzzaman reigns in his own domain. To me, both are equally superior and one needs not be compared with the other.” These words evidently fostered a healing effect and the typical smiling face of Monir got reinstated.
Monir was blessed with a loving life partner Rashida Dolly who kept on nursing her ill husband ceaselessly. Dolly was the centrepiece of his life, literally and metaphorically. In 2005, I along with my wife visited his Uttara house to seek his blessings on the eve of turning in my PhD dissertation. We found him jovial as usual although life in him was fast drawing to a close. To put him in an aura of nostalgic pleasure, I made superhuman efforts with my poor knowledge of music to sing a few of his popular movie songs. Lastly, in honour of him, I tried to sing Rabindranath's "Aaj tomare dektey elem onek diner pore” (Long time after have I come to see you). He gestured Rashida Bhabi to give him a copy of Gitanjalee ; he was following with all earnestness each stanza of the song line by line as I stumbled through singing. He did bless me touching my head like a sage blessing his devotee.
A nineteenth century art critic, John Ruskin claimed that he could tell people's personality by observing what made them smile and what made them weep. Moniruzzaman never wept but always smiled, he smiled even in his death. TS Eliot in the fifth part of his poem Burnt Norton writes,
“Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is living
Can only die.”
Monir is not living but his poetry and lyrics still move our mind and our memories and will do so till eternity. [Syed Naquib Muslim, Ph.D, is a secretary to the government and chairman, Bangladesh Tariff Commission]
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