Winter is a season for remembrance of the dead. There is something about the bleak skies and the gloomy fields bathed in mist that make you recall the faces of those you loved, the words, the gestures, the smiles that once formed part of your life's embroidered quilt. As you remember, you know somewhere deep inside you that the moment approaches when you will be joining those also have passed on. The thought passes. And you reflect on the friend who ought to have lived long, for he was a poet, a good soul, a man in whom simplicity of heart combined with profundity of soul to reveal a creative imagination. He looked at the sky and discovered a thousand dreams etched among the clouds. In the fall of the rain, he understood the continuum of Creation, marvelling at the wonders that served as the fundamentals of life.
He will not observe the skies any more. Or write poetry any more. Or discover meaning in the rains again. A quiet, lonely night in August carried him away, into the ages. That is the tragedy. And do you understand a tragedy that can be bigger than his passing into the infinity of time and space? It is to know that you did not know he was gone, that his remains have lain in the grave without intimations of his mortality having reached you. On a day of luminescent sunlight, you call, to surprise him with your voice, to let him know that you are back from a foreign land, that you are ready to connect with him once more. You think of the last time you saw his cheerful countenance, on a sizzling July night as he happily dumped you with a gift of a pair of jackfruits brought all the way from his wife's village for you. You loved those fruits, the sheer magic of taste in them. The phone rings, as you wait for him to pick it up. It is picked up, by his child, his well-brought up, intelligent daughter. You ask for her father, your friend. She tries not to choke as she informs you, simply, that he was dead, had been dead for months. The sun is suddenly not luminescent any more. Darkness darts swiftly through the alleys of your mind and images of old, shared laughter rise in fragments out of the remembered lanes of memory.
He was the friend you went to college with, all the way, on foot and sometimes hanging by bus doors, in the unforgotten youth of life. He would speak of poetry, would tell you what imagery had made its entry into his creativity in the night just gone. Would you like to read it? The way he asked you that question, the expectancy on his face as he waited for an affirmative to emerge from your lips was what you noticed. You could not say no. And you said yes. In the late afternoon, as you sipped tea at his home in Malibagh Chowdhuripara, he went fishing for the poetry, something he always did, under his pillow and then everywhere in the room, embarrassed that he could have misplaced it. He would go on, and only when a smile, beatific in every way, suffused him again would you know that the lost poem had been retrieved. It was poetry sheer and purposeful. He wrote in defence of dying causes. And he wrote of the love that rose and fell in the bosoms of pretty women. He ought to have had someone to love, a woman to share his poetry with. All his women were imaginary beings, inhabiting his verses, pure in essence and substantive in thought. Years later, he would find the beautiful Rehana who would be his wife. They would marry and then fall in love. The upshot was their beautifully cerebral daughter Noirita.
My friend has now moved to a higher home. Photo: Lubna Sharmin
My friend the poet worried about Rehana, about the ailments that sometimes kept her down. She was his world. And Noirita was the primordial heavens in which he observed a thousand stars gleam on monsoon nights. There was in him an acute sense of the aesthetic, of the kind that reveals a state of innocence in men at their wits' end trying to come to terms with times drowned in banality. His politics remained a matter of principle, the principle being the spirit of 1971. Like millions of other Bengalis, he saw the country slipping from the grasp of those who had waged war in its defence in a long-ago season of light and shadow. The long litany of murder, in politics and in the military, of the leading lights of Bengali nationhood, left him deeply saddened. And yet he went looking for hope in the darkest of the forests that kept sprouting around us. He listened to songs. As a man defined by poetic sensibilities, he plunged into the poetry of other men and came away re-infused in the belief that literature could open up a brave new world for all men of troubled conscience.
Chowdhury Akhtar Anwar, with whom I once walked in the rains and sat through unending cups of tea at cheap roadside restaurants, has gone missing for all time. I will not feel the vibrant laughter that was his when things of cheerful note touched him. He and I will speak no more of Bangabandhu, of the day when we dropped our textbooks to the ground because we wished to wave at the Father of the Nation passing by. Bangabandhu waved back cheerily. Akhtar and I went home, with that certain spring in our steps.
My friend has now moved to a higher home, there where God and His angels cause spiritual brilliance to gleam brighter for those who once made us happy in our mortal, mundane world.