Well-known art critic and founder of an art gallery called Shilpangan, Faiz Ahmed, in his eighties, has had a long and illustrious past as a journalist covering political developments such as the famous Agartala case, wounded in the War of Independence which he was actively involved in and later, a significant figure in Bangladesh's politics without becoming political
Faiz Ahmed. Photo: Star File
Speaking to the grand man of letters, Faiz Ahmed i.e. in the milieu of the art gallery, and later on at his residence at Ullash Community Centre near Sobhanbagh Masjid , one gathered about how he became a prince among aesthetes.
Delving into his cultural backdrop, and how he was exposed to books, paintings and other cultural aspects, the making of Faiz Ahmed is unearthed. He said his father was the house tutor of Bikrampur's Khwaja Nazimuddin and Khwaja Shahabuddin and their sister Almisi Begum at “Nawab Bari”.
When Khwaja Nazimuddin was at Aligarh University he went there to guide and tutor him furthermore. Otherwise, his father was a landlord or “zamindar” of a sort, which Faiz Ahmed traces a hundred years back, as he is well over eighty himself. “When
Nazimuddin was a politician; my father followed him to Kolkata. My father and elder brother were the greatest moulding factors in my life, my brother Nazir Ahmed Chowdhury being in the Bengal Civil Service.”
When asked how renowned journalists like Ataus Samd call him a sincere life-long friend, Faiz Ahmed explains “I sent him to Delhi when I was the Chief Editor of BSS (Bangladesh Shangbad Shangstha). He was the Chief Correspondent of my paper there. In this process his daughter, who was thyroid deficient due lack of mother's milk during the Liberation War of 1971 could have the necessary medical assistance. Samad himself covered the release of Bangabandhu; he accompanied him to London and later to Dhaka, Bangladesh.”
Tracing his career, Ahmed adds he was the Chief Reporter of “Shangbad” for years together and held the same post once at “Azad”. In China, he was the Head of the Bengali Section of Radio Peking, the first man to hold that post. Faiz ahmed was always politically oriented, well before the so- called 'Agartala Conspiracy'.
“I worked like the devil himself reporting from the Court in the Cantonment and writing till late beyond midnight for months together,” says Faiz Ahmed. I wrote a book on the experience called “Sheikh Mujib's Agartala Mamla”, which obviously sold like hot cakes. When I reported on the Sheikh's electioneering , and the following Liberation War of 1971. I took an active part in the Liberation Movement. Before this I had been wounded by a bullet fired at me by Pakistan Army soldiers in a passing tank. The original red building containing University Teacher's House, was under the then University of Dhaka, and had been built by the British in 1905. It is on the same venue that the present Press Club has been built. When Bengal was divided in the British Times, it was built for the minister's secretary's residence, now it contains the Present Press Club.”
“On March 25 night, returning home late, I was hiding in the first floor of the said club. Bullets had been fired from a small tank – the bullets are still preserved, I believe. At six am on the 26th, I fled and hid in a nearby building at the Secretariat. I was unaware that a curfew was on. There was no food available with the police, who had sheltered me. I was given a makeshift bandage. On 27th morning at about 10 am, the curfew was lifted, and people were fleeing in the streets of Dhaka, I stumbled and limped along too.”
“On the way, I was rescued by veteran journalist Enayetullah Khan (Mintu), and taken to a professional doctor, Dr Aziz, to be seen at a clinic at that time, bearing the name, ' Polio Clinic' near the Dhanmandi. I was with Mintu for three days, and then went from friend to friend seeking food and shelter. When Jinjira was attacked, and half the inmates had been decimated, I fled with yet another friend to a safer place outside Dhaka and worked for the movement, on my own.”
People like Kamal Lohani, in the village, where he fled to, took him across the border through Comilla to Agratalla. The Communist Party Bureau there asked Faiz Ahmed to stay on, as he was wounded, while others went to the refugee camp shelter. From there he went by air to Mujibnagar, Kolkata. Finding leftist individuals like Moni Singh, Rashed Khan Menon, Mujahidul Islam Selim etc. he tended to them. He later joined the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendro as their Special Correspondent, to cover the liberated areas like Khulna, Jessore and to report back to Kolkata. This he said was the best year of his life.
He was jailed for four years by the Pakistanis in Dhaka Central Jail and was sent to Ramna Thana for a year, in 1961. He then joined “Azad”. He covered the '65 War between Pakistan and India from Dhaka. After the War, he was taken to Pakistan to cover the war-ravaged areas in Pakistan and he was asked by the then government to write about it.
Faiz Ahmed has a compilation of a hundred books in all, based on current affairs; fiction, essays and poetry for children such as “Tulir Shatey Lori” and “Rim Jhim”. These are collection published by Haqqani Publishers, Dhanmandi.
What made Faiz Ahmed, who established the first private art gallery, “Shilpangan”, one of the best connoisseurs of Fine Arts? He was in China for two years; as correspondent for the various newspapers he worked for. He went to places like Cuba, Europe and the US, he says. In the process, he tried to see as many museums and art galleries as he could, he says. He personally knew the giants of Bangladesh like Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hasan etc – who were all this friends. He built the gallery to have a venue to project the cream of the artists in Bangladesh.
While loyal to his passion for art and projecting the art of his fellow citizens, his quiet activism has always been palpable throughout the years.