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Thursday, November 29, 2012
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Waheedul Haque

Infusing the soul with melody

Waheedul Haque

There was a knowledgeable being that inhabited Waheedul Haque. He was into song, into all those feelings that contribute to the making of aesthetics. Tagore for him was a lifeline, to culture, indeed to politics. He was always humming a tune, on the rickshaw rides we took together on steamy afternoons, at his desk as a breather from the drudgery of writing editorials at a time when there was not much to write about. Tagore for him was a metaphor, for all the celebratory in life. And as a way of explaining away the darkness that enveloped Bengali society, it was Tagore he went back to. Which is when he broke into a soft rendition of ekhono gelo na andhar / ekhono roilo je badha.

Waheedul Haque was a stickler for purity --- in music, in writing, in the way men shaped thoughts in their chaotic minds. There was the pure Bengali in him, that sense of romance that made him sing aha tomar shonge praaner khela. The soul came alive when he spoke of love, when he dwelt on his interaction with Debabrata Biswas. And yet there was in him a true understanding of reality, on the ground and in the spaces beyond earth. He would often speak of physics, of mathematics, of the engineering that was destined to carry man beyond the frontiers of the planet he was born into and lived on. Imagine, said he, that the universe commences in you and then expands into the fathomless wonder that it is. Or turn that argument on its head. The universe, he was fond of saying, began somewhere out there in the vastness of time and space and then travelled light years until it found its symbolism in you. That was all he said, as I observed the azure sky looming up behind the giant façade that was --- and is --- the national museum in Shahbagh.

And then there was nature Waheedul Haque placed his faith in, or lived by. He once made a gift of an old book of trees, plants, roots and herbs to me. It was his way of informing me that all that needed to be turned into objects of medicinal value was to be found in the pages of those books, in the nature that it celebrated. With him I have walked through Ramna Park and Suhrawardy Udyan, in dripping rain, to learn from him stories of the life and birth of trees. He did not rest there. He went for an enumeration of their history. It was a stunning discovery, for in Waheedul Haque lay embedded a veritable encyclopaedia of knowledge --- of the stars in the heavens, of the reeds on the moist soil of the earth. He made friends with the young, with those young he thought were willing to be educated on the mystery of life and the devastating inexplicability of death. He was not willing to please anyone. He once told one of my colleagues, in public, that his pronunciation of English was embarrassing. And when a rising Tagore singer asked him if he watched her programmes on television, he was curt in his response. An artiste aiming for television was anything but an artiste, he said in quiet indignation. The singer was left red-faced.

You could go on and on about Waheedul Haque. In matters that had to do with religion, he brimmed over with questions. Araj Ali Matubbor was for him, as he was and remains for many of us, the quintessential philosopher. Ask questions, said he. You will not come by all the answers, but some responses could rise and flow, lava-like, into your little world. He had a healthy dislike for pretension, for intellectual parochialism. Freedom kept whispering around him, to tell him that beyond the constricting confines of modernity lay the expansive spaces of thoughts and dreams. He found those expanses in his journeys through the hamlets and villages of Bangladesh, building on the theme of culture he had inaugurated through the centenary celebrations of the birth of Rabindranath Tagore in 1961. His politics was leftwing, but he never for a moment fell for the illusion that this country was ready for socialism, for communism. That would take time, he said, as we popped peanuts into our mouths on a rainy twilight before the Teacher-Student Centre at Dhaka University.

It takes a brave man to refuse to have his body, post-life, concealed for all time in a quiet, soon to be forgotten grave. And so Waheedul Haque, in the manner of Araj Ali Matubbor, chose to have his mortal remains claimed by students of medical science. But his soul? The soft childlike laughter that he broke into over a little joke? The song he murmured as he reclined on his chair in his cubicle? The impeccable English he employed in his editorials, the urbane Bangla that punctuated his political commentaries?

These are memories that remain. These sum up the tumultuous poetry that Waheedul Haque stood for and, to a very large extent, came to personify as he trudged toward the point where mortality becomes the ultimate truth.

(Waheedul Haque --- music maker, journalist, scholar, aesthete, cultural guru --- died on January 27, 2007)

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