On the first anniversary of Humayun Ahmed’s death, ALAL O DULAL is publishing a translation of one of his earliest interviews– published in 1974 Bichitra, independence day issue. Published before he had become a phenomenal playwright for Bangladesh Television. Then, although he had merely written a few books at 25, one of his celebrated novels was making a big splash.
First anniversary of Humayun Ahmed’s passing
During my secondary school years I used to oppose my father and private tutors who were chain smokers, almost to the level of an antagonist, pointing out to them the bad effects of smoking and that they were harming themselves, others and the environment. But that was before I read Humayun Ahmed, through whose characters I visualised how satisfying (of course with an extra-sweet cup of tea) having a (Benson) cigarette would be and how stylish holding a cigarette might be. A teenager, who knew all the injuries smoking cigarettes could cause, but was still swayed to take it up just so that he could imagine himself to be one of those famous male characters of Humayun Ahmed’s novels.
So profound has been the impact of Humayun Ahmed’s books for many in our generations and perhaps in earlier generations. Debates exist, though about his novel’s position in the Bengali literary cannon, his popularity is undisputed. Below is my translation of his 1974 interview.
– Irfan Chowdhury
Humayun Ahmed: his words and his craft with words
Bichitra, 1974 Independence Day Issue
Translated for AlalODulal.org by Irfan Chowdhury
Humayun Ahmed is one of the most popular Bangladeshi writers. There is no doubt that alert readers would have read his novel Nondito Noroke. He won the hearts of all classes of readers by writing only one novel.
Although he is only 25 years old, four of his essays have been published already. They are: Nondito Noroke, Ochinpur, Tomader Jonno Valobasha and Shonko Nil Karagar.
Humayun Ahmed is from a solvent family, facing no financial challenges. Asked whether that is the reason for the absence of people’s economic situation in his writing, he responds that it could one of the reasons.He has not faced utter poverty.
How did he come to write Nondito Noroke? Humayun Ahmed says that during the liberation war his father was taken away and killed by the Pakistani Army. He was a police officer. During the occupied period he used to live in university dormitories. He was not able to concentrate on anything; mentally he was very restless, and sad of course.
To escape tough reality he started writing. Before this he was not used to writing.He wrote a poem in about 1965/66. He started writing during the military occupation period – Nondito Noroke is his first prose. When he finished writing it, he read the manuscript to a few co-students. Then came a disaster in his life – the military took him into custody. A few days later he was set free. That was an experience. He is currently writing a story based on that experience.
“Are your characters imagined or picked from people you know?” Humayun Ahmed wears thin golden frame spectacles; he remained quiet hearing the question. Then he said, it is true that characters known to me have influenced most of my writing, but none are reflected completely as they are. For example, Rabeya, in Nondito Noroke – this character is not wholly imagined, there are similarities with a real-life character that he has come across.
He mentions that his hobby was to practice magic. He can perform ‘the planning game’ well. As he speaks he shows a magic trick with match sticks, drawn out of a matchbox from his pocket; he makes a coin disappear and brings it back. He also practises astrology, he says. As a student he has read many palms – he used to charge two packets of Gold Flake cigarettes per person, so during student life he did not have to buy cigarettes for a long time.
How did his work get published? All credit goes to Ahmed Shafa, without whose efforts he doubts whether any of his writing would have been published. He expresses deep gratitude and he is indebted to him.
“What has been your readers’ reaction to your writing?” What can he say about readers’ reactions to his work? However, he gets letters from them. They express many issues: some write about failed love, some write about social, economical and mental difficulties. Recently, he received a letter from a couple requesting him to name their first child – he gave them a name. Do you know that many confuse him with the Daily Bangla’s Ahmed Humayun? Some send their poems and short stories asking for help to publish them, some to edit and correct.
“Do you respond to everyone?” Yes, he does. It is very difficult but still he does it. He considers this a solemn duty.
“Do you send your writing to publishers as soon as you finish it?” No. First, he reads it to his family members once he has finished writing. He listens to what they have to say. Then he makes changes if he thinks they are needed.
“Do you write regularly?” Yes, he writes regularly, almost everyday. But he does not send as many to the publisher as he writes.
“You are a professor. Do you like professorship?”
He is basically a good student. He has always been attracted to study, from childhood. The library in his home is quite big. It has been there since his paternal grandfather’s time. He spent days, weeks, months and years of his childhood in that library.
He never dreamt of becoming a writer, but he always dreamt of becoming a professor. In 1965 he secured second position in the Matriculation Examination with letters (80% or above marks) in five subjects. He passed H.S.C with 80% marks in all subjects. In Honors he was first class third, in M.S.C he was first class first – should he be saying all of this? What he meant to say is that he had preparation to be a professor. These achievements are, of course, not related to literature – and he does not know whether we should think too much of them.
“Have you ever fallen in love?” The beauty of many girls has charmed him but he assumed that he had one love affair with a neighbour who would never forget. But, a few days ago in a letter she said that she respects him as a senior brother.
“Do your students know your writer-self?” Humayun Ahmed says it does not seem so. Those who know do not say anything. After a pause, he says he wants many to know ‘Humayun Ahmed’. He feels very happy when a stranger recognises him. This inspires him to write.
This is a translation of a Humayun Ahmed interview published in 1974 Bichitra independence day issue. AlalODulal acknowledges Arif Syed for sourcing the scanned Bichitra pages. Translator Irfan Chowdhury is a member of of Editorial Board of AlalODulal.org.
Scanned Bichitra pages: