Running into old friends is always a happy affair. Last week, it was sheer pleasure coming across Shamim Azad just outside the venue of the Ekushey Book Fair. She had come out of it and I was about to go in. Shamim Azad, whom I have known for a long time, especially since I was introduced to her in London twenty years ago by my teacher and her academic batchmate professor Syed Manzoorul Islam, is an academic and writes riveting poetry. A few years ago, she and I shared the stage at an Ekushey program at Bangla Academy. Last year, on my trip to London, she wished to have me on a show she hosts on a Bengali television channel. Somehow, because we had conflicting schedules, it did not quite work out.
But meeting her last week was a joy, not least because of the good cheer and the smiles and laughter which have always defined her being. Indeed, it is the smiles on the faces of people that draw us close, and closer, to them. Add to that all that heavy dash of intellect and you have your day made. Mujtoba Ahmed Murshed writes poetry and fiction that are remarkable for their themes and imagery. Looking at him you would never guess he is in his midfifties. He remains young, remains handsome and is a constantly moving stream of poetry. When we ran into each other at the Ekushey book fair last week, it was a long conversation, interspersed with humor that was the result. At one point, we made it to Pathak Shamabesh, to lose ourselves in the ambience of books again. Mujtoba belongs to that class of creative people for whom humility remains an integral part of life.
The Ekushey month is always a season of remembrance and revival. The remembrance is of the young men who fell in defense of our national language decades ago. The revival springs from that remembrance, to remind us that ours is a cultural heritage which reinvents itself all the time as it goes along. Pathos and humor and seriousness of purpose are some of the underpinnings of that heritage, as my friend Andaleeb Rushdie keeps demonstrating in his works. A wellknown former civil servant, he is an absolutely good conversationalist, a raconteur as it were. We usually meet at the lunches so generously arranged by the other Badrul Ahsan, he who happens to be a Mohammad, I being a mere Syed. Those luncheons are great affairs, with all those anecdotes flowing into the room as afternoon slowly circles toward early evening.
The former actress Kabori, who has had a stint as a politician, launched her memoirs last week. It was a huge crowd, for reasons related to her celebrity status, which gathered at the launch platform at the Ekushey book fair grounds. She has been my very good friend for the past many years and I put that to rather good advantage when I procured a copy of her book and had it autographed by her. Whenever Kabori and I meet, it is her old movies, or specifically the song sequences in which she appears, that I go back to. I remind her of the songs, solo as well as duets. The effect is quite pleasing, for she then begins to hum the songs.
Another artiste for whom I have always had the deepest respect is Shabnam, who does not at all appear to have aged in the way so many other people have. A few weeks ago, I missed meeting her when I found myself trapped in a road jam. She and some of my other friends, who had been at a social reception, had all left by the time I finally made it to the venue.
Friends are treasures if you can live up to their trust and earn their respect through showering respect on them. Rummana Chowdhury makes it a point every winter, in the nature of a migratory bird, to travel down to the home country all the way from her adopted homeland in North America. Her arrival energizes all her friends, for her electric energy ignites the old fires of companionship they --- men and women --- shared in their youth. She writes poetry and fiction and has her works launched in Dhaka, which speaks of the creative faculties that have consistently underlined her personality.
And then there are the friends whose absence, through mortality or through distances of geography, it telling in intensity. A good number of my friends --- Kabiruddin Chandan, Ali Ahsan, Sirajul Islam, Chowdhury Akhtar Anwar, Khadija Shahjahan --- have gone to their graves. Chandan dripped poetry; Ahsan was a humorist and so was Islam; Akhtar had an infectious presence; Khadija Shahjahan was a beautiful poet who died too early.
Shah M. Hasan is in distant Ohio; Mansurul Hasib too is in America and so is Jainul Chowdhury. I miss the Mascarenhases --- Brian and Sylvy and Caesar and Patsy. Shekhor makes music in New Zealand. Ainon meditates in faraway woodlands.
If all this is a story, go ahead and read it, if you will.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is the Associate Editor of Asian Age