Today, my facebook page was a collage of grief. Every single friend of Bangladesh origin had something to say about the death of Humayun Ahmed — some sadness to share, some feelings of loss to express.
My friend Arif is a busy surgeon in Dhaka; his fondness of Humayun Ahmed sometimes tends to cross the limit of normalcy. He calls me around 2:20 Eastern US time, 12:20 at night Bangladesh time. He is angry. Using all his surgical terms, a pure doctor to doctor thrashing is thrown at me. “Why the damn surgeon in America did do the anastomosis so quickly — who does not know it would leak, perforate! Why the surgeon did not keep a colostomy/ ileostomy loop for a few weeks before doing the end to end anastomosis? They have experimented on him!” I try in vain to explain that the procedure that was performed on Humayun Ahmed, was by no means an experimental procedure. It was a state of the art standard procedure, backed by robust research data. It is bad luck for Humayun Ahmed, his family and the people of Bangladesh that his surgery went wrong. This happens only in a very small minority of the patients. Infection inside the belly overwhelmed the whole body, a deadly condition called “severe Sepsis” developed. Unlike most others, Humayun Ahmed’s condition kept on deteriorating instead of improving. Severe Sepsis led to a multitude of other deadly conditions. These include ARDS causing his lungs to fail — respiratory failure. One after another organ started failing. A domino effect. Kidney, heart — acute kidney failure, acute circulatory failure — all the organs started failing one by one. A breathing machine was doing the work of the lung, a dialysis machine would replace kidney’s works, some medications will be infusing directly inside the heart every second to keep the blood pressure from dropping to zero and the heart going. When the body is in such a frail condition, the floodgate for infections open up, one after another presumed stubborn infections keep on attacking the body. A combinations of critical care doctors, dozens of specialist physicians one for each organ, highly skilled nurses, bunch of machines — dialysis machine, breathing machine, this and that — keep locked in a relentless battle with death. Death eventually prevails. I try to explain to Arif — all my explanations go in vain. I give up. Like a good listener, I listen to his expressions of loss, his despair, hopelessness, anger.
Every Bangladeshi feels the same way today. They all recall, like me, how all week they waited for Tuesday 830 PM. BTV would show Humayun Ahmed’s first drama serial “Ei Shob Din Ratri”. There will not be too many educated Bangladeshi who has not read Humayun Ahmed’s books. People say Humayun Ahmed created book readership in Bangladesh. But Humayun said, he created readership for his book only. It was more of a rule than exception that one reader would feel the bond only with Humayun Ahmed books, not even knowing the names of any other literary figure in Bangladesh. Humayun created his readers, his followers, his fans — he made millions of Bangladeshi fall in indomitable love with him.
In his TV characters like Baker Bhai, Tuni, Chhoto Mirza; novel characters like Himu, Misir Ali, Fiha — he created a phenomenon. An intense emotion evoking following. This level of authority in playing so easily with such vast number of readers’ minds is a rarity in modern day literature.
Little Tuni of “Ei Shob Din Ratri” drama serial dies while being treated for cancer in Germany — when the death news comes via phone at midnight — all of Bangladesh cries. Today, all of Bangladesh again cries when the death news of Humayun Ahmed himself, getting treatment of cancer in USA, comes via phone at midnight.
TV news dominate this news, talk shows stop their nightly political pechal and instead mourn Humayun Ahmed. Newspapers make headlines. Reminds me of death of poet Nazrul. A leading Dhaka newspaper made a banner headline, “Ghumiye gechhe shanto hoye amar ganer bulbuli”.
Few other figures adorned our literary sky as brightly as Humayun Ahmed did. Not going into comparison, it can be safely said that like the way Robi Thakur shone light on and influenced all literary acts in Bengal for at least half century after his death and still doing, Humayun Ahmed was our Robi Thakur. ‘Our’ meaning the generations of Bangladesh growing through ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s to the beginning of this century. When we wrote a prose, when we wrote few lines to express ourselves, subconsciously we adopted Humayun Ahmed style non formal mode of writing. Humayun Ahmed revolutionised our TV drama culture. He made people go to theatres and watch movie. Again not going into comparison, during contemporary period, only one other cultural figure with such multitude of talent, from the other side of Bengal, may be credited to impact the people of Bengal so deeply, so immensely. This other figure is Satyajit Roy.
Reading Humayun Ahmed very closely, all of his avid readers will note that it seemed he knew about his imminent death throughout the last year. He was talking more and more about death. He was very eager to take as many photos as possible with his toddler age boys — keep as much memory as possible for the boys. Many in Bangladesh may not have liked some of his acts in his personal life, some did not approve the way he treated his daughters. Yet they could not stop loving this man. May be some of his later year writings were not as immense as his earlier writings, some might have created some unnecessary controversy — all these are small drops of sand in a vast ocean of boundless love for him.
We will miss Humayun Ahmed. We do not know when there would be another author for whose writings only we will buy the Eid issue of periodicals. We probably would have to wait long time for more dramas like Ei Shob Din Ratri, Kothao Keu Nei, Bohubrihi, Ayomoy, Shomudra Bilash Pvt Limited, etc. Our Ekushey Boimela will be less attractive for many more years to come. Without new books of Humayun Ahmed, whose books people will line up to buy and the publishers will pile up to sell?
Yet, unlike most others, his physical death will not take him away from us. His creations will adorn our book shelves for ages to come, thanks to ever improving technology, his dramas, movies will keep being played at our homes. Once we come out of the intense sadness at the loss, we may be able to think a bit more rationally. Humayun Ahmed left the world at the peak of his popularity, career, and creativity. If we can stop thinking about the little boys and young wife he left behind, we can console ourselves thinking that this man lived a full, productive, celebrated life. He wanted to live his life to the lees, and indeed he did. Isn’t it the best way to depart?
Humayun Ahmed wanted to live many thousand years. In his books, songs, dramas and movies, he sure will live many thousand years more.
Rumi Ahmed, a blogger and political analyst, writes from Florida, USA.