Afsan Chowdhury

Humayun Ahmed: When the author and the reader became one

July 23, 2012

5Humayun Ahmed’s body belonged to the writer but the soul belonged to us. The man who for nearly four decades had painted with words the middle-class sensibilities of an entire people has passed away. It was not just grief for the departed but pain of the knowledge that no writer shall probably ever again depict so well what was in essence our own face, our fate, us.

On July 23rd we buried us.

* * *

Few deaths have been mourned this way in our history. A writer however great is limited by the responsibility to create, make sense, convey beauty of the craft — the very nature of his art. But Humayun Ahmed transcended that limit not through art but by writing in the same rhythm of the beating heart of his readers. His gift as a writer is not the point because he had become his readers through his work — the image the people had of themselves. They read him to affirm, confirm and ultimately validate the sprit and notion of a people.

Again, he was us.

* * *

Many years ago, in the mid ‘70s when his fame was just being established, he had in an interview said that his writing was unexpected. He was a brilliant student, better than brilliant a chart toper. His preparation was for the life of an academic. But he had become a writer and it had changed his life. He gave up that world to become a full-time writer and filmmaker and shifted his space.

It was also a transition for a man who was so dearly held in so many lives, a challenge to his own image. The academic who also wrote novels changed and became the new Bangladeshi, a far more dramatic character than the older image of the scribe who is slightly helpless, the harmless kurta-pajama type we are used to imagining. By adopting a new lifestyle, he killed the stereotype of the Bengali author. There were critics of that but as the subsequent events of his life show, he had gone beyond them all.

* * *

What prepared him for this role? He came from an enormously gifted family whose father was killed in 1971. He spent a part of the war days as a Dhaka University student, seeing firsthand the terror of that year. But he emerged with a great sense of the people in distress and joy and related to the extraordinary power of those who survive.

The events of 1971 were key to the understanding of his people and when he began to write, he became the writer who had as if read almost every personal diary that had been written. Art at some point of time became almost irrelevant because he was not doing literature but writing our autobiographies.

* * *

This was not skill but a gift and one cannot argue with that nor perhaps locate it in the literary world. He not only wrote stories that brought to life the nuances of the middle-class — educated, aspiring, agonized, dreaming but often not in control — he knew what the maladies of his class were. His readers knew that it was a mine where the treasures of their own self would be found. His two most noted characters — Misir Ali and Himu — are an amalgam of such insights as they traverse the dark part of the spirit and mind often in conflict with each other. It is no accident that Misir Ali explores the psyche trying to live with the normal, abnormal and the paranormal in the same plane.

It is no accident that Himu is capable of enormous internal conflict and absurd behaviour confounding the very same society and people that had given birth to him. It is by bringing together these elements that are common in our society that the author constructed the new world. In some ways, the author was like the fabled French author George Simenon, whose character Inspector Maigret tries to solve cases but in actuality is holding a mirror up to show who they all were. We shall never know where the characters ended and the author began. And that mystery made him so addictive.

* * *

Humayun Ahmed documented the rising middle-class more successfully than any writer in Bangladesh. He could communicate with his readers in an almost supernatural way. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay of an earlier era connected with the readers but not with images of their own world. Humayun Ahmed took the ordinary lives and made them look outstanding. He made the mundane fascinating and in doing so anointed the world of the real with the glory and permanence of fiction. Few writers have tried that, even fewer have been so successful.

* * *

Somewhere in some space the writer, the readers and the characters all met and each took the cloak of the other and became a little bit of each other. We mourn something far more significant than the passing away of a writer; we grieve the death of our collective imagination that was personified by this man. The time for a critical review of his work will be done later. Today it is about the sadness of his death. He and his readers had become one in his fiction. Today we bury that both.


Afsan Chowdhury is the Executive Editor of

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55 Responses to “ Humayun Ahmed: When the author and the reader became one ”

  1. napu ahmed on August 1, 2012 at 12:46 AM

    True we will not have him among us anymore but we definitely will remember him each and every day.

  2. rose on July 30, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    I did not read any of his books after Rumali. I began to dislike him since then. The book had almost a similar story as the writer’s life. He may be very famous but to his children he will always be the father who had abandoned his children.

  3. Mozammel Haque on July 25, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    He was a legend of Bangladesh.

    The most important factors which are found in his burial event is the model of teaching for our political leaders and they can adopt it for betterment of the nation.

    Marrying a daughter’s friend is not wrong but it leaves so much agony in private and family life — this we have seen.

    And the young kids left by the legend with his second wife will become a matter of burden for the young second wife in this era of freedom and liberty.

    The Nuhas Palli will become a matter of crisis if it is not declared as the trusty.

    Let us see the next the legend has left behind.

    This is the reality.

    God bless.

    • Nil on July 25, 2012 at 5:08 PM

      Please stop talking about Humayun’s past affairs. It has nothing to do with Humayun’s death but would only increase the pain of his daughters and first wife.

  4. russel on July 25, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    RIP Humayun Ahmed sir. He was a true entertainer. A writer who never dies and will be alive in all generations. I am proud that I witnessed a great writer in my lifetime.

  5. Razu Alauddin on July 25, 2012 at 2:03 AM

    It is the best article written so far on Humayun Ahmed both in Bengali and English. And extraordinary craftsmanship of this writing is simply fantastic. Thank you Afsan Chowdhury for such a profound, lucid and magical analysis of hidden significance of the real virtue of Humayun’s work.

  6. Waheed Nabi on July 25, 2012 at 12:24 AM

    Let us respect his memory and stay out of his family matters.

    • Nowrin on July 25, 2012 at 5:11 PM

      I completely agree with Waheed. Let the family members — both from first and second marriage — mourn in peace.

  7. banglafan on July 24, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    Very very sad ending indeed. The entire nation finally had to give in to a questionable decision on his burial place. Lingering doubts will persist as to the rationale behind the decision, why a seeming sensible proposition to bury him in an easily accessible public graveyard was so vehemently turned down. Anyway, people will remember the good for the good and the not-so-good likewise. Our hearts go out to Nuhash, Shila, Nova, and of course to Humayun Ahmed’s mother.

  8. Nil on July 24, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    Dr Jaffor Iqbal, we love your brother andd we don’t want to see any more drama — neither over choosing his burial place nor over his assets. Please make sure things don’t turn ugly and your brother become a laughing stock.

    • banglafan on July 24, 2012 at 6:32 PM

      The only way to avoid any drama and avoid things getting ugly over (distributing) his assets is to let Shaon have her way. Believe me, she will.

  9. Kabir on July 24, 2012 at 5:36 PM

    The country seems to have gotten over the death of Humayun Ahmed. Everyone is more interested at the drama over his dead body.

    • Abdallah Habib on July 25, 2012 at 1:23 PM

      One of the op-eds has served the role as the conscience of society in bringing to light, without hesitation, the ruthless inner-self of Humayun Ahmed and the “nawtanki”. To Gultekin, and her three children, Humayun was dead years ago when he decided to abandon them for a “nawtanki”. I ask where was his mother, Zafar and others when all hell broke loose over the heads of Gultekin and her children?

      Having lost his respect of Gultekin, Humayun can never rest in peace. He has lived true to the vagabond characters that he portrayed. What can society learn from one without morals and morality?

      Look at the end of such Fareedees and Humayuns. Is it not time for society to play its role. Which we must.

      The kith and kin must ensure that Gultekin and her children get their rightful share in the physical properties and “intellectual” rights of the writer.

      • Akram Hossain on July 25, 2012 at 5:35 PM

        This is a very objectionable comment. I don’t know how bdnews24 allowed this remark. Humayun Ahmed was a writer and we should critically evaluate his writings only. These type of personal attacks are in real bad taste.

  10. Tamanna Afroze on July 24, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    I don’t have words to express my frustration over the burial debate. How could the families resort to such irrelevant debate!

  11. Sakhawaat on July 24, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    My heart goes to his children. It was so sad see Nuhash crying over his father’s coffin!

    Rest in peace Humayun Ahmed.

  12. Turja on July 24, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    Such a great loss for the nation!

  13. Tawfique on July 24, 2012 at 5:16 PM

    Can’t help but feel sad and distressed to see the drama over Humayun’s burial. It was so not expected.

  14. Tonmoy on July 24, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    Thank god the drama is over.

  15. Tonmoy on July 24, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    What drama! This was most unexpected!

  16. Akram Ullah on July 24, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    Very sad to see the fiasco over where Humayun should be buried. This should have been the least of an issue. The whole country loves Humayun. What was his wife trying to prove here?

    It was a relief to see his children Nova, Shila, Nuhash acting sensibly and ending the drama that could’ve gotten very ugly. Thank you.

  17. Wasim Huda on July 24, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    I find Shaon’s pointing fingers at the children from Humayun’s first wife that they were nowhere to be found when Humayun was sick in very bad taste. Everyone in the country knows why they were not around. And everyone understands how sad and heartbroken they must be for not being able to be around their ailing father. Shaon needs to show a little bit of dignity here.

  18. Yasir Awal on July 24, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    Why did a state minister had to meddle in a family matter?

  19. Zia Akhter on July 24, 2012 at 4:53 PM

    A writer who lived to the fullest.

  20. Andaleeb on July 24, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    My appreciation for Nova, Shila and Nuhash. They didn’t linger the ugly drama that ensued over Humayun Ahmed’s burial spot. Thanks to them.

  21. MD. NASIRUL ISLAM on July 24, 2012 at 4:51 PM


  22. MD. NASIRUL ISLAM on July 24, 2012 at 4:48 PM


  23. Srabon on July 24, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    I really miss Humayun Ahmed, especially today. He could have written most eloquently and satirically the drama that took place over choosing his burial place.

  24. Himu @ heart on July 24, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    Only if Humayun Ahmed were alive today he could have written such an amazing piece on the battle over where he gets to be buried!

    But then again, if he were alive, this battle wouldn’t have taken place.

  25. Ananya Rahman on July 24, 2012 at 4:35 PM

    It was really sad to see the drama between the two families of Humayun. I am really glad it’s over, or is it? It’s still to decide how Nuhash Palli will be run from now on. Who gets what asset of Humayun.

  26. tanvir on July 24, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    The vacuum this great writer has created will be very difficult to fulfill.

  27. Latif on July 24, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    This was a very moving piece. Very timely written. I echo the writer – now is not the time to do critical analysis of Humayun’s writing; let’s just mourn the demise of this most renowned child of the country.

  28. Habibur Rahman on July 24, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    That a state minister had to get involved and mediate over where a writer would be buried was really surprising as well as frustrating. Do our lawmakers have such amount of free times at hand?

    We live in a strange society.

  29. Shajib on July 24, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Stop fighting over Humayun Ahmed. Let him rest in peace.

  30. Ananya Rahman on July 24, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    The tug of war between Shaon and the children from Humayun’s first wife was really pathetic. It wasn’t expected from a distinguished educated family like this.

  31. Tamara Almas Zakir on July 24, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    The drama over selecting Humayun Ahmed’s burial place was most unexpected.

  32. Sirajul Islam on July 24, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    We all love you Humayun Ahmed.

  33. Salekin on July 24, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    The best write up on Humayun’s departure – so far!

    Thank you!

    Can you please translate this in Bangla and publish for a greater section of us?

  34. Robin on July 24, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    My comment will be diametrically opposite to > 99% of all comments. To be candid, I never heard his name until two weeks ago. I came to know about Mr. Ahmed from my childhood friend who happened to be in the same Chemistry department. Both lived in Mohsin Hall but adjacent rooms. In 1971 Pakistan Army raided Mohsin Hall and picked up Mr. Ahmed. He was lucky and came back to Mohsin Hall after four days and completely shaken. He saw first hand Pakistan Army brutality.

    From what I have seen during the past five days, Mr. Ahmed must have been a popular man. What I read from online media, I will say Mr. Ahmed’s legacy may not be defined by his literary achievement. As I write this comment, a fight is ongoing for his dead body’s eternal rest. I see this to be a tip of iceberg of what’s coming. The ugly side of Mr. Ahmed’s personal life is unfolding. There will be lawsuits for his property and assets. If Mr. Ahmed’s dramas gave a lot of enjoyment to Bangladeshi people, the dramas that are unfolding will keep Mr. Ahmed in the limelight for a long time. The fight for his property and assets will probably shape his legacy.

    Quoting Rabindranath Tagore, “Kadombini (Mr. Ahmmed) proved after dying that she did not die.”

  35. Habibullah on July 24, 2012 at 12:29 AM

    Humayun Ahmed was a bit low coming to me. Not that his writings did not attract me. But it was that I was in the making as reader. What caused me to turn to him a bit unexpectedly was my elder brother who has been a reader of him having had all creations of this writer; though it was relatively no later than I got to college in 1993. This, to me, late arrival of him in me is what can be defined as ruler over the ruin. Consequently, what he has done for me is like commissioning a human existence in a society which I have yet to deny or am not convinced enough to be in it.

  36. Golam Arshad on July 24, 2012 at 12:16 AM

    Afsan: A Star of Stars in the literary canvas, a genius sparkling to the edges, living in life that never wanes. That was the miracle touch of Humayun Ahmed. May Almighty Allah rest his soul in eternal peace!

  37. Nakib Haider on July 23, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    Thank you for the piece Mr Chowdhury. Life of a Bangladeshi wouldn’t be the same without his writings.

  38. Tanvir on July 23, 2012 at 10:32 PM

    Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay of an earlier era connected with the readers but not with images of their own world. Humayun Ahmed took the ordinary lives and made them look outstanding — silly statement! Can you explain what do really mean by the word ‘outstanding’? ‘ but not with images of their own world ‘- while referring to Sharat Chandra,’ – makes no sense whatsoever!

    Confusing, misleading and pathetic article .

  39. Tamara Almas Zakir on July 23, 2012 at 9:16 PM

    Thank you Afsan Chowdhury for writing what all the devout Humayun fans feel today.

    Rest in peace Humayun Ahmed.

  40. Ferdouse on July 23, 2012 at 8:53 PM

    BTV should start airing Humayun Ahmed’s old drama and serials. Or release those in DVD format. Let not his work get ruined. Please.

  41. Ferdouse on July 23, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    I wish Humayun Ahmed could come back and explain how it feels to be dead. He could have explained the mystic event better than anyone, if given a chance. Wish he could…

    • Salekin on July 24, 2012 at 1:19 PM

      I agree 100%. If only he could send an e-mail stating what is afterlife!
      The Almighty is the biggest magician and Humayun was a blessed magician who has started his journey to meet his creator. Let us pray for him. Amen.

      • Saad on December 12, 2013 at 7:44 PM

        But unfortunately for you (and for him), your precious Humayun Ahmed did not believe in the afterlife. So after he died, he suffered the shock of his life when he was dragged up inside his grave and got beaten to a pulp. How do I know that? A person name Prophet Muhammad (saws) told us about it.

        Undoubtedly, Bangalees are capable of saying the dumbest things! Young man… if you want to know what the afterlife is like, read the Qur’an and Sunnah. You might learn a thing or two, but I highly doubt it given your horrendous intellect.

  42. Enamul Kamran on July 23, 2012 at 8:41 PM

    Humayun Ahmed should be buried in a public place where people have free access so that they can pay homage to their beloved writer in years to come.

  43. Chowdhury Abul Hasan on July 23, 2012 at 8:40 PM

    ‎”Nuhash Polli” should be the final resting place for our beloved writer. Family arguments over his burial would rather hurt his departed soul…

  44. aman on July 23, 2012 at 8:38 PM

    What is the drama over choosing Humayun Ahmed’s burial place? Please don’t show disrespect to this legend. His readers would never forgive and forget if the writer’s soul is hurt in any way.

  45. Dina Siffat on July 23, 2012 at 8:36 PM

    I can’t recall one writer in this subcontinent who has been so popular and whose books and writings made him financially wealthy.

    Humayun Ahmed was a magic maker.

  46. bashirul haq on July 23, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    The great son of this soil comes home. Let’s not make a fuss over where he should sleep. The whole country belongs to him.

  47. Andaleeb on July 23, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    Rest in peace Humayun Ahmed. We all love you.

  48. Abul Kalam on July 23, 2012 at 8:33 PM

    Afsan Chowdhury is absolutely right. Humayun Ahmed and the readers became one in the priceless books that the writer wrote.

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