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Deyal-by-Humayun-AhmedThe Attorney General and the High Court are in agreement that a recent novel, Deyal, being written by popular novelist and filmmaker Humayun Ahmed contains some historical inaccuracies that should not be read by the people of the country. The honorable Court does not think that some facts on a historical event mentioned in this novel exactly match the version of the history our government as well as the Court believe to be the correct version. Press reports say that the novelist agreed to change his novel as directed by the honourable Court. Millions of fans of the novelist are eagerly waiting to read the government approved, High Court certified version of the upcoming historical fiction. Literary critics have no doubt that this new fiction of Humayun Ahmed will also enthrall its readers and will be a bestseller – just like all the other work by the author.

If that was all there was to it, if the event mentioned above ended the story, if the implication of the state and court action ended at this point of history – then there would not be any need for an op-ed piece.

But it is very likely that the precedence the honourable High Court has just created will have reverberating effect on the future of literary freedom in this country.

There is hardly any literate Bengali on both sides of the border who did not grow up reading and appreciating the heart wrenching melancholy of Mir Mosharraf Hossain’s classic “Bishad Shindhu”. This historical fiction gives us a version of history that pretty much demonizes Yazid and Mu’abia. A dispassionate historical analysis most likely will not be as black and white as depicted by Mir Mosharraf Hossain. With growing religious intolerance and widening scope of sectarian fighting in the Muslim world, what if, in a few years an Attorney General who is deeply indoctrinated with Ahle Sunnah, Wahhabi or Salafi lineage of thought process, feels that Mir Mosharraf Hossain did not do justice to historical facts? What if this hypothetical Attorney General argues that Mir Mosharraf was either a Shi’ite or was a believer of Sufism and the book “Bishad Sindhu” either needs to be corrected for historical accuracy or be taken away from public circulation and sale? In such a situation, the “Deyal” verdict will act as a precedence and guideline.

Let’s consider a different example.

Sunil Ganguly in his famous historical fiction “Purbo Poschim” had one of his main characters describe late President Ziaur Rahman Bir Uttam as a ‘reluctant freedom fighter’. Half the nation as well as the leadership and activists of one of the two major political parties of Bangladesh, BNP, strongly disagree, believing Zia to be the most prominent leaders of our war of freedom.

We have seen Justice Fayezee type judges in the last BNP era. What if a BNP appointed Attorney General and a new honourable High Court bench uses the precedence of “Deyal” verdict to deal with their perceived historical inaccuracies in Bangla classic “Purbo Poshchim”?

It is true that fiction writers have to remain answerable to history when they write history-based fictions. But that does not mean historical fictions are history book themselves. And historical fictions should never replace history books. Novelists, for the sake of the storyline, may indulge in varying degree of infidelity to historical facts. That is a novelist’s literary prerogative.

* * *

15th August of 1975 is one the saddest time in the history of Bangladesh. No doubt Humayun Ahmed’s literary skill will help people appreciate the depth of the sadness and the loss for the nation. The book is not available to us yet. But in recent reviews of the manuscript published in a vernacular daily, Professors Anwar Hossain and Syed Monzurul Islam assure us that the novel, except for a few factual deviations and mischaracterization of Lt Col Faruq, will correctly put everybody in their respective places. They went on to clarify that the novel did everything to uphold the sky tall stature of Bangabandhu Mujib.

The reviewers also stressed that the novel depicts Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf and Col. Taher in very positive light and Dr. Anwar Hossain (Brother and ex-political comrade of Col. Taher) approved the characterization. From the reviews published in daily Prothom Alo, we also gather that this novel puts late President Ziaur Rahman back to the place in history where he belongs.

When Dr. Anwar Hossain feels complacent at Humayun Ahmed’s treatment of Ziaur Rahman, one gets a reason to be concerned at. It is clearly known where Dr Anwar Hossain stands vis-à-vis 1975 and Ziaur Rahman. There is a serious attempt to rewrite the history of 1975. In that revised black and white history; Col. Taher, Brig. Khaled Mosharraf, Col. Haider, and Col. Huda – all are in one side of the conflict – they are the good guys. On the other side – the bad guy is Ziaur Rahman. Although this history cannot be farther from the truth, this is the version of history our government approved and promotes. Humayun Ahmed has every right to believe Prof Anwar Hossain’s version of our history and he may be writing “Deyal” from that conviction. Or is he unnecessarily putting himself in the foray by agreeing to write on a very contentious period of our history?

As we wait to read the novel, it seems this novel will pass the kosher standard set by our current government and is about to earn court certification for historical accuracy. But it will remain a question whether Humayun Ahmed’s novel will pass the standard of literary honesty. Ultimately it will be up to the readers how they will embrace the novel.

Rumi Ahmed, a blogger and rights activist writes from Florida, USA.

15 Responses to “Halal novel”

  1. Robert Imam

    What if the novel was released in a digital form – a website?

  2. Hossen M. Zakir

    Ever since this issue came out, I had been waiting to know the novelist’s decision. Apparently, he had three options: (1) revise the novel, (2) refuse to revise and face any repercussion thereof (3) do not publish the novel.

    So now I know, as has been reported here “Press reports say that the novelist agreed to change his novel as directed by the honourable Court.”

    I am not going to read this novel knowing that it is not something originally intended by one of my favourite novelists. If the revised version is appropriate, there is definitely something wrong with the original version and vice versa. So, the novelist has either written an inapt piece (the original one) or has compromised his skills (by agreeing to revise). None of these attributes should be rewarded. So if this novel comes out as a bestseller, it will be a real paradox.

  3. saifur rahmana tapan

    In fact, truth always prevails in the long run — especially in terms of history. Revival of Bangabandhu demonised for long since his assassination provides us a poignant pointer to this. So I am always in favour of allowing interaction between different perspectives of historical facts. The court has indeed little to dictate anything here. Of course, like anyone else, it owns the right to put its observation but not a verdict in this regard.

  4. Rezaul Karim

    Col Faruq fooled the Awami League and Rakkhi Bahini with 40 tanks, but he could not fool Gen Zia and his war experienced and faithful infantry troops. Khaled Mosharraf and Taher tried to fool Zia and paid with their lives. If Col Faruq was patriotic, he would have acted like Gen Suharto of Indonesia. Gen Suharto deposed Soekarno (father of the nation) and kept him in a comfortable house arrest till his death. Suharto’s army killed 4,00,000 people but they did not kill their ‘father of the nation’. In Pakistan there have been many military coups but I have not heard of troops killing one another while in uniform. Our history reflects our national culture, even after a bit of censorship.

  5. Golam Arshad

    Rumi: Viva our judicial system. Let the court decide anything and everything having lost faith in People’s Representation.

  6. Kazi Saifuddin Hossain

    I don’t think ‘Bishad Shindhu’ will be banned by anyone, except the militants! Under the present system it is absolutely impossible.

    However, there is incorrect information about the Ahl-i Sunnah. It is the faith (aqa’id) and traditions (sunnah) of our Prophet (salaams upon him). The word ‘ahl’ in Arabic means people, and ‘sunnah’ means traditions of the Prophet. People who adhere to the traditions of the Prophet are called Ahl-i Sunnah. So they are not a sect within Islam. And they respect the Sufi Gnostic, too; because Sufism is an integral part of Islam.

    Kindly search for Internet links on Sufism, if you want to know more. Thanks.

  7. Sanjida Khatun

    Thank you for writing this. It is very difficult saying anything about the High Court and about arbitrary orders. It’s good to see someone breaking the silence and spelling out the dangers in this for our society.

  8. Dr.Dilip Kumar Bhattacharjee

    Prof. Syed Manzarul Islam is my childhood and adolescent hood buddy. He reviewed my first Novella (Manuscript) WHEN WE WERE SCHOOL STUDENT. I adore his literary and unbiased judgement. I know nothing about DEYAL. I have immense respect on present Honourable Judiciary system of Bangladesh. I hope Mr. Humayun Ahmed will gift us a novel full of literrary fervour and historic flavour.

  9. M.Mozammel

    Rumi’s remark about the history and fiction cannot be denied.
    Because fiction writer and history writer are different.
    One grows with imagination and the other has no option to do this.
    The history writer writes on the facts and findings.
    So the fiction writer should have no boundary limit for imagination.Still there is something he should consider i.e. the reaction of the public or readers and this is the main fact.

  10. Mohammad Zaman

    Well, Humayun Ahmad is not writing a so-called ro-man a clef representing historical event in disguise. He is using real names and real timeline. So accuracy of events is important but not necessary. Readers know that Humayun Ahmad writes fiction, and a little fiction in a FICTION is okay…


    But the injection of the “honorable” court is very unnecessary. And the precedence may keep the unnecessarily court busy in future.

    As you alluded to the concoction of Mir Musharraf Hussain. Soon, some historically astute histrionic can ask the court to ban “Bishad Sindhu”.

  11. fugstar

    It’s all a bit of a stitch up really? A whole middle/political class stuck on replay golps of nightmares past and ego.

  12. Saif Khan

    Very well written, logical and insightful article. AL now acts like “Big Brother” watching and controlling any and all activity that takes place in Bangladesh.

  13. Md. Khalequzzaman

    Humayun Ahmed has received so much help, financial assistance, and favors from the current government that he probably feels obligated to pay off some his debt, which is fine except he shouldn’t try to call his novel a piece of literature. He should, if he is honest, put the testimonial at the beginning of his novel that it is his way of paying off his debt to this government.

  14. sumon anam

    A good perspective been brought here by the author. I remember reading a book sometimes back called “Cratch er Cornel”, meaning “the Colonel with a Cratch”, which had all the events of post liberation and during the 75 period been described.The protagonist of the book is slained Colonel Taher. My only immediate observation on the book after reading it that it cannot be claimed as a Novel as the literary value was totally absent. It has some merits to be calld as “elaboration of a particular part of history”.

    I hope Mr. Humayun will not slash off the asthetics from “Deyal” to comply with the court’s interference to the literary world too.

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