Poet Rafiq Azad’s passing on March 12, 2016 begins the departure of a generation of litterateurs who crafted some of the finest poems of their time, but who were also caught in the middle of a major socio-cultural transition.
He belonged to an era when poetry was king, and being a poet was enough of an achievement, an act in itself, which gave a person the right to any kind of lifestyle. They were a bunch of vagabonds by choice in the footsteps of the French greats like Baudeliare and others. Hard-drinking, substance-abusing, and attendant decadence ate into their health and ultimately their lives.
But when they flourished in their late youth, they were stunning, and Rafiq Azad produced some of the finest including, “Bhat de Haramzada” (Bastard, give me food) which got him into trouble during the Mujib era (1972-1975) when a famine was on.
It was an angry poem, full of impotent rage, and the man who speaks of his hunger ends by saying, “I will eat your flag, your geography.”
The poet was duly noticed and he got into serious trouble. But he was saved because of his earlier connections as part of his Tangail, Quader Siddiqui days as a freedom fighter, and being a “harmless poet.”
He wrote a long analysis of how his poem reflected the great literary tradition of Bengal and so on, and poetry loving Sheikh Mujib forgave him. He never made the mistake of angering the powerful again.
But he should be remembered for several others poems like “Beshar Beral” (The whore’s cat), and his earlier ones which dealt with love, death, and longing mixed with despair. A man who never could put his own life in order, he lived on as his health issues mounted, being unable to repair them. Alcohol followed him like an assassin, and his body ravaged by diabetes and other problems ultimately caved in.
In the end, if his patriotic memories are preserved in “Chunia amar Arcadia”, the Tangail village of sanctuary in 1971, his last days were more reminiscent of a poem he had written long back on decay and decline.
Oh Lady, unfaded rose,
Have you too known death as your last lover?
Goodbye Rafiq bhai. Au revoir.