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Meherunnesa: The bird of sunshine

  • Published at 06:52 pm December 7th, 2016
  • Last updated at 11:25 pm December 21st, 2016
Meherunnesa: The bird of sunshine

In the short span of 29 years, Meherunnesa left behind a legacy to be explored in various ways. She is a remarkable figure in the history of Bangladesh not just as a poet but also as a strong woman who spoke her mind and fought for her homeland.

Born in 1942 to Nurunnesa and Abdur Razzak, she had an elder sister, Momena Khatun, and two younger brothers, Rafiqul Islam Bablu and Shahidul Islam Tutul. Though her birthplace was Khidirpur in the West Bengal, she spent her childhood around Kolkata. She had an indomitable curiosity about the world outside and maybe that's why she accompanied her father to his coal shop. Later she scribbled down the struggles of the coal miners.

After the Hindu-Muslim riot in West Bengal, her family moved to Dhaka in 1950. Much like Begum Rokeya was always encouraged by her sister Karimunnesa, her love for literature was ignited by her elder sister Momena Khatun. A rhymester by nature, she, accompanied by her sister, engrossed herself in books. Borno Porichoy, Adorsho Lipi, Shohojpath by Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Shonchoyita By Rabindranath Tagore, Shonchita By Kazi Nazrul Islam, and the poems of Sukanto Bhattacharya and Jasimuddin were among her favourites. She took a keen interest in sports, had a passion for music and was very skilled in handicrafts. After living in several places in Old Dhaka, her family finally settled in Mirpur in 1965. Her first poem was “Chashi” (Farmer), which was published in “Khelaghor” (1953-54), a literary supplement edited by Habibur Rahman. In 1954, her poem was published in “Begum.”

At first she conveyed the deepest of her emotions through poetry but as the whole country got caught in social and political upheavals, her poetry crossed over to the voice of the mass.

In 1954, she came under detective surveillance for her poem “Rajbondi,” in which she demanded Bangla be the mother tongue of erstwhile East Pakistan. From this time onward, her poems started to be published in mainstream newspapers and magazines such as The Daily Ittefaq, the Daily Pakistan, the Monthly Mohammadi, the Krishikotha and the Lolona. Astonishingly, when there was a ban on Tagore songs, imposed by the philistine Pakistan army, she dared to own Tagore's Gitanjali and Geetbitan in a wonderful poem.

Won't you listen to my Gitanjali?

My Geetbitan,

Won't you? Tell me Robi Thakur.”

Just like Tagore, she invoked Nazrul, the rebel poet, to bring about another revolution in her time.

She had unconditional love for her fellow countrymen. The political movements of 1969, 1970 and 1971 had a sweeping impact on her existence. Reminiscing about her, Makbula Monjur in an article says, “Meherunnesa was as bright as fire during the mass-uprising of 1969, the processions of '70 and non-cooperation movement of '71. In February 1969, she recited her timeless poem, 'Provu Noy Bondhu ke,' on the Bangla Academy premises. Her sharp verses pierced through the repressive Pakistani authority. She gained recognition and a lot of her poems spread like flames of fire everywhere.” (The Daily Bangla, June 1972)

She worked as a copy writer at Bangla Academy and USIS library. She was also a proofreader at a good number of newspapers and magazines.

In an effort to retain cultural identity in Mirpur, an area largely occupied by Biharis, Bangalis there formed an action committee in 1969. The committee carved out its path in accordance with the independence movement. Meherunnesa was among the frontrunners in any activity of this committee. Biharis living in Mirpur conspired against the freedom fighters and acted as secret allies of the Pakistani army. They disrupted the celebration of February 21 and kept a sharp eye on the people who were working for the freedom struggle. They were well aware of the fact that Meherunnesa along with a few other leading figures of the action committee attended the historical rally at the Racecourse on March 7 where Bangabandhu addressed the whole nation to unify for freedom.

On March 23, her very last poem, “Jonota Jegeche” (People have risen), was published in Begum.

According to the second part of Bangladesher Shadhinota Juddher Dolilpotro, it was on March 23 that a programme was organised by Lekhok Sangram Shibir where Ahsan Habib, Shamsur Rahman, Humayun Kabir, Syed Shamsul Haq and Hasan Hafizur Rahman, among others, recited their revolutionary poems. It was presided over by Dr Ahmed Sharif. Meherunnesa was present at this programme, too, and she recited her poem infused with rebellious sparks.

On the same day, Meherunnesa and her brothers, both members of Mirpur Student association, hoisted the national flag chanting “Joy Bangla” that enraged the non-Bangali community. On March 25, the Pakistan army launched its genocide campaign and the attack on Meherunnesa just two days later.

Kazi Rosy, a close friend of Meherunnesa, documented the horrific picture of how she succumbed to martyrdom along with her family in her home. On March 27, people from the Bihari community attacked their house and attempted to kill her brothers first. Her mother tried to stop them but in vain. The attackers slaughtered her brothers and her mother. She could not save herself and faced the same fate. They slaughtered her and hanged her head, dissected from the body, to the fan by her tresses.

It was her dream to entitle her book “Shurjojyotir Pakhi”( The bird of sunshine). Before she could fulfil it, she was brutally murdered. Her soul might not complain at all as her blood generated a country that carries her legacy on, singing the same song that she wanted to sing.

Pias Majid is a poet and essayist.

(Translated by Hasnin Hassan)

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