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Abul Hasnat: The writer who turned editing into an art

  • Published at 11:10 am November 27th, 2020
Abul Hasnat
Portrait: Jahid Jamil

Tribute to Abul Hasnat (1945-2020) 

Journalist, writer, poet and arts commentator Abul Hasnat had been one of the most widely respected literary editors of Bangladesh for almost half a century. With his passing the country lost its most brilliant editor who not only shaped literary taste but also created writers. He took editing of literary periodicals to a height that remains unsurpassable to this day. Fiction writer and critic Syed Manzoorul Islam has rightly called him the “editors’ editor”. 

Abul Hasnat was born on July 17, 1945 in Bongram, Old Dhaka. He studied at Dhaka College and Dhaka University. While a student, he was active in leftist politics. Immediately after the independence of Bangladesh, he became involved with Gana Sahitya, which was published as the literary mouthpiece of the Communist Party of Bangladesh. Then he joined the Daily Sangbad as a sub-editor. In his 38 years long tenure at the Sangbad, he edited its literary weekly “Sangbad Samoyiki” for twenty-nine years. Within a year after taking office, he made it the leading literary magazine of Bangladesh and influenced the development of finer literary tastes. Most of the literary pages over the next forty years have followed the literary aesthetics promoted by him. 

Hasnat left Sangbad in 2003 to join the monthly magazine, Kali O Kolom. Under his editorship, the magazine has grown into a fine magazine on art, literature, and culture in both Bangladesh and West Bengal. He was also the editor of the art quarterly Shilpa O Shilpi, and executive director of Bengal Publications. 

Hasnat was an author in his own right and has about 30 books to his credit, though he did not devote as much attention to writing as he did to editing. Most of his books were published under his pseudonym, Mahmud Al Zaman. Art criticism was his favorite area of writing and he penned Jainul Kamrul Shofiuddin O Onnano (Jainul, Kamrul, Sofiuddin and Others). Satinath, Manik, Ravi Shankar O Onnano (Satinath, Manik, Ravi Shankar and Others) is his work of literary criticism. His poetry collections include Jotsna O Durbipak (Moonlight and Misery), Kono Ekdin Bhubondangay (Someday in Bhubandanga), Bhubandangar Megh O Nodhor Kalo Beral (Clouds of Bhubandanga and the Chubby Black Cat) and Nirbachito Kobita (Selected Poems). He also translated Pashtu Gonomukhi Kobita (Pashto People-oriented Poetry). His autobiography Harano Shirir Chabir Khonje (In Search of the Key to the Lost Stairs) is an important book for a clear understanding of the socio-cultural history and traditions of Dhaka in the 1950s and the 1960s. In his Pratyayi Smriti O Onnanno (Tenacious Memories and Others), he has written about talented writers, poets and other eminent people from many countries, especially from Dhaka and Kolkata. His creativity has been clearly reflected in children's literature as well. Istimar Siti Diye Jay (The Steamer Passes Whistling), Juddhodiner Dhushor Dupur (A Wartime Gray Afternoon), and Tuku o Somudrer Golpo (The Story of Tuku and the Sea) captured the hearts of many Bangladeshi children. His edited books include Nana Rabindranath Er Mala (The Garlands of Different Tagores), Dhaka 1971 Album and Shamsur Rahman Rachnabali (Shamsur Rahman Omnibus).

Abul Hasnat worked with almost all the renowned authors in Bangladesh and also was always on the lookout for young talents. He encouraged many young writers by publishing their works and commissioning them for new assignments. It is only fair that he is compared with great Bengali editors like Buddhadeva Bose and Ahsan Habib. 

He was awarded the Bangla Academy Fellowship in 2013.  In 1982, he received the Agrani Bank Children's Literature Award for Tuku o Somudrer Golpo . He was the recipient of Munier Chowdhury Smrity Puroshkar 2020 for Pratyayi Smriti O Onnanno. 

Abul Hasnat died on November 01, 2020 at the age of 75 due to cardiac arrest. 

Rifat Anjum Pia is Staff Writer, Arts & Letters.