June 20, 2013 | 11:58 AM (BD Time)
20 June, 2013 Thursday
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Great novelist Mir Mosharraf Hossain
M Harunur Rashid :
During my last trip to Islamic University, Kushtia in the year 2000, 1 visited, briefly through the house of Mir Mosharraf Hossain, a great figure in our literary history. There is no house as such - whatever may have stood there does not exist any more.
There is a gateway through which you enter and are greeted by a few brick columns bearing some of his quotations from his works. At the far end of the compound there is a primary school in pitiable conditions. As you stand facing the school, you will find a small building on your right used as avenue for a society. The whole place has an abject look and the buildings eloquently speak of the neglect which has been their fate for the last half a century.
Nine years younger than Bankim Chandra, Mir Mosharraf's misfortune was that he was born a Muslim and bore a Muslim name in a society which was pervaded by predominantly a Hindu culture. The Muslims were still licking the wounds of their defeat and the colonial rulers still looked upon them with a good deal of suspicion and mistrust.
Understandably, the Muslims were lagging behind in education - particularly in the two languages, English and Bangla. A Muslim writer was few and far between - if one emerged, he was looked upon as one of the seven wonders of the world.
It was in this inimical atmosphere that Mir Mosharraf Hossain started writing. By diligence and constant practice, Mir Mosharraf perfected an inimitable style. When his Vishad Sindhu was published, the literary world perceived its greatness. It was an epic in prose. As he portrayed the tragedy of Karbala, his words reached a height never achieved by any. Bangla language never bore such sublimity flowing like a never-ending torrent of words. In varying tones, the words upheld the war-cry, the pathos and the tragic feelings that inhered in the story. It was not surprising that the story of the immense sacrifice of Hazrat Husain (Ra) and his followers and the cruelty of Yazid became a household book. Besides fiction, he wrote plays and essays. His Gazi Mianar Bostani is another landmark which was modelled on, I guess, Goldsmith's Citizen of the World. Bankim Chandra praised his prose-style in his Banga Darshan. That a Muslim could write chaste Bangla was itself a big surprise for most of his Hindu readers. Mir Mosharraf Hossain was born in 1847 at Lahinipara (Kushtia) in a wealthy zamindar family. He has his first lessons in Arabic and Persian from a Munshi at his own home. He then had his schooling in Kushtia, Padamdi and Krishnanagar.
He also studied for sometime at Kalighat high school, Kolkata. But he left school and went back to Lahinipara to look after his paternal property. He married a daughter of Nadir Hossain, a clerk of Alipore court. But his father-in-law played a dirty trick on him. Mir Mosharraf was to marry the first daughter, Latifunnessa. But during wedding he had a changeling bride, the second daughter who was retarded and not particularly fair to look at. Mosharraf swallowed the insult but eventually went in for a second marriage with Bibi Qulsum with whom he spent the rest of his life.
Mir Mosharraf worked as a manager of two zamindar estates, one at Faridpur and the other at Tangail. He came back to Lahinipara for a brief while and then went to Bogra and Kolkata in search of fortune. Finally, he moved to Padamdi where he died in 1912.
Mir Mosharraf Hossain was a pioneer of Muslim renaissance in Bengal.
He stands on his own and his prose is one of the best representing his age which was the Bankim era in Bangla literature. Though Bangla Academy has published his complete works, a lot needs to be done to ascertain his real place among the literary greats. The Vishad Sindhu itself is a wonder. Michael Madhusudan thought that an epic could be done on the story of Karbala. Well, Michael had the idea that an epic could be written in verse only. The idea of a prose epic was not known in his days. Mir Mosharraf himself did not perhaps realise that he was writing the first epic in prose in Bangla language: he was content to call it a novel.
Shilaidaha is just a few kilometers away from Lahinipara. Each year thousands of people visit Shilaidaha and a state-sponsored programme is held on the birth anniversary of Tagore. People go past Mir Mosharraf's house, many of them unaware that he too deserves to be honoured for his contribution to Bangla literature. Though we have some halls of residence in some universities, we don't as yet have a Mosharraf Museum. May I suggest that the government takes the following steps:
a. the museum and the Mosharraf Memorial Centre already set up at the school compound should be strengthened and fully utilised.
b. the whole place be done up under the supervision of the cultural ministry.
c. Bangla Academy be asked to set up an effective research cell that would work solely on Mir Mosharraf's contribution to Bangla literature;
d. Bangla Academy be given funds to publish a paperback edition of his Vishad Sindhu and publish it during the next celebration of his birth anniversary.
e. e. A city avenue be named after him;
f. f. The media, particularly, the electronic media undertakes to give wide publicity to his contributions and attempts to give him the honour he deserves in our pantheon of the greats.
(The writer is Professor of English, IIUC and Associate Editor, The Independent)
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