“Like a candle melting down” – Syed Badrul Ahsan

June 12, 2010

There is something about bleakness, about snowfall, that causes some of the saddest thoughts to well up in you. The sight of an old book, the death of a celebrated playwright, remembrance of a year, images of graves far away . . . these and similar workings of the mind are what you encounter as the winds howl and daybreak does not show much of a difference with twilight. You watch the flakes fall to the ground, wondering all the while what could be happening to the birds that on sunlit days flit across your window many times over. And then you hear television dwelling on the danger that birds are confronted with if the snow refuses to melt. These tiny emblems of Creation, always foraging for morsels in the grass, do not have it in their beaks to probe through the snow and into the soil.

Bird life is in a parlous state. You worry as you move away from the window, to the shelves where you last left your books close to two years ago. Suddenly, it is Syed Khwaja Moinul Hassan who comes back from his grave, here in your London flat, to tell you all over again that it would be unwise forgetting him. He died months ago, from illness and heartbreak, and lies buried in some cold cemetery in New York. But here you are, staring right into the book of poems he left you ages ago. Yes, he was every inch a poet, a romantic in the mould of the English Romantics. That passion for poetry, for literature he epitomised in his days as a student and then as a teacher at Dhaka University, a trait he carried over to distant South Carolina, is what you spot again as you turn the pages of Collected Poems of Syed Khwaja Moinul Hassan. Out of the snow, through the gale and the rain, Khwaja’s voice enters your little domain, chanting its own inimitable song:

Like a candle each second melting down / I am dying at the top / This night, it’s my night / It’s my time in history / Tomorrow brings the light of another day . . .
Khwaja did die at the top. We know it now, for in the mountain fastnesses of our souls, he lives on the peaks. He is history, just as he has become part of our history. In the bleak afternoons you plough through in London, you yearn to see him again, to hear his laughter, to know that he will call from Claflin College and speak of his love affair with the country he left long ago to carve a niche in alien clime. He was our Romeo and Antony and Petruchio rolled into one. He was Keats and Jibanananda, in his sensibilities.

Ah, but that is life. That is literature. Or that is how literature injects meaning into life and keeps doing so even when the literary icon you revered, even loved, has passed into the Great Beyond. That is the old message rolling down to us in new packaging from Lady Antonia Fraser. The celebrated historian has emerged, a year into the death of Harold Pinter, with a work of love on her affair with and subsequent marriage to the playwright. Long ago, in the mid-1970s, as Fraser, then married to Conservative MP Hugh Fraser, said goodbye to Pinter at a social dinner, the future Nobel laureate popped a simple question at her: ‘Must you go?’ And Must You Go? is what she calls her book, or essentially the diary she kept of her growing closeness to Pinter in the old days, before both decided to break the news to their spouses.

Must You Go? is an old-fashioned tale of love woven with ardour in these post-modern times. You recall your own ancient stirrings of the heart, the feeling of desolation that you lived through as you turned the pages of Tolstoy’s Resurrection in your listless youth. Yes, as Pinter lay in hospital, Lady Antonia Fraser was at his bedside reading Resurrection. It was an interaction of souls at its most intense. They were an intellectual power couple who knew the sun was about to set, for one of them, and yet were not willing to let impediments come in the way of their passion.

You walk back to your window. Huddled figures of the young and the old pass gingerly by on the blustery street. You turn the music on. A voice breaks through the gloom with nodir achhe shagor / phooler achhe bhromor / aar amar achho tumi. Melody is all. And passion renews itself as Ferdousi Rahman sings ke amar ondho moner / bondho duaar fello khule / tumi jaante cheyo na.

Source: The daily Bangladesh Watch: February 6 2010

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