Ahaduzzaman Mohammad Ali’s first collection of poems came out over two years ago. Looking at it now, the first thing that comes to mind is what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote on July 21, 1855 to Walt Whitman. The poet had self-published Blades of grass earlier that year, then sent it to the apostle of American Transcendentalism, Emerson. He had famously responded by writing to Whitman thus: “Hail at the start of a great career, which must, however, have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start.”
Only time will tell if Ahad will have a great career as a poet or not, but when I finish reading Nakhshatra Nivey Jai (Anyaprakash, 2020), my immediate feeling was that this might be a very impressive first volume and that Ahad might publish his first verse book in his mid-sixties, but he had to immerse himself in the art of poetry for a long, long time. Admittedly, he must have written poems intermittently without thinking of publishing them until now to have produced verses of this quality in a first volume.
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Ahad’s preface confirms this line of thought. He said there that he had read poetry all his life, written some poems like juvenilia, and others later, but for some time he had never thought of publishing them. A teacher in the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at Dhaka University until June 2019, he goes on to say that he presented his first poem publicly for the first time in a departmental wall magazine at the request of students three decades ago. What readers of Nakhshatra Nivey Jai encounter, then, are thoughtful, emotionally written and delicately crafted poems by a mature poet who had honed his poetic skills over decades.
The book of Ahad is divided into two parts. The first part, entitled “Khoano Shabder Lesh” (Traces of Lost Words), begins in the elegiac mode. These poems are dedicated to his wife and department colleague Sitara Parvin, also a professor of mass communications and journalism at the University of Dhaka, who died tragically in a car accident in the United States in 2005. The dedication and the title we tell how intense grief drove Ahad to poetry. Indeed, readers will find in the opening poems of the book an intense and moving lyrical account of his feelings about their relationship after his death.
The first two dozen or so poems of Nakhshatra Nivey Jai reveal the poet meditating on the past and their relationship – from the springtime days of the court to seemingly inconsolable grief, the acceptance of a genre, and the intensely felt hope of reunion in another world. Missing the loved one, yearning to be with her, sometimes feeling alone on an endless journey, wanting her memory to continually refresh her stock of images of her, remembering the dreaded moment of the news she is more… they are all quite moving and poignant poems.
In the middle of the first part of Nakhshatra Nivey JaHowever, we see the poet moving towards acceptance of the loss that had so traumatized him. He now decides to depend on his memories of his beloved to cope with her absence. But he knows he has to move beyond the heartache and back into the world of work, which in his case means his college career, the college he loves, and the students, whose liveliness can rejuvenate him. But there too, there is a terminus, because he realizes that he will still have to face retirement and feed on memories then too!
The last poems of the first part of Nakhshatra Nivey Jai pay homage to ancestor poets/artists whom he finds moving – Rabindranath and Nazrul, as well as Lorca and Neruda. But revisiting the spacious hallway of his verse memory, he also gratefully remembers his mother and father for shaping his sensibility. Images of Dhaka and Leeds, cities of which he was a part of him, also haunt the poet. However, in the last poems of this part, he is back with the memory that upset him the most and that he will cherish forever: his dear deceased wife!
The second part of Nakhshatra Nivey Jai, “Shok Ar Drohar Shlok” contrasts sharply with the first one. Here, Ahad seems to have moved, so to speak, from his home into the world – a world of pained, broken, disillusioned people. It is a world full of bloodshed in the streets, the excesses of the consumer society of the few, and the hardships and deprivations faced by the many. Nevertheless, the poet also finds here selfless, dreaming, sacrificing people. The world here includes people from the diaspora or imprisoned and miserable men and women. These are poems where Ahad sympathizes with many and regrets the abuses and aggressors he witnessed inside and outside his country. A series of poems also reflect his ecological sensitivity to the machine in the garden and the snakes and hyenas endangering the forests and rivers and Dhaka, the city in which he lived most of his life. He also has poems reflecting his secular and democratic sentiments.
The first volume of Ahad thus reflects a mature poetic sensibility and a poet in full mastery of his art. They are immensely readable poems covering themes we can all sympathize with. They are as lyrical as they are stimulating. Readers will surely feel that these are poems worth waiting for!
Fakrul Alam is Adjunct Professor, Department of English, University of Dhaka.