Reviews, Vol I, Issue III
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had once said that a bird does not fly in the sky merely for delight, its main purpose lies in the searching for food. Eminent Bangladeshi litterateur Humayun Ahmed’s Bengali novel ‘Uraalpankhi’ (Flying Bird) (2002) reminds the saying of Tagore to a great extent. Ahmed has told here the story of birds like human beings who are always flying that is running after terrestrial comforts ignoring all emotions and sentiments which have provided the supremacy of human beings over others. In today’s world one’s ability is judged mostly by the mundane achievements he/she has made. Family, friendship, love, trust, humanity, fellow feeling, all such valuable emotions are gradually taking back foot. People are becoming impatient. Moreover the problem of unemployment is making the well educated young generation hopeless and intolerant which adds fuel to all the social unrest. The novel though deals with such contemporary themes, at last shows that feelings and emotions are not dead among whole mankind completely; that it is love and sympathy which conquer all.
The novel’s story mainly revolves around Muhib, a middle-class, highly educated but unemployed well behaved young man who lives in the city of Dhaka with his bachelor uncle, mother, and two married elder bothers. He is greatly liked by all for his good nature except his family members who often rebuke him for not doing anything for financial independence. Muhib has become like an unpaid house-help who is always ordered to fetch flour from the grocery shop, to postbox others’ important letters, to go the market to buy Hilsa fish for his brother and unmistakably return the change to his sister-in-law etc. He has already sat before many interview boards but surprisingly has not been appointed anywhere so far. His father Shamsuddin Saheb lives separate from his family for any unknown reason related to a girl Jamuna. All the family members except Muhib have cut off relations with him. He loves Muhib very much and the latter comes to meet his father at intervals. Muhib has a group of friends comprised some equally educated but unemployed young men. They often sit together and have a little drinking and smoking session to temporarily forget their agony and despondency. Muhib joins them but he is freed from any such addiction. He shares a special friendship with a girl, Nora who is a singer and only daughter of a rich father. One fine day he again goes for an interview and to his surprise this time he cracks it. He gets appointment letter of a multinational company and is asked to join it. Later he decides to leave it when he comes to know that Nora’s reference has brought him the job.
In the mean time one member of the friends’ group, Haroon suddenly decides to set his body on fire in front of the Press Club of Dhaka to protest against the govt. and attract the notice of the mass to the severe problem of unemployment. He pitches only an umbrella and sits under it before the Press Club. At first all the members took the matter lightly and join the fun. They fix the time of 12 a.m. for Haroon’s self-sacrifice. They even put up banners and posters to publicise it. They try to contact famous persons to come and support the cause. The masses too take interest in such an unusual matter. But gradually the course of event starts to take u-turn and it gets serious. The electronic and press media come to cover the issue. They take interviews of Haroon. But all the efforts fail to attract the notice of the govt. and even the opposition parties. Gradually more people start to gather around the place to see the fun. Situation gets worsen as public start demanding the fire incident to happen at any cost. At this point of time heavy rain comes to their defence and disperse the public. The group members straightaway shift from the place with sick Haroon to the apartment of Khayerul who is a restaurant owner and an admirer of Muhib. All of them decide to go for ‘hibernation’ until people get cooled and forget the incident. They arrange for a drinking session. After sometime they get heavily drunk and to the stupor of intoxication they suddenly set the whole third floor apartment on fire and come downstairs. At the very moment Muhib discovers that unwell Haroon has been left alone inside the burning apartment. He at once moves towards the third floor to save Haroon. Next day all the newspapers release on the front page the death report of a rebellious, brilliant, and unemployed young man who set himself on fire to protest against the govt. and one of his friends has seriously been burnt in his effort to save him. Muhib is admitted to a hospital. His father and all his well-wishers come there to pray for him. The novel comes to an end here.
Humayun Ahmed (1948-2012) was a professor of Chemistry in the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh up to mid 90s. Then he resigned from his post to devote all his time to writing and film making. He is popularly known among masses as an author, dramatist, and filmmaker and considered as the ‘cultural legend’ of Bangladesh. Ahmed’s claim to fame was his very first novel ‘Nondito Noroke’ (In Blissful Hell) in 1972 and after that almost all of his books remained in the list of best sellers. The characters of ‘Himu’ and ‘Misir Ali’ are his two such creations which have gained popularity not only in Bangladesh but also to all modern Bengali literature lovers. Some of his books have also been translated in many other languages. Ahmed was conferred with ‘Ekushey Padak’, one of the highest civilian honours in Bangladesh for his substantial contribution to the field of art and literature along with many other national and international acclamations.
Ahmed is best known for the representation of middle class lives; its values and sentiments in his works. His tremendous popularity mainly rests in his use of easy and lucid prose and this very novel is no exception of it. He wrote the novel some thirteen years ago but its relevance is still very much there in the society. The severe problem of unemployment in a country always make educated young generation frustrated. Though the place of the event is Bangladesh, it has transcended the place in its appeal as we can easily notice today such problem hence youth unrest everywhere in the sub-continent, sometimes in abroad too. The neglectful treatment towards Muhib and his friends by others is a known picture to us. It depicts society’s growing irresponsibility, inhumanity and indifference. At the same time it also reminds that impulsiveness takes us nowhere but to more hopelessness and destruction.
Lucid prose though provides an easiness in reading, sometime loses compactness. This very thing has happened here also. Over lucidity brings ennui and we find if some otiose episodes and characters would have been eliminated from the text, it would get more solidity. Actually the novel holds the content of a brilliant short story but Ahmed’s unnecessary elongating of the narrative has made it only a good novel alleged with some nonsensical detailing.
Reviewed by Prosenjit Ghosh
A Teacher, Creative Writer, Independent Researcher, Book Reviewer from West Bengal, India