IN MEMORY OF HASAN AZIZUL HAQUE: Two tales of violence at the hands of a master
Design: Kazi Akib Bin Asad
Design: Kazi Akib Bin Asad
Hasan Azizul Haque, who passed away on November 15, 2021, started his career with the publication of the short story “Shokun” in 1960, and since its publication until today, it has shocked and amazed most of the readers who have found their path to this unique and masterfully crafted story – reading it is not an experience you easily or never forget.
The story is about a group of boys and the holder shokun, a vulture. It aims to shatter our anthropomorphic notions of a vulture as a simple foul-smelling creature that feasts on corpses, and the common belief in the innocence of humanity in adolescents uncontaminated with the phlegm of adulthood. Boys this young can be mischievous, but what takes place within the confines of Haque’s story makes you question the very fabric of humanity and its supposed claims to justice and righteousness.
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A wounded vulture is found as an object of vile curiosity by a group of boys who chase the poor creature, drag it when it is unable to fly or run, pluck its feathers from its still living body.
This appalling specter of violence shakes us, but these boys have no idea why they are doing it, they have nothing in mind of what they want to do to this creature; only an indomitable outburst of hatred and a compulsion to do harm overwhelm them. They are filled with disgust at the foul-smelling bird with dirty feathers and are unable to see that after a long evening of chasing the bird they don’t look or smell better on their own. Angry with the bird that feasts on the dead in order to survive, they inflict pain on the living whose heart pounding they almost feel and hear. They do not want to forgive that the vulture devours the hatchlings thrown into the gutter, not realizing that it is humans like them who are throwing their own children. Imagining what they would inevitably become as adults is what terrifies us as readers.
Haque, in his work, comments on the human inaptitude for self-reflection. Unlike most other left-wing thinkers and writers, his portrayal of the injustice and violence that pervades our society is effortless and incisive.
In 1966, Hasan Azizul Haque published his unforgettable story, Atmoja or Ekti Korobi Gaach (Shahitya Prakash), which recounts another example of unspeakable violence. A family displaced by the partition struggles to survive: a daughter, a sprawling mother and a father who can barely catch his breath from asthma. They have found no way to survive but commit an unbelievable act of violence. When you first read it, it takes time to swallow the atrocity; it penetrates your skin and that heart-wrenching moment of weakness stays with you long after you’ve finished reading the book.
Unlike the boys of “Shokun”, Atmoja’s parents are keenly aware of what they are doing, or should we say, what circumstances compelled them to do. This makes the story even harder to digest.
Despite what may appear at first glance, the boys and parents, in these two stories, are not active agents of violence. The boy group is a slave to an instinct over which they have almost no control. The geopolitical and social upheavals that have resulted from the partition of the subcontinent have caused millions of families to be uprooted from their homes and livelihoods, and for these people, survival is a higher priority than social or ethical values, as evidenced Atmoja or Ekti Korobi Gaach.
Haque’s image of humanity is dark, and rightly so. His responsibility as a writer and a free thinker hardly allows him to revel in the sun in the face of inequalities and injustices.
Now that Hasan Azizul Haque is gone, it will be difficult and painful to bear that this world no longer hears his stories about those on the fringes. There is hardly anything more political than telling stories, especially in choosing which stories to tell. Haque had devoted his life’s work to telling the stories of lower socio-economic class people in the suburbs and the countryside. He had a voice like no other in world literature and his passing is an irreparable loss.
Mursalin Mosaddeque is a writer who grew up in the suburban town of Rangpur, in North Bengal.