20th Death Anniversary of Ahmed Sofa
Sofa’s “Alatchakra”: Remarkable revelations about War of Liberation
History is always contentious. Historians fight to hold on to the best narrative that explicates past events or human affairs. And lack of history creates myths. History is, to some extent, easy to write and penetrate, whereas myth generates puzzles and enigma. By large, myths are formed in the absence of written discourses; on the other hand, pen and paper mainly shape history. However, pen and paper can betray the true spirit of history, and power can easily manoeuvre its course too. Similarly, People in power can always navigate and traverse the past for special benefit and suppress the true essence of any event.
Novelists are unlike historians. A novelist rather tells a tale that encompasses some fragments of a particular historical affair. A good writer employs metaphors and symbols to recapture past events while historians mainly do the work of a chronicler and pen down a seemingly unpretentious understanding of a particular event. On many occasions, novelists dare to challenge the so-called established truths (myths) of history and reveal them through the mouths of various characters in an appealing, trustworthy, and chutnified way. Thus, a novel can create ripple and repercussions in the mind of the audience. History, subsequently, becomes very lively and communicative and gets a place in the heart of the general people.
Ahmed Sofa is the type of writer who makes things believe due to his strong voice and unbiased depiction of any event. His writings--from fiction to non-fiction--do not leave anything without question as he is deeply motivated by his quest for truth. By reading his novel "Alatchakra", it becomes palpable as he raises questions about and describes many controversial and unsolved issues of our liberation war in a bold, lucid, and crafty way.
Sofa, in Alatchakra, draws the gloomy images of the Bangladeshi refugees who are damned to stay in the refugee camps of Calcutta. He sketched the miserable lives of the stranded and vagrant refugees with the sad and kind ink of his pen, yet he showcases the lavish and crooked lives of some of the well-known Bangladeshi politicians living in the Theatre Road of Calcutta. He confidently relates the shameless acts of the then elite political leaders and their associates in an emphatic tone with great contempt and condemnation.
To do this, Sofa weaves a love story. The love between two refugees- Daniel, a writer, and Tayeeba, a cancer patient admitted at a hospital- turns out to be the centre of the novel. Another centre is the mess of Daniel where he lives with some other refugees and always keeps themselves busy with conversing about the Muktijuddha of Bangladesh and the refugees took refuge all over West Bengal. The narrator Sofa-through his alter ego Daniel and other characters- dissects, observes, and debates over the ongoing refugee issue and overall Muktijuddha of present-day Bangladesh. Daniel the writer in the novel, guides the readers to see different perspectives and dimensions of our liberation war of 1971.
Sofa himself was a refugee in Calcutta during our liberation war in 1971. He visited different refugee camps then and has observed the horrid lives of the refugees and their harrowing life stories. Our debased elites and so-called intellectuals painted meta (accepted) narratives of rosy imageries of our then exile government and their leaders in India. But Sofa has unmasked some of their masks. A brave writer like Sofa does not even dare to show the inferiority complexes of these leaders and their frequent visits to the brothels. They also got divided into many groups, became power-hungry, and loved to use the name of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for personal gain. However, he praised few leaders, and Tajuddin Ahmed is the name that shines on the top.
In the beginning, Calcutta accepted the refugees with a warm welcome. Nonetheless, with time, refugees become 'sores on the skin' for them. The people of Calcutta started to humiliate them and put salt into the wounded ego of the refugees. Sofa delineates these unpleasant and awful incidents with the deft touch of his pen. He wrote everything in a convincing and resounding voice.
The novel is a genuine historical and political specimen of 1971. To understand the trauma and anxiety of refugees, one must leaf through the pages of this novel. Even in wartime, being refugees, humans crave love. Love reconciles us with our roots, and root reminds us of our identity. The constant dilemma, uncertainty, and trauma faced by the refugees cannot uproot them from their roots. Sofa tried to depict it at his best. These refugees are a piece of Bangladesh, they could not participate in wars, but the inflicted inner pain that they carried made each of them a psychological warrior.
As India directly gets involved precisely in the last days of our desired independence, Sofa doubted whether India is stealing away our thunder. He doubted whether they would claim it India Pakistan war. Will the resounding 'Joy Bangla' identity be demeaned? Sofa questioned the all-pervasive and swaggering Indian interference in the fag end of our hard-fought independence.
The novel does not end with the independence of Bangladesh; rather, posing questions, it ends in a peculiar place from where Sofa mistrusts this Indian meddling. As a reader, I assume Sofa wanted Bangladeshi Guerrilla forces--Mukti Bahini--to defeat the Pakistani occupation forces. He might have seen it as the overwhelming moral defeat for the then Bangladeshi leaders because Sofa firmly believed that Bangladeshi Mukti Bahini could have registered their due victory sooner or later.
So, we see that Sofa, by his lifelike portrayal, raises some almost tabooed and intriguing queries. The grand narratives of the history of our Muktijoddha (liberation war) have become the sole property of the political parties that comes into power. Our struggle for independence cannot be the property of any party or any other country; instead, it is earned by the people and for the people. And this war ensued to create an egalitarian society, and Sofa was a staunch supporter of just, fair, and classless humanity.
Alatchakra is inseparable from the history of Bangladesh, and to know a fearless and distinct story of our Muktijoddha, one must visit and revisit this particular novel.
Ariful Islam Laskar teaches