Obaidul Huq … renaissance man

Obaidul Huq was a modern man, cosmopolitan in his view of the universe and in his understanding of history

Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 13 Oct 2022, 08:09 PM
Updated : 13 Oct 2022, 08:09 PM

It has been years since Obaidul Huq passed into the ages. It has been over a decade since we have missed -- and do miss every day -- his journalism, his literary qualities, indeed the vibrant essence of his personality and the rich tenor of his professionalism.

When you observe men of Huq’s calibre and of his generation mingle with the dust, you realise, with that knife-twisting pain in the heart, how poorer off you and your generation are in the absence of such illustrious individuals. I never had a chance of working with Obaidul Huq, of being in his tutelage. By the time I made my wary way into journalism in the early 1980s, Huq was essentially moving on into the placidity of retirement. He had just taken leave of the Bangladesh Observer and was already running the show at a new newspaper. In the end, that newspaper swiftly folded up. For Obaidul Huq too there was that beckoning twilight, the interplay of light and shadow marking the end of the day.

My first recollections of Obaidul Huq, or more precisely his writings, date back to the early 1970s when he served as editor of the Bangladesh Observer. It was a newspaper that became part of me after December 1971, a particular reason being the series of educative articles by Huq on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The Father of the Nation, in Huq’s justified assessment, was the Voice of Thunder, the Bojrokontho who had transformed the collective national dream of freedom into a tangible truth.

And so Huq wrote, for days on end and to our intense happiness, a series he called A Leader With a Difference. It was thrilling to read the pieces, for they brought home to me, for the first time, a composite image of Bangabandhu -- his youth, his days as a young political activist in Calcutta, his devotion to Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, his struggles and sufferings in the new state of Pakistan, his gradual transformation into a secular political being, all culminating in his emergence as the leading protagonist of Bengali nationalism.

And of course there was the sheer pleasure of reading Huq’s articles because of the quality of the prose he employed. It was English you could learn in the excitement attendant on linguistic discovery. I was yet in high school, and wondered if ever there would be a time when I could emulate Obaidul Huq in the way he wrote articles in English. I wished to see him. There was hardly any chance of that. One day in the summer of 1972, armed with an envelope containing my poems -- which I now realise were silly if not exactly puerile -- I landed myself at the Observer.

Hope took shape in me, an expectation that maybe someone would carry those poems to the editor who in turn would call me in. It did not happen that way. A sub-editor (whom I would meet again more than two decades later when I was taken on board at the Observer) took one look at the poetry, handed me back the envelope and advised me to develop my English skills a little more. I went back home, not a little sad that my poetry had been given such short shrift.

On that steamy summer afternoon, I missed meeting Obaidul Huq. I did link up with him, though, many years later at various seminars or social occasions. They were not many, and we did not go beyond an exchange of mere pleasantries. But a day did come, courtesy of his son and my esteemed colleague and friend Mashuqul Huq, when I did talk to him. He spoke of books, of values in journalism, of his experience in film-making. It was an individual who had gone through a fullness of life.

Like all men of intellectual depth, he demonstrated no hubris in his conversation with the raw, callow young man that I was. I had earlier heard of his wit, of the abundance of humour he brought to life. And here I was, in the fading light of a quiet day in May, laughing at all the funny tales he related. Enlightened men are men who deal with the world’s grave issues deftly with a touch of lightness natural to them. That was true of Obaidul Huq. And in the manner of men who read abundantly and thought copiously, he was forever ready and willing to share his knowledge of time and space with others.

I asked him about the generation of journalists that had come of age after his had receded into the sunset. His response made sense. There was a whole lot that the new breed of journalists needed to do. Read and think, he said. Journalism is not just about editing copies or writing editorials. It is, more fundamentally, about shaping your own worldview. In effect, what he was telling me was that the pen could indeed be made mightier than the sword given the skills necessary for that to happen. I was grateful.

In that final phase of his life, Obaidul Huq defied age. He stayed young, bubbling with humour and given to spontaneous laughter. He read avidly, all his life. And anyone interested in the history of cinema in Bangladesh would find himself in a veritable tutorial discussion with him on the genre. Cinema was part of him, in that integral sense of the meaning.

Obaidul Huq was a modern man, cosmopolitan in his view of the universe and in his understanding of history. There was a renaissance man in him.

(Obaidul Huq -- journalist, moviemaker, humourist, raconteur -- died on Oct 13, 2007)

[Syed Badrul Ahsan writes on politics and diplomacy]

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher