He was arguably the best among the contemporary story teller. Now his own story must be told with painstaking probing, courage and hindsight. The sad demise of Humayun Ahmed on July 19 at New York’s Bellevue Hospital did not occur due to cancer for which he had undergone treatment since September last year.
According to hospital records, the legendary writer succumbed to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), spurred by a post-surgery infection. The killer infection got transmitted by a virus which, according to experts, might have been injected into his frail metabolism leading to the fatal consequences.
“Although viruses can spread by simple contact, exchanges of saliva, coughing, sneezing and sexual contact, Humayun’s infection was transmitted through the oral route via contaminated food or water,” opined an expert, insisting on anonymity.
This simply implies he may have been poisoned. On July 18, a day before he died, Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative at the UN acknowledged that an ‘unknown virus had attacked the writer, affecting his lungs and liver.’ The oft spoken virus is a phenomenon of which no one was aware of, or prepared for.
Prior to departing New York for Dhaka on May 11, his wife, Meher Afroz Shaon, said the third phase of his treatment would start through the operation at Bellevue Hospital in New York on June 12. “The operation is very important. So the writer wants to meet relatives…to seek blessings,” she added.
When asked about his condition, Shaon exuded confidence. “You can understand, we’ve been allowed to travel to Dhaka as his condition has improved. He will have to stay in the hospital for two weeks after the surgery,” she said.
As the writer returned after 20 days of sojourn in his native land, he found himself afflicted by a new disease. According to Mazharul Islam of Anya Prokash Publications Ltd., who’s a long-time friend of the writer, “On the day of his death, doctors said his kidney and heart were still working well. But soon, his lungs were attacked by a foreign infection.”
How does one succumb to ‘foreign infection’ in the oldest and one of the most acclaimed US hospitals is the mystery that is sprouting speculations, angst, murmurs and conspiracy theories. This is also a hypothesis that’s being probed and gaining convincing credence with each passing moment.
Humayun and his close family members have long been under the spell of an inexplicable dilemma since the banning of his latest novel, Deyal, and the author’s negation to correct his version of the tales of August 15, 1975 that he strove diligently to fictionalize with brutal candidness. The dilemma compounded further due to the government’s pre-emptive move in January to appoint the writer as the special adviser to the Bangladesh mission in New York; aware that the book would be published soon and some of its contents were not palatable to the powers that be.
In hindsight, government’s act of generosity appears superfluous, for the writer had paid for his treatment from September 2011 to January 2012 when the government chipped in. The purported generosity of the government would have been blemish-free had the writer not been on the throes of publishing his first political novel; one which covers the hyper-sensitive Mujib killing episode; a matter of intense passion and preoccupation to the incumbent Prime Minister of the country.
Now, many of Humayun’s well wishers have started to believe that the writer’s negation to rewrite some chapters of Deyal has foisted him face to face with the country’s judiciary as well as the government which had quickly proscribed the book pending to some correction, following the May 15 court ruling.
While in Dhaka, Humayun found the Deyal proscribed for allegedly distorting how the nation’s first president and his family members were murdered in 1975.
Upon arrival at the Shahjalal international airport, famed writer Zafar Iqbal, Humayun’s intimate sibling - who was present in New York during Humayun’s death - confirmed that Humayun “died not of cancer, but of post-surgery virus infection.”
The reiterated claims are profoundly worrying as they irreversibly shift the cause of the writer’s death from cancer to virus infection, and, the transformative anecdote helps propel the plot of his death into a higher trajectory of suspense.
In life, Humayun was often labelled by his fans as a ‘moonstruck fantasist’ due to his obsession with moonlit-night and rain. The ‘moonstruck’ king of romanticism and laughter was not a lunatic, however, as the term would literally imply. A prolific, charismatic author of 322 books and countless drama and cinematic scripts, he had had reasons enough to feel awe-struck and intimidated by the banning saga and what followed.
In the terminal days, he was helpless too; for a legal foil for the ban of his book was offered by a High Court ruling on May 15 after the Attorney General quickly moved to seek the ban upon seeing some fragmented citation of it on May 11 in a vernacular daily. The Attorney General argued that the book ‘misrepresented established facts’ about the August 15 tragedy by not fully conveying the brutality of the killings.
Of particular concern to the government is the narrative of the death of Sheikh Russel, Mujib’s 10-year-old son, who was gunned down at point-blank range while being huddled in a room with his two sisters-in-law. “It was a brutal scene, but it was not depicted properly in the novel,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters at that time. Alam insisted that Russel was with a caregiver (nanny) in another room, not with his sisters-in-law, as the book claimed.
How big a deal that is? And, who had testified where exactly Russel was before being killed, most of the inmates of the house being dead? Above all, are fictions supposed to be the blow-by-blow depiction of facts?
Those questions will never be answered by a coterie of self-gratifying, partisan pundits for whom hobnobbing with the government is more important than seeking truth. An author read by millions and of high stature, Humayun had least expected a concerted onslaught on his writings, although the history of Bangladesh has been re-written many times since the coming to power of the AL-led regime in 2009. He felt thunderstruck when the axe came down hard on his composition too.
Earlier in March, the high court ordered police to censor 17 academics for allegedly distorting the history of the liberation war and maligning Mujib in a school textbook. In January, millions of copies of a textbook were ordered seized after dispute erupted over crediting the heroes of the independence struggle. One of Humayun’s cardinal sins was his portrayal of Colonels Farooque, Rashid, et al - the masterminds of the August 15 coup - as liberation war heroes.
Of course they were heroes in 1971, and, that is the correct version of history. True liberation war heroes are those who’d joined the battle, braved the bullets and shed the blood. Besides, the fabric of history may be woven from facts, writers have their own interpretation of events and occurrences. Humayun, like many others, exercised his chic ingenuity to depict an event as he perceived it. As a veteran in the field, he might have spruced up and fantasized many other anecdotes to captivate readers, although, as yet, we do not know for sure due to the book never having encountered the daylight.
BY : M. Shahidul Islam.