A culture that ignores poetry is a defective culture

Bangladesh celebrated its 44th Victory Day on December 16 last year. On that day in 1971, the Pakistan Army surrendered before the India-Bangladesh forces in Dhaka, leading to the liberation of erstwhile East Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh. The rare public surrender at the Race Course grounds marked the end of the 13-day India-Pakistan War and the nine-month long Bangladesh Liberation War.

Bangladesh’s mukti-judhho (liberation war) began soon after the Pakistan Army launched its notorious crackdown on civilians, called Operation Searchlight, in Dhaka on March 25, 1971. Dhaka burnt like Rome while the Pakistani leadership watched like Nero as the city became a killing field. In the genocide that continued for months after, over 30 lakh people were said to have been killed, over two lakh women raped, and about three crore people displaced, of whom one crore took refuge in India.

Bengali members of the Pakistan armed forces, paramilitary forces, and the police defected soon after the crackdown. They were joined by civilians—students, teachers, farmers, artists, writers—to form the Mukti Bahini, or the Liberation Army, which was organised and trained in guerrilla warfare in India. In the sea of humanity that silently made its way into India were youths headed to become mukti-joddhas (warriors for liberation). Kaiser Haq was one of them.

Sixty-four-year-old Haq is a Dhaka-based poet, essayist, translator, critic and academic. He is possibly the best known Bangladeshi poet writing in English. He taught English at Dhaka University and is currently the head of the Department of English and Humanities at the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh. He is also the director of the Dhaka Translation Centre, which aims to promote literary translations. He has published eight poetry collections so far, most recently Published in the Streets of Dhaka: Collected Poems (2012). His poems, mostly in free verse, are taught at colleges in Bangladesh and have been included in school anthologies in India, the UK and Norway. “A Myth Reworked” has been included in The Arnold Anthology of Postcolonial Literatures and has been used in universities in North America and elsewhere.

For the rest of the story and interview of the ever so delightful Kaiser Haq, click here. He tells me about war, poetry, Bangladesh and more.


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