I first saw him in 1974 at a literary meeting held at Charukala College, Chittagong. He was the DC of Chittagong at the time and when he came to the meeting wearing a set of white punjabi and paijama he was looking very gorgeous and I noticed an aura of sophistication about him.
He wore a pair of glasses, and his face was shining and looked a little square-shaped and his height a little shorter than average. He spoke in a husky voice, and I felt that is what a top government official should be like.
Years went by and as I was passing my middle years in extreme anguish in my attempt to be a writer of any sort but was not making any headway towards that direction, at that time I remember the person who was most provoking my jealousy apart from Humayun Ahmed was Hasnat Abdul Hye, as he was producing books after books in an uninterrupted manner and shocking me into this realization that compared to them I was a sod. While Ahmed was always the best seller, Hye was prolific in another sense as most of his novels were presenting fictional rendering of cultural icons of our country. He wrote a novel on F. M. Sultan, our frontline artist, entitled Sultan in 1991 and another one on Novera in 1995, entitled Novera, which at once brought fame to him, as he won the Ekushey Padak in the same year for literature. Novera Ahmed was the sculptor whose works were to be found in the premises of Dhaka University Library, but who was also famous for her beauty and feminist ideologies.
Born on 19 May, 1937 to Abul Fateh and Ayesha Siddiqua in Kolkata, Hye hails from Kasba, Brahminbaria, and was educated in Dhaka and after completing B. A. Honours and Master’s in Economics from Dhaka University, he joined the same department as a lecturer but stayed there only for one year (1964-65) as he qualified for the competitive secretarial job with the Government of Bangladesh. Hye went for higher studies in high profile universities like Washington, London and Cambridge, and became the visiting fellow at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford in 1989, and a visiting scholar at Kyoto University, Japan in 1994-95. He retired as a full secretary from the government job in 2000.
Hye’s literary oeuvre is really outstanding. As a checklist goes he has so far written fifty novels, which are again collected in as many as five complete volumes of novels, eight volumes of short stories, again compiled in two complete volumes of short stories, ten travelogues—that cover his experiences in his wide-ranging tour to many countries across the globe, and seven books of essays. Simply amazing, as he has also written seventeen books of memoires—all in English, in which he is equally fluent. Perhaps, he may easily pass as the most prolific bi-linguist writer of the country.
His first novel, Suprobhat Bhalobasha was published in 1977 and his most recent novel Suchita was published last year. The novel before this one, entitled Suprobhat Bishonnata, published in 2015, may symbolically suggest the normal perception people grow with aging. So what was bright and rosy nearly forty years ago has turned sour and bitter in the present time. But let me assure you, there is nothing bitter and sour about Hasnat Bhai.
I actually got to know Hasnat Bhai closely after one day I received a call from him in 2010 or so. I published a playlet in The Daily Star literary page entitled Hamlet in Love reading which Hasnat Bhai having collected my number gave me the call inviting me to a coffee at a Dhanmondi joint. This is how I came to meet a very illustrious literary figure, and from our first meeting we liked each other and formed an instant camaraderie belying the big difference in age.
Our circle got bigger and with Professor Mustafizur Rahman and Professor Nurul Karim Nasim we formed a veteran literary quartet and regularly meet either in Hasnat Bhai’s house or in a local club and have our free-flowing adda. Hasnat Bhai’s house itself is a rich archive of books, paintings, music and films. His versatility as a writer is well indexed by the books he has in his collection, and in fact I am so impressed by his catholic taste that the most recently published South American classic you will find lying on his table.
The same thing can be said about his collection of video films, from Hollywood, Western to modern Mafia block-buster movies all can be found neatly arranged in his little alcove beside his library room. His music and painting collections provide a rich sense of his high aesthetic taste. Age has only recently begun to get the better of him, but only yesteryears we went together to the Rifle Square Shopping Mall to collect films and music of our choice, and in one of these visits he chose to buy an audio player with improved sound system so that he could pass his lonely hours listening to music. After he lost his wife, Hasnat Bhai became desolate and I believe he indulges us partly because he likes our company and partly because it helps to drive away his loneliness. In the gossiping time he mainly listens to whatever we say and at times intervenes in order to give his clear-cut opinions in that familiar husky but clear voice.
I have read his novel Panessar Banur Nakhshikantha (2010) (The Embroidered Quilt of Panessar Banu) and reacted by saying that though it was a finely-crafted novel, it sounded more like a documentation of the aggrieved group of workers’ lives that characterize his story than an imaginatively constructed fiction.
If anyone knows Hasnat Bhai personally, he will know that he is talking to a person whose esoteric taste is simply of a very high level, but his openness for receiving contradictory opinions is also extraordinary, or his frank confession of the things he does not know or his bold reprobation of views he cannot share all go with his personality in such a perfect manner that I find him becoming more and more like a shining jewel with the age.
Apart from Ekushey Padak he has also earned the Bangla Academy Award for short stories in 1978 and many other prizes that give credential to his high profile status as a writer.
May he live long and happily so.
(The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University, Trishal, Mymensingh.)