Almost four decades after his death Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 2012 emerged as the author of a book. It was the autobiography that he wrote during one of his numerous spells of imprisonment. It was an instant, phenomenal hit.
Thousands of copies were sold out in a few days, forcing the publisher to bring out multiple prints.
It wasn't a feat of fluke. The posthumous authorship didn't stop there.
In the next eight years the Father of the Nation had two more titles under his authorship. One was his prison notes, titled "Prison Diaries", and the other was a travel book titled "Amar Dekha Naya Chin" (New China As I Saw It). The latter work came out last month.
The picture of a monumental political figure bent over a table with pen and paper, spending sleepless nights chasing after words that could mirror his thoughts and experience, came as a surprise. How the busiest politician of his day managed to write books has amazed many. This was like discovering the hidden side of the moon.
But the writings would have remained hidden forever had it not been for a chain of events and fearless risks taken by his nearest ones, especially his wife Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib and his eldest daughter Sheikh Hasina.
In the early hours of 26 March, 1971, the Pakistani soldiers attacked the Road 32 home of the leader, arrested and took him away. The next day the house was raided again and was looted. The raiders took away whatever they could find. Before moving out to a safer place at Road 18, Dhanmondi, Begum Mujib stowed away the notebooks, including the manuscript of his autobiography, diaries and travelogues in an almirah in the dressing room attached to the bedroom. These manuscripts escaped the attention of the looters thanks to the worn-out, discolored look they had. Later, during the days of captivity, Begum Mujib sent Sheikh Hasina to collect the notebooks. Sheikh Hasina, on the pretext of collecting textbooks for her siblings, stealthily got hold of the precious notebooks, which were subsequently hidden in a chicken coop that belonged to a relative in Arambagh in the capital city.
The notebooks survived another assault when in 1975 the Father of the Nation was murdered along with most of his family members and the house was ransacked a second time. Sheikh Hasina, who with her younger sister Sheikh Rehana escaped the tragedy, as they were abroad at the time, set foot on its premises six years later. The first thing she did was to recover the notebooks. She could retrieve only a part of it. The notebooks containing the autobiography were missing.
It was years later, by sheer luck, that Sheikh Hasina got the lost manuscript back. In the preface of "The Unfinished Memoirs" Sheikh Hasina wrote: "On 21 August, 2004, a political rally organised by Bangladesh Awami League was targeted by a horrifying grenade attack. It was aimed at killing me…Miraculously, I survived this assassination attempt. But I was overwhelmed by grief, pain and depression. And it was then that my father's invaluable notebooks containing his autobiography came into my possession….One of my cousins handed these notebooks over to me. He had found them in an office drawer of another cousin, Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni."
Moni, a victim of the August 15 assassination, was the editor of a newspaper, The Banglar Bani. So, it was assumed that Sheikh Mujib had handed the notebooks to this cousin, his nephew, so that he could have them typed.
Sheikh Hasina wrote in the Preface: "When I had the notebooks in my hand, I was at a loss for words. The handwriting was a very familiar one. I called over my younger sister, Sheikh Rehana. Our eyes were soon awash in tears. We went over the lines our father had written with our hands so that we could touch him again. It was as if our father was blessing us through the notebooks just after I had come back from the dead."
Hasan Azizul Haque, a leading writer, thinks that the writings of Bangabadhu completely reflect his frank and open character. He said, "Sheikh Mujib's writing style was very simple, touching and unpretentious. He could describe things to their bare-bone appearance."
On 14 June, 1966, Mujib wrote in his prison diary: "It rained in the morning. I got up quickly to close my windows since my bed might get wet. On getting up I saw that the cell mate had already shut the windows. I lay down again. I asked the mate to turn off the electric fan because it had become a bit cooler. I fell asleep again. I was late getting up. When I did so, I saw that the tea was ready. After drinking some tea I went out for a walk. The hen was sick and so the cook had given her some medication.
He said it was a little better than before. He said to me, "Why don't we slit its throat?" I said, no, there was no need to do so; it saunters in the garden so delightfully, all puffed up then. I really like its movements.
"From this day my case will be heard in the High Court in response to my habeas corpus petition. I don't know what the consequences will be."
In two paragraphs a contrast is drawn between the delightful morning weather and the impending courtroom drama that was about to unfold later that day. This is a writing technique many writers take time to master.
For Anisul Hoque, a contemporary novelist and poet, reading Bangabandhu's books was a great experience. He said that no one could miss the fact that Bangabadhu was a great storyteller. "If he had chosen to become a regular writer," Hoque said, "he would have certainly become one of our foremost authors. He could narrate details of even the most peripheral characters. I was moved by the description he gave of the Tajmahal. I have seen nothing like it."
In his Prison Diaries, Bangabandhu gave a description of a yellow bird that frequented his window. "The way he described the bird is quite extraordinary. It shows what keen and compassionate eyes he had." said Anisul Hoque, who has written a novel series depicting the lives of our Liberation War heroes.