The man who dared to publish the first poem of the language movement

Feb 20, 2022 at 8:45 am

Last modified: February 20, 2022, 12:16 pm

Engineer Abdul Khalek. Figure: TBS


Engineer Abdul Khalek. Figure: TBS

Engineer Abdul Khalek, a prominent journalist and founder of the historical newspaper Azadi, was a progressive-minded cultural elite in his contemporary conservative Muslim community. Aiming to connect Bengali Muslim society with the world, he left engineering and entered the publishing industry.

Defying the tyrant’s red eyes and their intimidation, he published the historical poem “Kadte Ashini, Fashir Dabi Niye Eshechi” (loosely translated – Have not come to mourn, but to seek justice) from Mahbub-ul-Alam Chowdhury the Kohinoor Electric Press he founded.

No one agreed to publish the fiery poem for fear of backlash from Nurul Amin’s government at the time. But engineer Abdul Khalek found the courage in his heart to risk his life and publish the poem as he had great respect for the native language.

The decision to print the poem was indeed a difficult one, but the challenge wasn’t over yet as they had to do it in secret. As planned, Abdul Khalek and his team worked secretly in the press all night and in the morning a 17-page booklet entitled “Kadte Ashini, Fashir Dabi Niye Eshechi” was printed.

It was winter and the night was both cold and long as the police searched the press when the writing and proofreading was almost finished. Khandaker Mohammad Ilias, another language movement hero who worked with the team, quickly went into hiding. The press staff efficiently covered up the entire composition matter so that the police could not find any trace of suspicion. After the police had left, the printing work was in full swing again. The printing and binding work for the sale and distribution of about 15,000 copies of the booklet was completed in secret through the tireless efforts of Kohinoor Electric Press staff. The price for the booklet was two aana (12.5 paisa).

Another hero of the language movement, Chowdhury Harunur Rashid, recited the poem publicly for the first time on February 23 at the Laldighi Maidan. Upon hearing the poem, the crowd became angry and began shouting slogans at the top of their lungs. The power of the poem’s lines was evident when the Pakistani government confiscated all copies of the poem before banning it. Arrest warrants have been issued for poet Mahbub-ul-Alam Chowdhury, Chowdhury Harunur Rashid and publisher Kamal Uddin Ahmed. Chowdhury Harunur Rashid and press manager Dabir Ahmad Chowdhury were arrested shortly after the Laldighi Maidan rally.

Engineer Abdul Khalek was born on July 20, 1896 in Sultanpur village in Chattograms Raozan upazila. At the age of five he was accepted into Raozan Station Primary School. Abdul Khalek’s talent was recognized early on when he received scholarships in the second and fifth grades. He was later accepted into the Raozan RRAC Institution and passed the entrance exam there in 1912. In 1914 he passed the Intermediate (now HSC) at Chittagong College.

He was later accepted into the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at Shibpur Engineering College. Early in his career, he took a job as an engineer with the Chittagong Electric Supply Company in 1920. Although an engineer by trade, he had a deep passion for literature and culture. In addition to the infrastructural development of Chittagong in his professional life, he built up the Kohinoor Library. He resigned shortly after the library was founded in 1929. The following year, he founded the Kohinoor Electric Press, which started a revolution in the world of Chattogram publishing. A number of creative magazines and various collections of literature were printed from this press.

It was the Kohinoor Press that published Dainik Azadi for the first time on September 5, 1960. The sheer dedication and tireless work Abdul Khalek put into publishing the newspaper underscores his integrity as a journalist. He was religious, but conservatism did not overwhelm him. He believed in communal harmony and for him the dignity of human life was above all else. Engineer Abdul Khalek breathed his last on September 25, 1962.

A TBS Nagad initiative.

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