PLOT: 5/5

“No one’s abbu spreads themselves everywhere like my abbu does. No one’s abbu smiles at everyone or hovers nearby all the time.

I remember Abbu. I don’t remember Abbu.”

– Humayun Azad, I Remember Abbu

Translated from the Bengali edition titled ‘Abbu K Mone Pore’ into English by Arunava Sinha, I Remember Abbu is a soul-stirring tale, told from the perspective of a little girl who used to share a deep bond with her father, but who hasn’t seen her father for 16 odd years.

At the heart of the novel is a heart-warming story of a father-daughter duo, who were deeply bonded to one another, doted, cared and looked after each other. The story is set against the backdrop of the loss of human freedom to choose what one is willing to do for oneself, which in turn affects the overall freedom of existence.

The plot notes that the young girl’s struggle is singular. Not only she hasn’t seen her father for 16 years and has faint memories of what he looked like, but she also does not know what a father figure is like. As a daughter, she is too sure that she will never get to see her father or experience the feeling of being someone’s biological daughter ever again.

Hopelessness is what this little girl is wrapped in since the first page of this novel, but it is this hopelessness that pushes her to narrate her sorrowful plight. However, she does not beg to be pitied or seek mercy at the behest of her ill fate as a child who has lost a parent.

Rather, she gathers the courage to uncover the dualities of masked faces that hide under the facade of sophistication, religious authenticity, and political greed. Hence, it is this sense of deprivation that feeds at her soul which is coalesced with a sense of desperation, helplessness, and angst that marks the plot of this breathtaking novel.

On the surface, it may seem like an innocent tale narrated in the first-person narrative voice by a young girl who does not know the whereabouts of her father who went underground one day and never came back, but constantly daydreams about this father figure, talks to this dreamy persona and imagines being around her Abbu.

However, when one peeks into the text to read between the lines, then one can see that it goes beyond a simple story of a child who misses her father’s presence. Instead, it also unravels the tale of the birth of a nation and its many children who have met with a similar fate.

They miss their fathers but can do nothing about it.

Set in the early years of Bangladesh’s War for Independence or Liberation War of Bangladesh, I Remember Abbu is moving and informative. At the same time, it makes for a serious reading experience that calls for some pre-requisite knowledge of the East and West Pakistan divide, the brutalities of the West Pakistani Army, the fight over Urdu and Bengali, the ruthlessness of partition, the aftermath of the war. All this with a specific focus on the civil war in newly formed Bangladesh along religious lines, the environment prevalent in the Indian subcontinent, and the circumstances that led to and sustained the 1971 war to name a few.

The foreword by Ananya Azad who is one of late Humayun Azad’s children, adds light to the life of an eminent Bangladeshi poet and writer like Humayun Azad, his struggles against religious zealots and political hypocrisy to champion several socio-political causes of historical importance, apart from the cause of literature and the written word.

The translator’s note serves as a brief introduction to this timely and engaging piece of Bangladeshi literature that provides multiple lenses through which the reader can familiarise themselves with the incidents that sparked the plot of this novel.

This puts a whole set of events of the past into motion which needs to be recalled and understood to fully grasp the depth of this novel. The pencil sketches add to the charm of the text and provide a whole new dimension that helps in visualising the plot, bringing out its nuances, and showcasing the characters.

Sabyasachi Mistry has done a marvellous job of retaining the innocence and simplicity of the narrative. His illustrations do not go overboard and keep the focus on the text. They complement the text and attempt to make the reading experience an engaging one. His illustrations help readers to decipher the emotional bits of the text while also helping them to not get carried away too far by the heaviness of emotional appeal that abounds the text.

The writing style is simple, yet has a profound impact on the reader who is bound to fall for the innocence that the little girl’s expressions hold. It rings with a poignance that comes from a master storyteller and an ace translator who has done ample justice to the original text. This can be deduced from the careful application of simple words instead of jargon that Sinha has maintained throughout the narrative.

While Abbu’s diary is how the little girl gets to know more about her father and his thoughts, it is also in the same diary that she gets to know his emotions when she was about to be born. Though a large chunk of Abbu’s diary is etched with the little girl’s early years, the onslaught of the freedom struggle of Bangladesh soon takes up a lot of space.

The diary entries become serious and detailed as the family moves from Dhaka to rural Bangladesh to seek shelter from the war. They eventually move back to their home in Dhaka but Dhaka looks unrecognizable as it has been brutally wounded in the war.

I Remember Abbu is not overcrowded with too many characters which lay emphasis on the little girl and her words. Her mother, the nurse, the doctor, or any other minor character has minimal dialogue, only as much as necessary to build the plot.

The ending of the book is as tear-jerking as most of the text is, and the sorrowful ending justifies the lamentation that the little girl goes through every time she thinks about Abbu. It raises several questions about nation-building and nationalism, leaving readers pondering with a sunken heart about freedom and its true meaning as the commoner is foregrounded to bring out the trial and tribulation that war is about.

On the whole, the book is not a very lengthy read though one that has a strong emotional appeal. It undoubtedly is a classic of Bangladeshi literature.

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