“A rose plant goes on saying ceaselessly —
Courtyard or graveyard wherever you plant me,
I will produce the queen of flowers.”
My grandpa Kabi Dilwar passed away today. He was known as the Ganumanusher Kabi: The poet of the people. It was noon and he had been writing all morning. He had always been an early riser. While we were sleeping on the other side of the world in New York, he had been sending text messages to my mother. He sent about a dozen. Usually he would send just one or two a day and ask that someone post it on his Facebook page. After all, he had been writing in local and national newspapers in Bangladesh all his life – but he wanted to reach the world.
He was always physically unwell from a young age. His mother told him once that she was happy that he wasn’t healthy. She said that he was dangerous enough with bad health and a pen. With physical strength, he would either hurt someone or get himself killed.
When he visited us in New York in 2007, an expatriate Bangladeshi society honored him with a ceremony. He would smile like a young boy and tell me – see? This little boy from Khanmanjil, Sylhet is getting such a big reception in New York; only because of his pen.
His pen was his weapon and he took a stab at injustice every chance he got; through poetry, prose and fiction. At one point, he also wrote plays. Much of his work was lost during a flood in 2001. But my Uncle Kamran has done his best to archive as much as possible. There’s a room dedicated to housing his pamphlets, newspaper clippings, books, and photographs.
A sick man on his deathbed, he was resurrected by a nurse from Bihar, India. She walked in one day and said that she heard he was a poet. He asked her what her favorite book of poems were. She replied, “Gitanjali” by Rabindranath Tagore. And then recited a verse in Bangla. They got married in a room in the hospital housing with two of his friends as witnesses. Both of their families were against the idea – because of their different cultural backgrounds. But young Dilu was in love and there was no stopping him.
He left his home and the surrounding property to the Kabi Dilwar Foundation, under one condition: that the house could never be sold. He wanted the cultural center to continue providing literature on behalf of the everyman. He asked to be buried inside the premises.
I noticed him getting more and more paranoid as he got older. He’d think hard and long if someone offered him some sort of financial hope with publishing a compendium. Several fund-raisers were held during his life – but he would rarely see the money and the offer to publish his work would disperse. One of these incidences happened in England when he went there for treatment in the early 90s. Local leaders in New York back in 2007 called him a cultural icon and spoke of doing everything necessary to publish a compendium while he was still alive. It never happened.
He left New York skinnier than he had arrived. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. His health had deteriorated. He wanted to go back. He needed people around him. New York didn’t offer him people with whom to converse.
He called himself a citizen of the world. He knew that he was a progressive man. I could talk to him about anything and everything. The last time we spoke in February when I was in Bangladesh, he sat me down and encouraged me to find a mate. I know you’re an artist and you have your stubborn goals just like I did – but the beauty of youth – if you don’t practice your youth now, you’ll regret it when you’re old.
He wrote a poem called “A Glance At Marilyn Monroe” and it reached an American poet named Norman Rosten. They were penpals for decades, always writing back and forth to each other. Rosten would send him books from Brooklyn. And Dilwar would gulp them up in Sylhet.
He had a message. He wanted to unite people and stop violence and misunderstandings amongst people. He wanted to educate and eradicate backward thinking lingering around in society. In a society so engrossed in religion, he wanted people to step back and study for themselves instead of turning to angry clerics. He was a wise man in the corner churning out solutions while others ignored him and continued fighting each other. But he never wavered – he stuck on his path to right the wrong he saw around him.
An hour before he passed away, he sent a text message in Bangla to my uncle Shaheen in New York.
“kabi shahin ibna dilwar o somogro.ke ratrir ful rojonigonddha vor.er surjjomukhi kumeru.sumeru majhkhane tar royeche poromsukhi. dui ful niye thako jibon.moron apnar koray rakho. Pojhotok pita.”
“To Poet Shahin Ibne Dilwar and all,
The queen of the night, the Tuberose,
and the dawn’s sunflower, are like the
north and south pole, and in between is where you find happiness.
Keep both flowers in hand,
live and die in your own terms
-Your transient Father”