First Bengali woman to receive State funeral

Illness

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Sufia's last request for a simple private burial and not state funeral

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Knew seven languages

সুফিয়া কামাল was born in a landowning family and was the daughter of Syed Abdul Bari, a lawyer, and Sabera Banu. During her childhood, women's education was prohibited and in accordance with aristocratic social practice of the time, Begum Sufia Kamal was given education at home.

She learnt Bangla, Hindi, English, Urdu, Arabic, Kurdish and Persian language from her house tutors.

At twelve, Sufia was married to a maternal cousin, Syed Nehal Hossain, a law student. Nehal Hossain was a liberal man, who encouraged his wife's social welfare work as well as literary activities.

In 1918, she went to Kolkata with her mother where she meet prominent South Asian personalities, such as Begum Rokeya, Kazi Nozrul Islam and Mahatma Gandhi, who would influence her greatly throughout her life.

Sufia moved to Kolkata, where her husband was studying law. Sufia Kamali was only 21 years old when her husband Nehal Hossain died suddenly of tuberculosis in 1932. They had one daughter, Amena, together. However, instead of succumbing to family pressure and withdrawing to her in-laws' home in Barisal, the youth widow stayed in Kolkata with her daughter, her brother, Abdul Wali, and widowed mother. She took a teaching position at the Calcutta Corporation Free Primary School for girls. She worked at the school from 1933-1941, while continuing to write and participate in social welfare activities. At this time she met the poet-essayist Abdul Quadir and Joshimuddin, who were co-workers at the school and life-long friends.

Sufia Kamal remarried again five years later in 1937 to writer and translator Kamaluddin Ahmad Khan (1907-1977), a leading member of the Bulbul literary group.

Work endorsed by Kazi Nozrul Islam

Sufia Kamal's first poem "Barsha O Galpo" was written at the age of seven while the first story "Sainik Badhu" at fourteen.

Her first book of poems "Sanjher Maya" (Evening Beautiful) came out in 1938, and was published from Kolkata. Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote the foreward and praised the young poet. Nazrul was very impressed with Sufia's poems and urged her to print them. Mohammad nasiruddin, the owner-editor of the "Saogat", printed Sufia's first poem, 'Basanti' (Of Spring), in 1926.

Your poetic talent amazes me. You have a high place in Bengali literature, as constant and established as the north star (Bangla sahitye tomar sthan uchche ebong druva tomar prathista). Accept my blessing.

Rabindranath upon reading her first book of poems 'Sanjher Maya' (1938)

The father figure of Bangla literature, Robindronath Thakur, read the book and wrote to sufia:

Poet Sufia Hossain is a risen star on the Bengali poetic sky (Banglar kavya gagane navadita uday tara). From the horizon on which the sun has set, to have been able to express my admiration for her with an astonished and captivated heart, this for me will remain a memorable pleasure,

Kazi Nazrul Islam in his foreword to 'Sanjher Maya' (Eventide Spell).

Sufia Kamal was also the first Muslim woman to fly in an aeroplane from Kolkata's Dumdum airport.

Begum Rokeya influences Sufia Kamali

In 1929 Sufia Kamal joined Anjuman-i-Khawatin-i-Islam, an association of Muslim women, founded by Roquiah Sakhawat Hossain. This association not only provided women a forum where they could discuss issues relevant to them, it also promoted education and social reform.

Begum Rokeya would continue to inspire Sufia throughout her life. She would write a number of poems on Roquiah and also dedicate an anthology to her, "Mrttikar Ghran" (Fragrance of the Earth, 1970). She would also help form the 'Rokeya Sakhawat Smriti Committee' (Roquiah Sakhawat Memorial Committee) which proposed that the first women's hall of Dhaka University be named 'Rokeya Hall'.

First Muslim women to join Indian Women's Federation

In 1931, Sufia was elected to the Indian Women's Federation, the first Muslim woman to be elected to the federation.

Fighting for Bengali identity

In 1947, when "Shaptahik Begum" was first published, Sufia Kamal became its first editor. In October of that year after the partition of India she came to Dhaka. During a huge clash between Hindu and Muslim of that time Kamal worked for their friendship and joined in Peace Committee. In 1948, when "Purbo Pakistan Mohila Committee" (East Pakistan Women's Committee) formed, she became its chairman. She also participated in 1952, with the Language Movement.

In 1961, when the Pakistani government banned Rabindra Sangeet (Songs of Rabindranath), she became involved in the movement among Bengalis that ensued in 1961. During the mass uprising in 1969, which demanded the resignation of Pakistani General Ayub Khan, she promoted the cause by forming Mohila Sangram Parishad (Women's Struggle Group).

Family's aid to Mukti Bahini

She was involved in the 1971 Liberation War and all later movements against dictatorial regimes.

During the Bangladesh Liberation War, two of Sufia Kamal's daughters joined the Mukti Bahini, setting up the first hospital for freedom fighters at Agartala. Sufia, her husband and older son, decided to stay on in the country to aid the Mukti Bahini by providing moral support and a safe place where messages could be passed back and forth.

During the war, Sufia kept two diaries, "Ekattarer Diary" (Diary of '71) and a poetic diary, which became "Mor Jaduder Samadhi Pare" (Where My Darlings Lie Buried). These poems recall the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army and call upon freedom fighters to fight to liberate their country. At the same time, in "Benibinyas Samay To Ar Nei" (No More Time for Braiding Your Hair) Sufia Kamal reminds women that they too have a duty towards their mother land.

National contribution

Since liberation, Sufia Kamal also initiated and led many other organisations, at both governmental and non-governmental levels. She was the founding-chairperson of the following organisations:

  • The Bangladesh Women's Rehabilitation Board
  • Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee
  • Dustha Punarbasan Sangstha (Organisation for the Rehabilitation of the Destitutes)
  • Chhayanaut - a major cultural organisation
  • Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation - a foundation for the treatment, education and rehabilitation of the handicapped
  • Nari Kalyan Sangstha - which has published a number of Begum Roquiah's books, among its various activities

Work translated to Chinese, Polish, and Russian

Her poems have been translated into Chinese, English, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Vietnamese, Hindi and Urdu.

The fullest representation of her work in translation so far has been in Russian. In 1984, a Russian translation by Kama Ivanova of her first book of poetry, Sanjher Maya was published in the Soviet Union. A few of her poems have been published in journals and magazines in the United States. In 2001, the bangla academy published "Mother of Pearls and Other Poems", an English translation of some of her most famous poems and in 2002 "Sufia Kamaler Rachana Samagra".

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