Remembering Mintoo Bhai
The man who left us poorer
Syed Fattahul Alim
MINTOO Bhai is no more. He breathed his last at the Princess Margarette's Hospital in Toronto, Canada on Thursday morning according to Bangladesh time. In his death, Bangladesh will be left poorer. In his death the nation has lost one of its courageous souls who fought throughout his life against all kinds of orthodoxy, bigotry, regimentation and intolerance. The late Enayetullah Khan, who was more popularly known as Mintoo Bhai to his friends, colleagues, disciples, fans and all who liked or even disliked him, will be remembered by the posterity as an indomitable spirit who stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries in journalism in Bangladesh.
Mintoo Bhai was a very charismatic and sometimes a controversial character in politics. True, he was not equally loved by all political circles in the country. But that Mintoo Bhai was not equally acclaimed by all the political quarters was hardly his weak pint either. On the contrary, it is the courage of his conviction and his outspokenness about his views that made him so popular and unpopular at the same time. And if truth be told, the libertarian values he stood for all his life and the cause of freethinking and democracy he fought for made him all the more appealing to his admirers as well as his detractors. But the ability to speak his mind without prejudice was not the single most important quality that gave his personality the magic of its charm. There was something more beyond his public persona that always made Mintoo Bhai the centre of attraction whatever the occasion he happened to attend. Personally he was extraordinarily pleasant, accessible and free from prejudice. Anyone who approached Mintoo Bhai would not only develop an instant liking for him, he or she would also experience the irresistible impulse to own him. So, it will be an understatement to say that Mintoo Bhai was a generous and open-minded man. He was in fact an embodiment of the attributes that make a person a natural leader under any circumstance.
But no individual can be looked upon as an entity isolated from the social reality she or he has been born into. Mintoo Bhai was undoubtedly no exception. As a matter of fact, it was the time that made him what he was. The time when Mintoo Bhai joined the profession of journalism was one that was pregnant with the dream of change everywhere. In the then East Pakistan it was a time of struggle and protest against the military dictatorship and tyranny. He was still in his adolescence when the students of Dhaka University laid down their lives for the honour of their language on the street of Dhaka, then a mere sleepy provincial capital of the western wing of Pakistan. It was also the time when a wave of great change crashed against the shores of all the continents. The social revolutionaries everywhere became bolder and more ambitious. Revolution in the then Soviet Russia was not very old. The revolution in China was still young. The revolutionaries in India and the then Pakistan were convinced that it was not whether, but only a matter of time when another big world shaking social upheaval would change the face of this part of the world. The dream was that the old social order would crumble like a card house and would be soon replaced with one where people would have their ultimate freedom.
This is not a question of if that kind of expectation for change was correct or not. That was the trend of the time. The reason behind that kind of global perception was manifold. It was not long before that the Indian subcontinent had freed itself from the yoke of the British colonialists. The struggle for that freedom was a long drawn out one and the memory of that struggle was still fresh in the people's mind. But the kind of independence the people of this part of the world ultimately won was generally perceived to be not worth the blood and sacrifice it had claimed. There was an atmosphere of widespread frustration everywhere. And the way the Pakistani rulers came down heavily on the students and the masses for their very legitimate demands for democracy and for the rightful place of their mother tongue as one of the state languages of Pakistan, outraged the entire populace of this alluvial Gangetic delta called Bengal. The upshot of these global and local developments was the universal desire for a radical social change in the minds of the people everywhere. No enlightened young person of that time could resist the temptation of joining the ranks of the radicals and the revolutionaries in society. So there was nothing out of the ordinary in the fact that Mintoo Bhai, being born to a family that belonged to the class of the ruling elites of the then Pakistan, chose a career that was hardly rewarding in that time. Moreover, he evinced a liking for the radical way of thinking early in his student life. He even forwent a cushy job in the beginning of his career and opted for the less profitable job of a journalist as reporter in the Bangladesh Observer. Later, he launched his own venture, the Weekly Holiday, amidst the rebellious days of anti-autocracy students movement and the struggle for democracy in the sixties of the last century.
The Weekly Holiday of the sixties and the seventies of the last century under the editorship of Enayetullah Khan was not just one of the other newspapers. It fitted into the need of the time so befittingly that Holiday instantly became the spokesman of the radicals and revolutionaries of that era. The radical intelligentsia, the student revolutionaries, the progressive cultural workers, the anti-military junta political activists, the enlightened section of society who believed in free thinking and democracy found in the weekly Holiday a ready intellectual platform for its strong views and opinions. It was not only for its political radicalism that gave the paper its popularity. It was also the leading English journal of that time that many teachers and students of colleges and universities would like to read only for the beauty and power of the language with which the weekly expressed its views. In a word, the Weekly Holiday was the great crucible of radical and revolutionary ideas at least for a decade since its inception in the mid sixties of the last century.
And the man who stewarded this huge activity was none other than the late lamented Enayetullah Khan or our beloved Mintoo Bhai. But meanwhile there were sea changes throughout the world. Bangladesh was not an island not to be affected by that great shift in the priorities of the thoughts about radicalism and social revolution. The social and political movements that Mintoo Bhai and his creation, the weekly Holiday, stood for had gradually also underwent a transformation. But the spirit of this great icon of free and courageous thinking did not die down with the change in time. He again launched a new journalistic venture, New Age, an English daily, at the fag end of his life. However, Mintoo Bhai could not live to see the full fruition of his yet another new dream.
Though this stalwart of journalism in Bangladesh is no more with us physically, he will continue to live in the hearts of the generations to come through the legacy of freedom and tolerance in thinking that he has left behind.