Published in The Island on Friday, 24 June 2016
The making of Bangladesh
Title – ‘Untranquil Recollections – The Years of Fulfilment’
Author – Rehman Sobhan
Publisher – SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd. (www.sagepub.in)
Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz
Bangladesh is very much in the news currently on account of a round of brutal violence which seems to be aimed at minorities of numerous kinds of the land, and the publication of this book, ‘Untranquil Recollections…’ could not have been timelier, given this most troubling backdrop. This remarkable autobiography cum history comes off the pen of Rehman Sobhan, who would be done much injustice if he is simply referred to as a ‘commentator’ or ‘observer’. On the contrary, Sobhan is best described as a political activist, freedom fighter and academician who helped conceive Bangladesh and saw it through to birth and beyond. His life’s mission, evidently, was the development of this land of great promise.
Accordingly, what we have in ‘Untranquil Recollections..’ is a first hand account of how Bangladesh came into being and how it has survived as a country of immense potential over the years since 1971. But the early history of Bangladesh cannot be studied in isolation from the history of Pakistan in the decades of the fifties, sixties and seventies, and this aspect of the book adds to its value and appeal. The reader is, therefore, given an insightful understanding of the political convulsions and epochal processes that were at the heart of the break-up of Pakistan. Given this content, the book could be described as a ‘must read’ for all those interested in the post-independence political and even economic history of a considerable part of what passes off as the ‘Indian subcontinent’.
What makes this work eminently readable is also the pleasing writing style of Sobhan which measures up easily to the standards of ‘King’s English’. His narrative style is engaging and dramatic and these characteristics render ‘Untranquil Recollections..’ a highly memorable reading experience worth having. Most Sri Lankan academics, one is compelled to comment, have a lot to learn from Sobhan who has ‘kept things very simple’ while not sacrificing content and substance. The author has mastered the art of communication and this art must be appropriated by all those who intend to reach beyond narrow academic circles to the wider public.
Given the considerably important role the author played in the creation of Bangladesh, as a secular, Left-inclined political activist, economist and academic, it could be said that his life story is closely intertwined with the early history of Bangladesh. As the author recollects and relates his eventful childhood, youth and manhood, in the pages of ‘Untranquil Recollections…’, we are enabled to access a wealth of knowledge on Bangladesh, in its political, economic and social dimensions.
While giving us a graphic account of the political and related developments in one time East Pakistan, which eventually became Bangladesh, Sobhan brings us face-to-face with the prime political personalities of his time, such as the ‘Founding Father’ of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman and his close associates, who were personally known to the author and were his fellow political workers and activists. In fact, all who mattered in the emergence of Bangladesh, locally and internationally, are portrayed in considerable depth.
The author adds to the appeal of his autobiography by also relating political, economic and social developments in the ‘subcontinent’ to broader happenings on the international scene. Thus, is the reader enabled to acquire a comprehensive, wide-ranging understanding of what went on in the author’s homeland and beyond. These dimensions render ‘Untranquil Recollections..’ a many-splendoured, collectable chronicle.