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Novelist, Playwright, and Development Practitioner
Worldbank, USA

Review of Bicholito Somoy

The Mughals and the Ahom Raj

History Recollected in Fiction

Azizul Jalil

This is to introduce Abdun Noor's epic of the seventeenth century life in Dhaka under the Mughals. Married to Najma, an Assamese, Noor was inspired to look east in his quest for a romantic story with an authentic underpinning. This led to a research into available historical documents over a period of five years on the relationship between the Mughals and Assam, then known as Ahom Rajjya.

The result of this work of love, inquisitiveness and imagination is a book of four hundred plus pages in Bangla, "Bicholito Somoy". It is a story of romance, intrigue and valour. Aurangzeb's third son, Prince Mohamamd Azam Shah, sent by the emperor as the Subedar to the difficult but rich province of Bengal in 1678, is one of the principal characters. The book was published by Magnum Opus during the last Boi Mela in Dhaka. A worthy feature is that all profits from the sale of this book would be contributed to the Grameen Shikkha Trust of the Grameen Bank for awarding scholarships to poor students in the rural areas.

Primarily a writer of plays and fiction, Abdun Noor has produced a historical novel of great interest to those who are eager to know about Dhaka's ancient history, glory and tragedies. Readers will not be disappointed. The book is rich in historical events, around which the fictional account has been woven, in an intricate tapestry of fine prose. The characters speak softly into the reader's ears, with the author taking the role of a behind the scene prompter and narrator.

The author makes no claim of writing history but is confident of the solid foundations of his two-part novel, the present book being the first part. Prince Azam, a capable general and administrator at the young age of twenty-seven and trusted by his father, did come to Dhaka as the Subedar. He came to replace Shaista Khan, who ruled Bengal with distinction until his enemies spread the word that he was not transferring the collected revenues due to the emperor in Delhi. Aurangzeb sent Azam to enquire into the allegations and clear up the mess. Azam, however, was recalled after only fifteen months when Aurangzeb needed a trustworthy general to lead the Mughal forces in the war in the Deccan. The allegations against Shaista Khan were not conclusively proved, nor was he fully cleared. Since no other suitable person was available for Sube Bangla, known as a punishment posting, he returned to Bengal a second time as the Subedar.

Vulnerable as it was from attacks and assertion of suzerainty by the Mughals from time to time, the Ahom Rajjya often attracted attention of the Mughals for another reason. It was in a strategic position being on the route to China. Aurangzeb had expanded the Mughal supremacy to the farthest corners-from Afghanistan to Burma, and Kashmir to the Deccan. His ambition was to move toward China and had reportedly asked Azam to look into the possibilities. Earlier in 1673, during Mir Zumla's time as Subeder, fearing invasion by the Mughals and the loss of his kingdom, the Hindu Ahom Raja had sent huge sums of money, elephants and also his young daughter, Princess Nangsen Gabharu to Delhi to be kept there as a hostage. Gabharu was brought up as a princess in the palace harem, with all the rights and honour. While she pined for her native land, she also developed affection for the dashing Prince Azam. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Azam also fell in love with the Ahom princess and married her against the wishes of the imperial court.

The fictional part of Bicholito Somoy is the story of the life and times of that era in Dhaka when it was a mixture of the grandeur of the life of the nobles and the hard life and reality of the common people. The Ahom princess, wielding considerable influence in the court via Azam Shah, was both a figure of respect and deference to some and an object of envy and enmity to others. The intrigues from which Gabharu suffered and the ups-and-downs of her tempestuous relationship with the Mughal Prince are narrated in a manner that the story often appears to be real. When Prince Azam left Bengal in 1969, all traces of Nangsen Gabharu vanished. According to folklore, the Ahom Princess was assassinated and buried in the Lalbagh Fort before the departure of Prince Azam. Some say that Pari Bibi's mazar is of none other than Gabharu, who might have been given that name. One of the daughters of Shaista Khan was Iran Dukht, who could also be buried in the Fort.

Part history and part fiction, Bicholito Somoy would be a thoroughly enjoyable reading for the richness of its story and the manner of its telling.


About the Author

Abdun Noor has devoted his entire professional life of 44 years to foster development among least developing countries of Africa, Asia, Middle East, Latin America and Caribbean; of which 35 years were from the World Bank. Abdun has earned his PhD in Educational Administration from Michigan State University (1965); and studied at Graduate School of Education of Stanford University (1987). He joined the World Bank in 1970.

Abdun’s development contribution encompasses five distinct dimensions of work. First, he has engaged for diversified policy reforms and analytical research work for education and manpower development across 30 least developing countries. As a young policy planner during early seventies, he has articulated for the World Bank its policy initiative on “Education and meeting of Basic Human Needs”, 1979; for the UNESCO he has written a think piece on “Managing Adult Literacy Programs” which also became his key note presentation at the Arusha International Literacy Conference convened by the Unesco in 1984. Abdun has advanced the cause of non formal education in a civil society, the role the NGO’s could play to discern that contribution, within World Bank; and organized and directed the first tripartite high level meeting of Clients, NGOs, and The World Bank representing 12 east and south African countries at Nairobi in 1983.

Second, Abdun have managed long-term educational and institutional policy reforms at central planning, policy and decision-making levels. He has lead preparation of the education and manpower development program of the First Five Year Plan of the Governments of Bangladesh (1973), and the Fourth Five Year Development Plan of Pakistan (1968). Abdun has lead the World Bank’s technical assistance program on education and manpower development for Iran and Saudi Arabia (1974); and contributed to the design of their programs of higher education, adult literacy, teacher training and manpower development. Abdun has served as the counterpart Technical Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education in Ethiopia and helped in designing the plan for development of institutions of higher education of Ethiopia (1984).

Third, Abdun conducted extensive operational work in project management, including design, implementation, management, and evaluation of human resources development, and poverty alleviation projects across the globe from seventies to nineties; as a portfolio manager in the East African Region during nineties he has overseen the implementation of 30 human resource development projects worth US$ 2 billions.

Fourth, Abdun has carried out design and delivery of innovative learning and training courses on The World Bank’s Operations and Portfolio Management for senior staff of the World Bank; Islamic Development Bank; European University of Peace; and Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution and for Arab Bank for development of Africa.

And finally, recognized as a Playwright, Novelist and Essayist, in his country Bangladesh and abroad, Abdun has carried out his creative writings throughout the period of 1952-2002. Abdun’s writings reflect the internationalism of his life and span the globe. The first novel, PEGUSUS, 1980, is based on the life of Guyana; the second novel, ”SHUNNA BRITTO” -The Empty Circle- 1990, is based on the life of expatriate immigrant Indians sub continentals residing is USA; the third novel, UTTARAN, Transition of A Married Women” 2003, is based of midlife crisis of a modern Bangladeshi in her own land.

Abdun has just published an epic novel, “ BICHOLITO SOMOY - The Uncertain Time-, of over thousand pages in two volumes, covering rise of Bengali nationalism during the period of 17th century India. The publisher is Magnum Opus.

In addition, Abdun has written many plays, which were broadcast over TV Channels in Bangladesh, were translated and staged in abroad. His English play “Quest” had been staged and repeatedly performed in Washington DC. Furthermore, as a live Public Television Broadcaster, Abdun continues to compare discussion forums on culture and development for different TV channels of Washington DC and Bangladesh.

Abdun is the proud father of two sons and a daughter. The eldest son, Waseem 34, graduated from Stanford University as a presidential scholar and earned his doctorate in economics from the Columbia University. The daughter, Nausheen, 24, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania served as an executive consultant with Gap International and currently pursuing graduate studies at SOAS. The youngest son, Wameek 22, graduating from the Vassar College, served as a staff of the Corporate Executive Board at Washington DC and to returned to SAIS of John Hopkins University in September 2005. Najma, his wife of 37 years, is a teacher. They both live in Potomac, MD

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