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     Volume 4 Issue 11 | September 3 , 2004 |

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Recognised for an Enlightening Pursuit

Shamim Ahsan

With his grey Khadder panjabi with white payjama; hair, the infectious smile and the carefully manicured mustaches, he seems to have retained the same look for over two decades now. Not only outwardly, inwardly too. The same youthful vivacity marked with an energetic enthusiasm is still palpable in his aura. Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed has lost little to time.

Another aspect of Sayeed's charm that has made him perhaps the most well known and fondest face in the writers' community is, of course, his gift of the gab. This particular virtue also to some extent contributed to his remarkable success of whipping up a revolution among the youth in making them love reading through Biswa Sahitya Kendra,. A brilliant, learned but impulsive talker with a sharp sense of humour it is taken for granted that when Sayeed talks everybody else will listen. That he is an artistic talker was known within the Dhaka College campus during his teaching days. But it was the popular show Eid Aanadamela in the 70's and 80's and a few other television programmes which he hosted that made him a national celebrity. His ability of casting a spell with words was established for once and for all. It is this fame that came handy when he ventured to create his dream project Bishwo Shahitto Kendro.

Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed's mission is to enlighten Bangladeshis. In his efforts in cultivating minds, he has established the Bishwo Shahitto Kendro, which with its programmes has reached far and wide. He recently received the Ramon Magasaysay Award 2004, also dubbed as the Nobel in Asia, for his contributions to journalism, literature and creative communication arts. In its citation the Ramon Magasaysay Foundation emphasises Sayeed's "contributions to his cultivating in the youth of Bangladesh a love for literature and its humanising values through exposure to great books of Bangladesh and the world" for selecting him for the award.

Sayeed is the lone warrior in his efforts to encourage young people to read books, something he has done with surprising success for the last three decades.

One of the prominent figures of the literary movements of the sixties and editor of the influential literary journal "Kanthaswar", Sayeed could choose the secluded life of a full time writer as did many of his compatriots like Nirmolendu Gun, Abdul Mannan Sayed, Abul Hasan, Akhtaruzzaman Ilias, Mohadev Saha, Md Nurul Huda, Rafiq Azad etc. But instead of devoting his creative capability solely to writing, which would perhaps have been more convenient an option for him and would have guaranteed a more secure and promising career, Sayeed opted for a challenging mission. The essence of his mission is encapsulated in the now famous phrase: "Alokito Manush" (enlightened individuals). Although he didn't forsake writing altogether but, his dream of creating enlightened individuals certainly ate up a lot of his time he would have otherwise spent with pen in his hands.

It was in the late sixties when the young Lecturer in Bangla at Dhaka College, Sayeed initiated a unique concept -- Pathchokro, meaning reading circle, whereby every week he would give a talk on a good book to his students. The initiative received tremendous response, but the political upheaval just prior to the independence war and its aftermath, brought Pathchokro to an abrupt cessation. Within a couple of years of independence, Sayeed like many others, disappointedly found out that the "Golden Bangla" they all had dreamed of and fought for was still a Bangla "made of clay". He however refused to be despondent. "The process of creating the Golden Bangla wasn't easy and it required a lot of struggle and sacrifice in achieving it," he reminisces.

Being a practising teacher who met the young college students everyday in the classroom, he diagnosed the disease like a seasoned surgeon very quickly. Most young people seemed to be constantly disassociating themselves with the culture of reading, which was so dominant in the 30's and 40's during his own youth. "People die with the same values and notions they are born with and there is no addition no splendour to it in his lifetime," he recalls his disappointments of those days. The idea of the 'alokito manush' or enlightened individual was he felt a necessity of the time. "The society needs enlightened individuals" became the motto of his life and Bishwo Shahitto Kendro was created with that aim in view.

"I wanted to introduce the youth with the best books of the world" he notes, because, as he puts it, "a good book contains thoughts, dreams, visions, beauties, in a word, all the most precious things mankind has created both in the past and the present." In the last three decades Bishwo Shahitto Kendro has grown into a well-equipped library with most of the literary masterpieces most of the major, languages either in original or in translated versions. But more than that the culture of reading has grown steadily and widely among the youngsters across the country.

BSK started with a few thousand members who were mainly school going children in the late seventies and now it has a staggering 1,25,000 members across the country. Reading aside, BSK members are groomed with a whole package of cultural activities through organising workshops on filmmaking, photography, creative writing etc, watching films, putting up cultural shows and so on. Another Sayeed specialty is the mobile library where buses carrying books stop at some specified venues to reach those groups of readers who find it difficult to visit the Bishwo Shahitto Kendro at Bangla Motor regularly.



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