Dhaka University Years (1950-54)
August 1950, I got admission in the Economics department
and became a non-resident student attached to the Salimullah
Muslim Hall. S.V.Ayer was the head of the department and
Dr. M.N.Huda, Atwar Hossain, Dr. Mazharul Huq, A.N. Mahmood,
T. Huq, Akhlaqur Rahman and Musharraf Hossain were teachers
in the department. They were all dedicated and loving teachers.
Other teachers in the University whom I knew were Sarwar
Murshid Khan (English), Abdur Razzak and Nur Mohammad (Political
Science). Professors A.G. Stock (English) and Paul Newman
(Pol.Sci.) were two of the foreign teachers whom I also
came to know. Prof. Newman was far to the right in his views
even in class lectures and intolerant of other opinions.
One day he was very unpleasant with me as my definition
of 'democracy' was not to his liking. The matter had to
be resolved by going to the Proctor and the Provost of the
S.M.Hall. Professor Ayer's classes were interesting -- he
was a good teacher but used to play with words. One day
a student was asked to answer his question but the student
just kept standing and quiet. Prof. Ayer then asked "if
you can't throw any light on the issue, would you at least
throw some darkness?"
1950, I had an opportunity to attend the New York Mirror's
Youth Forum in New York representing Pakistan, after selection
by the East Pakistan Public Service Commission and approval
by the Government of Pakistan. In New York, we were a group
of students from about ten countries including India, Thailand,
Malaysia, Philippines etc. We visited the United Nations'
Building and attended a show at the Madison Square Garden.
We also went to Washington where we met Senator Lehman from
New York (I still have a large photo with him in his senate
office where, at his request, I was pointing to Pakistan
in the World Map).
1951, a few like-minded students in the Dhaka University
and I as the Convenor formed the Sanskriti Samsad, a cultural
organisation at the University. Sarwar Murshid Khan agreed
to become its first President. After about a year, he expressed
a desire to be relieved of the responsibility, possibly
under pressure from the University authorities. I then became
the President of the Samsad for a year. I remember with
gratitude Amiya Bhusan Chakrabarty (Bangla Department) who
helped us to draft a pamphlet "Sanskriti Samsader Ahabban",
a call for "buddhir mukti" (free- thinking). It
was different from the traditional and inhibited ideas about
music, literature and social customs, and had put greater
emphasis on Bengali ethnicity and culture. On the cover
of the two-page pamphlet, we put a picture--a striking woodcut
by artist Shafiuddin Ahmed, depicting a young woman in a
rural setting going with an earthen vessel to fetch water.
We celebrated the birth anniversaries of Tagore and Nazrul
in the Dhaka University Arts building and in the SM Hall,
even though there was serious opposition by a section of
the students to such observances. It gives me great satisfaction
that the Sanskriti Samsad continued to serve successive
generations of Dhaka University students as a vehicle for
progressive social and cultural expressions and that it
is still in existence.
1951, we staged a play, Jabanbandi, about
the human tragedies of the Bengal Famine of 1943 during
the Second World War. It was written by Bijan Bhattacharya
was first staged by the left-leaning Indian People's Theatre
Association. Professor Munir Choudhury allowed us to use
his University bungalow near the University Club for rehearsals.
I remember once being challenged by intelligence officials
near his home as I was getting down from the rickshaw. They
inquired what we were up to and whether any anti-government
activities were being planned. Habibul Huq, who was the
director of the play and happened to be the private secretary
of the chief minister of East Pakistan, intervened with
higher police authorities and dissuaded the intelligence
officials from harassing us.
in which I played a small part, was staged at the Mahabub
Ali Railway Institute close to the then railway crossing
on the Nawabpur road. Sensing some opposition from the public,
and to ensure the security of our women artists, we decided
to invite Nurul Amin, the chief minister of East Pakistan,
as the chief guest. We went to meet him in the Burdwan House.
He was smoking from a hookah after lunch in a small room
adjoining his office at the residence. He enquired whether
we were unanimous in the invitation and whether there was
any possibility of altercation or fights amongst the students
on this issue. We dispelled his misgivings and he agreed
to attend despite the fact that he had a previously scheduled
tour to Chittagong. He saw the entire play, complimented
us and even though quite conservative himself, advised us
to take the play to some of the district towns. The chief
minister then left directly for the close-by railway station.
S.M. Ali, then working part time as a reporter, published
a wonderful review of the play, with photographs of a few
scenes in the Sunday magazine section of the Pakistan Observer.
our contemporary women students were not yet ready for mixed
acting which in any case was not socially acceptable, we
got the help of some of our seniors (all of them have passed
away) -- Rokeya Kabir, Laila Samad, and Nurunnehar Kabir
(then a MA part II student ). The drama had quite an impact
in the student, social and cultural circles. We took the
drama with almost the same artists to the Comilla Cultural
Conference in 1953. Along with other groups from Dhaka,
we went by a special launch from Sadarghat to Daudkandi
and taken from there to Comilla town by buses provided by
the organisers of the conference. Main session was presided
over by Akhter Hamid Khan, who had resigned from the ICS
and became the Principal of the Comilla Victoria College.
The conference was a great success and another assertion
of Bengali culture and tradition, in the face of government
neglect and even opposition.
To be continued . . .
author is a former civil servant and a retired member of
the World Bank Staff.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004