Razia Khan: A pupil's tribute | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 29, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 29, 2012


Razia Khan: A pupil's tribute

Years ago at a Nilkhet bookstall I spotted a book Argus Under Anesthesia, a collection of poems. It was first printed in June 1976, exactly the time I got admitted into the English Department of Dhaka University. Until I saw the book I never knew about it and I got enthused in reading it because the poems like St Joan In Prison, My Journey, The Map were written by her at Azimpur Estate in 1961-62. Forty years later I was also residing in the same place and reading those poems written there! Definitely it added to my nostalgia about those golden and dreamy days of the 1960s and 1970s. I was already writing about her, one of my most favourite teachers during my university days, and I planned to surprise her with its publication in our alumni magazine. My writing about her was finished halfway. On 29 Dec 2011 morning as usual I was sipping my steaming tea and glancing through the newspapers. I stopped at the sight of an obituary Razia Khan passes away. My writing came to a halt. Perhaps it will remain like the unfinished poem Kublai Khan which she taught us while taking class on Coleridge!
My writing about her now takes a different direction.
I was already quite familiar with her writings. I liked it. I liked her beauty, her grace, her elegance, her style. My notions of liking were formed from my readings about her in our newspapers and magazines. But I really got the chance to see her only after becoming her student! And my liking for her increased and never ceased. I remember the impact she had on me. Her visage beams through, obscuring all the others. A warm glow inside accompanies her memory. What was it about her that has kept a hold on my memory in such a positive way all these years? What was so great about her? What did I gain from her classes during my most dreamy years? What did I take with me that has lasted all along? There must be something about my favourite professor that made her distinct from the others. She displayed a personal interest in her students, caring and engaging in dynamics, in genuine love of her role as a teacher, and continually offered encouragement and praise.
In our first year honours she was assigned to take classes with us on the Romantic Period. She was given Lord Byron and Coleridge, who were less familiar to us compared to Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats. And how passionately she explained Byron's masterpiece, Don Juan, which Byron himself called an epic satire, and another two of the most remarkable and enduring poems in English, which are Coleridge's famous ballad The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kublai Khan that contains the very essence of Romanticism. The impact of her teaching was so obvious that years later whenever I heard the Grammy winning song Africa ( ...I stopped an old man along the way, hoping to find some long forgotten words of ancient melodies) I still instantly visualise the supernatural atmosphere of Ancient Mariner
It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
'By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

She was our adorable encyclopedia a multitalented personality fully familiar with various genres of versatile interest areas. For example in music from Thumri, Nidhu babur Toppa to Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Strauss, Hayden, Schumann...... Talking about the opium effect on Coleridge to produce his Kublai Khan, she showed she had no less acquaintance with the spirit world either!
She did not write much, but her literary works are enough to give her a distinct place in our literature. I recall her interview in the mid 1970s during a literary festival at Bangla Academy. Nimai Bhattacharjyo was among other literary figures from Kolkata attending that occasion. His popularity was on the rise at that time. But he was fast producing novels one after another that marred the quality of his writing. And to my delight she gave her forthright view: 'He writes well. But he is suffering from excess of writing not a good sign for a promising writer.'
Razia Khan's major novels include Chitrokabbya, Bot Tolar Upanyash which won her Bangla Academy Award, Anukalpa, Padobik and Draupadi. Cruel April is another of her collection of poems besides Argus Under Anaesthesia. Her novel E Mahajibon, published in the Eid issue of weekly Bichitra in the 1970s seemed to me rather autobiographical in nature.
But she had regrets all along that even till her later days her publishers had not behaved well, cheating her right and left. She needed an honest and judicious publisher. I vividly recall her looking for a publisher for her books in the late 1970s when several times she told our classmate Mamun, who had a library at Bangla Bazar, to find her a publisher. And during all those years she didn't find an honest publisher. Ironically, we see so many publishers lining up to publish a book free of cost if they find the writer is in a position from where they can derive more benefits.
The grouping in our literary circle is no less than the posture of our publishers here. I was among the audience eagerly waiting to hear a recitation of self-composed poems early on 21 February in 1977 or 1978 at Bangla Academy. The presenter announced 'Now poet Razia Khan Amin will recite from her poems'. She was sitting on the dais with other poets. Before reciting she said she was greatly moved by her being called a poet. She recited perfectly. But later I felt other poets seemed to a bit lukewarm about her presence whereas they appear so much enthusiastic about some other female writers and poets.
One fine morning I was walking along the corridor of Razia madam's locked chamber. Our another teacher Suraiya Khanam shared the same room with her. Suddenly a pretty girl came forward and asked me, “Mrs Razia Khan Amin er room konta?' I showed her the room. But to my surprise, I found her unlocking the room. I rushed and asked her: “C'mon! What are you doing?” She was a little coy about her answer: “She is my mother.” Then I came to know she was studying for her O Levels and she had a brother too. That pretty girl grew up to a woman of importance in the country as she rose to prominence as a fine feature writer. And now we know her as Aasha Mehreen Amin, editor of Star Weekend Magazine. I told her that story at a French national day reception a few years ago.
In one night in the late 1980s I was serving as English news producer at BTV. The news went on air. After a few minutes I got a phone call from a viewer. He was so angry at the incorrect pronunciation and delivery of the newscaster that he couldn't help dialing BTV's newsroom. I told him it was the first news reading by the newly recruited newscaster. “It should be her last also”, came the reply from the caller. Thereafter mentioning his name he told me that he had been serving at BCCI Bank in Beijing and he had come to Dhaka on a visit. I told him I was a student of his wife. The angry caller turned into a delighted viewer and I heard him over phone calling “Razia..Razia…” Moments later he came back to the phone and said she had fallen asleep but he would surely tell her about me the following morning.
During her last days she still remained active with her casual writing for Daily Star Weekend Magazine. As always her pieces were captivating for readers. I was glad to read her articles with enthusiasm. Well, the number of our universities has increased to 105 from 5 since independence owing to the rising number of students. They say it is hard to find qualified teachers for the universities. I say it is hard to find an accomplished teacher like Razia Khan Amin. On her first death anniversary I pay tribute to my one of my most favorite people. Long may she glow.
(Razia Khan Amin --- academic, writer, poet, critic --- died on 28 December 2011).

Salahuddin Akbar is a senior civil servant based in Dhaka.

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