SARDAR Fazlul Karim(1925-2014) was and will always be abiding proof that greatness comes cloaked in the softness of humility. A cloth bag on his frail shoulders, he would till a few years ago be spotted making his way from the Arts Faculty of Dhaka University towards Shahbagh, that gem of a smile assuming larger dimensions every time a passing student wished him.
And what was it that placed on this unassuming man the mantle of greatness? He did not create history; he did not go to power or seek it; he was, in his advancing years, not part of any political organisation. And yet he suffered. A dedicated Marxist in his youth, he made sure his self-esteem did not slide every time the Pakistani authorities hauled him off to prison. And he was in incarceration for nearly the whole time the state of Pakistan remained part of our lives. When he was freed in the early 1960s, in the darkness typified by Ayub Khan and Monem Khan, he made his way to the Bangla Academy.
And it was there that he spent the nine months of the War of Liberation. He had a simple, honest explanation for his inability to cross the frontier. How would he leave his family behind, with all those wolves prowling all around? And if he decided to leave the city and make his way, with his family, to the rural interior, how sure would he be that he could keep his family's body and soul together? He waited, patiently, for liberation to come. It did, one mesmerising winter afternoon.
Sardar Fazlul Karim was of the school where deep idealism came in tandem with profound commitment. A small man, almost to the point of being unnoticed, he remained a tower of strength in his various bouts of incarceration. His indispensability was proved beyond doubt when he was elected to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1954, even though he was in prison. He would not be freed till the next year. And then he would speak out. The lamb would turn out to have been the lion.
Karim's greatness is to be measured by his wide reading, by the erudition that led to his intellectual discourse. He was into Plato, Aristotle and Engels, translating them for his readers here. For him, revolution was a contemporary affair. “It is not right,” said he, “to ask when revolution will come. We are living through revolution…Today I see women working in the garments factories marching on the streets. That is revolution for me.”
The write is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.