Professor Anisuzzaman, has elevated Bangla literature to great heights and grabbed the attention of the world to the beauty of our language through his works. Not only language, his writings on our national identity and educational, religious, historical and social reconstruction are considered as treasure troves by the country's academics. Recently he won the Padma Bhushan 2014, India's third highest civilian honour for his distinguished service of high order in the field of Bangla literature and education.
As a child he would watch lawyers in Bengali films wearing neatly pressed long black gowns fighting for justice. Watching the larger than life characters on screen, he aspired to be like them when he grew up. But this ambition changed when he was a student of class ten which shaped his decision to be an educationist. In reality, he has become much more than what he had dreamt of being. He is an emeritus professor in Dhaka University, an eminent writer and educationist, a passionate activist and the pride of our country, Professor Anisuzzaman. His love for his motherland transcends just language being intensely involved in every phase of the movement for independent Bangladesh
Born in 1937 in Calcutta, Anisuzzaman was privileged enough to grow up in a home that nurtured writing and reading. His father Dr. ATM Moazzem was a homeopathy practitioner who loved writing in his free time. “My mother was also quite into writing,” Professor Anisuzzaman says. “In fact, I enjoyed an environment at home where I had books and writing materials at hand at all times. My grandfather Sheikh Abdur Rahim was a journalist and writer who wrote a biography on Prophet Muhammad (Sm) back in 1988.”
Being so in touch with literature, Anisuzzaman decisively turned to writing from an early age and decided to serve Bangla literature through writing, research and teaching. Soon after the partition in 1947, he along with his family moved to Khulna and settled in then East Pakistan. “We stayed in Khulna for only about a year,” he recalls. “As we moved to Dhaka I was exposed to a rich literary society which helped to nurture my writing skills further. For the first time my story was published in the Nowbahar, a literary magazine in 1950, which boosted my intention to write more.”
After completing his HSC from Jagannath College, Professor Anisuzzaman enrolled in the Bangla department of Dhaka University. He had a distinguished academic career at the University of Dhaka from where he obtained his BA (with honours in Bangla in 1956), MA (1957) and PhD (1962) degrees. During his stay in Dhaka University, Anisuzamman was in touch with many illustrated thinkers and writers of the country. “The people I have closely worked and studied with in DU have inspired me in some way or other,” he says with gratefulness. “When I studied in Dhaka University, Dr Muhammad Shahidullah was the head of the department. His vast knowledge about Bangla language and his views regarding our national identity shaped my views and ideology,” he continues. “After him, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Hye became the head of the Bangla department and I had the chance to work with him as my research advisor. He introduced an academic journal called Shahitto Potrika which encouraged many aspiring writers like me from that time to conduct more research work on different aspects of our language. I was a student of Munier Chowdhury too, but the relationship that we used to share was nothing like master-disciple, rather we were very close friends.”
Dr Anisuzzaman had been to a number of renowned universities from all over the world for various reasons. He was a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago (1964-65) and a Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellow at the University of London (1974-75). In his long illustrious career he has served as a professor of the Bangla Department in both Universities of Dhaka (1959-69, 1985-2003, 2005-08) and Chittagong (1969-85). At present he is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Dhaka.
He has given the nation a great collection of publications on language, religious, cultural and social issues. His books like “Muslim-manas O Bangla Sahitya”, “Swaruper Sandhane”, “Purono Bangla Gadya”, “Bangali Nari: Sahitye O Samaje”, “Kal Nirabadhi”, “Ihajagatikata O Anyanya” are considered seminal texts by academics working on Bangla literature and language.
Professor Anisuzzaman did not confine himself only to his classrooms, preaching theories to his students. He actively participated in all the progressive movements the country has witnessed. During the Language Movement in 1952, Anisuzzaman was a college student, “I was a first year student at Jagannath College. I was working very closely with Jubo League and was in charge of protecting many important official documents,” he reminiscences. He also participated in the mass uprising in 1969, actively took part in the War of Liberation in 1971 and was the Secretary of Bangladesh Teachers' Association in 1971. He was a member of the Planning Commission to the Government of Bangladesh during the Bangladesh liberation war and a member of the National Education Commission set up by the government after liberation. He was bestowed with the noble responsibility of drafting the Constitution of Bangladesh in Bangla in 1972.
Apart from taking part in different movements, he has always raised his voice whenever our language, culture and national identity has been at stake. “During 1967, our information ministry wanted to limit broadcasting Tagore songs over radio and television,” he says. “In protest to that Munier Chowdhury and I, along with 17 other intellectuals collected signatures for a petition and published it in different newspapers.”
Throughout his celebrated life, Anisuzzaman received many awards in recognition of his contributions. He has been awarded with Nilkanta Sarkar Gold Medal from the University of Dhaka, Dawood Prize for literature from the Pakistan Writers' Guild, Bangla Academy award for research, and Ekushe Padak, bestowed by the state for his contribution to education. He has also received Ananda Puraskar from the Ananda Group of Publications, Kolkata, an honorary D. Lit. by the Rabindra-Bharati University, Kolkata, Sarojini Basu Medal by the University of Calcutta and Pandit Iswarchandra Vidyasagar Gold Plaque and Rabindranath Tagore Birth Centenary plaque from the Asiatic Society, Kolkata. Recently, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian honour for his distinguished service of high order in the field of Bangla literature and education. “When I received the Ekushe Padak, I could not believe that I had been bestowed with such an honour. Now when I won the Padma Bhushan, I feel extremely honoured and privileged to be one of the recipients of this award,” says the scholar modestly.
Even after achieving so many prestigious awards and recognition throughout his life, humility and gratitude remain very important virtues to him. His scholarly work in Bangla literature, selfless love for his country and contribution as a professor, is a source of inspiration to all generations.