December 17, 1978.
A study circle, comprising only 15 members, was formed in an auditorium of the then Bangladesh Education Extension Department (now National Academy for Educational Management). The members of the study circle pledged that every week they would read a book and reflect on it through a spontaneous, interactive discussion.
Forty years later, such study circles have been replicated in 14,000 secondary and higher secondary level educational institutions all over Bangladesh, engaging around 83,00,000 students in reading and reviewing some of the world's greatest literary works.
Prof Abdullah Abu Sayeed, the convener of the 1978 study circle, ultimately founded an organisation called Bishwo Shahitto Kendro (BSK) -- with the motto “we want enlightened humans” -- that has created generations of Bangladeshi intellectuals.
Besides reaching out to school students through BSK's excellence programme, Prof Sayeed came up with the unique idea of launching mobile libraries. Buses and trucks of different sizes have been fitted with book shelves and transformed into mobile libraries that can carry 4,000, 6,000, 8,000 and 11,000 books based on the size of the vehicle. These buses and trucks now travel through 250 upazilas and 58 districts of the country, engaging half a million readers. In June this year, 36 new buses and trucks will be added to this fleet.
Prof Sayeed has also established a library with 200,000 books in the BSK, where anybody can go to read for free. To become a member of the library, one has to give only Tk 300 as security deposit and pay a nominal monthly membership fee of Tk 20.
Thanks to these initiatives, in the last 40 years, BSK has developed a base of at least one crore readers. It has also been organising a regular study circle, called Alor Ishkool, in its building. Anyone above 18 can be a member of this circle and attend lectures on a wide range of topics -- world literature, classical and contemporary philosophy, poetry, cinema, photography, art appreciation -- while enjoying different kinds of cultural performances.
“My goal is to develop an enlightened young generation who will initiate a renaissance of knowledge and excellence in Bangladesh. How can I achieve this? I need to introduce them to the biggest minds of the world who have achieved the highest order of intellectual excellence. Litterateurs and philosophers like Dante, Sheikh Saadi, Plato, Aristotle, and great religious preachers and prophets have documented their profound thoughts and ideas in their books. Instilling their intellectual resources in our minds by reading their works is the only way to achieve our vision and enrich our intellect. This is how our young can be enlightened human beings,” states Prof Sayeed.