Once upon a time, when I was at DU
A university is often referred to an alma mater, literally a kind and nurturing mother. Just like our relationships with our mothers, each student also has a unique relationship with their university. Often, this relationship is imbued with joys of discovery, learning, and of course growing up. For many others, it is a time of intense struggle, both financial or personal, bullying, and in terms of universities in South Asia, often marred with dirty politics. And yet, the institution and its legacy is always larger than the sum of its parts.
As an alumnus myself, the greatest take from university is a group of wonderful people I call friends, and some lifelong lessons but not the academic kind, as I scarcely remember anything from the complicated derivations and theories, and the horrors of exams. I am not alone in cherishing the other side of university life. For many, the time has yielded lifelong relationships, and beautiful memories. Here are a few, of the mischief and carefree nature of youth, a young man's quest for kodom blooms for his beloved, and a student's journey to becoming a mother, all around the DU campus.
We had just started living at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Hall then, fresh first year students, minds full of mischief. About 20 of us gentle folk were stuffed into the 121 Mass(Gono) Room meant for four, and I could probably name all of them accurately if I tried. But the following tale might leave them a bit embarrassed, so I won't!
On this particular night, after wrapping up our "Guest Room" activities, which often included long-winded "talks" from political seniors about things most young students don't care about, we suddenly had the urge to go roam around the campus.
After walking about randomly for a while, shouting tongue-in-cheek slogans about some "boro bhais," someone suddenly suggested we must go find a mango tree and get our hands on the sweet summer fruit. The closest mango tree we spotted happened to be just adjacent to the Shamsunnahar Hall, opposite to the TSC swimming pool, and inside the boundary walls of the Teachers' Bungalow. The only apparent hurdle – obviously closed gates of the compound!
But that was no real deterrent. Coming to the base of the tree, we realised there were others smarter than us around, two of these legends were already on high up on the tree, picking off the choicest of mangoes. Even though our first reaction was to contemplate herding them off with shouts of "Stop! Thief," the two parties with the same goals came to an understanding. They would have free choice of mangoes first, and then lend us their prized make-shift fruit picker, which we would later return to them at their Hall.
A couple of us quickly climbed over the wall, ignoring the barbed wiring on top, and some others climbed up like monkeys trained for the job. The mangoes kept falling as the rest of us on the ground filled our bags. As holding a bag too, and standing in a position I felt was optimum— to make a run for it in case the need arose… Suddenly, a gentleman in a T-shirt and half pants coughed to get our attention, and sombrely asked, "Who are you all?"
I replied in an equally brash tone, "We are from this campus! Who are you?" He said, "From the campus? Do you have ID cards with you?" Upon being assured of our identities, his manner became more amiable. Taking a bunch of keys out of his pocket, he opened the bungalow gate, and said, "Lock the gate once you are all done, but please do not be too loud, my father is a cardiac patient, and startling him at this hour could be dangerous."
At that moment, he felt like a kindred spirit. I took out a couple of mangoes from my bag, and handing those to him, said, "Bhai, please take these for bhabi." He seemed fairly pleased with the unfairly small portion of the mangoes stolen possibly from his own tree. "You must be new on campus, which is why you don't know which trees yield the best fruit here. Try the mangoes of the tree inside bungalow number 11, they are the sweetest around."
We never got around to vet his claim, within a short time all of us were assigned our own rooms and became former Mass Room roommates, and off to what felt like new adventures at TSC, Fuller Road, Library and the nameless yet beloved nooks of the campus. I too, have been off in search of my own adventures since.
Department: Department of English
Convergence to a 'Jora Kodom'
Kraaaakzzz! Bommmmomm!! The drizzle suddenly burst into a shower outside of the 'Kola Bhaban' at DU. Oh, how sumptuously grey-darkened the sky were, already pulling me towards it, with raga "megh" playing at the back of my head. But alas! I was trapped in the market workings of some cows and goats and or fish perhaps, conjectured in weird combinations, trying to converge on some dynamic path! What cow or goat or fish ever does that? I dunno. After two hours – which certainly felt much longer – of staring at the piece of paper in front of me in a huge hall of a classroom, I was relieved by the grace of the 'time's up' bell.
Friendly faces all around were waving their hands, heads, eyebrows, and bags (!) pretty excitedly. Judging from their tones, we all had the same adventure through this LA LA Land and came out empty-handed. But it was still pouring outside, and I was looking for a particular pair of eyes in the crowd, a pair unusually big, droopy, dreamy, floaty, and silent. Suddenly, I caught a sight of them, albeit in the usual solitary despair. The rain wasn't helping either. I tracked the pair down the stairs as usual. They shot one last glance at me and drove off in a chauffeur driven car.
Must do something, I thought. By then, I knew that a pair or 'jora' kodom could augment the clouds, cut through the sorrow of those eyes and bring down a light that brightens everything without burning. Just the thing I need, but how… Whoosh! I was already out in front of the Central Library at Dhaka University. There went a boy… "Hey boyo! Got any Kodom?" I asked. The half-naked brat laughed and said "Naikka, shash." Time's running out, need to calm those eyes with kodom— the 'pholer moto phool ar phooler moto phol.' I started walking towards the Suhrawardy Udyan, thinking in the rain. Damn those cows and goats and fishes!
The Udyan was naturally devoid of its usual midday crowd on account of the rain. "Sir, cha khaiben?" A sudden shout came from a boy from his stall nearby the tree I was resting underneath. I walked up to him and had a cuppa while babbling my sorrows to the captive kid for no good reason. "Oidai to kodom gachh," came the kid's only sage reply at the end of my saga. Hearing that, my Dhakaite soul, despite its inability to identify or climb trees, jumped with joy. And then I jumped, actually jumped, over and over again, until I victoriously pulled down two kodoms from the rain drenched boughs, for those eyes!
The next half hour was through more rain, ending in that warm dusk light, although it was only a watery noon yet. While I stood outside, the owner of those eyes that had me captive came out of her hollow, and at the sight of the 'Jora Kodom', broke out a blushed 'jora' dimpled laughter! May be that's how one buys one's way to heaven… A lot of rain and clouds have passed since then, but I remain forever a captive of those eyes that delight at the sight of 'Jora Kodom.'
Tahsin (Full name withheld)
That rainy day
It was a rainy morning of 2008. We, the second-year students of Social Science Education department of Institute of Education and Research (IER), had some free time between classes. All the girls from our class decided to take a walk in the rain. I was super excited and led the parade. We walked down the stairs, enjoying the light rain. We continued walking and went out to Mol Chattar from IER.
When we were in the middle of the field, suddenly, it started to rain heavily and in the blink of an eye, most of our group ran back to shelter at the IER. It was only I and my best friend Nusrat. We looked at each other, and continued walking towards the Arts Faculty compound and Aparajeyo Bangla.
Rain-drenched and giggling like children, we turned left towards Shadow (canteen). It felt great, until we looked around and saw everyone staring. Every. Single. Person. Every student taking shelter at Shadow, everyone from the opposite photocopy shops and every cha-wala mama. It was like they were watching a freak show!
In an instant, all our excitement faded and we started to feel self-conscious. But what's done is done, and so, we kept walking, just not as excited, and returned to our compound, running late for class. We entered the classroom from the back door, sat at the last bench, drenched and shivering, our friends laughing at us. Never again did my friend Nusrat agree to any of my adventure plans!
But the plethora of emotions felt in that single day, from joy, to a bit of carefree rebellion, ending with a little bit of self-conscious embarrassment, will remain a fond memory forever.
Institute of Education and Research (IER)
My DU baby
My days at Dhaka University were cocooned in kindness and love, from my teachers and friends. We used to spend time behind the Arts Faculty, chitchatting with friends during the gaps between classes. The surrounding area was quite neat and tidy, clean, and covered in greenery. Today, there are a lot more buildings in the same area, and a much less open space, although many of the tall trees of Mol Chattar (open field in front of the Registrar Bhaban) still remind me of the greenery we had back then. The campus is still quite verdant, but to us, it felt less rushed and more peaceful. I cherish the friends I made there, and the times we spent sitting around the environs of the Arts Faculty. We also used to go to British Council to watch the movies screened by our department. I had so many revered teachers, including Dr Benazir Durdana, Dr Fakhrul Alam and many more, from whom we gathered some wonderful insights and perspectives, and I'm lucky as a student that some of them were very fond of me as well.
But my happiest day on campus was a bit unusual, unrelated to studies. After a few year's break, I had earlier restarted my education at the University's English department. By the day I speak of, I was a Master's student attending a class by Dr Kashinath Roy. Suddenly, I started to feel unwell, nauseated and such, my head spinning. I did not realise then, but that was the first indication that I had conceived my first child, after 8 years of being married!
Throughout my pregnancy, everybody around me at the university was very kind. I remember one of my friends brought a number of home cooked meals that I liked from far off Munshiganj, all the way to university! Others were always asking about how I felt or if I needed a break, or even accompany to the ladies' room. Their care and love has stayed with me.
My daughter was born at the then PG hospital in Shahbagh, near the university. On the day we were to bring her home, my mother picked up our tiny bundle of joy, and said, she wants to take her granddaughter around the university campus first! So before going home, we stopped off at Rokeya Hall, where my friend was staying as a student, and tarried on campus a while.
My mother said that day that her granddaughter will also study at the same university one day. Decades later, my daughter graduated as a fine student of her class from the Economics Department at DU. She is now married to another DU alum and faculty, and my husband is also a DU English alumnus. We, as a family of DU graduates, share a common love for the university and its campus from our shared but individual experiences of this university— seeped into the sweet memories of the different phases of all our lives.
Batch of 1984
Department of English
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed