(This is for Professor Fakrul Alam: A Belated Birthday Wish)
Sir: What is that book you are reading?
Me: It is this sweetest fantasy novel -- by a very famous German author...
Sir: Aah! Marin and her fantasies!
Me: (aside) What are you saying, sir? I nearly fell off my unicorn!
Before I begin fan-girling over my Fairy Godfather, to quench the curious bibliophiles (like yours truly), the book I had been carrying around that day was Cornelia Funke's The Griffin's Feather! Now, without further ado, I must confess with rather blushed cheeks but a brave heart that back in my undergraduate days, I was quite an oblivious fool fortunately, not academically and I cannot claim that I have radically improved in this genre. Why, you ask? The following anecdote is a perfect testimony of my aforementioned confession.
I started my Honours at East-West University one freezing January morning in Spring 2009 all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the Department of English. Being a prospective Lit major, of course I heard of the legends within the first week Dr. Fakrul Alam and Kaiser Haq our famous adjuncts we get courses with only after completing ten semesters or so. We had another Alam in the department, Manzur Alam sir. So, we used to differentiate them as Senior Alam and Junior Alam. Funny how time changes everything! By the time I started my M.A., "Junior" Alam had become the Chairperson of our Department, and the "Senior" one is now our very own Pro-VC.
In those days, I often met a professor either in very fancy designer shirts or in boisterous shades of panjabees always carrying Norton anthologies or some other extremely fat volumes. For almost two years, my interactions with him were limited to polite greetings, and he always replied back with this loveliest of voice and a twinkling half-smile. It was during the advising week for my 7th semester I realised that the tall, baritone-voiced professor I had so far seen only in the corridor or in Shamim bhaiya's office is none other than Professor Fakrul Alam!
One of the courses of my 7th semester was ENG 426, American Literature (Modern to Contemporary); and before the first class, I. Just. Panicked! A. I was not a big fan of American Literature back then, and I daresay I still am not, and B. all those scary and fascinating tales about DFA got the better of me. So, I collected a course outline, got all the books/ hand-outs mentioned in that holy scripture, and made sure that before entering the first class, I went through them at least once. I clearly remember that Sir discussed "A Rose for Emily" in our first class, and the first question he asked in that class was the definition of Gothic literature.
Imagine my nervousness topped with Gothic horror with a side an antebellum! Luckily, one hand shot up, and that was mine in classic Hermione Granger manner, and I recited the definition verbatim from Wikipedia and the Glossary of Literary Terms. Needless to say, that one definition established my position as the resident nerd (which I was in most of the classes, although sir gave me one A- in Contemporary Brit Lit, a fact I never forget to bring up on any given opportunity) and a quintessential "good girl" image in sir's eyes which I managed to keep intact until last year. But, I will come to that later!
I will not pretend falling in love with American Literature, no, that would be blasphemous! This ENG 426, and later on ENG 520 - Contemporary American Literature are among the top 3 most terrifying courses till date. But I loved sir's classes, every bit of it; they were charming, hypnotic, and opened newer doors and passageways into a world I cannot claim to have known before.
I remember fondly how sir went "Eiii" when we used to get a little inattentive, followed by a "Shush;" I miss how sir wrote "Think before you ink. Best of luck!" at the end of every questionnaire. The "wishes" were often accompanied by instructions of which books to bring and how many chapters to read before coming to the next class.
Speaking of books, sir's collection is enviable to say the least, even if you compare it with the library of other professors, and he guards them the way a dragon guards his treasure trove! Often, sir set a book in our syllabus which was otherwise rare or even unavailable in Bangladesh, White Noise for example, and A. S. Byatt's Possession. From what I remember, EWUians often dared each other to bring a book from DFA's office, but I bet no one in history dared to do so!
I sat hypnotized while sir acquainted us with Huck and Mitch, with Coleridge and Poetics and Nietzsche, with all those cranky American poets and brooding British ones! We landed in our first (among many) cats versus dogs debates while sir was teaching us "Cat in the Rain!" Some days, the discussion was all serious – discussing Said and Derrida; it was fun and frolic some days; on some it was acting out A Streetcar Named Desire to understand the characters better.
While I miss sir and his classes tremendously, I would not say the same for his handwriting. Imagine the horror of not understanding your editor's (who also happens to be your boss) scribbling! Just like Mini and Kabuliwalah's many adorable repartees, sir would say smiling, "Marin is not my student, really. She can't read my handwriting!" Well, Marin usually rolled her eyes, "No, I am not. I am the kid next door, sir."
Fakrul sir comes up as a strict disciplinarian, and he is one, but he is much more than that. My M.A. journey began with Advanced Theory class, another fearsome course; and in a quintessential DFA style, sir started the class with narrating his classroom policies and frightening the hell out of students in general. I tried to stifle a grin and failed miserably. Of course, he noticed that and grinned as well, "Yes, Marin, these are rules we intend to follow. No need to giggle," he boomed. Sir has, what I call a coconut personality (hard on the outside, but soft inside); and I am sure there are many others who will agree to having been blessed enough to get to know the extremely warm and affectionate persona of his. He is someone to whom I can admit rather ashamedly that I mistook his Edward Said poster as a Richard Gere one for years.
But I got to know him even better when I started working under his guidance at a well-reputed newspaper. Unfortunately, the "good girl" charade is rather difficult to maintain when you work with your mentor in the same cabin; and the slightly exasperated sir ultimately realised that yours truly is quite a chatterbox coupled with a mischievous soul. He could easily be Disney's King Triton, or Professor Dumbledore – moody, highly intelligent, protective, and magical with the softest of hearts.
This musings began with a snippet of our conversation from our meeting last week; little did sir know that he is nothing short of a Fairy Godfather to me. That little geek of his class is a grown-up and (hopefully) slightly more matured, but on days particularly lengthy or especially happy, when I need a little career advice or just talk about books-to-read, I know that my mentor is just a phone call away.
T. S. Marin is irrevocably in love with books and movies – preferably the ones with happy endings. She is also Lecturer of English at Primeasia University and is the Sub Editor of Star Literature and Star Reviews pages of The Daily Star.