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In Retrorspect

The Dhaka University Years (1950-54)

Recollections- Part II

M. Azizul Jalil

Our visit during the 1951 summer vacation to Barisal was memorable. Ishtiaq, Mustafa Kamal, Obaidullah, Kamal Ahmad, Rezaul Karim and I got our scholarship money and bought first class tickets in the Rocket steamer (at half-price student's discount). It so happened that two of our women classmates were also going to see their parents in the same steamer. We invited them to join us for lunch (we had occupied the entire first class area) and they graciously agreed. Considering that it was half a century ago and the social taboos of the time, it was indeed courageous on their part. We put up an impromptu talent show and one of our guests sang songs. Rezaul, a science student, wanted to do a magic gig. He filled a glass with water, covered it with some blotting paper and turned it upside down. The magic did not work on that occasion and all the water fell out much to everyone's amusement.

Barisal was a beautiful town in those days, particularly the riverside with red clay roads and large trees. We stayed as guests of our friend Hafizur Rahman, who invited and accompanied us from Dhaka to the spacious house of his father (Khan Bahadur Abdul Latif Choudhury). District Magistrate of Barisal made a vehicle available to us for touring. We went to nearby villages to get a first hand look of rural life and economy. We went to visit the B.M.College and the house of a famous person, Aswini Kumar Dutta.

The 1952 Language movement was an unforgettable event. On February 21, in a meeting in Amtala I spoke on behalf of the Sanskriti Samsad urging students to demonstrate and march to the Assembly building. Earlier that day, from the Samsad we had distributed pamphlets to the same effect. Breaking the police cordon at the University gate, we went out in groups of ten (five men and five women in our group, including our classmate Shamsunnahar, who always wore a black burkha). We defied the government orders against the assembly of more than five persons in public places and faced tear gas and lathi charge in front of the Medical College building. My friend Abul Barkat, with whom I had walked to the University that morning from Purana Paltan, was later shot by the police. I was able to talk to him when he was carried to the emergency room of the hospital. He was then bleeding profusely. Barkat was operated upon, but died that evening.

During the University days, some of us took part in a few debates and dramas in the Dhaka station of Radio Pakistan. One of the debates was on Jute Trade, chaired by our teacher Dr.M.N.Huda. Another was on World Peace, chaired by B.A.Siddiky, then a senior lawyer in the Dhaka High Court. In the latter, S.M. Ali, a senior university student took a leading part. Many years later in 1993, when visiting Dhaka I called him to say how much I appreciated the high standards of journalism of the Daily Star, which he had started. He recalled our studentday associations and a few occasions we had met in London in the mid-fifties. He invited me to lunch but again I missed it due to a prior commitment. It is a matter of great regret for me that he died before my next visit to Dhaka.

As we came to know the Radio's permanent staff, we became involved in their grievances against the central authorities in Karachi. When they went on some sort of go-slow action for a few days, we strongly supported them. Z.A.Bokhari, the Director General of Radio Pakistan, came to Dhaka. He and his brother were in the All India Radio (AIR) in Delhi. In the famous book Dristipat, the author "Jajabar" had humorously mentioned that the AIR was called the Indian BBC, standing for Bokhari Brothers' Corporation. Bokhari called a meeting in the lawn of the Station, which I attended on behalf of the Sanskriti Samsad. He was a smooth talker and a charmer, promised a few improvements in the terms and conditions of the staff artists and assured that they would soon be given the same facilities as given to the radio staff in West Pakistan.

In April 1954, I visited Ila Mitra, a communist leader, in the Dhaka medical college. She had been working with the Saontal peasants in Nachole area of Rajshahi. In January1950 during the Tebhaga movement, the peasants demanded two-third share of their produce from the landowners. There was a confrontation with the police. A few policemen were killed and their weapons were seized. Ila Mitra was imprisoned, tortured and raped by the police. While serving a court sentence of ten years, she became very sick. In early 1954, following public protests and press reports, the Jukto-front government transferred her to the Dhaka medical college hospital for treatment. She was still under police surveillance. For a couple of days we sent 'chana' and chicken soup from our house for Ila Mitra. In the hospital, I found her totally emaciated, and weak, and able to speak only in whispers. Even today, I retain in my memory a vivid image of her, which is only of a white sheet of cloth on the hospital bed- she became so small and thin. In mid-1954, given parole by the government, she went to Calcutta for better treatment. There she recovered, and became a communist member of the West Bengal legislative assembly. Dr. Shamsul Alam, professor of surgery at the Dhaka medical college, who had operated on Barkat on February 21, 1952 was also Ila Mitra's doctor. He treated her with great care and accompanied her to Calcutta.

Soon after the "Jukto Front" election victory in 1954 (voted for the front candidate -my first vote), I went to visit my birthplace Calcutta with a few friends. Among the places we visited were the residence of Subhash Bose, the studios of the famous New Theatres in Alipore, the Calcutta Museum and the Fine Arts institute and the movie halls and restaurants in Chowringhee area. While visiting the New Market, we accidentally met Kanan Devi who was also shopping there and talked to her for a little while. We requested her permission to visit her own 'Srimati Studios' but she could not agree as there was a court case pending. However, we visited the famous New Theatres, and saw the sets of the movie 'Mahaprasthaner Pathey' and discussed the movie with its photographer Ajay Mukherjee. He explained how he had shot most of the scenes including the mountain climbing scenes of the film in the studios in Calcutta.

In 1954, I became a member of the election committee (popularly known as the 'parliamentary committee') for the leftist Students' Front (Student's Union and Student's League). I took part in the election campaign, not only for the S.M.Hall, but also for the University Central Student's Union, which had remained in a limbo for some years. We won the S.M.Hall elections overwhelmingly, though the Student's League had walked out of the Front at the last moment. The Central Union was revived that year after a lapse of many years and S.A. Bari A.T. from our camp was elected as the Vice-President. I recollect celebrating the installation ceremony in a festive manner, with a 'Basanta Utsab' to coincide with it.

Our M.A. examination, due in June 1954, was delayed. Meanwhile, I got myself admitted to the Lincoln's Inn, London, and had to leave for England in September 1954. The Viva Voce for the M.A. was taken in advance of my departure. I took the written examination at the London University for which Hadi Talukder, the renowned Registrar of the Dhaka University had made smooth arrangements. I remember Prof. Musharraf Hossain (then a Ph. D student at the London School of Economics), coming to London's Victoria terminal to receive me, arranging for my stay in London and regularly enquiring about my welfare. The bond between the teachers and the students those days was very strong. That relationship continues between us even today.

The author is a former civil servant and a retired member of the World Bank Staff.



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