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     Volume 4 Issue 70 | November 11, 2005 |

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A Tribute to a Remarkable Woman

Khademul Islam

This volume is a tribute to lawyer and social activist Salma Sobhan, brought out and published under the aegis of the organisation which she founded and with which most people associate her: Ain o Salish Kendro (ASK).

Salma Sobhan
Dhaka: Ain O Salish Kendro (ASK)
December 2004; pp. 222.

I have never had the good fortune of meeting her personally, but did hear stories. One of them was from my wife, who had been a RA (research assistant) at ASK previously. One day she and the daughter of political columnist Badruddin Umar went to Joydevpur on an assignment, and then stopped over to visit an aunt. It had made them quite late in coming back to Dhaka, and the next day 'Salma Apa' said they were responsible for her hiding in the bathroom the entire previous evening. Apparently the phone had started ringing, and knowing that it was a worried Mr. Umar calling about his daughter, she locked herself in the bathroom in order to avoid picking it up. 'Umar amakay mere phelto,' she had said, laughing the hardest. It is a tale that speaks volumes about her disarming unpretentiousness and ability to connect with everybody, regardless of age or station in life.

It is mostly in this vein that various people, including her husband Professor Rehman Sobhan, have written about her in the first two parts of the book which has contributions in it both in Bangla and English. One does have to smile, though, when one cames across the following sentence by Dr. Kamal Hossain, that 'Salma's journey took her from an immersion in traditional Muslim middle-class values…' Traditional, yes, but there seems to have been nothing drearily middle-class about Salma Sobhan in either family background, or in her life, in her instinctive service to the public weal and the common good that in our anti-elitist age perhaps constitutes the sole mark of the true aristocrat.

ASK is to be commended for trying to keep the memory of their founder alive, though it could have produced this volume, or at least its English-language portions, with much more care in terms of proof-reading and editing. The final section of this volume is a selection of her writings, translated creditably into Bangla from English by Sumon Rahman. I am unaware whether there is a complete collection of her writings (I noted that she began an article on Taslima Nasrine with a paraphrase from Voltaire, and who can resist that?), but if there isn't, perhaps ASK should give some serious thought to doing so. That would be the lasting tribute to her memory.

I have to agree with Afsan Chowdhury in the book: it is doubtful whether we shall witness the likes of her again in Bangladesh.

Khademul Islam is literary editor, The Daily Star.

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