Larger <i>Than</i > Life
I First met Dr. Mahmud Husain (Milu) five years ago at a dinner party. Today I wish I had met him sooner, for Milu was a figure larger than life, and time spent with him was always memorable.
Not that I spent much time with him: two weekend trips inside Bangladesh, a few walks along Baridhara Lake, and several social get-togethers. But his passion for life, his intellectual curiosity, and his love of adventure was so infectious that being around him for even a short time could affect one's view of life.
Milu loved Bangladesh, in particular, its people, places and history. He enjoyed driving his jeep to remote regions of the country. In 2009, I joined him and other friends on a trip to Birisiri, Netrakona. It was there that I first noticed Milu's unconventional style. For example, he had an uncanny ability to establish quick rapport with local people. When we reached the Shomeshwari river, instead of exploring the new place, Milu became engrossed in a conversation with a senior boatman. Next day, this man provided us a boat for plying up and down the picturesque river. At one point, we left the boat and trekked to the emerald lakes set among some small hills. When we reached the hills, Milu charged to the top ahead of everyone else.
This was unnerving, because we all knew Milu was a heart patient. But this slowed him down not one bit.
In November 2009, we set out for northern Bangladesh, stopping at Dinajpur for the night where Milu regaled us with tales of the region's aristocratic history. The next day we visited Kantajir Temple. A Mela was in progress, and soon Milu was in his element, striking up friendships with locals while drinking tea at a Jhupri stall.
Milu's knowledge of Bangladeshi history was encyclopaedic. Touring a new place with him was like walking with a history book.
At Birisiri, Milu waxed eloquent about the great leader Moni Singh (who hailed from that region) and his role leading the Hajong people of that area. While we were exploring Mahasthangarh in Bogra, he discussed the ancient civilization around Pundrabardhan. His words reflected a deep love and respect for the hard-working people of Bengal over centuries.
Milu's actions also reflected this love. He established an urban health NGO through which he and other doctors dispensed free medical services. He also educated several students from his home Hatia on scholarship.
Once I bemoaned the failure of Bangladesh to attract foreign tourists. Milu's unexpected reply: “Why bother? See how beautiful it is? Influx of tourists will mess it up. Let Bangladeshis enjoy Bangladesh.”
My last conversation with Milu was three weeks ago. Naturally, we planned another outing in his favourite country.
But that trip will never happen, for Milu passed away on February 20, 2011, ending a short but richly lived life. May his soul rest in peace.