Ever-renewing Old Glory
Professor Syed Moqsud Ali (Former Dean and Professor of Political Science): I still remember that day in the mid 1940s, my first day at the Arts Faculty (at present the south wing of Dhaka Medical College) of Dhaka University. In my mind's eye, I can still see the mango tree and the pond at the entrance of the university, silent observers of eras past. Modhu's canteen was one of the favourite places on campus. Its name is firmly etched in the history of Dhaka University as well as Bangladesh's national politics. It was the nerve centre of the campus and the gathering place for many renowned authors, social activists and political leaders.
Among the residential halls of Dhaka University, Salimullah Muslim Hall holds a special status due to its architectural heritage. We took part in DUCSU elections with a view to getting involved in the development of the student community. Factitious politics did not dictate the order of the day. It would be incomprehensible today to imagine political opponents sharing a room and campaigning for their respective parties, but that was how it was back in those days.
The Young Pioneers group won the DUCSU election and I was elected the Cultural Secretary. We arranged cultural meetings, literary discussions, and had a debating club. At one such debate we had teams from Oxford, Cambridge and Glasgow University. The Dhaka University won the debate with flying colours. The following day we enjoyed a river cruise with the foreign delegates and proudly showed them the beauty of our shores.
In the winter of 1950, we staged “Eureka”, a play authored by me. As it was against social norms in those days, women didn't perform in public, so the female characters had to be played by male students. The three-storied Curzon Hall was packed with eager audience. Dr. Mohammed Shahidullah, our teacher, was very proud of our performance, which made our efforts all the more pleasurable.
At a point in the nation's history, when politics was forced into a state of stultifying inactivity owing to an absence of democracy, it fell to the students to play a significant role in articulating public grievances. Today, as we look back at that glorious phase of the country, it is that contribution of the students to the struggle for democracy that we recall in all humility. Theirs was an achievement from which all other liberal ideas were to follow. And we are better off today, despite our present problems, for what they did all those years ago.
Dr. Razia Khan: Litterateur Dr. Razia Khan joined Dhaka University as a lecturer, department of English, in 1962. Her contribution to theatre at a time when it was at its growing stage in the region is unparalleled. As a student of Dhaka University (DU), she acted in “Bijaya”, “Nildarpan”, “Meghdut” and other plays. As a teacher of DU, she taught English plays and acted with students. A member of the theatre group Dhaka Stage, she acted and directed plays in English. For her contribution to art and letters she has been awarded the Ekushey Padak, Bangla Academy Award and Ananya Award.
She congratulated Dhaka University on completing 90 years. Recalling memorable experiences, she said, “A periodical, based at DU's Salimullah Hall, published my first Bangla short story in 1956. My friends seemed rather surprised to see me write in Bangla.”
She remembered that DUCSU was very active in those days and had a strong and vibrant cultural front. “The university may have had a less glamorous appearance in those days, but we had the practice of healthy politics, and a better academic environment. Police and other law enforcers didn't enter the campus just like that,” she said. “I have a lifetime of memories at DU, I wish the institution a glorious future,” she concluded.
Dr. Fakrul Alam: Noted translator and a senator of Dhaka University, Dr. Fakrul Alam grew up in Dhaka in the 1950s and early 1960s and enrolled in DU in 1969 amidst a lot of political turmoil. In his opinion, Dhaka University was and still is the cultural capital of the country.
“In the later years of the '60s, the campus was vibrant with frequent cultural programmes. Gano Sangeet, in particular, was a very popular and inspiring genre. Since I was a student of the university, my parents allowed me to stay out on February 21. Joining the midnight procession with friends and listening to musical events organised all over the campus throughout the day are also unforgettable memories,” he said.
“After 1971, there was mini renaissance in the campus. DUCSU's (Dhaka University Central Students Union) cultural front, Chhatro Union and other cultural organisations actively voiced their opinions and demands on many important issues,” reminisced Dr. Alam.
“I'm not pessimistic about the present prospects of the campus. There may be no identifiably unified cultural movement in the campus now. But you can see that socio-political and cultural organisations -- large or small -- holding different programmes at TSC and at other areas of the campus at any given day. And that's also significant,” he said.
Awareness of current issues and the spirit of activism are still noticeable in the students, according to him. “Take, for example, the tragedy that happened to our colleague Rumana Manzur. I am shocked, but yet, when I see my students protesting on the streets and in the corners of this campus, I see grounds for optimism. I congratulate the institution for remaining the most exciting and interesting centre for cultural activism in the country for 90 years,” he said.
Dr. Enamul Haque (studied Chemistry at Dhaka University): In the 1960s when I was a student of DU, I got involved in student politics as well. I worked on a DUCSU play. Honestly, I feel that my life totally changed when I got enrolled in DU. I got directly involved in the cultural movement to uphold our traditions. I acted in a play, titled “Maxim Gorky”. Poet Sufia Kamal's daughter Sultana Kamal acted in that play as well. Through that play, I was introduced to and gradually got acquainted with Sufia Kamal. Around that time, Rabindranath was banned by the Pakistani government. Despite that we staged Tagore plays “Tasher Desh” and “Rakto Karobi”. So many memorable experiences!
I used to stay at Fazlul Haque Hall (room number 18) on DU campus. After 42 years, I recently went to that room. I got really emotional. May you continue moulding future nation-builders Dhaka University, as you have for 90 years.
Humayun Ahmed (studied Chemistry at Dhaka University): This is a landmark occasion; DU has turned 90. It seems like it was just the other day that I was a DU student. I used to stay at Mohsin Hall. As a meritorious student I got a room all to myself. My room kind of became a library; I had a considerable collection of books. Since I loved music, my father bought me a record player. That room had witnessed so many memorable incidents!
During the day, I used to read at Public Library. Sometimes I'd be at Shareef Mia's canteen, for tea. I'd occasionally peek into Bangla Academy, during musical programmes. But no matter where I was or what I was doing, by dusk I'd be eager to return to my room at Mohsin Hall. I didn't have a lot of friends and call it strange, but my room seemed like a friend to me. May Dhaka University maintain its reputation of being a pioneering institute.
Dolly Zahur: I don't think I have any unpleasant memories from my university life. I was born and raised in the Green Road area. Dhaka University was not far from our home; it was a rather short rickshaw ride. After enrolling at DU, I was intrigued by the weeklong cultural programme. Sheikh Kamal bhai (who was a senior student then) encouraged me to audition. My audition fetched me a role in a play that was staged at T.S.C. While I was a DU student, I also got enrolled at Natyachakra and Chhayanaut. However, I couldn't continue with the music lessons.
I'm elated that my university has turned 90.