Razia Khan Amin: teacher, poet, novelist
Razia Khan Amin taught us English literature at the University of Dhaka in the mid-seventies and early eighties. She died at seventy five in a Dhaka hospital of old age complications on December 28, 2011. Kaiser Haq, one of her best students and Bangladesh's premier English language poet, SMS-ed me the news of her death. I was dumbfounded. I didn't even know that she was in a hospital.
Winter has always brought death with it. This year's winter is getting unbearable. First, novelist Rashid Karim. Then Prof. Kabir Chowdhury. After that Abdur Razzak, the Awami League's popular leader. We had to wait for his death to find out that the good man in politics was still loved by the people. Abdur Razzak was a very healthy man in his thirties and forties. When I used to attend my DU classes in 1980 or 1981, he used to take his seven-year-old daughter to school in a rickshaw through Dhanmandi Road No. 2. The little girl certainly got his company less than she needed. She talked to her heart's content all the way. I affectionately looked at the father and daughter duo every day. I was shaken to my roots when I later learned that the cute girl had died of cancer and Abdur Razzak had wept like a child for her. Thirty years later the nation wept for him. December 2011 also snatched away Brother Thomas More, my elegant and learned headmaster at St. Gregory's High School. Finally Razia Khan Amin, one of our favourite senior teachers at Dhaka University and a creative person of rare merit.
O Winter, I would love you to leave quickly. I need spring. I don't need any more death. I love life. I am utterly depressed as I write one obituary article after another.
Shahnaz Munni, a brilliant writer of fiction and poetry of this generation, informs me that she interviewed Razia Khan Amin as a young writer/journalist in 1997 or 1998. The lady was very, very affectionate to her. In fact, she hasn't seen a more affectionate senior writer/academician. I told her that Prof. Amin might have liked her polite and respectful behaviour a lot. Shahnaz is famous for her modesty and nice manners. On the other hand, the late professor/writer occasionally complained that the present day youngster was not well-behaved or thoughtful. Razia Khan Amin, my respected teacher, was a gifted person, a little whimsical but very affectionate.
In 1992 a student leader friend of mine took me to her Gulshan residence. She was in an apron with a broom in hand. She was cleaning her drawing room. An Oxonian, senior professor, bilingual poet and brilliant Bangla novelist! Typical of her, she told us point blank, 'Fine that you have come to see me but I am busy. I can't let you eat anything. Don't be offended, okay?' We assured her that it was okay with us. We listened to her. I told her of an incident or two that I remembered from her classes. I one day liked the word 'philistine' used by her. She was regretting that the world was getting full of them. Another day only I in the class could name Laura, Petrarch's sweetheart, on being asked by her. We were learning sonnets and we were barely out of our teens then. She was perhaps fed up with seeing meritorious students with no love for or little knowledge of literature. She was so happy that she praised me in superlative terms. 'Full marks to the young man,' she gladly announced. I was instantly a hero of sorts.
Suddenly, in her drawing room in 1992, she looked smilingly at me, threw away the broom and got rid of her apron. 'Sit quiet. Let me see what is there in the fridge.' I smiled quietly at my friend. I knew I had struck the right string in her heart. She came back with sandwiches, sweets, seven-ups and what not. 'All my life I wanted to teach students like you, Junaid. How gratifying that you remember so much from my class lectures even after all these years!' For an hour or so she gave us her wonderful company and undiluted mother's affection. She was only a couple of years younger than my own mother. I also saw an innocent child in her. She called Asha Mehreen Amin, her daughter, and proudly introduced us to her. The polite, soft-spoken girl had just stepped into her twenties but was already working for The Daily Star.
My friend Syed Badrul Ahsan also wrote about Prof. Amin's innocence in his wonderful tribute to her in this page last week. She once chose the wrong wife for me too. It was the marriage ceremony of a friend. He was getting married to another friend's sister. Prof. Amin saw me talking to the bridegroom's older sister, two or three years senior to us. 'You have got a truly beautiful wife, Junaid.' She looked very happy. Apa took it easy, so I was not embarrassed. But I promptly brought my own wife to her. She was very affectionate to her too. After that visit to her residence she was quite fond of me. So, she grabbed the hand of the prettiest lady at the gathering and wanted her to be my wife!
She was a brilliant English poet and a wonderful Bangla novelist, one of our very best. Yes, she was bilingual in the Serajul Islam Choudhury and Syed Manzoorul Islam mould. Or she was a combination of Kaiser Haq and Syed Manzoorul Islam, two of her favourite students. It is sad that both her volumes of English poetry, Argus Under Anaesthesia (1976) and Cruel April (1977) are out of print. She has a wonderful diction and her images are brilliant. She deals with time, love and her own spiritual conflict. She records for posterity the brutal genocide of 1971 and the horrifying and tragic murder of our intellectuals. It is doubly sad that her Bangla novels are also mostly out of print. She wrote beautiful Bangla prose and her ideas were well ahead of her time. In her handling of the man-woman relationship, she was bold and unconventional. She had love for the poor too. Chitrakabya, Bot Tolar Upanyash and Anukalpa are very good novels by any standard.
She was a brilliant student with degrees from home and abroad. She liked Dr. Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurta as her teacher. She was a bold and affectionate teacher herself. She detested the banal and the uncouth. She was very happy with intelligent and imaginative students. She had the guts to accuse T S Eliot, of all people, of making sweeping remarks while teaching us 'Tradition and the Individual Talent'. She admired Dr. Khan Sarwar Murshid, Prof. Kabir Chowdhury and Dr. Serajul Islam Choudhury among her colleagues. She was very fond of her students. Girls worshipped her. She was very upset when an anonymous letter ordered her to force her girl students to wear burqas.
If Kabir Chowdhury was very fond of his daughters, Razia Khan Amin deeply loved and respected her father, Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan. It is for her that I researched a bit on him. My generation was not exactly fond of Muslim Leaguers but this gentleman was learned and patriotic. He loved democracy and had the courage to file a High Court case against Ayub Khan for 'killing' democracy by proclaiming martial law.
As for myself, although shy and melancholic, I was quite at ease with Razia Khan Amin. I liked her as a teacher and enjoyed her lectures. I admired her brave, patriotic and wise utterances. I liked to read her novels and poems too. My deep love for literature and the fact that I was a budding bilingual writer myself helped me to impress the affectionate mother in her. It makes me sad that she wrote so little during the last years of her life.
May her great soul rest in eternal peace.