A son's tribute | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 19, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 19, 2009

Lest we forget

A son's tribute

Professor S. H. K. Eusfzai

AT 2:15 a.m. on February 12, we received word from Labaid hospital that our father had passed away. All four of us -- his children -- were in Dhaka. He had suffered a cardiac arrest on February 9 and slipped into a coma, and never regained consciousness.
My father had been a professor of Civil Engineering at Buet. From 1975 to 1977 he was also the Chairman of the Civil Engineering Department and the Dean of the Engineering Faculty.
In 1977, he joined the Bangladesh Planning Commission as a member. In 1987, he was appointed Bangladesh ambassador to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. He formally retired in 1989, but continued to be active professionally.
Abba believed strongly in the transforming power of education. He used to say it would have been impossible for him to achieve as much as he did without education.
He set very strict standards for his students (and for us), but the students admired him just as much as they feared him. That was probably because they understood that he genuinely cared for them.
My father grew up in very harsh financial circumstances. His father, a doctor, had graduated from Campbell Medical School in Calcutta. He died when my father -- his eldest child -- was only nine. With the sudden loss of the breadwinner, the family was left in financially dire straits. Within six years my grandmother also passed away.
With both parents dead, my father had to complete his SSC and HSC while staying in relatives' households as a jaigir. Later in life, he would reminisce about how he had even been forced to hawk matches.
In 1953, he obtained a First Class First in Civil Engineering from Buet -- then known as Ahsanullah Engineering College. At times he did not have money for meals, and would eat a small loaf of bread sprinkled with sugar for breakfast.
He always helped the poor and destitute, even when his own income was not high. In later years, he bore the educational expenses of all his siblings, and even helped his cousins and other relatives. He regularly helped some of the Class IV employees at Buet with their expenses.
Abba was a true teacher at heart. When he was on leave of absence from Buet and moved in high government and international circles, he preferred to introduce himself as "Professor Eusufzai" rather than the more grandiose, "Dr. Eusufzai."
He had a simple lifestyle. When he became a Member of the Planning Commission, he was offered bigger and better accommodations at Minto Road. He refused, preferring to stay on in the Buet faculty flat where his children had grown up.
He was also a patriot. When, after his retirement, we wanted to apply for a US green card on his behalf, he simply refused to have anything to do with it. He first came to USA in 1954 to study for a Master's degree at Texas A&M University. In 1964 he came to USA again to complete his Ph.D. Even though he visited USA many times, he never considered living there permanently. While he admired USA, he referred to living there permanently as living in a "first class jailkhana."
His true pride lay in being able to help the people of Bangladesh. He was enormously proud of his students, his profession and of Buet. He also believed that to substantially increase the standard of living in Bangladesh, there was no alternative to developing and adopting appropriate technology, and that engineers should thus participate more actively in society.
He was very close to our mother. When she died in 2001, his life became empty. His health deteriorated and in the next few years he had a series of medical setbacks, including four or five strokes. Still, he hung on with a faltering body but, unusually for his age, an insightful and sharp mind. On February 12 he could hang on no more and slipped away to eternity.

Zaki Eusufzai is an economics professor at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. He is the youngest son of Professor S.H.K. Eusufzai.

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