The humility of the greats, and the pathetic flip side

Celebrated Pakistan national footballer and Bangladesh national coach Golam Sarwar aka Tipu, who famously played mostly for Dhaka Mohammedan Sporting, was one among the 23 Bengalis who represented Pakistan during the 24 years of East-West coexistence. He narrated the following anecdote.

Soon after our decisive victory in the 1971 Liberation War, the visiting Bangladesh Customs footballers were accorded a somewhat grand reception at Calcutta by their Indian counterparts.

To their disbelief, to felicitate them, in attendance was the doyen of Indian music, the legendary Hemanta Mukhopadhyay. Their youth was replete with Hemant Kumar's rendition of Tagore's Shyama and Chitrangada… Oh, how many times they hummed his Ei meghla dine ekla, Muche jawa dinguli…

Golam Sarwar and a teammate eagerly approached the living icon Hemant Kumar, and sought his autograph. Further was their disbelief when the maestro apologised, stating in all modesty, that it was the footballers who were the guests of the day, and his giving an autograph would be inappropriate for the occasion. A worthy professional had spoken. A steady head crowned a thousand times is the sign of a respectable man.

Doyen of Bangladesh theatre, Aly Zaker (Chotlu Bhai), was my favourite "chief personality" for all occasions. Not because he excelled as Dewan Gazi, but he always said, "yes" to every good cause, exemplified by his participation in the Liberation War of 1971. He made me believe, always with a disarming smile, that we were doing him a favour instead of it being the other way round.

He made himself available when I was Assistant Provost at Buet's Suhrawardy Hall to grace the Cultural Week. All it took was one phone call. "Chotlu Bhai, should I send a transport to pick you up", in response to which the theatre icon's warmth could be felt on my receiver, "Arrey, nah! I will be able to come on my own". (click)

To raise funds for the treatment of a student, we arranged the staging of Nagorik's Dewan Gazir Kissa at the Buet's air-conditioned auditorium. It took not more than five minutes between us to decide on the dates, the costs, and the show. Nagorik chipped in too. That was the charisma of Mr Aly Zaker, the "boss" of Asiatic, one of the more successful advertisement houses.

He was at Banani in July 2013 to split the ribbon at the launch of my daughter's designer boutique, "Andeem", along with mishti meye, Kabori Sarwar. I call her Khala. It's complicated.

He was my first guest at Chintito, a TV series on ATN Bangla, based on this very column that I hosted in 2016. No questions asked, he just came, of course on his own. He had tremendous respect for people who honoured him.

For the last few years Muktijoddha Akku Chowdhury has been literally building a castle up in the air. After several successful and otherwise bouts with entrepreneurism in his motherland, a "best" son of the soil pitched tent to create a Retreat for Conscience at Deumaudi, Pokhara, Nepal.

The Founder-Trustee of Muktijuddho Jadughar abandoned a materialistic lifestyle and embraced nature by adopting the "small is beautiful" regime, a Leopold Kohr (1909-1994) principle, made popular by his economics pupil EF Schumacher's book by that name. Akku, as I call him, is a self-proclaimed global citizen with hashtags joi manush (victory to mankind) and joi prokriti (nature).

In 2017, he chose to be in a remote village—a strange country, community and language. He and his partner overcame the rugged mountains, the biting cold of the Himalayas, and water paucity to handcraft in stone a cast-in-situ restaurant and a guest lodging, evolving from the earth and stones of the site. With Architect Babu Ram Bhandari, they have adhered to the four R's: Recycle, Re-use, Renovate and Refurbish, showing remarkable restraint.

On the occasion of Independence Day 2020, as in every other year, our Ekattur Open Scout Group, wanted to hear the stories of a freedom fighter. I called up Akku long distance, and he was on Zoom on time to celebrate swadhinata with this generation. No fuss.

That generation was a special edition. Among the protagonists, I cannot name cousin Asaduzzaman Noor for the shame of being accused of nepotism. But, crooner Shahnaz Rahmatullah, actor and my teacher Professor Dr Enamul Haque Sir, and Dhaka Theatre's Pijush Bandyopadhyay required no more than a phone call to grant their consent to glorify an occasion. No pretence, nor coquetry or falsity.

Ironically, that bundle of goodness is pathetically in short supply among the apprentices they innocently embraced, and yes sweated to groom. No sooner do some of the greenhorns find "twinkle-dom", thanks primarily to the 50 hungry TV channels, they build a facade of wile and fuss. The hoopla around them on social media is suspected to be their own creation.

The flickering stars do not readily consent to a programme or an invitation for security reasons, fearing either a stampede of fans or of becoming cheap. They yearn for more attention to quench their avarice, and yet are unprepared to meet the public "unprepared". Alas, they had so much more value to add.

They cannot recite impromptu a few lines on television because they do not nurture their talent. They cannot sing if caught off-guard or without their regular hands of musicians. Organisers often face a mafia of back scratchers. "I do not go kotthao without Omuk Bhai and Shomuk Da."

It is saddening that success should turn their head so when only the world was beckoning. They could not fathom the road of further success. The novices are afraid someone may steal their glory. Many are lost before they emerge from the jungle.

Only the vulnerable create layers of barriers to conceal their apparent inadequacy. Lasting fame comes with humility and quality, modesty and perseverance, simplicity and talent. Value is never decreased by spending goodwill.

On receiving accolades, it's not decent, nor right to pick up all the bananas, milk and gur into one's own bowl, now suddenly a bigger bucket. Remembrance of the valued contributions of parents, schoolteachers, relatives, friends and family, and mentors is their right.

There is a vast contrast between "I deserve it" and "they think that I do". Maturity is comprehending and realising the difference.


Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising Architect, a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.


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