A Subtle Emptiness at Dhaka University
After my HSC, I stood at a crossroads. I reached a fork where only "two roads diverged". And I had no option but to take one of the two roads and embrace the next phase in my life. I didn't formally study Economics till then, but I was aware any decision would be irreversible. Because we'll always be "sorry [we] could not travel both" roads, like the Robert Frost poem.
When I passed my higher secondary in 1987, the choice of universities was far less than today. Going outside Dhaka was an option, but not feasible because the two best general universities of that time were located in Dhaka city. My choices therefore narrowed down to one of the following two: University of Dhaka, or Jahangirnagar University.
My father had studied Economics at the University of Dhaka. He started his journey in 1958, and he was affiliated with Sir Salimullah Hall. Through my father and his friends, I grew up on stories of the University of Dhaka as a centre of many centres. Long before I made the decision on where to go for my higher studies, the University of Dhaka was already in my psyche and imagination.
Later on, in 1970, my father joined the Department of Economics at Jahangirnagar University as an Assistant Professor. He was in the group of the first faculty members to be recruited in Jahangirnagar. As I grew up in its green campus in Savar, the university was slowly building a reputation of its own.
By the end of the 1980s, some departments of Jahangirnagar were already on par with Dhaka. When my time came, I was in a dilemma. I "could not travel both" roads. I also couldn't go back once the choice was made.
What would it be? Physics, Mathematics, or Economics? Had I known then that Mathematics is much more than just counting numbers, I probably would have gone for the subject, or maybe even Physics. The choice then narrowed down to just Economics. But then again, where? Dhaka or Jahangirnagar? A divine intervention came into play.
I am my late mother's first-born. All first-borns have a special relation with their mother. I was tempted to leave Jahangirnagar. When I asked my mother for her opinion, she smiled, but with no life in it. My fate was sealed. It was Economics at Jahangirnagar University.
I didn't regret my decision then, and still don't to this day. However, there's always been a silent "what if" that has left a subtle emptiness in my heart.
I was living with my parents at Jahangirnagar, but our family in Dhaka has lived in New Elephant Road from the mid-1950s. Whenever I'd come to Dhaka, the university area was only a walking distance from home. In spite of all its natural beauty, then and still now Jahangirnagar, or any other university, can't compare with Dhaka University.
As you walk from New Elephant Road towards Katabon, the air starts to smell different. Take a diversion and walk towards Nilkhet. When you come to the intersection of Katabon, Zahir Raihan Road and Nilkhet Road, the air changes once again. The afternoon sun from the West in New Market tells you, you've started to breathe history. No other institution in Bangladesh, or perhaps the world, can give you this feeling.
From day one, the students of Dhaka University are exposed to historical landmarks inside the campus. Zahir Raihan Road stretches out and joins with Dhaka Medical College, BUET, High Court and other iconic landmarks and establishments. Wherever you go, inside and around the campus, the ambience is different.
When I would visit Dhaka University in my student days, there was never a lack of warmth in people accepting me as one of their own. The campus was mine too, just as much as it was theirs, and anybody else's in Bangladesh. But, that subtle "what if" of an emptiness was also there.
Nowadays, when I cycle around the campus of our oldest university, one-hundred-years-old today, I feel happy. I feel happier when my daughter rides along with me. Even after a century, the campus stands silently and accepts with open arms the child of one university alumnus.
And, who knows? Maybe one day Dhaka University will accept the grandchild, when her turn comes to make a major decision in life.