Vol. 5 Num 351 Tue. May 24, 2005  

Lest We Forget
Indomitable Dr Maliha Khatun

Very few Bengali Muslim women were active on the social scene of erstwhile East Pakistan. One amongst those few was late Dr Maliha Khatun, a distinguished educationist, writer and social worker who breathed her last on 24th May 2002 at Dhaka. She was my mother-in-law whom I met first in Mymensingh where she served as the Principal of Teacher's Training College. The occasion was a district level coordination meeting in connection with Independence Day celebrations. I saw a soft spoken fair-complexioned lady making her points in a confident manner. She appeared very sure of the needful at her end. Little did I know then that only a year ago she had lost her elder daughter in a tragic underground train accident in London. Death of a daughter, that too in early twenties, is undoubtedly an excruciating pain with crippling effect. However, as I learnt later, this tragedy did not deter her from creative pursuits and social service. Though belated, I now have the satisfaction and happiness of recording a tribute that ought to have been paid long ago.

Dr Maliha's talents were multi-dimensional -- she was an educationist of repute in addition to being a playwright, poet, short-story writer and a dedicated social worker of the country. Her thirst for knowledge was admirable and inspiring as she wanted to know from her husband on the wedding right whether she would be allowed to continue her studies. She did her BA honours from Bethune College, Calcutta after securing a first division in matriculation from Sakhawat Memorial School, Calcutta. She did her MA in Bengali and Philosophy later. While in service she did her diploma and post-graduation in Education and Psychology respectively from Edinburgh University in 1957. During the fag end of her service career she obtained her Doctorate degree in Educational Psychology from Dhaka University. Her father late Professor Kazi Sanaullah who was a close associate of Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, Mowlana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani, Dr Muhammad Shahidullah amongst other luminaries, was principal, Hoogly Mohsin College and a Professor of Arabic and Persian at Presidency College, Calcutta. The responsibility of public office, tireless social work and even the untimely death of her daughter could not put a brake on her quest for knowledge. Even amongst her heavy work schedule she has enquired about the welfare of friends and relations and rendered moral and material assistance. The 'Rokeya Sakhawat Samity' started functioning from her own residence in Dhanmondi where she arranged educational facilities for unlettered young children. 'Kabya Kunja' -- a writers salon -- has received literary and financial support from her and is now an active joint for budding and established writers and poets. Professor Afsaruddin is currently its President.

Dr Maliha's philanthropy was exemplary as this virtue was nearly unknown to Bengali Muslims. She has single handedly rendered financial assistance to individuals and groups in distress and has even donated Taka one lakh for the treatment of an ailing colleague. And all this happened without the slightest glare of publicity. Her life long savings has helped establish a charitable body styled as "Shamsul Huq-Nargis-Maliha Khatun Trust." This trust is rendering financial assistance in according reception to distinguished citizens and meeting educational expenses of the needy and meritorious.

Dr Maliha felt very passionately for the welfare of greater society beyond the requirements of the individual and group. She was active as an important office-bearer in bodies like Pabna Samity, Rajshahi-Khulna Divisional Development Society and Dhaka Divisional women's sports body. She was an active participant and speaker in seminars and symposiums organised by these bodies. In recognition of her social service she was awarded the state-level 'Rokeya Padak' in 2001. She was the first woman principal of Dhaka Teachers' Training College. She was a keen traveler and has visited many countries in almost all continents of the world. Her travel-related writings were published in all important newspapers of the country. The most significant of such travel was the eventful journey by car from London to Calcutta in 1957, the details of which find mention in the well-read book "Through the Car Window," authored by her husband late Professor SM Shamsul Haque, a scholar in Urdu and Persian who was Principal, Comilla Teachers' Training College and retired from public service as Deputy Director, Public instruction in 1971.

Dr Maliha has also penned seven books for children. In addition she was regular contributor to several Bengali dailies. Her known publications run beyond thirty. She was awarded the 'Dewan Abdul Hamid Literary Award,' the 'Nazrul National Award' and the 'Sher-e-Bangla National Award' in recognition of her literary accomplishments. She was member of 'Jatiya Mahila Sangstha', Lions Club, writers forum and 'Ahsania Mission' amongst several others.

Dr Maliha has left two sons and a daughter. The elder son, Humayun Kamal, a member of erstwhile Pakistan foreign service has since retired after serving as Ambassador in China, Korea and Poland. Her younger son, Khurshid Anwar, an engineer by profession lives in USA. Her daughter, Nishat, a post-graduate from Dhaka University, has served for several years in an international NGO and was very innovative as a social entrepreneur in her responsibilities as President of PUNAK -- police women welfare body for two years.

May the soul of Dr Maliha Khatun rest in eternal peace.

Muhammad Nurul Huda is a former Inspector General of Police and Secretary to the government.