Published: Friday, March 8, 2013

Remembrance

A Dedicated Teacher and a Sincere Friend

Mosharraf Hossain, a remarkable teacher.

Mosharraf Hossain, a remarkable teacher.

It does not seem like a distant past. On a fall evening in London in 1954, arriving after a long journey from Dhaka by a British Airways, noisy, not-so-fast propeller aircraft, I was looking through the window of the coach carrying us from the Heathrow airport to the Victoria terminal. Waiting there was Mosharraf Hossain, then a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and a teacher of mine at the Dhaka University Economics Department. With a large, full-mouthed smile, he greeted me warmly and took charge of my welfare. He was four–years senior to me and became my teacher in 1950, when he had just passed his Master’s examination. He worked hard, prepared himself well for the class and delivered in a soft and friendly manner. He was available to us after class and outside the campus. The memories of a good teacher and a man so full of life are fresh in my mind even after nearly 60 years. His recent passing away would only enhance his position in my regards and thoughts for him.
During the next few days in London, he gave a lot of his time and attention to set me up comfortably – finding me a place to stay and ensuring that I was fed and clothed in that unfamiliar city. He was particularly fond of me but would gladly do the same at some cost to his time and resources for other students of his and friends. Sincere, warm, and gregarious, he had a good sense of humour and heartily enjoyed life and companionship. He loved food and was a good cook who would regularly prepare large quantities of rice, curry and vegetable for his friends. When invited to dinners at other people’s homes, he would frequently commandeer me to assist him to take over the duties of washing and drying the plates and the pots and pans. Despite the loud protestations of the lady of the house, he would energetically pursue his activities to relieve her of the large pile of dirty dishes.
His other hobbies were serious reading, music and attending concerts. In all these, he was greatly influenced by his friend, Inari from Finland-later his wife. Like him, Inari was kind and helpful to younger friends, whom she treated as her brothers. He lived in the 47, Wiltshire Road house in Brixton with five other East Bengal students. They were Sarwar Murshid, AMM Khan, Gholam Rabbani, Abu Imam and Ali Akbar. After a few months of my arrival, when a room became available in that house, he invited me to take that room. We all had a very good time, particularly during the weekends. I recall happily going with him to the LSE every morning, carrying brief cases and wearing colourful LSE scarves.
In 1959, he attended my wedding. He did not fail to attend the wedding receptions of my three sons in Dhaka and remembered to attend the inauguration ceremony of my first book at the Dhaka Club in 2006. Incidentally, in a chapter of that book on “The Dhaka University Years”, he was prominently mentioned. While he fully participated in the celebrations, his only complaint was that they were a bit lavish and a waste of money. He gently reprimanded me as a teacher should and had the right to. Whenever I visited Dhaka from abroad, he would expect me to visit him and have a long adda session. On most of these occasions, my senior friend, Dr AMM Khan, whom both Mosharraf Hossain and I used to call Chacha from our good old London days in the mid fifties, accompanied me. When he visited Washington on a couple of occasions, he invariably contacted me for a get together.
Mosharraf Hossain was a progressive, secular person and an anti-imperialist in international outlook. He was not an activist in his student years in Dhaka and London but empathised with just causes in Pakistan and other countries and used to take interest in our leftist social and political views. He was a nationalist who would never compromise with the best interests of East Bengal and later Bangladesh. I believe Professor Akhlaqur Rahman and later Professor Abdur Razzak had some influence on his studies and thinking.
In the late nineteen- seventies and the eighties, he organised and presided over the Bangabanndhu Parishad – an activity which could not have been popular with the people in power. He neither sought nor received any recognition for this valiant stand when a more favourable regime came to power. I know that reward was never in his mind – he acted due to the call and courage of his conscience. During General Ershad’s time, he consistently joined a few of his friends in the civil society in raising voice to ensure civil liberties, good governance and the rule of law. In discussions I had with him during the democratic regimes after 1990, he expressed frustrations with the politics of both the major parties. I got the feeling that he was deeply troubled and pained about the goings- on and unable to see light at the end of the tunnel.
He had a fairly large library in his house with a wide and interesting selection of books on economics, politics and social issues. That library was open to others to study. In later years, he liked to speak more about poverty and nutrition issues in Bangladesh. I am not knowledgeable enough to speak about his research and contributions in these fields, but he told me that he regularly spent the weekdays of his retired life at the National Archive in Dhaka. Whatever his achievements in the academic or research fields, he would be principally remembered by his students and friends as a fine human being, a reliable friend and a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable person.