This year's Shaheed Muneir Chowdhury Award went to Abdus Selim, Associate Professor, English Department, North South University. The prize-giving programme was held on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Martyr Muneir Chowdhury, earlier in November. This highly prestigious award was introduced back in 1989 in memory of the martyred intellectuals during the Liberation War. The aim is to honour senior theatre activists or organisations of the country for their contribution to theatre.
Star Campus takes a look at the success story of Abdus Selim.
A Scholar's Paeans to a Martyr
Sumaiya Ahsan Bushra
Taking a glance at Abdus Selim's life and success, one can do nothing but be awestruck and bedazzled. He embarked on his journey to success by completing his Bachelors Degree (Honours) and Masters Degree in English from the University of Dhaka. Shortly afterwards he taught at the Cadet College and Government College. In 1975, he took his first steps towards the theatre world. Requested by friends, he was asked to translate Bertolt Brecht's The Life of Galileo, which took him almost a year to complete. However, in the same year, Selim received a scholarship from British Council to study English Language Training in the United Kingdom at the University of Exeter. Selim translated this play from a literary point of view, having never imagined that it would be a hit in the years to come.
The play was indeed a success! Under the wing of Ataur Rahman from Nagorik theatre group, along with the help of the German Cultural centre, a brilliant cast constituting of prominent actors like Aly Zaker as Galileo, Asaduzzaman Noor, Lucky Enam and many others and of course the translation of Abdus Selim, the play was staged. Almost 65 shows were staged on this performance.
Ever since then, piles of requests for translations from different theatre groups have been coming to him and, even though it was all unplanned, Selim kept on translating one play after another. During that period, he translated plays like Mother Courage by Bertolt Brecht, The Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt and several others. All of these plays were staged and were highly successful. Eventually, Selim's hunger for knowledge was triggered by his popularity in the theatre scene. He self-taught himself the basic techniques of theatre and went on teaching the Aesthetics of Theatre at Ramendu Majumdar's theatre school. This course was more theoretical than practical and hence was much easier for Selim to teach. He still teaches there occasionally.
The next step towards establishing his position in the theatre world happened while he was working for UNESCO. During this time, he along with Ramendu Majumdar decided to open a Bangladeshi chapter of International Theatre Institute, which is an affiliate body of UNESCO. Therefore, Selim's active involvement and enthusiasm to work with theatre helped the Bangladeshi theatre to go international. He was the Vice President of ITI for a very long time and is currently an executive body member of ITI.
Moving on to Selim's contribution to the world; the large number of translations brought him enormous recognition. Therefore, during his years at UNESCO, the German Cultural Centre was extremely eager to send him to Germany to learn and teach theatre. From then on, he got involved in theatre full time.
This year's Shaheed Muneir Chowdhury Award went to Abdus Selim, Associate Professor, English Department, North South University
Some of his well-known translations and recent works are Lady from the Sea by Henrik Ibsen, One Hundred Sacks of Rice by Yuzo Yamamoto, Homecoming and Birthday Party by Harold Pinter. Selim's most recent translation, Play with a Tiger by Doris Lessing will be staged by the Dhaka University's Department of Theatre, on January 5, 2011. Among these plays the most successful one was Aksho Bosta Chal (One Hundred Sacks of Rice), which received the Uchimura Prize 2008.
Despite being so well educated in both areas -- English and Theatre -- Selim never thought of becoming a director or joining any particular theatre group. He belongs to all the groups and contributes to each equally. Although, he never really thought of taking up directing professionally, he has always been welcomed by the directors of different groups when they work on his translations. In such cases, Selim often gives them suggestions and advice regarding any changes or modifications that are required.
As an educationist, Abdus Selim has incorporated drama into the curriculum of private universities like North South University. The Liberal Arts course that is offered as a General Education Course, was designed by Abdus Selim. Also, being the Advisor of the North South University Cine and Drama Club (NSUCDC), Selim translated three different plays, Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, Would-be Gentleman by Moliere and Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, which were all staged and once again were very successful.
In addition, Abdus Selim taught in Libya at the Teacher's Training College as well as in England, United States of America and Germany. In Bangladesh, he taught at the Open University and is currently teaching at North South University.
On receiving the Shaheed Muneir Chowdhury Award, Abdus Selim explains, “I feel very good; it is one of the most prestigious awards I have received.” He went on to explain further, “I always admired Muneir Chowdhury because of three main reasons. Firstly because he was a brilliant speaker, secondly, because of his depth of knowledge and thirdly because of the fact that although he was an excellent student of English, he switched to Bangla, which was something very unique.”