Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 26, Tuesday July 1, 2008




Face to face with Professor Dr. Fakrul Alam

Dr. Fakrul Alam
Professor, Department of English
University of Dhaka
Academician, writer, translator

Favourites Writers
Rabindranath Tagore, Jibanananda Das, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Arundhuti Roy (fiction and non-fiction), Edward Said and many more.

Seamus Heaney, Ted Hugh, Shamsur Rahman and Shahid Kader

Tagore , Western classical music, Indian classical music

Simple pleasures of life
Listening to music while doing low-intensity work.

Shobar upor manush shotto tahar upor e nai
We must love each other or die

The hushed corridors on the first floor of the good old Arts faculty building on a showery June morning looked laid back, enjoying the ongoing summer vacation. The person we were waiting for reached his door just on time, wittily reminding us that he wasn't late.

Dr. Fakrul Alam, an eminent Professor of Dhaka University, has written widely on literary matters and postcolonial issues. As one of the leading academics of the country, Professor Alam has earned widespread recognition for his works on South Asian and postcolonial writing. Among his publications are book-length studies of Daniel Defoe and Bharati Mukherjee. He is perhaps best known for his translation of Jibanananda Das, the great Bengali poet.

As a teacher, one magic of teaching that Professor Alam spots is the opportunity to come close to the younger people, full of energy and happiness. In his words, “Their happiness rubs off!” Perhaps one might think that such an involvement with students has actually earned him the recognition of an evergreen teacher as well! Cultural occasions like Pohela Boishakh with all its colours and enthusiasm of young students in the University campus enchants him and “it becomes a privilege to be close to them”.

Taking a glimpse back
Professor Fakrul Alam had his schooling at Little Jewels Kindergarten and St. Joseph's School and spent his college days in Notre Dame College. He graduated from and completed his Masters at the University of Dhaka, earned a second Masters degree from Simon Fraser's University and achieved his PhD degree from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Interestingly, Dr. Alam, now a successful professor, initially wanted to become a CSP under the Public Service Commission, a respectable job back in his times. However, destiny chose something else for him. As a student he had certain expectations from his teachers and now that he is a teacher himself he tries fulfilling those expectations through his own style of teaching. He mentions that “there are things I wish I could do better” but overall he is “quite happy” with academia.

Teaching for freedom and teacher-student relationship
“Teachers are not out to groom anyone and also not seeking to be a role model,” states Professor Fakrul Alam. As a teacher he wants his students to challenge a teacher's ideas and he encourages this sort of exchange in his own classrooms. He loves the freedom in teaching and does not consider it “work” as he loves reading books. After all, “Teaching is fun” for Dr. Alam.

When asked about his recommendations for those who want to take up teaching as a profession, he does not stop to think and says “teaching is not for everyone. “Young people should follow their hearts”, although he doesn't like the idea that his “bright students end up being posted at the corners of the country”. He firmly believes that bright pupils should come to teaching and he has a strong reason for that: “The brighter the teachers, the better the students of future generation are going to be. Also a university teacher's job is never done; s/he must be reading, writing and exploring all the time”.

As far as the current state of teacher-student relationship is concerned, Professor Alam has an upbeat view. Teaching for a long time at the University of Dhaka and for a considerable time at the East West University, he finds students' healthy respect for teachers as a good thing in this sort of a relationship. However, he urges “students should be more forthcoming and challenge the teachers. I wish classes would be more interactive.” He counsels that more presentations, discussions are required at the public universities, which are not happening at the right amount because of large classes.

Future of teaching and writing: it's changing
As for future teachers, “They should be taking this profession absolutely seriously. Reading a lot (overtime), exploring information available on the Internet, writing a great deal are a few basics.” In addition, Professor Alam recommends the future generation of teachers to go abroad for education and then come back to their own country. It is imperative that they attend seminars and conferences held both nationally and internationally and get enough exposure for themselves as “for teaching, learning process never stops.” The difference with the teaching techniques of yesteryears and today are quite different. Back in the older days, he as a student, experienced lecture-oriented classroom teaching. But now, he says, “Teachers are getting more and more involved. We have presentations and encourage more interactions within the classroom activities. Things are not exactly perfect and might take more time, mainly due to the fact that one has to teach a large class of 150 students in Dhaka University. However, he believes in the affirmative, “Slowly, but it's changing.”

On upcoming writers, Professor Alam appeared to be reasonably optimistic. In his assessment he is not much familiar with young writers writing in Bangla and so does not want to comment on their works. However, he feels young writers in English have lots of ideas and enthusiasm since as a teacher he gets to see some of their works while giving suggestions or editing. He suggests that the young writers should “read a lot more, get to know more good works in literature and watch more good films.” He believes they have got the materials and now they need to work on the “form”. “Already we have begun to see signs of good young writers of English,” he proclaims.

A dedication to Tagore
Professor Fakrul Alam plans to get more involved in translating Tagore. His translations in collaboration with Radha Chakravarty will come out as a book, which Bishshwa Bharati is going to publish. “I hope it'll bring out the best in me,” he asserts. He traces back Tagore's influence on him to his childhood, inherited mainly from his father and family. “Tagore was always a part of my life and continues to be. It all adds to my own growth” he insists. He believes that he owes Tagore for love for his own country and the country seasons particularly monsoon. Although the eminent Professor identifies himself a “novice” on the studies of Tagore, he believes that the great Bengali's influence on him is by “osmosis” transmitting through his whole existence. “Lines from his works come up in my mind at the moments I feel intellectually inclined.” Professor Alam plans to devote his next 10 years to Tagore.

Coming into close proximity with Professor Fakrul Alam we discovered a maker of a thousand minds; a teacher who also works consistently through a mechanism of osmosis, imbibing ideas and life into the dead cells of the society through its future generation. From this standpoint, a teacher is powerful indeed!

By Jibanananda Das
Translated By Fakrul Alam

Past bainchi bushess haibabla thickets and jam and hijal forests
Past arjun trees their towering shadows seemingly embracing all
What does the river whisper daylong? What is this river anyway?

Its vigor once amazed the soul; where men won't tread only a river runs
I listened to it babble entranced afternoon herons too seemed enthralled.
For who knows how long; I too had heard its murmurings walking along paths

Canopied by bat tree leaves bruised as I was; the river's afternoon smell
Had stilled my mind. But some child somewhere has died my mind that child;
Just as the river expects succor from sunlight and the sky didn't I too

Have high hopes one day? But to find no relief anymore? Who came and said,
“No trees no light no clouds no stars the sky isn't partial towards you!”
And yet why does the sky keep favoring the river for thousands of years?
Why does a river keep flowing only in the soul of a child? One day all rivers cease
Amazing us with their sounds disappear from our minds stop flowing

By Fatima Tuz Zahra
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

On The Cover

Lifestyle congratulates Munem Wasif on winning the F25 Award for his brilliant work on Old Dhaka, a project he has been involved in for five years. Wasif, who worked with Star Lifestyle from 2006-2007, and continues to contribute on a freelance basis, has been short-listed amongst the 30 emerging photographers by Photo District News, USA.

Photo: Munem Wasif

Happy Ending!

“If I have to work for it, then it's probably not meant to be,” my friend, Serena, cried out loud, in misery with her partner. This is the general notion people hold in their minds when it comes to trouble in love. We all dream of having a perfect romantic relationship, but one soon realizes that what Bollywood and fairy tales depict is only the idealised illusion of the human mind and romance is salvageable, if only one would take a half-step backwards.

I tried to make my friend understand…. “Certainly, you have been in and out of love several times during your early ages but now you are too tired of it. Maybe, you didn't put in the effort that a relationship needs or you were not mature enough to put in the effort or even understand the need of effort in a relationship.” People grow with time and experience and as the saying goes-“it's better to have been loved and lost rather than not being loved at all, falling in love is worth it! Loosing your loved one or the common term,” break-up “can be very painful indeed, but why are we even talking about a break up? If you are in a relationship, keep the word “break-up” far-far away from your mind and put in your best to work things out, only then, you can have your dream affair. Intentions matter; first put in your best and then leave the rest. People get frightened and often tend to walk away… or worry too much about a possibility of a future.

Sometimes, it's a good idea to put aside your pride and resolve your problem before it gets worse. You need to step back for love and this becomes easier when you trust one another. Trust is the basic requirement of any good relationship. A couple bond when they can rely on each other.

It would be important for Serena to rekindle the friendship between them and work relationships she had abandoned during the last several months when her affair issues had taken up the bulk of her time. She desperately needed to stay enjoyably busy and involved. Instead of worrying and complaining, enjoy the company of your friends and family. They needed some space of their own to develop and understand their feelings. Serena would soon feel the energy shift and come to some conclusions about her feelings for her guy. “Nevertheless, you need to give time to such issues as nobody seems to be ready to face what a relationship has to offer”, I told her. Any couple needs to make adjustments to allow a relationship to grow at a pace that works for both people. Weeks later, Serena called me to say, "It was beautiful! He called me to have dinner with him and also asked me to attend a family gathering with him next month. Basically, he appreciated my patience with him." Now she understands that couples don't spend all their time together anyway. Both of them have been honest all along the way and they are still interested in each other. They're now heading in the same direction- of a successful relationship! With their hard work and efforts, they had a happy ending.

By Zion Ara Hamid



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