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     Volume 4 Issue 2 | July 2, 2004 |


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In Retrospect

The Dhaka College Years (1948-50)


M. Azizul Jalil

As students of Intermediate Arts in the Dhaka Intermediate College (1948-50), we were fortunate to have some of the best teachers of the time in East Pakistan. Among them were Principal Zahurul Islam and Professors Mainul Ahsan, Shafiul Azam, Shamsul Karim , Nazmul Karim, Syedur Rahman, Fazlur Rahman, Heshamuddin, Habibur Rahman and Muzaffar Ahmad. Many of them would give us time beyond college hours and encouraged us to ask questions and study books beyond regular college courses. It helped us greatly to widen our perspective. A few of them were traditionalists in their views about social and political issues but others, though not revolutionaries, were liberal social-democrats who expressed their unease about the socio-economic order in the new state of Pakistan. We greatly benefited from their teachings and guidance.

In my humble opinion, Prof.Mainul Ahsan was a fine teacher and an example of a perfect gentleman, whose soft voice and refined manners made a great impression on us. Prof.Shafiul Azam was a brilliant teacher of English literature. He was, however, quite strict and proper in his dealings with students. One day, I was a few minutes late for the roll call and he marked me absent. At the end of the class when I requested him for the attendance, he asked me whether I would promise him that I would never be late. I could not honestly make such a promise and he stuck to his decision. Prof.Azam took the first competitive civil service examination in Pakistan, stood first and left us in 1949. Prof.Nazmul Karim was a social democrat but his main interest was concentrated on sociological and anthropological issues. Prof.Shamsul Karim, his elder brother was a no-nonsense disciplinarian who reportedly would make students visiting his house drink milk to improve their intellect. Prof. Habibur Rahman was a Radical Humanist, a follower of Prof. Manebendra Nath Roy who was a founding member of the Comintern. He used to give us M.N.Roy's books to read. Prof. Syedur Rahman was a caring teacher and a philosoher who would talk about 'the utility or the futility of existence'. Prof. Muzaffar Ahmad was very progressive-minded and sympathetic to socialist ideals. All of the above were men of honesty and integrity; they lived simple, austere lives.

My classmates in the college included Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed, Obaidullah Khan, Harunur Rashid, Badrul Ameen, Anisuzzaman, Syed Atiqullah, Syeduzzaman, Khorshid Anwar. Alauddin al Azad was a year senior and Rafiqul Islam and Anisuzzaman (Bangla Department) were a year junior. We participated in literary competitions, magazine publication, and student and national movements. The College buildings-- really a number of old, non-contiguous private residences, were very unsuitable for college activities. [After the partition of Bengal in 1905, the current High Court Building was the residence of the Lt. Governor of Bengal and Assam. After the annulment of the partition in 1912, the Dhaka College was located there. In 1947, it had to be shifted to Nazirabazar as the majestic building was needed for the new East Pakistan High Court.] There were no facilities for games or common room activities (we used to play Table Tennis under a tree and often go to the Dhaka Railway Station across the road for tea and snacks in the Tea Room). However, to most of us the Dhaka College years were exciting, productive and of great academic and intellectual value.

During the strike at the Dhaka College in 1949 for better educational facilities, there was a hunger strike for four days in which some of my class fellows took part. Among them were Syed Ishtiaq Ahmad and Ataul Karim. I took a leading part in the strike and demonstrations and spoke in the meetings in strong language in support of our legitimate demands. Soon the District Magistrate of Dhaka sent a letter of warning to my father who was in the government service and advised him to keep me under control. As far as I know, this was the earliest of movements after partition by the students in East Pakistan. I also remember meeting Mr. Abdul Hamid, the then Education Minister, as a member of a small delegation to demand better facilities for Dhaka College students. One day during the strikes and processions, along with hundreds of fellow students I sat in front of the Chief Minister's house (the Burdwan House, now the Bangla Academy) until late evening. In the meantime, two daughters of the Chief Minister who had returned from Quamrunnessa School were held-up in our barricade. They expressed solidarity with our cause and did not even try to go inside the house. As the Chief Minister (Mr. Nurul Amin) had to go out at 8 p.m. to an engagement, he was compelled to come to the gate and promise that "much more than a mere paper plan" would soon be prepared for a new building and campus for the College. After this assurance, we decided to go back to our classes. In a few years time a new Dhaka College building near the New Market was indeed constructed.

While at the Dhaka College, we also organised cultural functions, once obtaining permission to use the Salimullah Muslim Hall for a cultural evening of drama and music. Sheikh Lutfar Rahman and Sohrab Hossain sang Nazrul and folk songs and we staged a short play in which I had a small part. I remember our meeting with the Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University (Dr. Moazzem Hossain) to whom we had originally gone to obtain permission to use the Curzon Hall for our function. Surprisingly, he denied any assistance and in fact enquired as to what "kind of culture" it would be. It was difficult in those early days and often there was opposition, sometimes physical, from those who incorrectly saw in our activities and programs, a dilution of the Muslim culture and tradition.

In 1949, after the Awami League was established under the leadership of Maulana Bhashani, its first public meeting was held in the Armanitola Maidan. I was present and witnessed the unnecessary and unprovoked police attack on a peaceful meeting, which was broken up. This undemocratic and fascist attitude and actions of the ruling Muslim League government was most disturbing. Sometime in 1950, the draft Basic Principles' Committee Report on the future constitution of Pakistan was published. In that report, though East Pakistan had a majority in terms of population, the number of its seats in the Central Parliament were proposed to be equal to that of West Pakistan provinces taken together. I sent a strong letter of protest to the Pakistan Observer, the leading English daily of the time, which published it. I stated that this was a unique case of a majority being effectively reduced to a minority by constitutional means. Distrust by the West Pakistani ruling class of East Pakistan's population was becoming evident; attempts to deny them their due political voice and economic share in the Pakistani scheme of things had already begun. This was facilitated by the helplessness or ineffectiveness of the East Pakistanis to deal with West Pakistan's political leaders and the civil and military elite, and /or the greed for officially important positions of many East Pakistani representatives at the central and provincial levels. I received many compliments from friends of my father for the spirit shown in the letter, together with words of advice to desist from political activities during student days. In August 1950, I took the Intermediate examinations. To the delight of my teachers and relations, I came out first in the province. It was then time for me to go to the Dhaka University.

M. Azizul Jalil is a former civil servant and a retired member of the World Bank staff.

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