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     Volume 4 Issue 3 | July 9, 2004 |


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The Delightful Uncle:
A Tribute to
Justice Mainur Reza Chowdhury

At 7:15am, I awoke to the sound of my mother crying upstairs. My khalu--or Alumoni as I have called him from childhood– Mainur Reza Chowhdury, was no more.

To the outside world that knew him, he was a judge, and a kind and humble man. To his family who knew him better, he was really much the same: a relative who would always deliver ethical advice, an uncle whose smile was always warm and inviting, and a man who thought less of his own achievements and more of his nephews' and nieces' school grades. There is no doubt that in his death, the nation lost a wonderful judge and an immaculate gentleman. We, as his near ones, have lost something a million times more valuable.

In the same way that one thinks of one's family as beginning with one's grandparents, it was difficult not to think of my khalu as a "founding" elder. He narrated stories of my mother and her other siblings as if they were still children. Having married my khala when my own mother was 12, he was certainly not someone who married into the family but rather someone who constituted it. He was also the head of his own extended family, serving as a father figure to many of his own siblings.

It is rather unclear how khalu became the person that he was, especially to those of us who dreamt of emulating him. But it was obvious that in many ways, he was a gem. From the beginning of his career as a lawyer to his retirement as Chief Justice, he always seemed to see his own accomplishments as gifts from Allah but others' as fruits of their labour deserving credit and applause. It is thus unsurprising that under the umbrella of his warm love and persistent support, his wife my khala became a stellar academic, and his daughters my dear cousins are talented, confident, and extremely proficient. My khalu's legacy is bound up with law, but through his family, he has had indirect contributions to academia and dentistry.

To his extended family, he was always a favourite. He somehow had a special nickname for virtually every nephew and niece--ranging from Nagoy to Cinderella, which made us all feel as if we were Titans walking upon this Earth. After our SSC, intermediate, and O'level examinations, we always were given applause, regardless of how well we had done. In his world, it was effort, not accomplishment, merited the reward. He thought the best of everyone, he could not conceive of his nephews and nieces trying any less than their best. Of course, our own parents rarely shared his point of view on these matters, much to our regrets.

Khalu was a true intellectual and that made him a superb conversationalist. Though my childhood passions lay elsewhere, he always found a way to interest me in questions of law and ethics. It was never really a debate that one had with him, but more of a discussion. Despite the wealth of knowledge that he brought forth to legal issues, he treated others as his equals even when they clearly were not. As such, when it came to law or politics, he spoke with wisdom, enthusiasm, and a genuine openness to new ideas.

Lest it be forgotten, alongside his intellect lay cheeky mischief: a boy who once set his teacher's beard on fire certainly could not grow to be serious all the time. When teasing others, he was as determined as ever, and my other uncles and aunts bore the brunt of his wit. When my elder mama dislocated his shoulder, khalu developed a sudden strong urge to tickle his khala, and were it not for my khala, may have very well yielded to such temptation. His eager playfulness also made him a huge hit with his young grandchildren, who considered him their greatest friend.

I am not sure if being halfway across the world makes it easier or harder. It is difficult to be so far away from one's extended family at such a pivotal moment. Life here at Stanford continues as it must, but it does inexorably slow down. Even though I have not seen my khalu in about two years, these past couple of days without him have felt as long as years. The realisation that he shall not be there during my next trip home emphasises the immense loss.

In the end, matters of life and death lie not in the choices we make. We pray that my khalu, Mainur Reza Chowdhury, has found a better place in death, but we recognise that throughout his life, he has made our world a better place.

Syed Nageeb Mustafa Ali is a doctoral student in economics at Stanford University, USA.


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