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     Volume 4 Issue 22 | November 26, 2004 |

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In Retrorspect

The Dhaka University Years (1950-54)

Recollections- Part I

M. Azizul Jalil

In August 1950, I got admission in the Economics department and became a non-resident student attached to the Salimullah Muslim Hall. S.V.Ayer was the head of the department and Dr. M.N.Huda, Atwar Hossain, Dr. Mazharul Huq, A.N. Mahmood, T. Huq, Akhlaqur Rahman and Musharraf Hossain were teachers in the department. They were all dedicated and loving teachers. Other teachers in the University whom I knew were Sarwar Murshid Khan (English), Abdur Razzak and Nur Mohammad (Political Science). Professors A.G. Stock (English) and Paul Newman (Pol.Sci.) were two of the foreign teachers whom I also came to know. Prof. Newman was far to the right in his views even in class lectures and intolerant of other opinions. One day he was very unpleasant with me as my definition of 'democracy' was not to his liking. The matter had to be resolved by going to the Proctor and the Provost of the S.M.Hall. Professor Ayer's classes were interesting -- he was a good teacher but used to play with words. One day a student was asked to answer his question but the student just kept standing and quiet. Prof. Ayer then asked "if you can't throw any light on the issue, would you at least throw some darkness?"

In November 1950, I had an opportunity to attend the New York Mirror's Youth Forum in New York representing Pakistan, after selection by the East Pakistan Public Service Commission and approval by the Government of Pakistan. In New York, we were a group of students from about ten countries including India, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines etc. We visited the United Nations' Building and attended a show at the Madison Square Garden. We also went to Washington where we met Senator Lehman from New York (I still have a large photo with him in his senate office where, at his request, I was pointing to Pakistan in the World Map).

In early 1951, a few like-minded students in the Dhaka University and I as the Convenor formed the Sanskriti Samsad, a cultural organisation at the University. Sarwar Murshid Khan agreed to become its first President. After about a year, he expressed a desire to be relieved of the responsibility, possibly under pressure from the University authorities. I then became the President of the Samsad for a year. I remember with gratitude Amiya Bhusan Chakrabarty (Bangla Department) who helped us to draft a pamphlet "Sanskriti Samsader Ahabban", a call for "buddhir mukti" (free- thinking). It was different from the traditional and inhibited ideas about music, literature and social customs, and had put greater emphasis on Bengali ethnicity and culture. On the cover of the two-page pamphlet, we put a picture--a striking woodcut by artist Shafiuddin Ahmed, depicting a young woman in a rural setting going with an earthen vessel to fetch water. We celebrated the birth anniversaries of Tagore and Nazrul in the Dhaka University Arts building and in the SM Hall, even though there was serious opposition by a section of the students to such observances. It gives me great satisfaction that the Sanskriti Samsad continued to serve successive generations of Dhaka University students as a vehicle for progressive social and cultural expressions and that it is still in existence.

In 1951, we staged a play, Jabanbandi, about the human tragedies of the Bengal Famine of 1943 during the Second World War. It was written by Bijan Bhattacharya was first staged by the left-leaning Indian People's Theatre Association. Professor Munir Choudhury allowed us to use his University bungalow near the University Club for rehearsals. I remember once being challenged by intelligence officials near his home as I was getting down from the rickshaw. They inquired what we were up to and whether any anti-government activities were being planned. Habibul Huq, who was the director of the play and happened to be the private secretary of the chief minister of East Pakistan, intervened with higher police authorities and dissuaded the intelligence officials from harassing us.

The drama, in which I played a small part, was staged at the Mahabub Ali Railway Institute close to the then railway crossing on the Nawabpur road. Sensing some opposition from the public, and to ensure the security of our women artists, we decided to invite Nurul Amin, the chief minister of East Pakistan, as the chief guest. We went to meet him in the Burdwan House. He was smoking from a hookah after lunch in a small room adjoining his office at the residence. He enquired whether we were unanimous in the invitation and whether there was any possibility of altercation or fights amongst the students on this issue. We dispelled his misgivings and he agreed to attend despite the fact that he had a previously scheduled tour to Chittagong. He saw the entire play, complimented us and even though quite conservative himself, advised us to take the play to some of the district towns. The chief minister then left directly for the close-by railway station. S.M. Ali, then working part time as a reporter, published a wonderful review of the play, with photographs of a few scenes in the Sunday magazine section of the Pakistan Observer.

Since our contemporary women students were not yet ready for mixed acting which in any case was not socially acceptable, we got the help of some of our seniors (all of them have passed away) -- Rokeya Kabir, Laila Samad, and Nurunnehar Kabir (then a MA part II student ). The drama had quite an impact in the student, social and cultural circles. We took the drama with almost the same artists to the Comilla Cultural Conference in 1953. Along with other groups from Dhaka, we went by a special launch from Sadarghat to Daudkandi and taken from there to Comilla town by buses provided by the organisers of the conference. Main session was presided over by Akhter Hamid Khan, who had resigned from the ICS and became the Principal of the Comilla Victoria College. The conference was a great success and another assertion of Bengali culture and tradition, in the face of government neglect and even opposition.
To be continued . . .

The author is a former civil servant and a retired member of the World Bank Staff.




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