Remembering a Brilliant Teacher
Selina Bahar Zaman passed away a year ago on December 1, 2004. The loss of this noble lady has left behind a void never to be filled again. She truly represented a vanishing breed of really enlightened people who have unselfishly lit the pathway of our socio-cultural as well as intellectual progress. The woman who could inspire as many as 159 men and women from all walks of life to write tributes to her memory in the commemorative volume published on the occasion of her first death anniversary, must have been extra ordinary.
It was my privilege to be her one-time colleague at Jagannath University College, Dhaka, where she headed the Department of Mathematics. As senior colleagues we occasionally met, though most of the time we remained busy running our respective departments. I developed a special rapport with her, particularly regarding college affairs. In Teachers' Council meetings we used to protest if anything went against students, or teaching community interest. As usual she was outspoken in her criticism, which naturally was not liked by the college administration.
I remember way back in 1996, she incurred their displeasure and wrath by speaking out frankly about prevailing malpractices in the conduct of public examinations in the presence of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia who invited all the teachers to meet her at one of the state Guest Houses. The purpose was to exchange views with her in order to pave the way for formal declaration of Jagannath as a full-fledged degree-awarding public university. That was an election pledge, which ultimately took nearly a decade to redeem. It is now a public university. That was one shining example of her outspokenness even in the presence of the prime minister herself.
She was a very dedicated and devoted teacher who did not only ensure academic discipline by holding regular classes, but also setting up a separate computer centre for the benefit of students. She was an outstanding mathematical scholar who got first class both in Honours and Master's examinations topping the list. She did not rest on her laurels there. She went to the UK for higher studies, but had to come back for personal reasons. Nevertheless, she combined in herself not only the brilliance of a mathematical and scientific mind, but a literary and cultural mind as well.
She inherited the latter from her family, well-known in this country for its cultural literary and academic pursuits. Her father late Habibullah Bahar Choudhury was well known as an editor of a journal called 'Bulbul', a footballer having played for Calcutta Mohamedan Sporting Club, a social activist organising Muslim youths in Calcutta in the pre-Partion days. He was the first Health Minister of East Pakistan who reputedly rid old Dhaka town of mosquito menace. Her mother Anwara Bahar Choudhury was an educationist of repute having served Vidyamoee Government Girls' High School, Mymensigh as its head mistress and Banglabazar Girls' High School, Dhaka also as the Head Teacher for a long time. Her aunt, Late Begum Shamsunnaahar Mahmud was a brilliant student of Begum Rokeya's Sakhawat Memorial School in Calcutta.
Through her literary and editorial work, she served as a link with the past with a glorious tradition and culture particularly related to Bangali Muslim Renaissance with which her father, mother and aunt were closely associated. As Bangali Muslims we are perhaps a little oblivious, a little indifferent about our contributions to Bangla literature and culture during the pre-Partition days before 1947.
Her hard work and dedication for the retrieval of lost or missing literary works like national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam's untraced manuscripts of 'Dhumketu' or retrieving long forgotten copies of the journal called 'Bulbul' edited by her father in the 30s and 40s are indeed commendable efforts by her to preserve literary works from the past. Such restoration efforts will surely not go in vain as these will act as a treasure-trove for research scholars not only of present times but also those of the future. There is no doubt that her family link and tradition played a part, but without this diligence, dedication, commitment and perseverance, nothing could have been achieved.
She was a prolific writer as well as an accomplished editor of as many as eight commemorative books on such persons as great editor of 'Sangbad' late Zohur Hussain Chowdhury, a noted novelist like Shawkat Osman, a famous professor of Calcutta Presidency College Prof Mahmud; Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain and so on. Her reminiscence of poet Kazi Nazrul Islam has revealed some unknown aspects of the rebellious iconoclastic poet's personality. By doing that she has endeared herself to all Nazrul lovers.
Despite her age, her energy was inexhaustible belying her sometimes serious physical ailment from diabetes. She refused to bother others complaining about her physical discomforts. She deliberately ignored these mundane matters. Her intellectual and editorial pursuits were more important
The publication ceremony of her commemorative book was an impressive gathering of our top intellectuals as discussants and it had an audience several hundred strong overfilling the small auditorium at Kakrail.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005