Dr. M.N. Huda
As I knew him
It seems only the other day. On a cool February morning of 1950, I had gone with my father to the Proctor's house at the Dhaka University Art's Building. The Arts faculty, opposite the playgrounds, then shared part of the original university building with the Medical College. The proctor lived in a unique two-storied structure with two parts joined together by a large arch, which also served as the Arts building gate. He had a small office in the ground floor. Dr. Huda was not well- having fainted after getting a small cut that morning and remained in bed. He invited us to meet him upstairs. He knew why we had gone, saying it must be connected to the future course of my education. He spent some time dwelling on the advantages and career prospects of studying economics instead of political science, which was my inclination. When we came out, I had pretty much decided to apply for admission to the Economics department. Thus began a very special teacher-student relationship between us, which spanned the next four decades.
Later in 1950, I had to go to the proctor's office about an unpleasant incident with Dr. Newman of the political science department. I had politics as a subsidiary subject and Newman had asked me to define democracy. Being young, emotional and radical, I answered that often it was a smokescreen for misleading the common people in believing that they have influence over the government. In fact, it was the capitalist class, with the help of money and the media, which control the legislature and pursue their own agenda and interests. Newman, a strongly pro-western and a free-market exponent, was shocked beyond belief. He turned red in the face and told me that it was an intelligent and smart answer but he had to dispense with such views and asked me to leave his class. I could have requested fellow students, with some success, to come out with me in defense of freedom of expression, but did not wish to do so to avoid creating a big scene of indiscipline. Dr. Huda was aware of the incident. He said that a lot of discretion was given to the teachers to manage their classrooms, but it was to be used judiciously. Though he was responsible for disciplinary matters in the university, he preferred that I meet with Dr. Osman Ghani, provost of the SM Hall, to which I was attached as a non-resident student. As always, Dr. Huda was wise and tactful in handling a sensitive situation relating to a full professor like Newman, who was a foreigner. When I met Dr. Ghani, he advised that the matter would be satisfactorily resolved after I meet with Newman, with whom he will have a word. When I met Newman, he invited me back to his class.
Dr.Huda (second row) at Dhaka Radio-Dec.1952
Dr. Mirza Nurul Huda's long and distinguished services to the Dhaka University as a teacher and administrator, to a host of committees and commissions, including the provincial planning board and national planning commission of which he was a member, and to the East Pakistan and later the Bangladesh governments in high capacities, have not been adequately recognised. Not much has been written about him in this regard. This remembrance is intended to partly redress that deficiency.
Dr. Huda hailed from the Tangail sub-division, as it was then called. He studied at the Bindubashini High School in Tangail town. Some years later in 1960, as SDO Tangail, I became the ex-officio president of that school, which was opposite the SDO's bungalow. An outstanding student throughout his school and university career and a Kalinarayan scholar of the Dhaka University, he became a member of the Bengal Civil Service. He received a government scholarship for doctoral studies at Cornell University and on return in 1949, left government service and joined the Dhaka University as a reader in the economics department. He was also appointed as the proctor. Later he occupied various positions in the University as a full professor and head of the Economics Department and Provost of the FH Hall. He was appointed as the minister of finance by Governor Monem Khan in 1965, a position he occupied until March 1969, after which he became governor of East Pakistan for two days. Thereafter, General Yahiya Khan declared Martial Law in Pakistan. He then went back to teaching at the Dhaka University.
As finance minister of East Pakistan, he tried to promote the cause of the province's development. In 1968, President Ayub held a meeting in Dhaka about planning and development issues. Altaf Gauhar, the powerful information secretary had reported that disparity between East and West Pakistan was going down. Dr. Huda, as the finance minister of East Pakistan took exception to it and strongly argued that disparity had in fact increased and more central government investments were necessary in East Pakistan to begin to reduce disparity. I was in Dhaka on tour at the time on Pakistan government business and had gone to see him that evening at his official Minto Road house. It was the only occasion when he really unburdened before me. Without giving all the details, he lamented that the central government comes to Dhaka with a heavy hand and rides roughshod on East Pakistan's legitimate grievances. I later learnt from someone who was present at the meeting that Ayub was very upset with Dr. Huda's intervention that day and treated him, within the hearing of others, in an uncivil manner.
Not many people know that on the fateful night of March 25, 1971, Dr. Huda suffered injuries at the hands of Pakistani Army personnel. His university bungalow was close to the Jagannath Hall where many students were machine gunned to death. Troops barged into his house. I heard from reliable sources that they were about to shoot him, when his wife's recitations from the Holy Koran, entreaties and her bearded father's picture in the room saved them from an imminent and grave danger. In many discussions with them in later years, Dr. Huda or his wife never mentioned these details to me, the private and unpretentious people that they were.
In 1973, I went to meet him in the new arts building in his small university office. I wondered aloud why he was not joining the government and why the new Bangladesh government, which needed more ability, strength and pragmatism in governance, was not utilising his valuable experience and talent. Dr. Huda smilingly replied, “You do not need to persuade me-I have not declined any offer to serve the country.” During General Zia's time, he served as the finance minister from 1975 to 1979. In 1981, he was called upon by Justice Sattar, then president, to become the vice-president of Bangladesh. Again, it was only for a few months until General Ershad took over powers. Thereafter, Dr. Huda lived a quiet, retired life. During this time, when I went to see him at his house in Dhanmondi, he told me that he had two book projects in mind. One was to edit the diaries of his father-in-law, Tamizuddin Khan and publish it in a book form and the other was his autobiography. He jokingly told me that in fact, he had already prepared a manuscript in Bangla, but for westernised people like us, he was thinking of translating it into English. I have since read Tamizuddin Khan's diary in Bangla but do not know whether Dr. Huda's own book was ever published. Dr. Huda died in 1991.
Dr. Huda taught us agricultural economics, and banking. For the former course, he recommended that we read Sir Azizul Huq's book 'Man behind the Plough' and his own Cornell University PhD thesis on jute marketing, both of which we found very enlightening. He came to the class smartly dressed and like most teachers those days, on time. He was well prepared and followed an outline, which he had in front of him. He brilliantly conducted our tutorial classes on a variety of subjects. He was accessible and pleasant in his behaviour toward the students, particularly to me, and a few others. He would be cordial and friendly to a point but was always dignified, diplomatic and reserved. During our student days, he would not discuss politics or anything beyond academic and social matters with us when we visited him at his house. We respected him as a scholar and an able teacher and often related to him as an elder brother. His wife, Qulsum Huda, mixed with us freely as a friend-she never tried to pull her rank as our teacher's wife or as the daughter of a famous former-speaker of Pakistan's National Assembly. In late 1952, the Radio Pakistan, Dhaka had arranged debates with Dr. Huda as the moderator. A few students of the economics department, men and women, and I participated in the debates- the first one being on the problems and prospects of jute trade.
I maintained close personal contact with Dr. Huda and his wife during my student days in Dhaka in the early nineteen-fifties and was a frequent visitor to his house. When he came with family to London for a year as a Nuffield Fellow in 1955, along with a few friends, I received them at the Victoria Air Terminal. We were regular visitors to his house in London, particularly during the Eid and the like, when we enjoyed their warm hospitality. We also invited them to our student quarters. During my civil service days in the provincial and central government in the sixties and during my days in the World Bank in the seventies, I had many opportunities of meeting him in Dhaka, Rawalpindi and Washington. I was then the Joint Director of Labour and met him within hours of his swearing in as East Pakistan's finance minister at the secretariat in 1965. He spontaneously asked the finance secretary to bring me to the finance department but unknown to him, the finance secretary and I were related. The transfer was, therefore, not appropriate. At a party in his honour a few days later at the Dhaka Club, I had naively asked Dr. Huda how he felt about the new appointment. He laughed and said he of course was feeling good and teasingly added that the answer was as good as my question.
The memories of a fine teacher, a public figure and a decent, dignified personality came to my mind during the last fortnight or so and I felt obliged to write this remembrance.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008