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     Volume 7 Issue 40 | October 10, 2008 |

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All the Teachers who have Passed On

Syed Badrul Ahsan

The last time I met Professor K.M.A. Munim was in the autumn of the last year of the last century. He was editor of The Bangladesh Observer, the newspaper where I had spent close to three years before going off to London on a diplomatic assignment. At the Observer, though, he was still my teacher, one who had guided me through Shelley at Dhaka University and let me in on the finer details of English Romantic poetry. My teacher was a devout Muslim and knew full well that there was something of the irreverent in me, though he was not quite ready to believe that I was incapable of being religious someday in the times to be. At that final meeting, in the presence of quite a few of my journalistic colleagues, he told me loud and clear that it was in me to promote the cause of Islam. I do not quite know if I have been able to do anything of the sort, but the point is that Munim Sir had in him the charisma and the nobility which subdued the arrogance in the callow milling around his table.

I have remembered my teacher since he died quietly, and some would say alone, a few years ago. And I have had cause as well to recall some of the other men and women of liberal intellect who have made me what I am and have then passed on to the other world, wherever that may be. Allahyar Malik was the first individual who kindled my interest in Shakespeare, way back in 1969, as he taught Julius Caesar to me and my classmates in school. On the first day of class, as he explained all that arcane Shakespearean language to us, I kept on nodding. He stopped at a point, looked irritated as he let his gaze fall on me and then told me not to nod without understanding anything. That was the beginning; and then came three years of intense pleasure as he taught me increasingly more Shakespeare. When the Bangladesh war broke out in 1971, he and I parted company as I made my way to my occupied country in July of the year. I went visiting him a quarter of a century later, in distant Quetta, a place I have always known as home. He was recovering from a stroke. We spent three afternoons and evenings speaking of old times. On the day I said goodbye to him --- and it was a terribly cold January day --- he broke down. It was my shoulder he placed his head on. I wept with him; and as I made my way out of his quiet home in the cantonment, he stared at me, at nothing, at pointlessness. Seven months later, he was dead. And then his sister, the beautiful Kaniz Fatima, who had taught me history in school and who too wept that day at seeing me depart again, died of a broken heart. It was a month after her brother had passed into the great beyond.

Persistence of Memory (1931): Salvador Dali

There has hardly ever been a time when I have not remembered Professor Shamsuddoha. There was much civility in him. He knew the meaning of respect, giving it away in plenty to his students and getting much more from them in return. At the English department of Dhaka University, he instilled encouragement in us about Swift's Gulliver's Travels. He took his time to explain the salient features of the work, the satire that it was, sometimes leaving many of us wondering if ever we would be able to finish the text. But we did finish the text. And we ended up loving our teacher intensely. When he died, I was not around to pay my respects to him. But I still see him, every time I go visiting my old department at the university, walking slowly, a smile playing on his lips, back to his office. He was a thoroughly polite man, so much so that when he spoke to us, we were too embarrassed at knowing that we could not match the gentlemanly in him. And then there was Suraiya Khanum, of whom I have already spoken on an earlier occasion. There was sheer energy about her, a dynamism that breezed far ahead of the social circumstances she found herself in. I was always afraid of her and summoned up all sorts of excuses to stay away from her classes. But there was always this huge respect in me for her intellect, for the rapidity with which her imagination worked. When she died in America sometime ago, it was a beautiful, self-assured and rather excusably haughty teacher that I remembered. She was always the tempestuous heroine of the tragedies we have had reason to go through at university.

In school, at a very young age, Mrs. Rouf guided me gently through a course in English spelling. On the first day I met her, she asked me to spell the word 'my'. Trembling in fear and shame of what might come my way, I wrote 'mi'. She asked me to look up and look into her eyes. I did, almost weeping as I did so. To my amazement, she did not scold me. Taking my little hand in her big one, she led me into my new class and let the other little boys there know that I was their new friend.

I went looking for my teacher in my greying forties. At my old school, the youngish-looking administrative officer gave me a copy of The Grammarian, the annual school magazine. I turned the pages, and then stumbled on a picture of Mrs. Rouf. She had passed away after long years of dedicated service to the school.

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