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     Volume 4 Issue 1 | June 25, 2004 | 8th Anniversary Issue


   Editor's Note
   Cover Story
   Nothing if Not     Serious
   Slice of Life
   A Roman Column
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   One Off
   Straight Talk
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Nothing If Not Serious

Montreal Blues
Shawkat Hussain

I am trying desperately to meet a deadline in response to a desperate plea from the editor of this magazine. She made several frantic calls to me on both my regular and mobile phones and couldn't get me. She finally heard from another friend in the newspaper that I was in Montreal. She wrote to my son in Montreal requesting him to forward an email to me. How is it possible not to respond to this desperate long-distance request even if the deadline time is impossibly tight for an habitual procrastinator like me? How can I not respond when the current editor has so generously reminded me that I was the magazine's first editor? Yes, in June 1996 I was the magazine editor when the momentous transition from broadsheet to its current format occurred. Only a month later in July, I went Down Under and Aasha Mehreen Amin has been at the helm of affairs ever since. And what a great job she has been doing for the last eight years.

In any case, I have missed my regular column for over a month, and it's only the editor breathing down my neck that can get me back into the groove again. There you are, I have written over a 100 words about nothing, and if I can just keep on shooting the bull from the hip I might just be able to meet the desperate deadline.

I am here in Montreal for my son's graduation from McGill University. The first two days were bright, crisp, and sunny. The third day, the day of the convocation, was wet and cold, and the next three days (including today) the weather has been gorgeous. However, I am not complaining. The exhilaration of the occasion and the reception after the ceremony made up for the ceaseless drizzle outside. Furthermore, I am experiencing strange feelings of deja vu walking along familiar streets, some of whose names I still remember from my last visit here almost exactly 28 years ago in 1976. I was then a graduate student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I had come to Montreal with my wife to visit my friend Selim and his wife, and also to see the Montreal Olympics. I remembered that there used to be a second-hand bookstore--The Word--just minutes away from Selim's flat on Rue Aylmer. When I asked my son about the bookstore he told me that it was less than a minute away from our flat on Rue Milton, very close to the McGill University campus.

Going to The Word on the first morning was like a pilgrimage, a return to my youth, a return to a time when my son, now a strapping lad of 24 and an engineer, was not even an idea. The bookstore looked exactly the same: the look of second-hand bookstores never change; the fiction section and the section on literary criticism were exactly where they were over a quarter century back. The only difference was that I couldn't read the titles on the top shelves because now I had bifocals; in 1976 I didn't even have glasses. A genial man, fifty something, brought me a step-ladder; as I stepped up to look at the books on the higher shelves, I mentioned that I had first come to the bookstore 28 years back. I told him about the circumstances of my first visit and why I was in Montreal and his bookstore the second time. He said that he had been running the store for 29 years! I now go to the bookstore almost every day and I will keep on doing it till the end of the month. Adrian, the owner, does not give me any special discounts but he treats me a little differently. It is not likely that I will revisit the bookstore a third time, but who knows. I did not know that I would come back to the bookstore a second time either.

It was also kind of serendipitous (and a bit strange as well) that the first email I got in Montreal was from Selim S, my old Montreal host now teaching in a private university in Dhaka. He thought he was writing to me in Dhaka; I wrote back to him saying that I was now in Montreal living in a flat close to his old haunts, close to The Word, close to McGill, close to a place where he spent some of the best years of his youth and life. He has not responded to my email yet.

On our second day in Montreal, we went to a Sylheti grocery, and I kept looking at a guy who looked very familiar, and he kept looking at me as well. Finally he walked up to me and said, "Sir, how are you? I am your student Iqbal." And I immediately recognised both his name and his face. Last night I heard the story of his life when he treated us to an excellent buffet dinner in an Indian restaurant--predictably called Maharajah. Such are the pleasures of meeting students in strange places in foreign lands. He also filled me in with news about Bangladesh that he had read in The Daily Star. I have one major regret though: being away from Dhaka when Rumsfeld was visiting. But I have just bought a copy of Ben Bradlee's A Good Life for only a dollar and I am happy. Bradlee, by the way, was The Washington Post's great editor for thirty years.









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