The Symphony of our Times
Time following matriculation examination
This first important examination of my student life ended on March 11, 1957. As to which way I would go with my study crowded the mind in the following days. These thoughts were inscribed in my diary of March 12.
'The noon and afternoon were engaged in reading Jawaharlal Nehru's Glimpses of World History. Too many thoughts crowded the mind: what shall I study, arts or science? If science, there is the fear of mathematics. The arts branch does not offer as many openings as science does. Sometimes, I feel like studying science for a career, while pursuing art and literature as the main interest.
'Whatever thoughts may fill my mind or whatever plans I drew, one thing was sure. I shall never deviate from the aim of living a noble life. The constant in my life will remain fixed like the pole star. My ideal will remain unwavering, this I know for sure.'
The time following the matriculation examination up to 1st April, was a time of freedom. I felt like a bird out of cage. There was no school, no pressure of daily studies. The only task is to roam around the streets of Dhaka with old friends.
There were also repeated visits with class fellows to the school which has just become our former school. There were also enjoyable visits to cinema halls, restaurants with tea and snacks, and occasional boat rides in the river Buriganga. These frivolous days of revelry were not all these days were. These were also marked by our first practical lessons in solemn and noble service to society and humanity.
The 'priest' of the ceremony of our initiation in social service was our respected and popular teacher RB Saha of St Gregory School. He could easily endear himself to his students. He was sensitively aware of society and had keen interest in human and social welfare. He wanted to spread this eagerness among his students. To that end, he set up an organisation called the Palli Mangal Sanga (rural welfare organisation). It had started its operation one year ago mainly with our seniors, who had passed out. Among them were Osman Faruque, later the education minister of the Bangladesh government. Chowdhury Tanveer Ahmed Siddiki (Napoleon), later state minister, Mustafizur Rahman, later a career diplomat and foreign secretary, Jalaluddin Akber, later a high air force officer, and others.
The programmes of Palli Mangal Sangha were already extended to Borchar in Narsingdi and Zinzira in Dhaka. At both the places the sangha established adult literacy centres and handlooms for impoverished waivers. The area of our experience vastly expanded as we started working for the sangha. On instruction of RB Saha, we began to collect financial resources for the organisation's programmes. For that purpose, we sought to bring popular and humorous films from the distributors and put these on charity shows. Organising these was not an easy task for the young students such as ourselves.
Despite the difficulties, we learnt through this task the ways of working with society at large. Later in life many among us went on rendering voluntary social service alongside their carrier or business. As a student of college and university, I went on working for the cause of social service. I continued to do so even as a young teacher of Dhaka University between 1964 and 1967. Even while serving the government as a member of the CSP cadre from 1967 for over a decade, I took active interest in service to humanity and society.
In my case at one point of time, my professional work in the carrier and social service converged. The four years from 1976 to 1980 found me as the director (head of the directorate) of the directorate of social welfare (later renamed as social services). As I worked in this capacity, the lessons in social service that I learnt as a teenager in Palli Mangal Sangha proved of immense help.
The teaching and advice of our school teacher RB Saha gave me great inspiration in my social work within the government or without. He established the Willes Little Flower School in Dhaka and initially guided it to become an educational institution of high standard and quality. In the beginning of 1980s, however, he fell victim to intrigues of a powerful coterie and was compelled to resign from the post of headmaster.
Heartbroken, he eventually left the country. It is a matter of great regret but cruel reality is that in our society a section of narrow-minded and envious people spins webs of partisan conspiracy against noble pioneers such as RB Saha and rob them of their mission and send them into irretrievable exile. They leave but their sincere and inspired service to humanity remains indelibly imprinted in the minds of innumerable socially conscious people.
The author, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh (CDRB) and Editor quarterly "Asian Affairs" was a former teacher of political science in Dhaka University(1964-1967) and former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) (1967-1980) and former non-partisan technocrat Cabinet Minister of Bangladesh (1990).