The recollection below is about a lesson I learnt in college that I attribute to my 100 per cent completion rate in 29 marathons.
While running by the Hyde Park in Sydney, I recalled an encounter on the open upper deck of a motor launch from Matlab to Chandpur. A gentleman, Mr Haradhan Chakraborty (no relation, who went by Haradhan Babu, and worked as a Mukter, one level below an advocate in Chandpur Court) standing much taller than me was staring at me there for a good few minutes. I was expecting to meet him in his house in Chandpur, but he boarded the launch from Kanudi, a station not far from my parental home in Bishnupur, which was also his parental home. I gave him the good news about my HSC result that I came in second (first, before the same board officials' intervention) and touched his feet as a show of respect for an elderly that the situation called for. He did not say a single word. He just kept staring at me. Looking up, I could see the pride and a sense of satisfaction painted all over his very fair-complexioned face with a matching moustache.
I knew he knew what I went through before the HSC exam, an exam I once decided to skip that year because of poor health and poor preparation. I was out on the street on my way to send a telegram to mother at Matlab to give her the devastating news. Then God sent Santosh Ghosh to stop me, literally! Santosh, academically near the bottom of the class from Matlab College, was in Chandpur to write the same exam and looked happy. After exchanging a few pleasantries, it occurred to me that "If Santosh could take the exam, I must."
So I went back to study. It did not matter then that some of the materials in science and math subjects were Greek to me, because I was in a newly-founded college at Matlab for a year and a half. And in Chandpur, I was too sick to stay up late at night to do make-up studies for those materials.
My health was deteriorating. Mr HC seeing my sorry state arranged for a reputable physician to check me up. He paid for the doctor's visit and bought the medicine he prescribed to suppress the symptoms.
Six months earlier, Mr HC had made it possible for me to switch college, when I was sinking in a two-year-old Matlab College, with no decent labs for science students to practice for board's lab exams, and with not many regular good professors. When I went to see Mr HC after deciding to switch, he gave me, without even blinking, a room to stay and three meals a day for six months, all at no cost to me. To top it off, he sent my lunches during breaks between morning and afternoon exams. He did the same for my first year HSC, SSC, and two scholarship exams which I appeared in Chandpur town, while a student from rural Matlab. All Matlab students had to write exams in Chandpur, putting the students who did not have any relatives there at a significant disadvantage. There were no hotels then in Chandpur and, even if there were, only a very few could afford those. Mr HC cleared those hurdles away for me, allowing me to do well in those life-changing exams.
His was an act of generosity, the like of which was rare. He did not have any interest in or expectation of me, like getting married to his relatives, or taking care of him at old age. Perhaps helping me and seeing positive result each time was his satisfaction-his dopamine drive.
Some emotions are better expressed through silence.
Those speechless moments amidst the noises of the Meghna River wind and the launch engine covered a lot of grounds: falling behind at Matlab College, despair, assistance, doubts, concerns, health issues, struggles, doctor, good result, amazement, and gratitude. All unspoken, but communicated very well.
Five years later, when at BUET, I came in first with Honours, second student to have achieved such a rare distinction up to that time in chemical engineering, and then became a lecturer at BUET, Mr HC was beaming with satisfaction, seeing his small act of kindness-small for him but huge for me-bearing fruits again.
If Mr Haradhan Chakraborty were at the finish line at Sydney that day, he would have assured others doubting my finish, by saying: "Tapan will come through; he did it before!"
At the finish, I would have touched his feet and he would have remained silent, keeping staring at me and remembering the fatherless child in Chandpur he offered his helping hands to keep standing on solid ground.
One lesson I learnt from the HSC exam experience was that I got to appear for a test no matter how poorly prepared or sick I thought I was. Later, I used that learning to start all 29 marathons, finishing 28 of them and was about to finish all 29. There were a few I ran feeling so sick in the morning that I would have stayed in bed all day, were it not for the marathons. The successes in those marathons made me wonder: "Could running be a cure for strap throat or flu-due to dopamine effect?"
Some of the discomforts and pains I experienced during marathon running at a mature age paled in comparison with I had endured during my formative years. In an unintended way, I was being trained for some psychological aspects (eg, dealing with pain and replacing negative thoughts with reinforcing words) of running marathons, some 35 years before my first marathon.
While running in Sydney, I also thought of my strong bond with the land, the village trees, and the six seasons in a country, whose beauty has produced so many poets and writers. Tagore, the Nobel Laureate from undivided Bengal, of which East Bengal (now Bangladesh) is the larger part, although born in Kolkata, had his best work done while spending time in the village of Shelidah, Kushtia, Bangladesh.
I was born three years after the creation of Pakistan and India in 1947, based on a referendum along religious line. Many minorities on both sides migrated to the other for security and imagined opportunity. Communal riots killed close to half a million innocent people on both sides. Many more got displaced from their parental homes and comfortable living to unknown territory and uncertain future. Father, encouraged by headmaster, decided to stay at Matlab. My brother immigrated, after matriculation, to India and suffered immensely among indifferent and mostly poor relatives. Seeing the physical abuse he suffered at the hand of a relative there, mother was advised sternly by other relatives not to send me to India after SSC.
I owe my survival and studies to the scholarships given by the country of BD, then East Pakistan, and to Matlab, in particular. Matlab never experienced any communal rift, thanks to the legendary headmaster, the late Waliullah Patwari, who needed to retain his Hindu teachers and students for the good of the school. Being a good student, I never paid any tuition fees anywhere from my pocket.r
Tapan Chakrabarty, first Bangladeshi to complete marathons in all continents, writes from Calgary, Canada. The next instalment will appear tomorrow