The Symphony of our Times
School, friends and acquaintances
There were more to do: to watch with curiosity nana (grandfather) preparing for work at the Normal School. His usual dress consisted of white trousers and shirts. The cuffs were plastic and detachable. Not only that even the collar was of the same stuff. These could, therefore, be changed from time to time, the used ones being sent to laundry. Usually, the rest of the shirt got dirty later than the collar and cuffs. Perhaps that was the reason for this clever arrangement.
On off days, nana used to dye his hair. This procedure was a source of delight and fun for us. Then there was the wonder of his small wooden box full of little jars of homoeopathic medicines. Sometimes he gave us very small doses of homoeopathic drugs, which were tasty, sweet and dear to us. Occasionally, when opportunity came, we took some of these away quietly and greatly relished tasting them. We don't know if nana was aware of such 'thefts'. He did not say anything even if he knew.
Another member in the army of brothers, sisters and cousins needs to be mentioned. As he was only one-year old, he could no more than move his hand and feet in the air and thus participated in the carnival of the young. He was Pavel, Habibul Bari, son of third aunt Zinnat Ara Bulbul. When a little older, he became my close associate like Shafiqul Islam Lenin, the eldest son of my aunty Shahida.
Weekly holiday, Sunday, and other holidays found us busy picking torn pieces of papers from the yard. We did not do it voluntarily but under the stern guidance of nana, Abdul Mannan Warsi leading this spirited 'cleanup campaign'.
He also took Khokon and me to the fish and vegetable market, the kancha bazaar. The renowned Moulavi Bazaar, a big market of old Dhaka, was nearby. One remembers milling crowds, narrow alleyways with shops on both sides, shopkeepers appraising enthusiastic customers of their heaps of varied wares. Separate compartments housed shops specialising in food grains, spices, cooking oil and many other necessities. All these made the Moulavi Bazaar a veritable emporium of varied and diverse commodities.
The most memorable event of my childhood in old Dhaka is the beginning of school education. Thanks to deft and thorough teaching by 'chhoto khalamma', I was able to master elementary Bangla enough to get admitted to class III of Armanitola Government High School. It is difficult to recall the precise date and day but the memory of the first day in school is indelible. We had a view through large windows of the classroom, the green expanse of the playground surrounded by high walls.
A massive iron gate separated the school premises from the wide roads and avenues outside. Before the classes began, the guards used to throw open the gate. We all entered the school premises to swiftly walk across the driveway to reach the impressive red school building. The first day was a thrilling mix of apprehension and curiosity. Perhaps our tender age attracted affectionate and kind treatment from teachers. During Tiffin hours, homemade bread, fried vegetables and eggs met our hunger while cool tap water of the school quenched our thirst. The last class was of art and painting. Classmates informed that the art teacher was called 'drawing sir'.
At 4 o'clock the school bell tolled, announcing the close of the working day. As we were busy packing up something strange happened. Suddenly a teacher entered the classroom with two peons carrying little wooden sticks with their ends bent and shaped like the letter 'S'. Before we could understand anything each of us was given a stick. The teacher said, 'Get on to the field and start playing hockey.' That was my first lesson in the game. At that time and long years after, the Armanitola school team was one of the very best in the then East Bengal. There is no doubt that on account of rigorous lessons and training from early childhood the Armanitola boys became so skilful and able in hockey.
I was a student of Armanitola School for only one year. In 1950, father was allotted a flat in the newly-built quarters for government officials, the Azimpur Colony. Consequently, we left our temporary residence at the grandparent's place in Mahootuli and started residing in Azimpur. The Nabakumar Institution was nearby and I was admitted there. That is another chapter. Armanitola School remained a treasure trove of playful early childhood.
Among class friends in Armanitola were Kazi Ziauddin, Munir, Enamul Haque, Azizuddin and Iftekhar. Kazi Ziauddin also studied in Dhaka College with me in later years. An engineer, he now lives and works abroad. Aziz, Azizuddin Ahmed and Iftekhar remained friends at the university and later. Aziz who passed away in 2011 became a geologist and worked in various companies in the country. Later he joined the UNHCR from where he retired and came back to Dhaka. Iftekhar was a member of the erstwhile Pakistan Taxation Services and became member of the National Board of Revenue and chairman of the Taxation Commission of Bangladesh.
Another class fellow was tall and lanky Nazimuddin of old Dhaka. He lived in his parental house at the crossing of Mahuttuli and Bangshal Roads. His elder sister Raisan was a classmate and friend of my youngest aunt Shawkat Ara. Taking advantage of his large physical structure he often used to bully us. In the storytelling class he related his tales in a peculiarly old Dhaka style with its unique pronunciation and words of mixed Bangla and Urdu.
This made the entire class, including the teacher, burst into laughter. I was, of course, one of the crowds and laughed heartily at the funny performance of Nazim. At the end of school hours he rudely threatened me with dire consequence and tried to hold me by the collar. Terrified, I ran away to escape his wrath. Armanitola school friend Enamul Haque, who also breathed his last in 2011, remained a friend until the last. He was intelligent and good at games from childhood. Even after I left Armanitola I often met him on the way to the grandparent's place at Mahuttuli. In 1957 again we became classmates in Dhaka College and remained so in the Dhaka University from 1959-1963. He joined the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan in 1964 and retired as a secretary of the Bangladesh government.
Another Armanitola student who became a celebrity in later years became my 'elder' friend as he was senior in class. He is reputed writer, poet and a former secretary of the government Kazi Monzur-e-Mowla. His father, famous teacher and headmaster Kazi Ambar Ali was my father's friend. We regarded this generous scholar and teacher by nature as our elderly kin. Monzur-e-Mowla is his only child. I became friendly with Mowla Bhai early on.
The memory of one particular day stands out. After school hours Mowla Bhai said, 'Shelley, let us join the 'Mukul Fauj'. Bewildered, I asked him, 'What is Mukul and Mukul Fauj? He replied, 'Haven't you seen mango buds in trees in spring, the buds turned into mangoes when they grow up? We the little ones also will become men in future. If we join Mukul Fauj now, we will be able to play games and march skilfully.' Subsequently, we became members of the Armanitola Mukul Fauj for some time.
There is another reason why Mowla Bhai and Enam became close to me. Uncle Bari once decided to stage Tagore's play Rajmukut with us as actors. He wrote novels and had a leading part in cultural activities and staging of dramas. This is the backdrop of this new enterprise. Mowla Bhai was allotted the role of the prince, Enam was marked for the character 'dhurandhar' (the cunning one), and I was cast as a friend of the prince. After school we used to rehearse under the supervision of uncle Bari, 'Mejo Mama', at our residence 10 Mahuttuli. It is a matter of great regret for us that this virgin attempt at playacting on stage could not be successful. The play was never staged for some yet unknown reasons.
Some other incidents of Armanitola days are still fresh in memory. One afternoon, our physical training teacher was training us in quick march on the lawn at the back of the school. Younger brother Prince (Khokon), who was not a student of the school, was passing with an adult scot through the passage that lead to the front exit. The path skirted the lawn where we were receiving our training.
Prince and I almost looked alike. The teacher thought I was escaping and held him by the collar saying, 'Where are you running away?' Prince was taken aback and was on the verge of tears. Seeing the pitiful condition of my brother, I shouted from the back of my row, 'Sir, here I am, he is only my younger brother.' My classmates burst into laughter and the teacher, though embarrassed, also smiled and said, 'They look alike; it is not unusual to mistake one for the other!'
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley is a former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (1967-1980) and former non-partisan technocrat Cabinet Minister of Bangladesh