The Symphony of our Times
Post Language Movement East Bengal and struggle for rights
All my elders as well as younger brothers, sisters, cousins and friends provided me with tremendous encouragement in my writings. I have already mentioned the role of elder sister Rezina. Besides her, younger brother Dr Maswoodur Rahman, himself a literary writer and author of several medical books, constantly encouraged me in creative writing. Younger sister Nazma, Nargis Islam, escaped into India through Mizoram with her family during the liberation war of 1971.
She has written a captivating tale of the challenging journey and sufferings encountered in her book Porobashe ekattor (exile in 1971). This was published by Agami Prokashoni in 1992. Younger brother and reputed journalist late Mahbubur Rahman Rousseau gave me great help in my career as a writer and part-time journalist. Younger brother advocate Manzur-ur-Rahman Ruskin, Mahmudur Rahman Tipu, Moklesur Rahman Toy and youngest sister, resident of Manchester, UK, Syeda Nahrin Choudhury Shaki, are enduring sources of inspiration for me.
The rainy season which followed February 21, 1952 brought a spell of dreaded illness for me. I got drenched in rain one afternoon of full monsoon while playing football. In consequence, I caught a terrible cold, the tonsils swelled up and high temperature followed. I was bedridden. Baba had Dr MN Nandi, a famous physician of Dhaka, visit me. He examined me and prescribed medicine for typhoid. But even after five days there was no relief.
On the contrary, swelling, ache and pain increased in every joint, from the knees to the wrist. I became too weak and could not move out of bed. One night my condition deteriorated so much that Baba called his former student, Dr Sirajuddin, a neighbour, to see me. During the British Raj Baba happened to be a teacher in the Maldaha Zilla school in the then undivided Bengal. It was at that time that Sirajuddin and Sirajul Islam, later professor and vice-chancellor of Islamic University, were Baba's students.
Dr Sirajuddin examined me carefully and said to my father, 'Sir, Dr Nandi is a reputed physician and I don't have the impudence to find fault with his treatment. However, it seems to me that while Dr Nandi is treating Shelley for typhoid, he has actually developed rheumatic fever. He needs strong medicines right now or he may come to great harm.' Incidentally, Dr Nandi had gone to Bikrampur to attend the wedding of his assistant and was not scheduled to return to Dhaka before the next day. Since time was running out Baba decided to heed to Sirajuddin's advice. He had the prescribed medicines brought from the Day and Night Pharmacy.
The strong medicine for rheumatism given to me, instead of the medicine for typhoid, worked wonders. I felt better from the very next day. Dr Nandi came back to Dhaka and saw me in the evening and came to learn all that happened in his absence. He was thoughtful for a moment and said to Baba, 'I want to see the doctor who prescribed the new medicine.' On being requested Dr Sirajuddin came to our house; understandably, he was apprehensive.
Dr Nandi dispelled his fears by shaking his hand and saying, 'Young man you were right, my treatment was wrong.' This disarming admission of error on the part of a senior and reputed physician pleasantly amazed us. Dr Nandi congratulated Dr Sirajuddin and told him that he had a bright future. Then he prescribed heavy doses of step to- penicillin for me. As a result, I quickly recovered and my heart was protected against the effects of rheumatism.
The exacting weeks of my illness constituted an ordeal for my parents. For Ma days were even more burdensome. In addition to the heavy responsibilities of a large family she had the extra burden of nursing and caring for me. Despite help from brothers and sisters she had to work hard on my account. Duties inseparable from a family with many children, serious illness of the elder son and ever inadequate financial resources kept her constantly worried and anxious.
Despite all that she went on caring for us as the epitome of the eternal mother. It was the great patience and immense courage of our parents which laid the foundations of our strength and capability to meet the challenges of life competently. Not only in personal life but also in greater social sphere we learnt from them the lessons of generosity and sacrifice which made our journey through life a matter of joy and satisfaction.
Struggle for assertion of rights of East Bengal:
The essence of East Bengalis' hopes and aspirations for self-assertion became clearer to us as time passed following the language movement. It strengthened the struggle for assertion of Bengali rights in Pakistan. Resistance grew to the injustice, oppression, repression and exploitation of the West Pakistan centric ruling coterie.
Ali Akber was my tutor at home during 1954-1955. He obtained his Master of Arts degree in economics from Dhaka University and was placed first in first class. Subsequently, he became a lecturer at the university. During the close of 1970s he became chief of the general economic division of the Planning Commission of Bangladesh. I still recollect the day in 1954 when I was a student of class VIII and he said to me, 'Shelley, the inhabitants of the Azimpur colony belong to the virtual landless middle class. Why don't you write about them, their life, hopes, aspirations and their role in the society?'
I could not write as he desired, because I could not perhaps comprehend what he meant. Today as we look back, we find the imprint of the significant impact of the residents of Azimpur on the evolution of the nation's history.
In that colony, in the confines of the systematic and limited homes of mid-level government officials, a promising generation of young men was born, nurtured and helped to enter life with full confidence. They constituted the spearhead of the pre-1971 movement for assertion of Bengali rights in the then undivided Pakistan. Some of them became political leaders, others smart businessmen, while some others became mighty bureaucrats. They united in forcefully transforming the old shape and identity of the state and the society. They helped redraw the map of the state and remould society. It seems now in retrospective that, unknown to us all, these epoch-making transformations were rooted in the mellow light of our childhood and evolving adolescent.
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).