The Symphony of Our Times
Study, politics, cultural & literary activities at University
During the night, Kaiser and I studied in his room. After dinner for an hour or two we together drafted answers to more important questions. Since, there was only one bed and one set of chair and table, Kaiser retired at mid-night while I continued to sit at the table and studies until day break. Since I was in the habit it was no hard task for me to keep awake throughout the night. After 7 O'clock in the morning as Kaiser woke-up we took our bath and had hearty breakfast of omelet and toasts in the Hall canteen. If there were classes we used to attend these. Then I went home and slept. Come evening the same routine of going to the Hall and studying till dawn was repeated.
On some nights we took a break and along with class friends Nuruzzaman and Mohiuddin Mahmud Hafiz went to the nearby roadside plebian restaurants at Plessey. Usually rickshaw pullers gathered there for dinner. Hungry as we were eagerly ate tasty beef and dry Parata off ordinary enamel plates. The meals were incredibly cheap, some half a rupee. Nuruzzaman remarked with impish humour, "surely, they cannot give us real beef at such low prices, it must be dog meat! Whatever it may be it is delicious". Embarrassed waiters protested mildly, "No sir, how can we dare serve you inedible food".
After these refreshments we resumed our studies. Kaiser and I kept on smoking cigarettes one after another. Two ashtrays on Kaiser's table gathered heaps of cigarette butts. Kaiser used to blurt out, "Do you see that our hands are shaking? It is a sure sign that we have tobacco neurosis mixed with anxiety neurosis for the examinations". These industrious night's studded with studies, tea and cigarettes eventually proved highly rewarding for us. Both of us achieved bright results. I obtained the First Class First position and Kaiser a very high Second Class in our BA (Hons) final examinations.
For some of us achieving good results in University examination was no easy task. Active participation in student politics, cultural and literary activities, romantic involvements and long hours of friendly chats captivated us in octopus-grip in that radiant dawn of youth.
Romantic love crossed paths of some of us during the early sixties. Thus Mahbub Talukder and Nilufar of the Bengali department fell in love with each other. So did Siddiquzzaman and Niaz Ali of English. Siddique and Niaz added novelty and thrill to their affair as they rode bicycles side by side around the University campus. As Syeda Umme Sufia (Salma) of the English department and I fell in love during 1961 in our second year. As mentioned earlier we could not wait like our class friends to get married after leaving the University, but got into wedlock even before the BA (Hons.) examinations. It was inconceivable that I would obtain even mediocre results in the examination after my multidimensional involvements.
Another barrier that stood on the way of Kaiser and me was a repeat of the subsidiary experience. As in subsidiaries, so also in the Honours we failed to attend the required percentage of classes held. We were told that in order to be eligible to appear in the Honours examinations we would have to obtain special permission from the Head of the department. By 1962, Dr. Newman having gone from the University, Dr. G. W Chowdhury was the Head. Failing to see him in the department Kaiser and I ventured to go to his residence in Shantinagar.
It was almost dusk and the teacher was not at home. We were desperate to see him and were permitted by his wife Dilara Chowdhury and his niece Hasina to wait in the drawing room till he came home. It was not a long wait and Dr. Chowdhury was not negative. However, he told us that his permission would not be enough and we would need the final permission of the Vice-Chancellor Dr. Mahmud Hossain. On the way back a crestfallen Kaiser said, "the Vice-Chancellor may not give us permission since we are involved in anti-government politics".
We better think of alternative careers such as Contractors of WAPDA. You do not need a BA degree to be enlisted as a Contractor. Kaiser's trepidation did not come true. After some efforts we got permission of the Vice-Chancellor. All these exercises killed more of our time and we found that the margin of time for preparation was too little.
Someone suggested that we try to plead with the authorities to shift the date of examination to a later time. To Kaiser and me the suggestion seemed attractive. We seized the opportunity to go in a body to the Vice-Chancellor to consider our petition for postponement of the Honours examination. The unexpected chain of events that followed led to the only successful, but controversial movement for shifting the date of Honours examination of the Dhaka University.
What happened was virtually snowballing of expectations. The Vice-Chancellor's office did not give us a transparent picture. It did not indicate that such a thing was not done. Instead, senior teachers and university administrators seemed to indicate that we could get a positive response to our petition for postponing the examination from the authorities of the Education Ministry. Not being worldly-wise we went to the high officers of the Provincial Ministry of Education. They were evasive. Kaiser suggested that the central Education Minister, a Bengali Mr Habibur Rahman of Bogra could be approached as he was in Dhaka for a few days. I remember that Mr Rahman was staying at a Dhanmondi house called, 'Darling Point'.
Kaiser fixed an appointment for us and we met him with our plea for shifting the date of the Honours examination. He received us cordially and gave us to understand that he would speak to the Vice-Chancellor and if the VC agreed he would see that no other authority stood on the way. So, we went back to the university authorities who were equally uncertain. There was no clear 'Yes' or 'No'. We were thrown from one end to the other like a ping pong ball. Kaiser, Monzoor, Aga Kohinoor and Anis lost patience and said, "this soft approach will not work. We have to take the hard line and immediately mobilize wide support for a strong movement. This will compel the authorities to yield".
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research (CDRB), and former technocrat Cabinet Minister of Bangladesh, died on August 12 last. He contributed his writeups to the Daily Observer which are being published regularly as "The Symphony of Our Times".