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The Symphony of our Times

The DC, Dhaka and the office

Published : Monday, 16 May, 2022 at 12:00 AM  Count : 497
Mizanur Rahman Shelley

The DC, Dhaka and the office

The DC, Dhaka and the office

After the academic part of our training as civil servants had completed in the Lahore academy, we were posted to districts of our respective provinces. Those 13 of us who were Bengalis, in the 67th batch of the CSP, flew to Dhaka by November and were posted to different stations as assistant commissioners for on-the-job training. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was posted to Dhaka district as I hailed from the area. There was no law, rules or regulation to bar any government officer from being posted to his own district. Nevertheless, conventions and usage dictated that one did not serve in one's own locality lest it led to nepotism.

In 1968, therefore, I had no hope of being posted to Dhaka although I would very much like it as our extended family lived there. I lost no time in joining the Dhaka collectorate along with Shahed Saadullah. Sometime later, Khasruzzaman Chowdhury, recovering from his severe wounds in the Kohat car crash, joined us. Thus, there were three assistant commissioners that year in Dhaka district. It was sometime later that I found the clue to the mystery of my Dhaka posting.

When I came to Dhaka in December 1967 for a short visit on virtually official business, I remembered our seniors making much of the custom of young officers from one province to make a courtesy call on the chief secretary of the province.

Accordingly, I went to the Dhaka secretariat and presented my visiting card to the PS to the chief secretary Ali Azgar CSP. As I was still on training in the civil service academy, my card simply said 'Mizanur Rahman CSP.' Within minutes, the stern, poker-faced chief secretary asked me, 'Why have you come to see me?' I replied, 'Since it is the custom for civil service officers to call on the chief secretary of the province which they are visiting, I have come to pay my respect to you.'

The atmosphere immediately brightened up. Chief secretary Ali Azgar smiled and put aside the file he was so carefully reading. An interview which should have lasted five minutes became an extended advice to 30 minutes by a seasoned senior to a green horn. Ali Azgar not only briefed me about the dos and don'ts of life in the service but also his experiences as a magistrate and administrator. I enjoyed listening to his monologue as it conjured up images of the vintage civil servants of the South-Asian subcontinent.

The masterly portraits of the fabled members of the Indian Civil Service of 'The Raj' were sketched skilfully in the scholarly volumes of Phillip Woodruff's The Founders and The Guardians. The spirit of dedication to public service and incomparable solidarity of the in-group were hallmarks of the system. Seniors and juniors, contemporaries and comrades of the cadre were cemented by the bonds of fellow feeling and a strong sense of wee-ness. The ICS in the sub-continent compared favourably with the mandarins of imperial China.

Chief secretary Ali Azgar, in effect, repeated what Shafiul Azam, a veteran CSP, had said to me on hearing that I have entered the cadre, 'Welcome to the tribe.' Whatever the implication of my encounter with the chief secretary was, it proved to be a boon for me in terms of posting. As Shahed Saadullah later said, 'Shelley Bhai, it was this meeting that made the chief secretary get you posted to Dhaka despite the district being one of your origin.'

As always Shahed Shadullah was extremely nice and friendly. He used to come every morning to our place at 113, Azimpur Road to pick me up in his cute little red Fiat car. As I got ready, Shahed waited in the drawing room and spoke with my little sons Nipu, 6, and Topu, 4. One day, when Shahed was alone conversing with Topu, he was amazed and told me, 'He does not know the name of his elder brother, how can that be?'

I burst into laughter and explained the background. The two brothers addressed each other as bhaijan (respected brother) and used the honourable prefix 'apni' instead of the more familiar 'tumi' or 'tui'. Nipu claimed even at that time that he had taught Topu to do this so that taking a cue from him Topu could not thou and thee him.

Also Topu as a mark of respect did not utter Nipu's name until they got older. Now that Nipu resides in Dhaka and has his own little family while Topu reside and works in the United States with his little family, the two still continue to use the childhood forms of address for each other.

The greater Dhaka district during that period was composed of the subdivisions of Dhaka sadar, south and north, Munshiganj-Bikrampur, Manikganj, now districts. The headquarters of the Dhaka district were near Sadarghat on the Buriganga. It was also known as the collectorate and district magistrate's office. The head of the district in early British colonial times was known as 'the collector' as his main function was to collect revenues from the subject. Then he was also the district magistrate, the head of the magistracy in the area dispensing law and justice in the courts.

During post colonial times, he came to be the coordinator of official development activities and was called the deputy commissioner. The deputy commissioner of Dhaka during 1968-69 was M Khorshed Anwar, who became the cabinet secretary in 1990 and after retirement, a cabinet minister under the BNP government in 1991-1996 and 2001-2006. He was reputed as a strict and efficient superior by his contemporaries and juniors. Respectful as the juniors were, they were also fearful of the serious boss.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelly, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research (CDRB), and former teachnocrat Cabinet Minister of Bangladesh, Died on August 12, 2019. He contributed his writeups to the Daily Observer which are being published regularly as "The Symphony of Our Times"

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