The Symphony of Our Times
My days as correspondent
Reporting about social problems and everyday accidents and disasters tragic as they were often lead to cruel humour. Staff reporter Ataus Samad was busy in the office one evening writing a report on launch disaster near Narayanganj. He suddenly asked directing the question to all in the office, 'What is the English of khol?' Chief reporter Shahidul Haque, Shahid bhai, asked, 'Why?'
Ataus Samad replied, bodies of four passengers were found in the 'khol' of the launch that sank near Narayanganj. I ventured to help and said perhaps you could use the term 'lower deck'. Samad bhai quickly replied, 'No, it was not a deck but more of a cargo hold.' Shahid bhai went on typing with a solemn face and said, 'khol does not have an English equivalent, English speaking countries are mostly advanced and they do not carry passengers in khol. You better use the word "khol" as it is and put it within quotation marks!' As far as I remember that was what Ataus Samad bhai exactly did.
My days as university correspondent were marked by various responsibilities and complexities. On one hand, there were the ceaseless demands of student politics; on the other was the time-consuming temptation of long hours of friendly chats. During 1961-62, I was the elected literary secretary to the SM Hall Students' Union. During the same year and the following period, I was busy discharging the responsibilities of the post of general secretary and later that of the president of the popular middle of the road students' party Chhatra Shakti. It had branches in all the halls of Dhaka University and various districts of the then East Pakistan.
Even after all this, I never neglected my duties as a part-time journalist. In fact, it seemed that there lay grater attraction and interest for me. I remember a night in mid-1963. My MA examinations were knocking at the door. Yet, I hung around the busy Observer office at Motijheel up to 11:00pm. As I was doing light work and participating in small talks with colleagues, the shift-in-charge veteran journalist and political activist KG Mustafa, looked at me sternly. With a frown, he said, 'What are you doing here at this late hour of the night? Are you planning to appear at the MA examination extempore? This is the time for your preparations. Go home and study now. You will have plenty of time later to do journalism.'
That night I bowed my head and silently left the office. Scolding by a senior colleague naturally made me feel irritated and sorry. Nevertheless, when almost a year later despite various distractions, I stood first in first class in MA as I did earlier in BA (Honours) in 1962, among those who were most delighted and happy were my seniors in the Observer, especially KG Mustafa, ABM Musa, Shahidul Huq, Waheedul Haque, Ataus Samad, Enayetullah Khan, Abdur Rahim, Zahidul Hoque, Aminul Islam Fatik, Shamsul Huda and Humayun Kabir. So profound was the love and affection that our seniors had for us in those days of unalloyed fellowship.
I had the good fortune to do two scoops for the Observer. The first was to have a sight of a white crow on a tree in the arts building and to publish a full report with a large photograph of the rare bird. It was a front-page news story. I was having a cup of tea in Madhu's canteen during the forenoon. A classmate came running and excitedly told me, 'Shelley, there is a white crow in a tree near the pond. At first I did not believe my friend but out of curiosity went near the tree and was amazed to see a crow, all white sitting on a branch and cawing.
I lost no time in using the coin-operated telephone in the arts building to call the Observer's noted photojournalist Mozammel bhai and Bulu bhai. They took several photographs of the crow. Meanwhile, I went to the Curzon Hall science faculty to interview reputed zoology professor Dr Zakir Hossain, an expert in ornithology. He said, 'Though rare, there are a handful of white crows. In fact, they are not a separate or distinct species of crow. They are actually "Albinos" like we have among humans.'
I wrote the news story with all these information. The next day my report was published with almost a life-size photo of the white crow on the front page and only in the Observer. Other university correspondents were disappointed and sad at missing the story. But the Morning News university reporter AKM Jalaluddin was seemingly indomitable. He said to me that his editor Badruddin, a non-Bengali, had told him, 'I have seen many such white crows in my native Bihar!'
The second scoop was about an old style car that slid on its own into the pond located in the old arts building. The large car belonged to KB Ahmed who was a year junior to us. He is now a well-known businessman. The black car was parked on the bank of the pond. It was probably on the neutral gear and it wheeled down the slippery slope without a driver. The car was only half sunk as it encountered some under water barrier near the edge of the pond. The story of the sliding car was published next day on the front page of the Observer. I was naturally proud of my news reports which attracted widespread humorous attention.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research (CDRB), and former technocrat Cabinet Minister of Bangladesh, died on August 12, 2019. He contributed his write-ups to the Daily Observer which are being published regularly as "The Symphony of Our Times".