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The Symphony of Our Times

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Published : Monday, 23 November, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 226
Mizanur Rahman Shelley

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Right from November 1972, I contributed regularly to the Janamat. My articles and columns were on varied topics ranging from international affairs to immigrants life in the United Kingdom. I spent many daylight hours and evenings, whenever I was free from the pressure of PhD studies, in the office of the Janamat. With part-time workers, Shafiuddin Ahmed Bulbul, now a practising barrister in Dhaka, Anis, Inu, Khokon and Kabir, we worked at writing reports and typing them for final print. Needless to say, snacks and seemingly endless cups of tea and friendly chat gave us lively company. During 1973-1975, my wife Sufia also worked as the part-time general manager of Janamat.

The other experience that I had as a marginal journalist in London occurred during 1974. Well-known business magnet and founder editor of daily The People, Dhaka whom I met for the first time in 1963 and I met him in London for the second time in 1974.  The people played a heroic role in the freedom struggle of Bangladesh in early 1971. On March 26, as the Pakistan army crackdown took place in Dhaka, The People's office at Paribagh was blasted out of existence by the Pak military. Mr Abedur Rahman participated in the liberation war as writer and organiser. After liberation he continued as a prominent entrepreneur.

He contacted me in 1974 in London. We met and he came out with a very attractive offer for me to work as a journalist. He proposed to bring out a high quality English weekly from London. It would be modelled on the American weekly Time or News Week. The management and editorial leadership would be constituted by Bangladeshis. Its backdrop would be the east but the perspective would be global.

I was amazed when he proposed to appoint me the editor of the journal and requested me to start preparations for its publication soon. Delighted as I was I pointed out but that I was still working for my PhD. He replied that until my studies were completed the assignment would be part-time. Afterwards, I would take over as full-time editor. I responded positively to this attractive offer. Abedur Rahman made initial investment for the enterprise and allocated space for its office in the premises of his business complex at Aldgate East.

The proposed periodical was named Eastern Times. I took friend Ziaur Rahman Khan as associate editor. Zia was studying bar-at-law at that time and lived in the same house with me in London. He was a talented and skilled writer and had previous experience in journalism. Zia and I worked for a few months in preparation for publication of the magazine. We spent hours in the Aldgate East office interviewing aspiring reporters and sub-editors. Advertisements were inserted in reputed UK journals such as the Economist.
However, towards the close of 1974 Abedur Rahman told us, 'Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is going to introduce great changes in the political system of Bangladesh by early 1975. We have been advised to postpone the publication of the Eastern Times for the time being in view of the impending changes'. As a result, the magazine could not be published under our supervision. In December 1975, studies in my PhD course were complete.

I received the doctorate from the University of London in January 1976 and returned home to Bangladesh. Zia also came back to the country after being called to the bar. Later in 1977, Abedur Rahman fulfilled his mission of bringing out a journal in London amidst great fanfare. The weekly, renamed World Times had its plush office in the centre of London's journalistic world, the Fleet Street. Highly impressed the British journalists described Abedur Rahman as a 'Brown Beaverbrook' an exceptional personality in the Fleet Street. The magazine continued for a few years but it ceased to exist as investment was not available.

In 1980, I voluntarily resigned from government service and post of the head of directorate of social welfare, Bangladesh and pursued an independent career as consultant and part-time journalist. This seems to prove the saying that journalism never let one go once it has touched one. During 1982-86, I worked as part-time advisory editor of the popular Bengali weekly Sachitra Sawdesh (illustrated homeland). The entrepreneurs of that journal were Mr Mosharraf Hossain and Mr Zakiuddin Ahmed, who in the 1960s brought out the Concept and the Mausum.

During 1982-83, I was encouraged by affectionate editors Ahsan Ahmed Ashq and Barrister Mainul Hosein to write a weekly column in the daily New Nation. It was not easy to write veiled critical articles at that period of inception of the martial law imposed by General HM Ershad. The publishers were courageous and I enjoyed writing disguised dissenting articles. Again it was their persuasion which made me contribute a large number of Bangla writings to the weekly Robbar. As during my days as government official in 1976-1980, so also after voluntarily resigning from government service, I kept on writing in the dailies and periodicals in Bangladesh and abroad.
Needless to say that it was at the inspiration of friends in the media that I was enthused to continue writing on contemporary politico-social and economic topics. Among them were former editor of the Bangladesh Times the late Shahidul Huq, founder editor of the weekly Holiday and daily New Age Enayetullah Khan, Barrister Mainul Hosein of the New Nation and Anwar Hossain Manju of the Daily Ittefaq. Others such as class friend Zainul Anam Khan, editor of the Daily Azad, the late ATM Walie Ashraf, the founder editor of weekly Janamat of London, veteran journalist Syed Kamaluddin, former editor of the Weekly Friday and currently editor of the Holiday, Fazal M Kamal, former editor of the Holiday, at present editor of the South Asia Journal, New York, USA, encouraged me to keep on writing.

During recent years former editor Jugantor Golam Sarwar, assistant editor Kaler Kantho Ali Habib, journalist Mamun and Musa of Banik Barta and editor Moazzem Hossain of the Financial Express made me write columns. I also keep on writing for the daily New Age, and the Daily Star, principally at the friendly requests of editors Nurul Kabir, Mahfuz Anam and associate editor Shah Hossain Imam (Buli).

A strange twist came in my life in 1989-90 which appeared to be indirectly linked to my 'career as marginal journalist'. In 1989 towards the close of the year, I was persuaded by senior journalists Reazuddin Ahmed and Gias Kamal Chowdhury, along with the then state minister for information Didar Bukth to become the chairman of the government-owned daily Bangladesh Times Trust. The assignment was not strictly a journalistic one nor was the appointment that followed in May 1990. Although I was not a politician, I was made a non-partisan technocrat minister for information.

I served in that position for about a year under the presidency of General HM Ershad. The assignment ended in December 1990 as the government fell in the face of strong civil uprising. Thus, at that juncture of my life I came to have the experience of dealing with the media from the side of the establishment. If anything this can be at best be described as an inadvertent deviation. Journalism in all climes and at all times is regarded as the fourth estate, a part of the governing combine, yet separate from an independent of it.

In my case, there followed what seemed to be an automatic course correction. In 2008, Bangladeshi journalists agreed to choose me (as a member of civil society) in the position of the chairman of the independent South Asia Media Commission, Bangladesh. This commission like others in SAARC countries is entrusted by working journalists themselves with the responsibilities of overseeing self-discipline along with protection of journalists' rights and privileges. I am still continuing in that position.
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".

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