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The Symphony of our Times

Life below Politics

Published : Monday, 18 October, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 473
Mizanur Rahman Shelley

Life below Politics

Life below Politics

History was evolving. Political developments though a little less clear to many at that time were moving at a rapid pace. Pakistan's central ruling machine had not been predominantly political since October, 1958. The Ayub decade started in 1958 with the promulgation of Martial Law attempted to become civilian under the 'Constitution of 1962' imposed by the autocratic regime. Supported covertly by the military, the regime had virtually built a ruling coterie with the help and cooperation of predominantly non-Bengali bureaucracy, business and industry.

They called the shots while the increasingly unpopular section of Bengali politicians played the second fiddle. No wonder, that under these circumstances, the movement for maximum regional autonomy for East Pakistan would continue to gain momentum. But this was a relatively slow and less visible process. The Bengali urban middle-classes often seemed to be unaware of the things about to happen.

As mentioned earlier, the brilliant products of the universities continued to join the ranks of superior officials of the central government. Those who served the Universities as young teachers often left for the superior services. The society at large and the students were fully aware of the situation. Thus, by 1966 many of the young teachers left the Dhaka University by October. Among them were: Mohammed Farashuddin and AKM Jalal Uddin. Both were academically junior to me by one year and I had great affection for them.

An event happened while they were still University teachers about to become Members of the CSP. I was sitting in my room with Jalal who was a teacher of International Relations. As we were talking a fair, slim and smart girl entered the room. She greeted Jalal and me with modesty and introduced herself to me as a student of International Relations named Geeti Ara Shafiya Chowdhury. She came to invite me and Jalal to a seminar on International Relations.

I immediately agreed and so did Jalal to participate in the seminar. There were many other meetings between Geeti Ara and me. Her father Mr. Shafiullah was a senior member of an association where I was involved. Geeti Ara was also the grand-daughter of the legendary scholar and teacher Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah. Geeti Ara a student of the late 1960s is now a well known lady entrepreneur leading the noted communication firm AdCom.

She was also Advisor of a Caretaker Government. Again she was the first ever lady President of the overwhelmingly male dominated Dhaka Club dating from British days. She is married to my former student and former Member of Parliament and entrepreneur Nazim Kamran Choudhury. This anecdote is not, about Geeti Ara but what followed that chance meeting among us.

After Jalal and Geeti Ara left my room I went to the teacher's canteen to have a cup of tea. I met Farash there. He asked me, "Shelley bhai, have you seen Jalal?" I said, "He was with me a few minutes ago but has now probably gone to the department." Farash told me to tell Jalal when I meet him next that Farash wanted to speak with him. Those were not the days of mobile phone and the land phones in the departments were in the office of the Heads. Letters, word of mouth and face to face encounter were the principal means of communication.

Hence, Farash's request to me to give Jalal his message. It so happen that when I came out from the canteen and walked to the corridor towards my room I met Jalal again. I told him to get in touch with Farash. He looked at me with pensive eyes and said. "Who is Farash?" Taken aback by his reaction I said, 'Farash is your class friends'. He again looked at me and asked, "Which Farash?" I almost lost my patience and asked him, "why are behaving like this? Don't you want to recognize your friends?"

Jalal said with an impish mind, "Shelley bhai, we have been selected to be members of the CSP. As such it does not seem appropriate for us to recognize any one at the first mention. We must keep our class!" Having said this he burst into laughter and so did I. Jalal's words were a veiled criticism of the apparently egoistic and often arrogant conduct of superior government officials in our society. Decades have passed since that incidence and the society and the civil services and no more what they used to be.

The moneyed class, the new rich and the first climbing politicians have largely replaced the impertinent segment of high government officials in both egoism and arrogance. Fortunately for Jalal, he does not have to tolerate this transformation as he has departed from this world three years ago.                      

Days in the university continued with the responsibility of teaching and related job. Work and pleasure went hand to hand. Contemporary colleague Fazlur Rashid Khan and Ahbab Ahmed of Sociology, Shamsul Alam of Bangali, Nazrul Islam of Geography, Habbibullah of Physics and others kept jovial company and the teachers club in the evening. Exchanges with smart, intelligent, and articulate students were delightful.

The pattern of the days was briefly interrupted when we took the CSS examination held in 1966. Among class friends who sat for the examination were: Waliul Islam and Ziaus Shams Chowdhury. Among our juniors were Akbar Ali Khan, Muyeed Chowdhury, Anwarul karim Joy, Rashed Ahmed, ABM Abdush Shakoor, Shah Mohammad Farid, Khasruzzzaman Chowdhury, Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed, Abdul Hamid Chowdhury, syed Rezaul Hayat Shamsuddin, Mamun-ur Rashid, Masum Ahmed Chowdhury and others.

The venue of the CSS examination was the Dhaka College where we spent entire days appearing at written examinations. It felt as if we had returned to our student days once more. During the short Tiffin break we used to go to the New Market restaurant familiar to us from our days in the Dhaka College. Returning home tired in the evenings I kept on thinking that this was only a passing phase.

After all, things may work out and I may not have to change my career and life. As far as the examination was concerned, I felt that my performance was fairly satisfactory and would not disappoint my well-wishers. Nevertheless, as I returned to the university teaching after the holidays for the examinations, I felt like coming back home.   
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 writeups to the Daily Observer which are being published regularly as "The Symphony of Our Times".

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