by Maskawaith Ahsan;
Society changes at a rapid pace, we constantly surrender to the automation of neo-gadgets. This has been a ceaseless reality since the Industrial Revolution. But Dhaka society is different. The rate of change is more rapid; social inequity speed-rides on the wheels of corruption; values of truth and goodness are as outdated as our parents or teachers who tried to infuse high seriousness and inculcate a belief system that is now as precious as diamonds.
Understanding this metamorphosis of Dhaka, I usually try to interact with the glitterati with caution; knowing quite well that their attitude and mode of socializing changes with their position in the power structure. It’s almost like visiting a house in Dhanmandi or Gulshan after a gap of two or three years and expecting an apartment building in place of the small house surrounded by a piece of green.
But it’s been a great relief to discover that unlike the social stereotypes of Dhaka, our English department teachers have remained as warm as our parents, untouched by the wave of decay that seems to have permeated everywhere else. I wonder if our department is a secluded island or a planet outside the effects of social eclipse.
Syed Manjoorul Islam once wrote a word on the blackboard of the first year class: aesthetics. Many will agree that his gift of aesthetics has been a precious asset in our lives. As a teacher, writer and moderator of our university debating society I have experienced him to be the same loving person over the last two decades who could easily maintain a distance from the temptation of an uncouth reality.
Anis Ahmed was a young teacher in the late ‘80s who used to passionately promote our cultural and theatre activities. He left our department to work as an international broadcaster abroad. Time and space are cruel entities for mercilessly taking a huge toll on our existence, but meeting Anis Ahmed in Washington was like going back to my teen years when I used to talk to him in his department chamber.
Kashinath Roy, an introvert, romantic teacher wearing pyjama punjabi, explained to us the meaning of the word ‘philistines’, narrating the nouveau-riche mannerism with amusing accuracy. We imbibed his clear judgment of our philistine society. I haven’t seen him in the last 15 years but that hardly matters. I can refresh my memory any time and see him walking through our department corridor as if it was yesterday.
Imtiaz Habib left the department disappointed with his future in Bangladesh. His inspiration and outlook on creative writing, and dislike for summarized-notes eaters made him an icon, even for those who couldn’t have him as their teacher.
Fakhrul Alam, Kaisar Hamidul Haq, Shaukat Hossain, Anwarul Haq are still our heroes. They always made time for our cricket matches, river cruises and cultural activities. Nazmin Haq would even participate alongside us in our chorus picnics and outings.
Our English department teachers offered optimum attention to every one of their students, in and outside the classroom. Every single student was and is important to them. Before entering into the chambers of living legends like Sirajul Islam Chowdhury or Razia Khan Amin we used to tremble in fear as how to settle a missed tutorial exam. Gifting them the latest edition of Little Magazine often succeeded as an excuse. Can I ever forget Razia Amin Khan who smiled and scolded with affection, “Such a bribe will definitely help get you a chance to retake the tutorial.”
My missing out any name of our teachers hardly matters; Shushil da or Bulbul da’s note book could perhaps fill in the gap to encompass the legacy of English department. I have only tried to sketch a few of our role models who were the dwellers of a light house, who changed and gave meaning to our lives. Quite unlike the youth of today who are forced by the ground realities of a crude materialistic society, when we came out of the English department it wasn’t just the degrees we carried with us.
Our role models helped us maintain the romanticism of an atypical way of thought. Whether in civil service, journalism, creative writing and corporate boardrooms or anywhere around the globe, English department alumni are bearing the torch of that tradition infused with individual talent. Our teachers didn’t only offer class lectures or confine our world within the bars of curriculum. They instead deconstructed the syllabus and infused our horizon with depth, confidence and aesthetics. In the wake of burgeoning social inequilibrium and commercialization of education, will this fairytale of our English department be able to continue? I wonder if our new generations will readily sacrifice their lives the way our role models did to carry on the legacy of the English department. Unless we rejuvenate the glory of Dhaka University the relics of the Oxford of the East will be relegated to memories alone; the memories of a ‘light house’.