PART CXXIX: The symphony of our times

Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley

DURING 1966, the state of pre-1971 Pakistan was going through a significant political transformation. In my own case, I found that unforeseen changes were about to occur in my career and life. In many ways, 1966 was the peak of my career as a young university teacher. I enjoyed my job thoroughly. My students only a few years younger were bright, brilliant, smart and a joy to work with. In the beginning, during 1964, there were 30–40 students in the BA (honours) class. Among them were some 10 girls. The gender composition changed with every year. As far as I remember, in 1965, the honours class was nearly 50-strong with some 15 girls. During 1966 and 1967, the total number of BA (honours) students exceeded 60 with probably more than 20 girls. That was not all. There was an amazing change in gender behaviour. I remember that during our days as students in departments such as political science and economics, there were only two girls among some 30 students. Only departments such as Bangla, English and sociology usually had 10 or 15 girl students. Being a minority, they used to wait for the teachers to enter the classes. The boys were already inside dominating classrooms with loud talks.
Things started changing even as I had to end my career as a university teacher in late 1967. During 1965, 1966 and 1967, I often found that the girl students were already inside the classrooms while the boys were standing in the corridors for us, the teachers, to lead them into the classrooms. The subsidiary classes were another matter. As the number of students increased, these classes became full of numerous learners. I remember that the galleries in the science annexe (now statistics building) were often full with nearly a hundred or even a few more students. While it was not so difficult teaching the honours classes, dealing with the crowded subsidiaries were not an easy task. The boys and girls belonged to other departments and were not directly ‘under our jurisdiction’ — after all we were only ‘subsidiary’ teachers. I, however, found it eminently enjoyable to bring the raucous students to curious silence by starting to tell them humorous stories that eventually lead to the lesson of the day.
Among my honours students were an impressively large number who did well in life. Many of them such as Shawkat Ara Husain, Nazmunnesa Mahtab and Mohammad Mohabbat Khan became professors of politics and public administration. Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, a diplomat, later became the foreign affairs adviser of Bangladesh. He is now teaching in the National University, Singapore. There were also others who became reputed in their own fields. Among them were Rakib Uddin Ahmed Bacchu, former president of Dhaka University Alumni Association, Shahed Ali, later a leader of Gana Forum, Ibrahim Saber, a well-known player, Abu Sadique who was also a famous player, Kazi Delwar Hossain Polly who retired as a member of the National Board of Revenue and Nazim Kamran Chowdhury, former member of parliament and now businessman and political analyst. Abdur Muawabbir Khan (Rokon) who was friend and classmate of all these contemporaries was not a student of the political science department at all. He belonged to the department of pharmacy in the science faculty. Yet, as he tells me today after 50 years, whenever he heard that I would speak in any forum in the Arts Building, he would come from the Curzon Hall and accompany his friends to the press where I was making my address. No doubt his words feel highly inspiring to me even today. There were many other illustrious ones not only in the honours but also in the subsidiary classes. Among them are celebrated playwright and professor of dramatics of Jahangirnagar University, the late Selim Al-Deen, reputed educationist and former ambassador to the Maldives professor Selina Mohshin, international affairs adviser to the prime minister Dr Gowher Rizvi, former finance secretary and alternate executive director, World Bank and Zakir Hossain Khan, former director general of the Bangla Academy professor Dr Syed Anwar Husain.
There was, of course, delightful community of teachers. Their company both within the working hours and beyond created happy times. Regular small gatherings of like-minded teachers in their respective residences made many evenings memorable.
Numerous seminars, symposia, debates and cultural functions in the university rendered many afternoons and evenings busy and colourful. Then there was the task of regular writings and research work.
I first got involved in a research project mainly because of the friendly inspiration of colleague Dr Mahfuzul Haque. During the early 1960s, he was a jovial and popular teacher. When we were students, he went abroad and came back with a PhD degree from Colombia University, New York. By that time I became a teacher and his junior colleague. We got on very well together. One day, he told me that the Social Science Research Council of Dhaka University had given him a modest grant to carry on a brief project of research on the political parties of Pakistan. He asked me if I would like to become his deputy researcher. I gladly accepted his offer. As a result of this additional work, the pattern of my days changed. Earlier after the classes were over by the afternoon I used to go at least twice a week to the Polwel Press to supervise the publications of the monthly Concept and the bi-monthly Mausum. After assuming responsibility of research, 2–3 days in a week my afternoons had to be spent at Dr Haque’s office room. There we went through the papers and documents relating to the major political parties of Pakistan. The idea was to compile a brief but informative paper about their history, growth and evolution. We did not get enough material and the meagre grant from the Social Science Research Council of Dhaka University was not enough to meet our need. Dr Mahfuzul Hoque was indomitable and energetic. His encouragement and care made our sessions of work followed by tea and snacks highly useful and enjoyable. The research grant dried up within a few months. We managed to submit our report on quite a few existing political parties. Among these were the ‘Convention’ Muslim League, the Awami League, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Nizam-e-Islam, the ‘Council’ Muslim League, the NDF and the National Awami Party. Unfortunately, Dr Mahfuzul Haque, my favourite teacher and friendly colleague, died a tragic and premature death in a helicopter crush. His death left a sad emptiness in our youthful minds. An edited version of our research reports were included in my book: Pakistan the Second Republic: Politics and Parties. I wrote the articles contained in the book under the pen name Rafiq Rahbar in the monthly Concept.
To be continued

Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder chairman of the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh and editor of the quarterly Asian Affairs, was a former teacher of political science at Dhaka University (1964-1967), former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (1967-1980) and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister of Bangladesh (1990).

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