Although Prof Anisuzzaman’s colossal contribution to the Bangla language and literature is admired, some of his critics question his political involvement
Professor Anisuzzaman will always remain in the hearts of millions of Bangladeshis for his immense contributions to Bangla language and literature through his research, writings and revolutionary consciousness.
The country lost the noted academician on May 14, 2020, to kidney and lung complications and respiratory problems, coupled with infection from Covid-19.
Born in Calcutta on February 18, 1937, Dr Anisuzzaman developed a passion for writing while pursuing his secondary school studies in Dhaka.
His enthusiasm for writing was inspired by his father Dr ATM Moazzem, a homeopathy practitioner by profession, and his grandfather Sheikh Abdur Rahim, who was a writer and journalist.
Being from a family that nurtured scholarly pursuits, Anisuzzaman’s devotion to the Bengali literature came naturally to him.
Despite being a higher secondary student, his devotion made him an active participant in the State Language Movement Council of the then Jagannath College.
During the turbulent period of the language movement, emotional speeches and writings by Prof Anisuzzaman were a source of inspiration for activists.
“Prof Anisuzzman played an active role during the State Language Movement by participating in rallies as well as delivering and writing speeches,” said Prof Syed Mohammad Shahed, vice chancellor (VC) of Tagore University of Creative Arts (TUCA).
“Anisuzzaman was involved in the construction of the Shaheed Minar in Dhaka as well,” added Prof Shahed, a close friend of Dr Anisuzzaman.
Although Prof Anisuzzaman’s colossal contribution to the Bangla language and literature is admired, some of his critics question his political involvement.
His colleague, Prof Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq said: “He [Anisuzzaman] failed to raise his voice against the government. However, he successfully enhanced the place of the Bangla language through his writings and researches.”
“Anisuzzaman was an activist who was involved in all progressive movements, but he was also always attentive to his own duties, including research and imparting knowledge to the students in his department,” said Prof Shahed.
On his 80th birthday, Prof Anisuzzaman evaluated himself saying: “I always wanted to be a teacher. Being a teacher, I have achieved more than I deserved. I wanted to be an ultimate learner. I tried to learn as much as I could. There were unexpected turns occasionally, but those were nothing compared to the affection that I have received. I have no regrets in my life.”
Anisuzzaman’s lifelong journey of knowledge and wisdom began in Calcutta’s Park Circus High School, where he studied until his family moved to Khulna following the 1947 partition.
His family first moved to Khulna, where he studied at Khulna Zila school for a year. Eventually, he and his family moved to Dhaka, where he passed the Matriculation examination in 1951 from the then Priyanath High School (now Nawabpur Government High School).
After passing the Intermediate exams from Jagannath College, his distinguished academic life led to his enrollment in the Bangla Department of Dhaka University.
He completed his Bachelors’ degree in 1956 and Masters’ with a first class the following year from the department.
In 1958, he received a Bangla Academy research scholarship and also started his PhD program, which he completed in 1962 at the age of 25.
The national professor served as a faculty member at the University of Dhaka during 1959–69, 1985–2003 and 2005–08.
He also taught at Chittagong University between 1969 and 1985.
He was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago during 1964-65, a Commonwealth Academic Staff fellow at the University of London in 1974-75 and was associated with research projects of the United Nations University between 1978 and 1983.
Anisuzzaman was also a visiting fellow at the University of Paris in 1994 and North Carolina State University in 1995 and a visiting professor at Viswa Bharati in 2008-09.
In 2008, the Dhaka University academic council named the veteran litterateur as a lifetime Professor Emeritus of the Bangla Department. He was honoured as National Professor by the government in 2018.
An accomplished writer with many works to his credit, Prof Anisuzzaman’s first story was published in Nowbahar, a literary magazine, in 1950.
He authored many books in Bangla and English, among which are Muslim Manash O Bangla Sahitya, Swaruper Sandhane, Purono Bangla Gadya, Bangali Nari: Sahitye O Samaje, Kal Nirabadhi, Ihajagatikata O Anyanya, Factory Correspondence and other Bengali documents in the India Office Library and Records, Creativity, Reality and Identity, Cultural Pluralism, and Identity, Religion and Recent History.
Apart from the Language Movement, Prof Anisuzzaman actively participated in all the progressive movements in the country.
He participated in the Mass Uprising of 1969 and actively took part in the Liberation War in 1971.
Anisuzzaman was a member of the Planning Commission of the Government of Bangladesh during the Liberation War and a member of the National Education Commission set up by the government after Liberation.
He was entrusted with the responsibility of drafting the Constitution of Bangladesh in Bangla in 1972.
He also served as Chairman of the Trustee Board of the Nazrul Institute and president of Bangla Academy.
“Anisuzzaman consistently raised his voice whenever our language, culture and national identity were at stake. When the Ministry of Information maneuvered to ban Tagore songs on radio and television in the 1960s, he collected signatures for a petition and published it in several newspapers,” said Prof Shahed.
Prof Anisuzzaman in his lifetime received many awards and accolades in recognition of his contributions to the Bangla language and literature.
He was bestowed with Nilkanta Sarkar Gold Medal from the University of Dhaka, Dawood Prize for literature from the Pakistan Writers' Guild, Bangla Academy award for research, and the Ekushe Padak, bestowed by the state for his contribution to education.
He was also honoured with the prestigious Padma Bhushan by the Indian government.
He also received Ananda Purashkar from Ananda Group of Publications, Kolkata, an honorary D. Lit. from the Rabindra-Bharati University, Kolkata, Sarojini Basu Medal by the University of Calcutta, Pandit Iswarchandra Vidyasagar Gold Plaque, and Rabindranath Tagore Birth Centenary plaque from the Asiatic Society, Kolkata.