(Translated by Marzia Rahman)
One of Dwijen Sharma’s most-loved books was The Little Prince by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Though styled as a fairy tale, the story makes philosophical observations about life and human nature. That quote of the little prince had a strong resonance in Sharma’s heart, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” Then there was another thought-provoking one, “What is essential in life remains invisible to the eye.” Indeed, while we are engrossed with material objects, Sharma searched for the tremor of leaves, tried to discern the language of flowers, and bridge a connection between life and nature.
He wanted to enlighten everyone, especially the young generation, about the invisible world of wealth, just as did the Little Prince. The Little Prince in the story leaves the earth, dissolving into the moonlit sky, so did Sharma. He passed away in the early hours on September 15 when the entire city was quiet with the stars shimmering in the night sky. The Little Prince of our time has chosen the perfect time to take leave by.
Dwijen Sharma went to Russia as he believed in Marxism. There he also witnessed the collapse of a socialist world system. It was also a time when the world first witnessed the effects of global climate change. Surprisingly, Sharma did not get bogged down by any of this, nor did he blindly jump into resurrecting the socialist system
All through his life, Sharma devoted himself to observing and preserving flora and fauna in the natural world, as well as celebrating humanity. In the prime of his youth, he was drawn to left wing politics which created many hurdles for him in life. While studying Botany at Dhaka University, his research paper on alga explored a new species. Yet, he never had a chance to pursue higher studies or further research. For twenty years or so, he was in teaching. In 1964, he took up a teaching position at Notre Dame College, Dhaka and worked there until 1974. He planted trees wherever he went and I believe Notre Dame College has some of them till today. One of his favourite pastimes was to roam around the streets and parks of Dhaka, writing about trees with scientific account that has a strong literary touch. This was the time when he wrote his most famous book on Dhaka's flora and fauna: Shyamoli Nishorgo.
In 1974, Sharma went to Moscow to work as a translator for Progress Publishers and this brought about an important milestone in his life. He did a lot of translations on art and literature, children's and young adult's literature, Marxism and social history etc. He unveiled a new world for readers. The Sharma house in Moscow became a welcoming abode for students. But political leaders, writers and artists who too were in Moscow were always received with warmth and hospitality.
Dwijen Sharma went to Russia as he believed in Marxism. There he also witnessed the collapse of a socialist world system. It was also a time when the world first witnessed the effects of global climate change. Surprisingly, Sharma did not get bogged down by any of this, nor did he blindly jump into resurrecting the socialist system. Rather, he committed himself to grasping the human nature and seeking a way to maintain a balance under an expected social structure. Side by side, his attempt to bridge the gap between human beings and nature remained as unimpaired as ever.
His writings bore marks of these shifts in his thinking. Once he wrote a slim book called Gohon Kon Boner Dhare
(Near Some Deep Forest) which apparently was about nature but it actually incorporated science with logic and riddles with fables while also trying to comprehend the ultimate meaning of human life. In his essay, “Adishoka Chiroshoka,” he talked about dogs in detail. He narrated how dogs were mentioned in mythology. From there he went on to reflect on the history of relationship between humans and dogs, his experience of watching ten different species of dogs at the three thousand years old pyramids in Egypt. He found the proof of an extremely small-sized dog called Chihuahua in Mexico’s pyramid as well. Then he shifted his discussion to literature and showed how this pet was used by different authors in their work. Indeed, this book can well be taken as a world class authoritative literary document on dogs.
Sharma observed life with utmost love and keen understanding. He didn’t consider the fall of socialism as the victory of capitalism. He rather viewed it as an indicator of even greater crises: Failure of the human race to establish a balance between nature and human life
In real life, Sharma was very fond of dogs, a fact known by his close ones. Once while teaching in a small town, he befriended a street dog whom he named Tom. His friends knew of his attachment to a spaniel dog called Poppy. When Poppy died, he narrated the sad, parting story in such a way that it seemed he had lost some dear friend to him. He buried the dog in his garden so that he could have a glimpse of his tiny grave whenever he passed by.
Dwijen Sharma was a noble man. His essays bear proof of his humble, caring nature. He had always been concerned about the onslaught on nature by ideas of scientific expansion in the name of progress. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring
was another favourite book of his. In his essay “Sundor Kono Boner Dhare,” Sharma shared meeting an eccentric old man named Tajob Tarafder while searching for alga in Shunamganj. Tarafder had intriguing philosophical views on life. A fictional character but he seemed more like Thoreau’s Waldon
who wanted to create a life with nature far away from civilisation.
Sharma observed life with utmost love and keen understanding. He didn’t consider the fall of socialism as the victory of capitalism. He rather viewed it as an indicator of even greater crises: Failure of the human race to establish a balance between nature and human life. At a programme last year, organised by Socialist Students Front, he delivered a speech, “The human civilisation emerged and succeeded by repressing the nature. Today nature seethes with rage, and we are astounded, in fear of a greater chaos.”
Dwijen Sharma has left us at a time when we needed him the most. For us, he was the Little Prince, Thoreau’s Waldon or perhaps Shunamgonj’s Tajob Tarafder. A man who had taught a generation of young men and women to care for nature and humanity. Works of such an illustrious man, we hope, would never fade away.
Mofidul Hoque is a co-founder and one of eight Trustees of the Liberation War Museum. He is a writer, researcher and publisher based in Dhaka. His books include Deshbagh, Sampradayikata Ebong Sampreetir Sadhana (University Press Limited, 2012).
Marzia Rahman is a writer and translator based in Dhaka.