We loved Professor Ahsanul Haque as a teacher. We respected him deeply. He taught us in the Department of English, University of Dhaka, in the late 1970s and the very early 1980s. A self-effacing, modest man and a very talented and responsible teacher. Now I feel that he was the perfect teacher, he looked like a man born to teach. A committed teacher, a dedicated teacher. A soft-hearted teacher with passion. Very soft-spoken like his favourite poet Shamsur Rahman. Very strong morally, very courageous during a crisis. No wonder as we grew older we admired him even more.
Abul Ma’al Abdul Muhit, our honourable Finance Minister, was chatting with us during our last annual get-together. He was remembering that their class had thirteen students, and on being asked by me, smilingly remarked that there were as many as four young ladies with them. Suddenly he got very serious and affectionate. “Seraj’s class had three outstanding students – Seraj, Ahsan and Mohammad Ali.” I nodded in agreement very happily. The Finance Minister was also a very good student, standing first in his class. Seraj was our great teacher Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury and Ahsan, as you can guess, was Professor Haque. They were a year junior to the Minister. Ahsanul Haque Sir had been very meritorious in school and college too; he stood fourth in the matriculation examination.
Ahsanul Haque Sir lived a very simple life. One of my uncles was a close friend of his. When Sir became a Professor my uncle asked him, “How do you feel, Ahsan? Any difference?” Sir smiled softly and quipped, “The butter on the bread is a little thicker during breakfast. No other difference.” My uncle would tell me the anecdote once a year, knowing very well that I admired my honest and upright teacher a lot. Ahsanul Haque Sir was simple but always elegant. I wonder if he knew or bothered to know the bad side of life at all. We never found him talking loudly, let alone getting angry with anyone. He would speak smilingly even with his enemy, if there was any. Always a gentleman, always a kind man.
“We have killed him! Even his youngest son, a child of ten, was not spared. But he was not a villain! He was our greatest hero! Our greatest patriot! Our people will never forget him!”
My best memory of Professor Haque is a story of great courage and patriotism. I shall never forget the August 1975 incident. It was an English Department meeting on the first floor of a TSC (Teacher-Student Centre, Dhaka University) room to remember the two great martyred teachers of 1971 – Professor Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta and Professor Govinda Chandra Dev. It was a week after the gruesome killings of Bangabandhu and his family members. Uttering his name was a taboo then. There was curfew every night and arrests every day. The meeting had many brilliant speakers and senior teachers. Around twenty five students of the department turned up to attend the meeting. Razia Khan Amin Madam gave an interesting speech. Haque Sir began his short speech, said a few words about the martyred teachers and in a very relevant manner mentioned Bangabandhu! We were electrified! I was only twenty! We were concerned about him too. Army intelligence men were perhaps present at the TSC. But nothing stopped the brave and morally strong patriot! He went on saying, “We have killed him! Even his youngest son, a child of ten, was not spared. But he was not a villain! He was our greatest hero! Our greatest patriot! Our people will never forget him!” I sat there stunned. I saluted the soft-spoken man. I loved his speech. Silently I said, “Hats off, Sir! I shall remember your courage as long as I live!” I have lived for sixty two years and I have not forgotten anything about it. It was much later that I came to know that he was a serious Language Movement activist, and in 1971 he was twice arrested by the occupation army. He was in the hit-list of the Al-Badr men. He was always with our people during the nation’s greatest crisis.
How was Prof Ahsanul Haque in the classroom? Always well-prepared, always focused. Always well-informed. A secular and progressive thinker. The ideal teacher who enlightened and delighted his students. Soft-spoken but nicely witty, affectionate and curious. The love and respect he earned from his students was incomparable. In his tutorial classes he was very friendly and very interesting. He was a liberal man in everything, even in judging the scripts of his students. I envied my friends Syed Badrul Ahsan and Md Shafiqul Islam, both of whom later became famed columnists and bureaucrats cum scholarly writers. They were his tutorial students. I was not. I would request them to tell me whatever happened in his classes. I admired him so much! He was fond of me too. One day he told Shafiq about his nice experience of travelling with Shamsur Rahman from the airport to the city. He had remarked that even from his conversation one could understand that he was nothing but a great poet! Sir admired the poet a lot and this pleased me so much! I was a big Shamsur Rahman admirer myself.
I always felt, even as a young man, that it was a little unfortunate that Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury and Professor Ahsanul Haque, two giants among teachers, were classmates and joined the department together. Otherwise, Ahsanul Haque Sir would have earned more fame, so to say, as a teacher, a writer and a noted social worker at the same time. People would have had more time to understand his genius. Prof Haque had an MA from Bristol too. He had a PhD from Dhaka. He was a brilliant researcher, a superb essayist (his English and Bangla essays – contained in his two books - on TS Eliot would testify this) and a wonderful guide of research work. He led the ADHUNIK (Amra Dhumpan Nibaron Kori) and was a very successful crusader. Ali Neamat was his devoted disciple. He later worked hard and launched a movement to educate deprived adults and children. He wrote many books on easy learning of the languages for beginners. Both as a writer and a teacher, he was outstanding for his wisdom and insight.
Prof Ahsanul Haque was the founder President of the English Department Alumni Society. It was his brainchild. EDAS began its journey in 1986 and has crossed thirty years. Even yours truly served it for a decade. Sir was its President for many years, even for three years after a gap of two decades. He was such a nice patriot, serving his country and his society with great zeal from his position of a DU Professor. He had worked for the autonomy of Dhaka University immediately after independence. He had been a very active General Secretary and Vice President of Dhaka University Teachers’ Association for two terms in each case. He never failed his students, colleagues and admirers when the call came. He was always firm during a crisis.
Ahsanul Haque Sir’s brothers included Asadul Haque, the renowned Nazrul buff, musician and essayist, and Amanul Haque, the great photographer whose Language Movement photography had turned him into a legend. Amanul Haque was very close to Satyajit Ray and his family and had worked for him too. No wonder our teacher had a great interest in music and painting. He was a passionate lover of Rabindra Sangeet and could even sing it well. He could paint so well that he wanted to join the Art College after completing his intermediate education! Paternal disapproval forced him to give up the idea. He gave up drawing for good. A multi-talented man in the true sense of the term, Professor Haque wrote poetry during his later years. And he was not a bad poet at all. He is a progressive modernist in his poems. If only he could devote more time to poetry he could easily be a prominent poet. Ratribahini Padma
is the name of his book of poems.
Ahsanul Haque started his Tree Plantation Movement and the government borrowed ideas from him to start their own programme. He was closely connected with Chhayanat as well as Sandhani. He dreamt of removing adult and child illiteracy and introduced his Bangla Reading Method on how to learn Bangla in three weeks to three months. He wrote almost a dozen books on the subject. He was always ready to serve his country and its people.
Born on July 09, 1933 in Shahjadpur of Pabna (now under Sirajganj district), the gifted son of a doctor left us on October 02, 2016. He was eighty three. Like a Ulysses he drank “life to the lees”. A Bhasha Shainik in 1952, a 1971 activist, a brilliant student and teacher, a wonderful writer and poet, even a talented painter and singer. He was a social worker and philanthropist par excellence. However, I would love to remember him as an ideal teacher. The learned teacher, the kind teacher, the affectionate teacher, the imaginative teacher. The wise teacher with a deep insight. As speakers confirmed in the departmental memorial meeting after his death, he was a man born to teach.
Junaidul Haque is a bilingual writer of fiction and essays. He has published two novels, four volumes of short stories and two volumes of essays. His Nirbachita Galpa was published by Pathak Samabesh in 2009.