Lessons from Munier Chowdhury. This article previously appeared in the Dhaka Tribune on December 14, 2017
December comes, and once again there is a particular reminder and urge to write about my father martyred intellectual Munier Chowdhury.
It has become tiring and cliché to write about the year in the life of the martyr family, or her/his-story of the abduction.
Some of us are asked to do that every year for the sake of history and to represent others with similar experience. Please do your own readings, in print or in electronic form.
You can also talk to the elders in your family, or find other martyr families who shy away from the limelight. One can even watch the TV shows on 13th and 14th December, where, by the way, I do appear here and there.
I have decided to write about the art of speaking that my father Martyr Munier Chowdhury was also famous for. Students, teachers, peers, fans -- all had spoken and written about how captivating Munier Chowdhury’s lectures in class, and speeches in political, literary, or cultural gatherings were.
Apart from writing plays and directing them into performance, it is said that he enjoyed most the public speaking of his kind. Indeed, in a closed environment when their writings were stifled, or could not reach the intended audience, some of the intellectuals spoke out publicly about the importance of Bengali nationalism and culture above everything else.
From family and followers, I know Munier Chowdhury was a great admirer of Bangabandhu, who knew both my grandfather and my father through his life in politics.
I have heard that my father went close to Suhrawardy Park with one of his brothers to listen to Bangabandhu on March 7 in 1971.
I am sure he was inspired by that booming voice calling for the awakening of a nation. I am sure had my father lived longer, he would have given many speeches and talks in public places, radio, and TV -- narrating and analyzing that historic speech by Bangabandhu.
Of course, that speech is the talk of the town now for its own unique merit and achievement, but I would really like to go back to Munier Chowdhury and his art of speaking.
Perhaps, his love for theatre had contributed to making him speak so well. Many have written that Munier Chowdhury was noticed for his wit and choice of words as he spoke -- whether during informal gatherings or in a public forum/media. Even with a hoarse voice, he spoke clearly and audibly. He stood out among others as he spoke.
I can understand that, as I see many good actors on stage or in other media, who can command respect and attention with even simple things that they do with their voice and speech. I myself have used theatre training with great success in facilitating and conducting many workshops and training in my career.
Munier Chowdhury did use his voice modulation, stresses on certain words and notes, pauses, when assisting actors on stage to perform his plays. That acquired skill over the years has also helped him to provide great lectures in class, seminars, or cultural programs.
Of course, those were not empty words like many politicians from then and now -- I have heard that Munier Chowdhury did organize his thoughts and prepare his notes beforehand every time he spoke on formal occasions.
He also knew the art of captivating the audience, no matter if they agreed or not with what he had to say. And he was equally skilled in this in both Bangla and English. I doubt if there have ever been any of his kind.
I have heard about the marvelous speaker Munier Chowdhury ever since my childhood. I have read about his oratory skills as I grew up. Years later, I got to hear my father’s recorded voice for the first time ever, along with many others.
It was Munier Chowdhury the speech master at work, at a cultural event. It was eerie, heartwarming and saddening -- all at the same time. It was like my father coming to life after so many years, especially since we never have come across any audio or video recording of his before.
But most of all, it is at the moment the only available testimony of Munier Chowdhury’s talk in his own voice. A veteran cultural organizer had preserved it personally with much care. He shared it with another organizer for an event when I got to hear it.
Unfortunately, that tape (yes, not in the time of CDs) got lost. Much later, another uncle retrieved yet one more audio recording of my father’s voice, this time from the archives of Radio Pakistan, of all places. Yes, it is true -- Bengali programs broadcast from Dhaka on radio and television in the late 60s is not always available with Bangladesh Betar and BTV, but in the studio archives in Lahore/Karachi/Islamabad.
Even BBC Bangla Service does not have one of the last recordings of Munier Chowdhury, the interview given to Sirajur Rahman in February 1971 in its Bush House studio. He came back to Dhaka soon after, and that was the last of his foreign trips.
Anyway, this audio tape copied from Pakistan radio archives is a recording of a book review that Munier Chowdhury recorded at the time. Based on the bitter experience of losing such precious material, I did manage to archive it electronically.
It’s the famous slightly hoarse voice, calm and full of crafty Bangla pouring out. It is eight minutes of pure joy for anyone who loves literature. I listen to the various radio presenters (aka RJs) in Benglish, and I wonder what precious learning they would have had from the likes of Munier Chowdhury.
The art of speaking is important, especially if one wants to impress upon the listener or audience. I hope politicians and activists, hosts and speakers in media talk shows, MCs and RJs learn more about the art of speaking well.
Wish you were here dear Baba, among other things, to help us speak a little better -- whether in Bangla or in English.
Asif Munier, the youngest son of Martyred Professor Munier Chowdhury, is a cultural and social activist, and a development professional.