Our country would do well to listen to its brightest minds
There are all those moments when I sit in the fading light of day to reflect on all the men and women who have been our pride in this country for years.
They have been for us milestones in the chronicles of heritage and history we have constructed brick by patient brick over the decades. And yet there is that certain gnawing at the heart, a pull inducing pain as it were, in the realization that a good many of these individuals we revere ought to have been higher up than the perches they eventually reached. The pain is not in knowing that they failed to do more. It is in knowing that they were not provided with the opportunity to reach the mountain top.
These are my reflections, perhaps not be shared by others. The bigger thought for me, though, is that if these individuals had been given the chance, they would have added colour and rich substance to the ethos of the Bangladesh state.
Take the instance of Waheedul Haque, the journalist and aesthete whose anniversary of death we observed a few days ago. His was a life, despite all those scholarly attributes in him, those meanderings into literature and politics and history he went into with such ease, spent in struggling for a decent existence.
Life was for him, and often, a question of eking out some respectable means of survival. He could have been the editor of any influential newspaper in the country. That was a job which never came his way. On a larger scale, any enlightened government would have little hesitation in placing Waheedul Haque at the head of Bangla Academy or Shilpakala Academy.
Culture would be enriched by his presence at the top. But that did not happen. In a society where lobbying and sycophancy often pave the road to success, men of self-esteem do not have much of a chance. Waheedul Haque was a man of self-esteem.
The story of Serajul Islam Choudhury, without question among the foremost intellectuals in Bangladesh, is not much different. His dedication to socialism, his scholarly forays into history, his profundity as an academic, have in turn contributed to a transformation of thought in those who have had reason to interact with him over the years.
His insistence on looking away from globalization, that rather disturbing new weapon of exploitation the world’s developed nations wield against those less fortunate, and opting for internationalism has been rich food for thought. It is revealing of the depths which have consistently been a mark of his reflections on society and politics. One might not always agree with Choudhury, but one cannot ignore the rich fund of knowledge which has always defined his personality.
And yet it is our grave misfortune as a nation that we -- and that means the state -- have been embarrassingly unable to provide Serajul Islam Choudhury with the wherewithal through which he could have brightened Bangladesh’s image to his own specifications in Bangladesh and beyond it. There were times when he came close to being vice chancellor of Dhaka University, but in the end it was perhaps his individuality, indeed his preponderant presence as an intellectual, that frightened those in authority, enough for them to step away from him.
But think, if you will, of the immensity of the contributions he would have made as the leading figure of Dhaka University, of the remarkable good that could have accrued from the various administrative, academic and intellectual moves he would have taken toward raising Dhaka University to properly new heights, thereby raising the bar for others to follow.
For all the lapses of the state in relation to deriving advantage from Choudhury’s talents and experience, he remains our hold on national history, on an understanding of the trajectory we have followed as a nation-state.
There have been others whose skills could have been put to greater use than they eventually were. Jamil Majid’s intellectual accomplishments have for us been a hint of the knowledgeable being residing in him. His grasp of history, his comprehension of literature, indeed the suavity he brought into his pursuit of a diplomatic career are marks that can only be a cause of envy for those willing to follow in his footsteps.
Jamil Majid was our ambassador in Japan. But he could have been an ambassador in a number of countries and Bangladesh would have been a commendable presence in the global community through his articulation of our diplomacy.
He could have been the nation’s permanent representative to the United Nations; he could have been our envoy in Washington and London; he could have been foreign policy adviser to any of our heads of government.
His vast erudition and comprehension of global history would be an asset. His writings on history and diplomacy are nuggets of wisdom that present and intending researchers can profit from.
There are all those other men and women of accomplishment whose services could have been placed at the disposal of the nation by the state and the republic would be the richer for it.
Time was when governments in this country were proud to have Bangladesh symbolized beyond its frontiers by such eminent personalities as Khan Shamsur Rahman, Syed Najmuddin Hashim, and Khan Sarwar Murshid. Men like Kamal Lohani have been reasons for pride. Where are those others like them in these mediocre times?
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist.