Remembering Jamilur Reza Choudhury, the sports enthusiast
Tributes have been pouring in from both home and abroad to one of the greatest and most revered sons of Bangladesh, Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury who passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
He has been described as an academic genius, a visionary, a researcher, an education advocate, and the architect of the country’s infrastructural development. JRC, as he was lovingly and respectfully called and known as (he was Jamil Sir to many), was an epitome of humility, compassion, and integrity.
There was another great trait in his character that many are not very aware of. That is what I would like to elucidate here as my tribute to such a wonderful human being I feel so humbled and honoured to have known.
JRC not only excelled in his academic pursuits, he was also an ardent sports enthusiast.
His batchmate at Ahsanullah Engineering College, Abdul Ahad, a Past District Governor of Rotary International in Bangladesh, who also was the captain of the Ahsanullah Engineering College cricket team, while reminiscing about his friend Jamil, said he was a very good left-arm spinner.
I remember the Ahsanullah Engineering College team visiting Chattogram to play a friendly match against Chattogram College, as my youngest uncle, Nikhil Ranjan Das (a veteran sports commentator of Bangladesh), who was also a batchmate of JRC, was also in that team and I had gone with him to watch that match at Parade Ground.
Both Ahad Uncle and Nikhil Kaku also mentioned how good a table tennis player JRC was during his student days. And it was through table tennis that I came to know JRC.
During our university days, we used to have inter-university sports competitions and in 1970 the venue of the inter-university table tennis competition was Engineering University in Dhaka.
I was the youngest member of Chattogram University and we used to practice in the common room of the Architecture Department where JRC used to come to encourage us and also play a few games with us.
My childhood friend, Pradip Dutta, was a student of Engineering University and he also used to join in the practice.
During our matches against Engineering University, Pradip would sit on our team bench. The Engineering University had a very good team then. The quartet of Nasiruddin (Alim), Mahbubur Reza Choudhury (JRC’S younger brother), Shafique and Mahbub Ali were very strong opponents for us.
We became quite friendly with the team members and our association with JRC became so intimate during those practice sessions that “Jamil Sir” became “Jamil Bhai” to a handful of us.
After the emergence of Bangladesh, Jamil Bhai became quite active with the Bangladesh Table Tennis Federation (he was the Vice-President of BTTF) and played a prominent role in organizing the first-ever Bangladesh Open Table Tennis Tournament in 1972 with BUET being the venue.
A team from Chattogram also participated and yours truly, an unknown and unseeded player, managed to reach the final in the men’s singles where he was to face Alim, the BUET champion. Tajuddin Ahmad, the then Finance Minister, was the Chief Guest.
Little did I know that I not only had a formidable opponent to defeat but also that there was a huge crowd that I had to play against.
I had won the first two games, requiring to win one more out of the next three to be crowned champion.
It was at that time that the crowd, overwhelmingly comprising BUET students, started chanting in support of their player. But worse was the derogatory slogans directed at me.
I remember Jamil Bhai, clearly uncomfortable with this behaviour of his students, trying his best to calm the crowd. Clearly shaken and perturbed, I lost the next three games to Alim and had to settle with being runner-up.
Immediately after the match, Jamil Bhai first came to me before congratulating his student Alim. He thanked me for putting up such a formidable fight and asked me not to lose heart.
Then he said: “Next year will be yours.” I also remember, while accepting my trophy from Tajuddin Ahmad, he shook my hand and held it firmly for a moment, staring at me, as if to say sorry for what I had to endure during the match.
Jamil Bhai’s prophecy came true. The following year, again the Open Table Tennis Tournament was held in BUET under Jamil Bhai’s supervision and I had to bow out in the last four in men’s singles, losing to the ultimate champion.
But in men’s doubles, partnering with a senior player of Chattogram, Swapan Das, we won the crown convincingly.
I clearly remember Jamil Bhai coming to congratulate me on my achievement and I told him that what he had said the previous year turned so true.
My last meeting with Jamil Bhai was a few years ago when he came to Chattogram to speak as a guest at the inaugural session of the conference of Rotary International District 3282.
I hadn’t seen him for years but as soon as I went to greet him, he said: “How are you, Uday? Haven’t seen you for years!” Such was his memory that he would never forget a face or a name.
With so much that he contributed to the development of Bangladesh, Jamil Bhai’s humility and his ever-smiling face will be sadly missed.
If anybody asks me to define a gentleman, I wouldn’t be able to give the most appropriate answer. But I can give the most apposite example. And that is, Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury.
We shall miss you, Jamil Bhai. We shall remember with gratitude all that you have done for your beloved country.
Uday Sankar Das is a senior journalist, political commentator, and sports analyst.