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OP-ED: For the love of Dhaka University

  • Published at 01:31 am January 25th, 2021
du campus
DU carries the undaunted spirit of this nation's history SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Celebrating 100 years of DU

Actually, the institution is called University of Dhaka but, over the decades, the common form used by most is Dhaka University, which is the literal translation of Dhaka Bishshobiddaloy. 

Either way, there is no denying that Dhaka University is a brand name that carries the undaunted spirit of the social uprising in the tempestuous days before the War of Independence, the fiery resolve during the war, the socialist obsession of the tumultuous 70s, the voice of solidarity during the anti-autocratic movement, and the intoxicating flavour of phenomenal social change in the 90s. 

On its 100th anniversary, it can be said that the University of Dhaka has been the crucible which has given birth to the most notable social and political changes in the country. 

With all respect to other educational institutes, any social movement can find its roots here, amidst the sprawling campus shaded by ancient trees.

On a winter afternoon, the campus now looks tranquil since the halls have been closed since March due to corona-related safety measures; however, whenever the country was faced with an emergency, the roads of the campus became alive with students voicing the desires, hopes, and aspirations of the nation. Each and every watershed moment of this country has a DU connection.

Injecting the patriotic spirit

For any student who goes to this institution, learning the history of the nation, the struggles of her people, and the tales of overcoming the odds become intertwined with academia. One cannot be a student of any department and remain aloof to the realities of the country.

From the uprising to demands for the right to speak Bangla, to the Liberation War, to the toppling of an autocrat -- Dhaka University students always played the leading role in triggering nationwide campaigns. 

That’s why the line “I am a student of Dhaka University” carried and still carries so much weight. The memories of student protests against the Ershad regime are vivid in our minds. 

Dhaka University in the mid 80s was the breeding ground of anti-autocratic socialist movements led by talented students and teachers who were ardent advocates of an egalitarian society. 

As we went to college in the late 80s, the dream was to be part of this institution which stood as a catalyst for socio-political transformation. Back then, getting admitted to Dhaka University was similar to making halfway through to a successful life.

People also took students of the institution seriously. Well, I am compelled to say that there was the “fear factor” too. The unwritten law: Don’t mess with a DU student!

To recall an anecdote, in the early 90s, a VCR sent by a relative was stuck in customs and, to release it, I along with a few friends went to the airport. We were told that generally some “additional expenses” were involved in getting an electronic item released.  

However, we knew what had to be done and, keeping a passive face, went to collect the item. The man in uniform asked: Where are you from? 

I replied assertively: We are from DU. That did it! No extra money was needed and the man promptly gave us the VCR without any further questioning.

Enduring appeal

Dhaka University’s cachet remains undiminished. While working for international development agencies, I came across many colleagues who had their total education overseas but held a fascination for DU since they had heard so many stories of the institution from their parents or relatives.

I often hear people saying that the standard of DU students has fallen. Well, my own belief is that overall, the level of university students has declined because the habit of reading/creative thinking has seen a precipitous fall.

However, the talented ones are still there. When my parents, both from the Department of English, were at DU in the late 60s, most students, we are told, were academically inclined. In our time, in the early 90s, that number fell quite a bit but the students who appeared genuinely driven proved to be top notch later in their professional lives. 

The guy who sported a rebellious look is now a joint secretary; the university correspondent for an English daily who collected empty whisky bottles works for the World Bank in Washington; the girl who could not afford fashionable clothes is now a top official at the Foreign Ministry; and the socialist renegades who smoked filter-less cigarettes and spent long nights scrawling Marxist slogans on walls are all luxury SUV-driving top honchos in banks. 

The intriguing part of my love for DU is that the relationship with the institution became stronger after I had graduated. Usually, people leave the campus, go to their respective livelihoods, and only come back for reunions. But after completing my education, I decided to join the DU gym to lose weight.

The idea was to toil for a few months before going off to the UK. What began as just an activity to pass some free time turned into an obsession, and the DU campus became an integral part of my life. In the last 23 years, my professional life has seen many ups and downs, but the link with DU has remained.

As if by some divine intervention, that link became stronger when, in 2016, I was offered a chance to teach communications at the Department of International Business. Talk about a dream come true.

The euphoria and the sense of achievement felt while receiving the appointment letter is one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Well, my romance with DU continues and if you ever want a tour of the university and some anecdotes from such a long (eventful) association, please drop by the campus. They make great tea near the Shaheed Minar, and the kebab from the movable cart restaurant is delicious.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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