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OP-ED: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

  • Published at 02:35 am September 8th, 2021
web_du-File photo of Curzon Hall, Dhaka University
Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Remembering those English Department days at Dhaka University

Perhaps Charles Dickens was predicting my life at the Oxford of the East, University of Dhaka, my alma mater. The time I spent there was filled with joy, freedom, friendship, love, and the predicament that followed during the last few months worrying about what the future holds.

The best of times

It was on a cold morning on January 11, 1978, that I started my journey to metamorphose from a carefree youth to a man. With deep foreboding, I entered the Arts Faculty only to be greeted by scattered students not paying any attention to me. They were openly smoking. I swear I could even smell grass! 

I saw boys walking with girls, openly holding hands. Somehow it calmed my fears, and a warmth spread through my mind and body … this is where I want to be. A realization came to me -- Rousseau got it wrong. Man is not in chains everywhere! From boys, we have become men. Little did I know then that it takes a lot more than freedom to transform oneself into a man.

And oh, the freedom! Staying out late till well after sunset, skipping classes, mixing freely with female students (a rare phenomenon during our days), additional pocket money, occasionally visiting cafes in mixed groups -- all of which incited a great “feel-good factor.” Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” was the feeling that at least I got. But there was a small factor called “education” which came with it! That was the gravitational force which occasionally pulled us down to reality -- we were actually there to learn!

Despite the newfound freedom, we were a very academically competitive group, given that we were selected from two batches of HSC (1976 and 1977). Our honours and master’s results reflected the cut-throat but healthy competition we had. We had four first-classes in honours and one first class in master’s which is perhaps very rare. Our classmates have done reasonably well in their respective fields, like teaching, administration, judiciary, banking, and in international organizations.

We were blessed with stalwart professors like Dr Serajul Islam Choudhury, Kabir Chowdhury, Husniara Huq, Razia Khan Amin, to name a few. There were also young, bright, and promising lecturers like Dr Shawkat Hussain, Dr Syed Manzoorul Islam, Dr Kaiser Huq, Dr Fakhrul Alam, and Syed Khwaja Moinul Hasan who taught us regularly and we became close to.

Apart from being great scholars and academicians, these teachers were also great individuals. We developed an everlasting relationship filled with deep respect and sincere admiration towards them. They knew us by our first names, and made themselves available to us whenever we needed them. We often spent a lot of time in their offices engaging in gregarious tête-à-têtes. 

I will be ungrateful if I don’t mention my special relationship with Mr Syed Khwaja Moinul Hassan, who I was particularly close to. Our relationship with our teachers was so profound that we even visited each other’s homes with our respective families. 

Shawkat Sir even visited me in Dubai. Our teachers were, to a great extent, responsible for what we are today, and we will remain ever grateful to them.

Looking back fondly, our time at the university was relatively calm, and we sailed through our four-year course in less than five years. We were the first to follow the course system. It was reasonably easy, but focused and result-oriented. 

Indeed, we had a great time at the department -- other than academics, we took part in various extra-curricular activities. Sports was a major part of our student lives, and we participated in cricket, football, and basketball. We also staged plays in TSC and British Council auditoriums, written, directed, and acted by ourselves. 

These were appreciated by all and sundry. Even today, we burst into laughter and go back to our student days when we reminisce about activities at the department, the wonderful times we spent inside the English Department seminar room. I would be doing an injustice if I didn’t mention that we also had few love affairs amongst our classmates, and a few of them culminated in successful marriages. Even the ones which did not last were good while they lasted.

Life was easy, virtually tension-free, and overall spent in a harmonious environment.  Undoubtedly, the best time of our lives.

The worst of times

We were nearing our final master’s exam, when the thought of “what’s next” hit me. “Young man, find your fortune.” Here I am with a degree in literature with mediocre results; what am I supposed to do? Will I become the typical jobless young man who still lives with his parents that the then Bangla TV dramas used to portray? 

But in the end, everything worked out, and I was no exception.

Life is beautiful

I do not know whether I am a successful man after all these years, but one thing I realize clearly, is that my friends, my teachers, my education in literature, helped me in becoming a better person. And I am eternally grateful for that.

The magical times spent with my friends, teachers, and lovers at the corridors of the university makes me yearn to re-live it. The poet cried:

“Time you Old gipsy man,

Will you not stay,

Put up your caravan

Just for one day?”

But alas, time and tide wait for none. But the treasured and cherished memories and the friends who still continue to bless me with their precious company, make me realize that life is beautiful.

Touhid Shipar Rafiquzzaman was a student at the English Department of Dhaka University: BA (Hons) in 1981 and Master’s in 1982. Email: [email protected].

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