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Sher-e-Bangla: The Tiger of Bengal

  • Published at 06:29 pm April 26th, 2014
Sher-e-Bangla: The Tiger of Bengal

The three-storied picturesque 19th-century-mansion that once stood on a corner of a total land area of over 5 bigha, surrounded by a pond on one side, at 27, KM Das Lane, Tikatuli, was our permanent residence until the mid-90s, where we spent most of our halcyon days of childhood, and where the fond memories now lie buried under its high-rise condominiums.

It was also the home where late Sher-e-Bangla Abul Kasem Fazlul Huq would breathe his last exactly 52 years ago, on this day.

Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, popularly known as “Huq Shaheb,” was born into a respectable and well-known middle class Muslim family in his mother’s town, Saturia (under the then Bakerganj District), present day Jhalokathi District on October 26, 1873.

His brilliant and extraordinary career made him a living legend in his time and a household name for the generations thenceforth, and therefore, to attempt a thorough summarisation of it here would not do justice to the late illustrious leader of the entire Indian subcontinent.

Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, a meritorious student in his youth, had passed both his Entrance and Intermediate Exams with distinction under the then Dhaka Board.

Thereafter, he went on to obtain his higher degree with triple honors in Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics from Calcutta University, and that, securing First Division in all three academic subjects – something quite unheard of then, and still somewhat rare today!

When the late Tiger of Bengal had decided to take up English Literature for his Master’s degree, he was confronted by a gentleman and a friend of his father (let us provisionally call him Mr X), of Hindu faith, abroad a steamer they were both travelling on.

According to the consistent facts and reliable sources from the past (in particular, my late father and the only son of the Sher-e-Bangla, Mr X struck up a conversation with Mr Huq abroad that steamer, and it was one of the most unfriendly yet historic and memorable conversations, per se.

Mr X passed a snide remark in the context of how academically weak the Muslim boys and girls of Bengal were, in particular, in the subject of Mathematics, and Mr Huq was anything but pleased to hear such an uncouth and inconsiderate statement.

Mr X’s comment had such a profound impact on the young man’s sentiment that the latter took up the challenge and halfway down the academic calendar, changed his Master’s degree subject to Mathematics (in which he later secured First Class First).

As for Mr X, he had to obviously cower in shame after having been confuted and taught a lesson by a man almost half his age!

Two years later, Mr Huq went onto pursue a degree in Law, completed his LLB, and started his career as an article clerk under the legendary Bangali educator and jurist, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee.

Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, father of late Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee, treated Mr Huq as his own son, and needless to say, Mr Huq was the first Muslim (Law graduate) taken in as Sir Ashutosh’s junior.

As fate would have it, Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee would later lend his support to see Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq reelected as the chief (ie., prime) minister of undivided Bengal for a second term and serve as the latter’s Finance Minister.

Even the honorary title of  Sher-e-Bangla (which translates to “The Tiger of Bengal”) prefixed to AK Fazlul Huq’s name, has a true story behind it.

In 1937, when the late Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq was in his prime and serving as the chief minister of undivided Bengal, he was invited to address the Lucknow conference of the All India Muslim League. It was there that he delivered such an awe-inspiring fiery speech, it instantly earned him the title amidst the well-deserved standing ovation.

It has been observed by the Huq family that some ignorant historians have a habit of distorting the facts and erroneously penning-in, inter alia, that the conferment of the Sher-e-Bangla title was at Lahore in 1940; this is not the case.

In fact, 1940 was the year when Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq was called to move the historic Lahore Resolution, which he jointly drafted with another Muslim League stalwart, Chowdhury Khaliquzzaman.

Legend has it that at this Lahore session, when Mr Huq arrived, there was a spontaneous and positive round of applause.

As Mr Huq slowly made his way up the rostrum, Mr Jinnah (Pakistan’s first Governor-General and Father of the Nation) found himself in an awkward position; ie, Jinnah’s ongoing speech was drowned by the public outburst that welcomed Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq with open arms, compelling Mr Jinnah to retire with, “When the Tiger had come, the Lamb should definitely give way!”

In a touching incident, the then Chief Minister Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, accompanied by his wife, late Khadija Begum, was invited to approve a piece of land at 22, Hare Road, Dhaka, of late Altaf Gauhar (the Premier’s private secretary) proposed for conversion into the chief minister’s home.

The same land was home to a large mansion, and its landmark, a banyan tree on its front lawn. Though at first Mr Huq was determined to approve the proposal, as he was getting into his car, he noticed Mr Altaf’s children playing under the said tree and inquired, “Where will they play when you shift into an apartment?”

Mr Altaf paused for a second and it was enough for Mr Huq to seriously reconsider; the latter had changed his mind there and then; ie, not to deprive the children of their playground. In fact, the incident moved Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq so much, he permanently settled at his old address, 27, KM Das Lane, Tikatuli.

Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq was also of an altruistic nature, benevolent, yet, at times, rendered insolvent: he ran into innumerable debts through his donations and financial support to categories of which included, but not limited to, students, the destitute, and shrines.

On one such occasion and in the midst of examining his legal briefs, he was interrupted by a group of students trying to raise funds for a milad. Mr Huq patiently listened to the students, and then, without reservations, reached into his “rickety old drawer” and said to have pulled out a ten-taka note (which was considered a lot of money in those days).

Moreover, whenever he encountered a stranger in need, he would reach down his pocket and hand out whatever sum his palms could accommodate; a distinctive propensity of the legendary leader still a rarity in today’s so-called politicians.

In fact, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq provided people loans even when he was repaying his own debts. On one particular occasion, the situation was such, he asked his chauffeur to lend him money so he could buy sweets for a family invitation! Obviously, the chauffeur obliged and was later repaid more than he had lent, but one can only imagine the chauffeur’s reaction, and the pride it was to come in handy for a man of such high political stature and reverence.

Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq’s compassion for the poor was so genuine, he helped enforce the Bengal Agriculture Debtors’ Act in 1938, which effectively protected the agriculturists from the control of “usurious creditors.” He was also responsible for setting-up the Debt Settlement Boards in all parts of Bengal, tremendously improving the daily lives of peasants.

Political leaders will come and go, but there will not be another Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq.

Undeniably, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, the man who “simultaneously held the posts of the President of All India Muslim League and the General Secretary of the All India National Congress,” was also concurrently responsible and instrumental (in 1918) for the unity of Hindu and Muslim communities by virtue of the Lucknow Pact.

At the very end of his life, when he made an effort to write his autobiography, he felt it impossible to contain it all in just one volume, and withdrew with, “I do not remember very much of what I have been or done.”

Perhaps, his sorrow was greater than that: the man who passionately dedicated a significant portion of his life for the betterment of his people and his motherland, Bengal, died a lonely death.

Rajmohan Gandhi, a biographer and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, in his historical book “Understanding the Muslim Mind,” had this to say of the late Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq:

“He who in 1943 had wanted to see Nazimuddin and Suhrawardy bite the dust now shares the same stretch of earth with them. All three are buried, side by side, in the grounds of the Dhaka High Court. For a while, the two of them were called Prime Minister of Pakistan. Fazlul Huq was not. But only he was spoken of as the Royal Bengal Tiger.”

Indeed, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq was second to none.