My heart aches as I write about my teacher and colleague. It is often said that the dead are more powerful than the living, and that absence is more intensely felt than presence. The sudden and unnatural death of my teacher has made me and our department realise, more deeply, the importance of this man.
He was, without a doubt, successful and popular as a teacher to his students of all generations. He would rarely miss a class, and would hardly ever have friends visiting him during working hours; he simply did not have time to waste. He was a bit of a loner and often quoted from Matthew Arnold: “We mortal millions live alone.” He was always busy with classes, books, students, cultural programmes, sports, music, and yet, he was a little reclusive. He never shared his personal life, never talked about his joys, sorrows or anxieties. He was humble but outspoken at the same time. He had the rare quality of calling a spade a spade. He was fearless on the point of moral values and welfare of the students. He prescribed to traditional values, but not those that would obstruct freedom of thought and speech. This combination of the classic and the romantic in his character is what made the professor an eternally unforgettable soul in the hearts of his students and acquaintances.
Victorian literature was his specialty; be it Browning, Arnold or Tennyson, Siddiquee sir could explain the texts to his students with ease. He is known to some of his contemporaries as a self-supervised PhD holder (on Robert Browning), possibly the first in Rajshahi University. He was interactive in the classroom, and would read between the lines of poems, plays or even non-fiction, to make literature more relatable to his students. He persistently gave reading and writing tips to his students.
He missed no cultural programme of the students, be it the Freshers' Reception or a farewell meet. In fact, he would always be on hand, recording cultural events of the department with his video camera. After joining the university as his colleague, I visited Siddiquee sir's house with my wife. He received us cordially and immediately took some snaps of all of us with his camera, adding, “God knows whether you will visit me again. So let me contain this memory in my camera. These fleeting delightful moments should be preserved.”
He often showed students classic movies, especially those which were based on either English or Bengali novels. I borrowed movies from his vast collection. He wanted to lend me Kongi's Harvest, but could not do so because of his untimely death at the hands of brutal murderers.
Apart from the cultural programmes, he organised the department's sports events.. He set up the football and cricket teams of the department, sometimes with my help, for the inter-department tournaments of the university. He himself was a football and volleyball player of the said teams when he was a student. One of his regrets was that our department could only win two cricket matches but fortunately, he was able to see us win our third match this year. He motivated the players on field but could also turn into a critic when the time demanded. His words of hope regarding the cricket team still rings in my ears, “Sakhawat, I want our team to learn how to fight for a win. If we don't win, it doesn't matter but we need to learn how to enjoy every moment of the game. That's the game. That's life.”
I am personally indebted to him for my career. When I was doing my Masters, I had to write a dissertation on Joseph Conrad. I got the idea of my thesis from two of my teachers, Professor Rezaul Karim Siddiquee and Abdullah Al Mamun.
While teaching Browning he referred to a critic named Hoxie N. Fairchild who said that Browning's dramatic monologues apply “give away” techniques, that is, in a tricky situation, his characters obliviously and inadvertently reveal something to readers. Learning of this technique held me decide on my dissertation topic, “Betrayal and Self-betrayal in the Selected Novels of Joseph Conrad.”
Siddiquee sir was a very well-read person. He was a compulsive reader. Even in the exam hall, he would often place a chair near the entrance of the door of the exam hall, and read a book while keeping a keen eye on the examinees. One day I told him that students would often be found talking when he was in the classroom. He replied, “Their performance will remain the same even if they have a book in front of them. Our students do not get common questions to which they can give rote answers. Moreover, they are mature and I don't want to disrespect them.”
He had a profound sense of humanity. He had a world of his own, where he was busy writing Bengali poems, short stories and film criticism for the bilingual literary magazine Komal Gandhar, which he published and edited. He spent his spare time singing and enjoying classic Bengali songs, and practicing his sitar. Sometimes, he would organise cultural functions with students. He often provided financial help to people. This generous heart, this avid reader, this cultural-minded man had an all-inclusive view towards life and the world.
The news of his murder first appeared to me as an unreal dream. I thought that there was a mistake, and rushed to the spot with other colleagues and the Proctor at around 8:15 am. When we reached the spot, we could not believe our eyes; Sir's still body was lying on the road covered in blood and dirt. A bed sheet was spread over him.
Words cannot express the cruelty of the murder. A 61-year old man was hacked to death by terrorists. Killing such a man was a nefarious act of cowardice. When we met his family to offer our condolences, his wife said that even a patient of a heart attack would get some time to have some final thoughts but he was deprived of even that. Every man wants to say something, some final word to their near ones before dying, but he was cruelly snatched from the world without getting the chance to say goodbye.
We know that “only Allah can create life, so nobody has any right to take it away.” It is clearly mentioned in the Quran that “if anyone slew a person … it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people” (Surah Maidah, Ayat 32). Man lives a life of uncertainty and danger as it is. Hunger, diseases, natural disasters, road accidents – these are a part of our daily life. So when you are confronted with senseless murders in the name of religion, you are forced to question the logic behind it.
Perhaps the reasoning behind such acts can be understood by recalling W.B. Yeats: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world....The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity."
The state cannot avoid its responsibility. And neither can we. We need to stand united against such brutality. When there is no unity in the society, terrorists take advantage of the division. This is what made imperialism a reality in the past. We should all stand under the same sky of Bangladesh with our distinct and noticeable differences. Let us create democratic minds that will remain faithful to their duties. And the duty to create such minds falls on the shoulder of teachers. If teachers of madrasas, schools, colleges and universities teach rationality, tolerance, equality, liberty, love and, above all, justice, apart from their respective subjects, we will hopefully be able to build an ideal nation.
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Rajshahi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org