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Chapter III: Betrayal and Sycophancy All Around PDF Print E-mail
Written by Syed Sajjad Husain   
About the middle of January, the intellectuals, teachers, doctors and engineers who had run off to India during the Civil War began returning. Among them were Professor Ali Ahsan, head of the department of Bengali at Chittagong University and Dr A. R. Mallik. Both were my personal friends, the first a cousin who had grown up with me. Neither of course cared to call or to make an inquiry. I had not expected anything of the kind. After all we had been on opposite sides in the Civil War. Professor Ahsan was reported to have attacked me personally in his broadcasts from Calcutta. What hurt me now was the attitude he adopted on his return to Dacca. One informant said he had, quite without justification,- for no one had approached him---made it clear that he won't lift his little finger to help a 'collaborator' like me out of my present difficulties. This was malicious malignity. Another person who saw me soon after a meeting with him suggestively hinted that I owed my downfall to the counsels of certain friends who had misguided me. The friends named were people who were as close to Mr Ali Ahsan as to myself. Of course, the whole story was a figment of his imagination, and if I had swallowed the bait, those people would be in prison now.

Mr. Ali Ahsan's apostasy, the somersault he has turned in his efforts to get on the right side of the new political line, are, though explainable in the light of the changes of 1971, very surprising nevertheless. I last met him at Narayanganj at the house of his brother-in-law, Mr Abdul Ali, early in March 1971 when the drift towards a civil war had become clear. He shared the view that the coming events portended no good for Pakistan, and expressed alarm at the dangers looming ahead. He was known to be a wily, rather unscrupulous, but extremely astute person. He had at one time been the chief organiser of the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Pakistan. Although the Pakistan branch was disbanded when it was discovered that the Congress received payment for its work from the CIA, Mr Ahsan continued to champion causes opposed to left-wing parties in the country. It was he who immediately after the establishment of Pakistan had called for a ban on Tagore. When the climate changed, he tried to retrieve his position by demanding emphatically that the country should adopt Bengali immediately as the medium of instruction in the Universities. People were aware of these facts, and I too knew that last thing one should expect of Mr Ali Ahsan was consistency. He would shift from one position to another, and could shrewdly guess in advance how the wind blew. But that he would repudiate the whole of his own past, by saying that whatever Pakistan represented was false and insincere was unexpected. At least, in spite of my intimate knowledge of his character, of his lack of scruple, I had not expected it.


Yes, I know enough history and psychology to realise that people caught in the kind of crisis that a civil war is, do compromise, avoid reasserting or asserting views apt to get them into trouble, or even lapse into silence. But only turn-coats or opportunists change their principles at every plunge and swoop of the vessels they ride. I do not know the circumstances which only a few weeks after I met him forced him to flee to India. There could be nothing in his past records which, he need have felt, would attract the wrath of the army. Was then his decision to follow Dr Mallik, his Vice-Chancellor, into exile prompted by a shrewd calculation as to Pakistan's ultimate chances of victory in the conflict?

Dr Mallik, the man who is believed to have persuaded, even forced some of his colleagues to cross over into Agartala with him, was a slightly different proposition. Intellectually, he had always been inclined towards the Awami League school of thought. An exponent of Bengali nationalism, he held that Bengal had had a raw deal from Pakistan. I remember a discussion with him at Karachi towards the end of 1970, before the elections, when after listening to his tirade against the rulers of Pakistan, I asked him point-blank whether he wanted disintegration. His answer was in the negative. I cannot say whether it was sincere or meant only to mislead me. As for his grievances, the fact which he cannot truthfully deny is that he, like thousands of other Bengalis, owed almost everything in his career to Pakistan. But for Pakistan, he would have been destined to end up as a civil servant belonging to the lower echelons, or as a college lecturer. Here was he, a Vice-Chancellor, enjoying a position and a degree of influence far beyond anything he could have dreamt of in an undivided India with Hindus to compete with. But instead of dissuading his friends in the Awami League from pursuing courses detrimental to the country's unity and solidarity, he had actively supported them, and, after the Army crack down, been busily organising the forces against Pakistan on foreign soil. What a fall! What a tragedy! And what blindness! How could he, a student of history, one who had himself written a book on the condition of Indians, particularly Bengali Mussalmans in the nineteenth century, ever imagine that a Bengal under the tutelage of India would afford the people of this region greater privileges and benefits than they enjoyed as part of Pakistan? Dr Mallik was not a man who did not understand politics or economics or whose attitudes need have been determined by slogans or press statements. But what difference did his past background make to his decision eventually? None that I could see or appreciate.

Of a piece with the unfriendliness of Mr Ali Ahsan was the attitude of Dr Muzaffar Ahmad Chowdhury who was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Dacca University, in the third week of January as far as I remember. The appointment itself was irregular. The formality of terminating my services was considered unnecessary. I didn't exist as far as they were concerned; here was a true instance of unpersonning in the Orwellian sense. It was announced that Dr Muzaffar Ahmad Chowdhury was taking over from my predecessor, Mr Abu Sayeed Choudhury, who had resigned early in March 1971 before the Army crackdown. I felt amused. Be that as it may, I thought I should write to Dr Chowdhury, an old colleague, a letter of congratulations and did so, requesting him to allow my family to remove from the Vice-Chancellor's residence all our goods and belongings. We had been forced to evacuate the house in a hurry. Most of our utensils, furniture and crockery were left behind. Most valuable of all to me were the books, the collection of a life-time, perhaps not worth an impressive sum in terms of money, but they were books I had collected over nearly thirty-five years, well-thumbed volumes of emotional interest to the possessor. My letter to Dr Muzaffar Chowdhury was not answered, and when my family tried to contact him on the telephone, he wasn't available. Once my daughters who went to see him personally were turned away. The Vice-Chancellor's Secretary, a young man who had worked under me also, expressed his helplessness in the matter. The University engineer, who has the responsibility of looking after all official residences, said that nothing could be taken out without an inventory having been made first. The matter dragged on, and it was not until Dr Muzaffar Ahmad Chowdhury was on the point of leaving the University job, about three months later that finally we were allowed to recover some of the things. By this time, a number of articles had mysteriously disappeared. The books which were on the bedroom shelves were not allowed to be inspected or removed by my children who had gone to fetch them.

One evening a police inspector arrived to inquire whether I knew the whereabouts of a gun, said to be the property of the permanent secretary to the Vice-Chancellor, who had fled to India during the troubles. I was taken aback. The fact is that this Secretary, before he left, had deposited a bed-roll with the Vice-Chancellor's care-taker, and inside the roll, unknown to anybody, was a gun. No one told us about the bed-roll, which we had seen once or twice, but never touched or made any enquiries about. After we evacuated the house, the caretaker must have opened the bed-roll on the sly and removed the gun whose existence he alone must have suspected. When the Secretary came back after 16 December the bed-roll was without the gun of course, and the easiest explanation of its disappearance in those difficult days when feelings against 'collaborators' ran high was that I had concealed it. Luckily, for me, the police inspector turned out to be a sensible person who dismissed the story as utterly improbable and had a shrewd suspicion of the truth. His visit to my cabin was a formality intended to furnish confirmation of his own theory. He left after an apology.

I thanked God that there were even then a few people left who did not seize upon the chance of implicating a 'collaborator' in further trouble.

Some other University employees also tried their level best not only to annoy but to create positive difficulties for me. Chief among them was Mr Nuruddin, Registrar. On 17 or 18 December, even before the abduction, I learnt from him on the telephone that he had, without even asking my permission, placed the Vice-Chancellor's residence, hastily evacuated by me on 15 December at the disposal of Indian army officers. The Registrar knew fully well that we had left our things behind; he made no arrangement to have them locked up, or even to have an inventory prepared. He assumed as soon as the Pakistan army surrendered, that my authority as Vice-Chancellor could be flouted with impunity, and when the request for accommodation came from the Indian Army authorities, proceeded without a moment's hesitation to indulge in the first hostile act he could think of. The fact is, there were other residences available, and certainly nothing need have prevented him from ringing me up and asking my consent. No; that would have meant acknowledging my position as Vice-Chancellor at a time when Mr Nuruddin thought I had collapsed.

Though personally an Urdu-speaking man, he had for sometime past identified himself with the anti-Pakistani forces in the University. There were reasons for this. A dismissed officer from the police service without academic qualifications beyond the ordinary Bachelor's degree, he got into the University as a deputy registrar by falsely representing that he had been unjustly treated in the police service and had resigned rather than compromise on matters of principle. When he saw the leftist forces in the ascendant. he lined up with them, with such success that a myth was created by them about his incredible efficiency and integrity. They wanted him groomed for the post of registrar, and when the old registrar retired, he became the obvious choice as successor. But owing to the antipathy of Dr M. O. Ghani, Vice-Chancellor, towards the forces backing Mr Nuruddin, he failed to obtain the post. The man chosen by Dr Ghani to fill the office however proved unsuccessful, and resigned. There was no alternative then but to allow Mr Nuruddin to act as Registrar pending the advertisement of the post anew. It was at this point that I came in. Mr Nuruddin worked under me as acting Registrar, but I knew that I could never expect to command his loyalty. So when the Pakistan army surrendered and Mr Nuruddin thought that I had lost my foundations, the least he could do was to create some annoyances for me.

When early in January I sent to the University--- this was before the appointment of any new Vice-Chancellor---for my pay for the month of December, Mr. Nuruddin on his own ordered that I should be paid only for the period up to 19 December.

There was nothing for it but to put up with these signs of disloyalty and enmity. I was in the eyes of persons like Mr Nuruddin the symbol of a discredited past. What else could they do but disown me? That I had miraculously survived the ordeal of 19 December must have been a deep disappointment to them. To have expected anything else from persons like them would have been, for me at least, a betrayal of lessons I learnt from Shakespeare and Dante. Loyalty, consistency, broadmindedness are rare qualities; they are found in exceptional individuals. When we express surprise at someone's disloyalty, we betray our own ignorance of human nature, and do the person concerned both a disservice because we appear to be unnecessarily sarcastic, and tend to mar whatever image he has; honour because by pitching our expectations from him so high we really prove that in our eyes he must have enjoyed the reputation of an angel though incapable of such conduct.

News used to trickle in almost daily during January of the return of University teachers who had gone into exile or been in hiding during the Civil War. I have already mentioned Dr Muzaffar Ahmad Chowdhury. Others who returned or surfaced in January included Mr Abdur Razzaq of the Department of Political Science, Dr Sarwar Murshid of the Department of English, Mr Nur Muhammad Miah of the Department of Political Science again, and Dr Ahmad Sharif and Dr Muniruzzaman of the Department of Bengali.

My relations with Mr Razzaq had at one time been particularly close. He was several years my senior. When I came up to the University as a young first year student in 1938 Mr Razzaq was already a lecturer. He was then an active Supporter of the Muslim League, a fanatical admirer of the Quaid-e-Azam, or Mr M. A. Jinnah, as he was then known, and there developed between us a bond of sympathy and friendship transcending the teacher-pupil relationship. He soon established himself in our circle as the chief theoretician of the creed of Muslim separatism, a mentor and guide to young Muslim scholars. He could be a charming friend and possessed varied gifts. Excellent at both chess and cards, he won friends easily. His unorthodox ways, his defiance of convention in matters of dress and behaviour even his temperamental indolence, helped earn him admirers. Besides his eclectic tastes as a scholar, the wide range of subjects on which he could hold forth, gave him in our eyes a position not equalled by anyone else. When early in 1940 or 1941 Muslim League minded students decided to establish a fortnightly organ of their own called Pakistan, Mr Razzaq was on the Board of Advisers. He used to write for us occasionally. But more than his writings, we valued his counsel, his moral and intellectual support. When Nazir Ahmad, Manager of the fortnightly was stabbed to death by a Hindu fanatic in 1943, he contributed a moving tribute to his memory to the special issue we published on the occasion.

It was after his return from England in 1950 that I began to be aware of a subtle change in his attitude. But I myself left for Europe soon afterwards, returning in October 1952 after my doctoral work: so I had little idea then of the extent and magnitude of the change he had undergone. But as the years passed, we began to drift slowly apart politically, though we remained friends personally. During the Indo-Pakistan war in 1965, Mr Razzq came into my room in the University one day, and tried seriously to convert me to the creed of Bengali nationalism and the cause of secession. He said Pakistan was no longer a working proposition. The selfishness and myopia of the West Pakistani leaders, particularly the Ayub regime, had made it clear that Bengalis and Punjabis could not live together under one polity. The only way out was for the Bengali-speaking people of East Pakistan and India to work for the establishment of a separate independent state. I was surprised and shocked. I remember countering by saying that to sentence Pakistan to death on the basis of Only seventeen years' experience seemed to me a rash and hasty step. Pakistan, I pointed out, had been decided upon as a solution to the Hindu-Muslim problem after two hundred years of bitterness during British rule, not to speak of the antagonism between the two peoples during seven hundred years of Muslim ascendancy in the sub-continent. Assuming, I said, that every argument he had advanced against the Punjabis was correct, assuming also that all his data were accurate, how could one allow a brief span of seventeen years to outweigh the history of two hundred years? I maintained that I for one should like to give Pakistan a fairer and longer trial before concluding that it had failed.

Mr Razzaq was disappointed by my reply. This was the last time we talked with each other seriously. A year and a half later, I discovered one day that he would not speak to me. It is no use concealing that I felt emotionally hurt. I hadn't expected that Mr Razzaq would let our differences on a political issue affect our personal relations. But he did, and I thought I should put up with this as best I could. Hence forward he used to cut me dead whenever we ran into each other, as, working in the same University, we could not avoid doing occasionally. .

After the army crackdown, I heard that Mr Razzaq had gone into hiding, and when my services as Vice-Chancellor were transferred from Rajshahi to Dacca in July 1971, he was still absconding.

To this day, I feel puzzled when I think of Mr. Razzaq's volte face. How could he have disowned his own early history, forgotten his own research on the subject of Hindu-Muslim relations and had even told me on one occasion that he would prefer to have himself beheaded in a Muslim Theocracy rather than support a United India?

Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. The truth of this Shakespearean saying was demonstrated lately (1973) when a doctorate honoris causa was conferred on Mr Razzaq by Delhi University. The intention was to honour him for his services in connection with the dismemberment of Pakistan. What a strange climax! The other Bangladeshi honoured in the same way at the same ceremony was Mr Zainul-Abedin, the artist.

Soon after Mr Razzaq surfaced, I heard that my cousin Mr Qamarul Ahsan had been bailed out. That brought me a great sense of relief. There was now at least one grown-up educated male who could be of some use to my family. The other cousin, Mr Manzurul Ahsan, surrendered to the police when fear of assaults by the Mukti Bahini abated a little.

The Eid-ul-Azha was drawing near. This was to be the first big festival since my hospitalisation. It was impossible for us to think of festivities, or to contemplate buying clothes or having special food. But I insisted, in the interests of the children, on some semblance of observance being kept up. I did not want them to be exposed to too great a shock. The youngest one was only eight. Neither she nor the other one who was ten could fully comprehend the nature of the tragedy that had overtaken us. I thought that as long as we could we should try to cushion the shock of it.

Eid day was naturally a particularly gloomy day for me. I had hardly any appetite for pilaff or curries. I thought of my fate and of the fate of thousands of others like me, either killed by the Mukti Bahini or languishing in prison, cut off from their kith and kin. The more I thought about it the greater my sense of desolation.

The University and colleges were due to reopen early in February. As the hostels re-filled with boarders returning to Dacca, the atmosphere in the city grew warmer. I could feel the rise in the temperature from my hospital cabin. Groups of students, long-haired, with thick beards on their chins, some of whom must have been in the Mukti Bahini, now started appearing in the corridors of the Medical College. Their attitude towards me, as far as I judged from their looks, was unfriendly and aggressive. The doctor who had advised me to go downstairs for half-an-hour a day for X-ray treatment rescinded his recommendation on the ground that the risk for me might be too great. I agreed with him. One day---- the date was 29 January--- he stopped in my cabin on his regular beat and said he would like to have a talk with me. When we were alone, he said that now that I could move about a little, he was going to discharge me from the hospital. He had been under great pressure from the authorities to do so but he had resisted it so far on humanitarian grounds. Since it was now clear that I was no longer a bed-ridden patient, he could not justify further delay. Besides, he pointed out, with so many students returning, I would be continually exposed to risk in the Medical College hospital. The last argument was incontrovertible. I finally yielded. But I said, could he wait till next Monday? He was unable to do so and a discharge certificate was issued the same day, and I prepared for my transfer to the Central Jail.

The police party said the transfer would be carried out after dark. My wife and children came for a last visit. At nine in the evening however I was informed that the arrangement had fallen through, and that they would take me out of the hospital the following morning.

That night I did not have a wink of sleep. Though technically under arrest since 20 December, I had had so far the usual privileges enjoyed by hospital patients, of which the most precious were the daily visits by my family; my meals except breakfast, used to come from home. Now it would be real prison life, of which I didn't have the vaguest idea. I tossed about in bed trying desperately to shut my mind off, but all kinds of thoughts, buzzed in my head like a swarm of bees, keeping me awake. The temperature in the cabin felt at one time so stiflingly warm that I put the fan on. But it brought no relief.

The police sub-inspector from the Ramna police post who was detailed to take me to the Central Jail called on 30 January at eight-thirty. I left as I was, not even bothering to shave. The van carrying me had to pass by our house at 109 Nazimuddin Road, and at my request it stopped for a minute before our gate to let me bid my family a final farewell. I left forlorn and desolate as the vehicle resumed its journey.


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