There is a tide in the affairs of men
which taken at the flood leads on to fortune - Shakespeare
In the summer of 1944, while recuperating from a serious, surgical operation on my thigh, I received an invitation from Mr Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, editor of the Azad, to preside over the literary session of a Conference- the East Pakistan Renaissance Society of Calcutta were organising for July. I was flattered. Obviously the invitation was a reciprocal gesture, a return for the honour we had done him at Dacca in January 1943. I was only twenty-four, had been to Calcutta only once before in connection with the printing of a biographical volume on Nazir in 1943 and possessed little experience of public conference in a metropolitan city. But the invitation had been extended to me as the President of the East Pakistan literary Society, and I accepted. At one stage when my recovery from the operation seemed to be taking an unusually long time, I wrote to Mr Shamsuddin saying that I would like to be excused. But they were prepared to wait for me, and after this I had no further excuse for wanting to avoid the engagement.
I dictated from my bed an address. I spoke freely of the problems faced by Muslim writers, and discussed the programme undertaken by the East Pakistan Literary Society. My tone was bold, frank, free from mental reservations. Mr Abul Kalam spoke highly of the address, and said that it struck the right note.
The Renaissance Conference was held early in July, in the first week, as far as I recall, at the Islamia College. I had not yet fully recovered, walked with a limp, and had to have my thigh bandaged. About the same time I was interviewed at the Writer's Building for a lectureship in the Bengal Educational Service, and was accepted. I found myself posted at the Islamia College itself.
The change from Dacca to Calcutta was a big change. Calcutta was metropolitan, whereas Dacca was a small place. But in one respect I, as a Dacca University alumnus, felt vastly superior to the people around me: Calcutta could provide no exact parallel to the kind of movement that we in the University of Dacca had built up. Here the main focus of the Pakistan movement was the daily Azad building. There around Maulana Akram Khan, a veteran scholar and journalist, a theologian who was also a fine prose-writer in Bengali, a group of intellectuals met daily to discuss the future and to plan the strategy of the Pakistan movement. I joined them, and was soon invited to contribute to the Azad as a lead-writer. This was an excellent opportunity of doing something worthwhile for the movement and reaching a much wider audience than I could have reached. through the fortnightly Pakistan of Dacca. I found the work exciting and intellectually satisfying.
The Islamia College as an educational institution was a much smaller place than Dacca University; it was after all a college. The staff was cosmopolitan, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Bengali, non-Bengali, but the student body was entirely Muslim. Discussions in the Senior Common Room reflected the debate in progress outside on the political future of India. The Chief spokesman of the Muslim point of view was Professor Zahurul Islam of the Department of History. He had whole-heartedly embraced the Muslim League creed. Other Muslim teachers were less vocal than Professor Islam, but with the solitary exception of Professor Kazimuddin, they all supported the League. Professor Kazimuddin whose subject was philosophy and who was fairly widely read person, was Congressite in outlook. He was in fact not a Muslim except in name; he openly declared his opposition to any form of organised religion and believed in intellectual atheism. The strangest figure in this group was Mr. Saidur Rahman, a lecturer in philosophy who was far more of a free thinker than Professor Kazimuddin; his criticism of Muslim institutions was ruthless and devastating. But his politics was orthodox, and he proved one of the strongest supporters of the Muslim students' movement. The explanation is that logic seldom plays the most important part in such affairs: emotion and social affiliations are a stronger force than logic in politics. Of the other senior teachers whose support of the Pakistan movement did much to sustain it I remember best Professor Nazir Ahmad of the department of History, Professor Mir Jahan of the same department, Mr Sultanul Islam, lecturer in Economics, and Professor Tahir Jamil who taught English. The last named was Calcutta Bengali who spoke Urdu. Mr Sultanul Islam's mother tongue was also Urdu, though his family came from Comilla; they had been in the metropolis for two generations and typified Muslims in urban areas who adopted Urdu when they became aware of the need for a medium of expression free from the stamp that a succession of powerful Hindu writers had put on Bengali in the nineteenth century.
Professor Tahir Jamil was a kindly person who treated me with affection. Mr Sultanul Islam, several years my senior and a confirmed bachelor, was ebullient, full of youthful energy, bold.
The Principal of the Islamia College was Dr I. H. Zuberi, a man from the U.P. in his early thirties, who, I learnt, had very shortly before my arrival been appointed to the post. I heard occasional whispers about the unscrupulous manner in which he had ousted his predecessor, an able and respected scholar, Mr Zacharia, a Christian from Madras. It was dangerous to criticise the Principal openly in a government college and few did so in my presence, considering me too young to share the college secrets, but I did gather that Dr Zuberi was not viewed as a very clean person. He for his part tried to make up for it by backing the students and openly encouraging them to organise meetings and processions in support of the Pakistan movement.
Of the younger colleagues, I shall mention two: Mr Abu Rushd Matinuddin, lecturer in English and Mr. Abdul Majed, lecturer in Islamic History and Culture. Mr Matinuddin was a distant cousin of mine. His family had migrated to Calcutta three generations ago; they had lost all contact with the countryside, spoke Urdu at home, and betrayed in their ways a curious, uneasy compromise between East and West. Mr Matinuddin himself, educated in the University of Calcutta, preferred writing in Bengali, had literary ambitions, and had already published a book or two. His fiction was immature; there was an air of aridity in it; his characters lacked emotion and vigour. But such was the dearth of Muslim talent in those days that all these inadequacies and shortcomings notwithstanding, Mr Matinuddin was patronised in Muslim literary circles as a promising writer. His attitude towards the great political movement was lukewarm. He had no strong convictions, and showed no understanding of the two-nation theory. By and large he preferred to move with the crowd, was not critical of the concept of Pakistan, but was not prepared to take risks on its account either. These mental reservations undoubtedly help explain his betrayal of Pakistan in 1971 as her Cultural Attaché in Washington.
The other man, Mr Abdul Majid was frankly a Hindu. Though he taught Islamic History and Culture, he possessed no comprehension of either Islam or Islamic culture, frequently bewailed the developments which divided Hindu from Muslim, and said he felt more drawn to the Hindus than to the Muslim community to which he nominally belonged. He remained true to his salt, and, after he joined Dacca University subsequently, did all he could to undermine Pakistan's psychological foundations. I do not blame him; he had made no secret of his views and attitudes, and if Pakistan's rulers in their stupidity chose to turn a blind eye to his past, it was their fault.
Mr Matinuddin's was a case of real treachery. He pretended, when Pakistan came, to accept it without reservations, extracted from it advantages such as he could not have hoped for, and then fell an easy prey to Awami League propaganda about exploitation and economic repression.
The Hindu teachers participated in the discussions on Pakistan. They were outspoken in their criticism, but we were on the whole a friendly crowd, who could afford to be frank with one another. The fact is that until the Great Riots of 1946 no one suspected that we were moving towards a dangerous explosion. Our talks were academic; we all seemed to be several removes from the realities outside.
The Islamia College, despite its position as a Muslim intellectual centre, did not have the importance that Dacca University had as the hub of the political world at Dacca. It was one among many institutions working in the great metropolis, and the fact that it was a state college restrained the teachers from being excessively vocal in their support of the Quaid-e-Azam. The line had to be drawn somewhere. I with my Dacca University background could not help feeling somewhat shackled.
The Place where I could frankly exchange views freely with like-minded persons was the office of the Azad. Each evening in Mr Abu1 Kalam Shamsuddin's room there met for discussions men like Mr Abul Mansur Ahmad, Dr Sadeq, Mr Mujibur Rahman and Mr Abdul Maudud. Young writers like Mr. Farrukh Ahmad, Mr Ahsan Habib, Mr Abul Hussain and Mr Ghulam Quddus, also dropped in occasionally. Visitors from outside Calcutta who called from time to time included Mr Ghulam Mustafa, the well-known poet. Mr Abul Mansur Ahmad was a veteran author and journalist, a friend of Mr Shamsuddin's. Though a supporter of the Pakistan movement, he was apt to be critical of its leaders and sometimes gave utterance to unorthodox opinions. Dr Sadeq taught economics, and used to supply data in support of the demand for Muslim separatism. The pamphlet on the Muslim claim to Calcutta, issued by the Renaissance Society later, was mainly his work. Mr Mujibur Rahman was assistant editor of the Azad, several years younger than Mr Shamsuddin.
Of the young writers mentioned, the most fervent supporter of the Pakistan ideas was Mr Farrukh Ahmad, the poet. He wrote a popular song with the refrain ‘Larke Lenge Pakistan’ (we shall fight for and win Pakistan). In his early youth, he is believed to have led a dissolute life for sometime. Then he was thrown into contact with a mystic and underwent a conversion. There was something in him of the vehemence of the English poets of the eighteen-nineties as described by W. B. Yeats. Farrukh Ahmad was a mixture, mutatis mutandis, of Lionel Johnson and Earnest Dewson. Mr Ahsan Habib and Mr Abul Hussain considered themselves modernists. The latter had a University degree in Economics, and was the best educated of the groups. The attitude of both vis-à-vis the Pakistan question was slightly ambivalent. I think that in their heart of hearts they considered the demand for Pakistan to be a reactionary trend not compatible with their notions of progress and cosmopolitanism. Mr Ghulam Quddus, who died recently, was a communist. What drew him to the Azad circle was the idea of trying to understand the psychology of the Muslims who were insisting on separatism.
One regular non-Muslim visitor was Mr Basudha Chakrabarty. He joined the Azad staff later as a lead-writer. Mr Chakrabarty possessed that rare gift: the capacity to understand and sympathise with a point of view different from one's own and to defend it if one felt that it was right. I gathered from the conversations I heard that he saw the logic behind the Muslim demand for Pakistan and agreed that this was the easiest way in the circumstances of ending the interminable communal riots which had made a nightmare of life.
The points and issues we debated were the viability of the proposed Muslim state, its future policy, the kind of political, social and economic structure it should try to build up. There was no question of anyone, at least in this group, demanding a separate state in the east. We all realised that a separate state in the east would be an absurdity likely to be strangled in its swaddling clothes by India. Besides, the demand for Pakistan had arisen from the idea of the Muslims of India being a nation, and how could there logically arise a demand for two states for them? Of course, the fact that the main concentrations of Muslim population were separated by Hindu territory was a serious problem; no one underrated it. But we seriously considered the possibility of creating a corridor between them. Either, we argued, the two parts of Pakistan could be given a strip of territory running from Bengal to the Punjab (there were recognisable Muslim belts in the U.P. which rightly the Muslims could demand); or India and Pakistan might sign an agreement granting the latter the right of passage through northern India. The air corridor which later came to be established between East and West Pakistan was a kind of materialisation of this idea.
Those who maintain today that the idea of a united Pakistan was a departure from the spirit and letter of the Lahore Resolution are surely distorting history. I do admit that a handful of men like Mr Abul Hashem had raised the question of a separate eastern state, but when the Pakistan movement got into its stride in right earnest, they lapsed into silence. Everybody realised instinctively that in the circumstances prevailing then, the demand for a separate Muslim state in the east would have meant not only weakening the demand for Pakistan but also virtually counteracting it.
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