Last week has been suddenly, and unexpectedly hard for us students of the Dhaka University History department, as two of our beloved teachers - Dr. K.M. Mohsin and Dr. A.B. Mahmood - passed away. They were seniors and both in their 80s, but it seemed they would just go on as we are now. That age and time will inevitably overtake us all and one day sweep us away too slipped our minds. It’s a time to remember but also to pay respects. Tonight we shall only remember the best in our teachers. Perhaps, on a less somber day we may recall their flaws but tonight, let’s cheer the best in them.
The first batch syndrome
We were the first batch to enter Dhaka University after liberation. Those were truly wild days as few things had settled down and an air of uncertainty always hung in the air. We had all come to study at the General History Department, most because that’s how the departmental options worked out. A few like me were there by choice but we all embraced it in a way that reflected our desperate desire to grow up.
There were many of those who were veterans of the war as warriors but all were veterans of history as it passed through its birth year, 1971. We were truly the children of that year. So we had emerged from history to study history. It was a journey from the informal fields of a war torn country to the formality of the classorom. And that’s where we met our teachers including Dr. Mohsin and Dr. Mahmood.
There were other teachers too and everyone had their followers among the students. These two late teachers were very unassuming and never into other activities beyond teaching and research. Yet from within the space they connected with the students and became dear to them. It’s such a surprise that as we look back, all we see is a deep relationship based on respect and the affection that naturally comes to most teachers.
Dr. Mohsin was very much into the history of Bengal and taught us that topic as well as over ones to different classes. But he was the first teacher who discussed the issue like a history teacher we always thought of. He was senior and treated us like ones as well. It was of course a way of becoming adults for us and what we learnt has stayed after all these years. We may no longer agree with many of the positions he held on various historical issues but that we differ is because we were introduced to such ideas in the first place.
My relationship with Dr. Mohsin continued after I passed out from the University and joined the 1971 History Project. He along with others was a member of the Authentication Committee of the Project. The objective of this Committee was to ensure that the documents that were being included were authentic.
This work took a lot of time, effort but offered little recognition. Yet like other members of the Committee Dr. Mohsin gave his best. After the death of the project founder Director Hasan Hafizur Rahman there was a brief break and after that Dr. Mohsin also became the Director of the Project for a year. Later in life he became the VC of the Dhaka international University. He passed away in a Dhaka hospital while ongoing treatment for age related ailments.
Dr. Mahmud was one of the most unassuming persons or a teacher we had. He was a self-effacing man who led what could be seen as a routine life, very even and quiet. He didn’t go out to make friends but was quite happy being him. Although I was very much an extrovert and he an introvert, we became close. He was a teacher whom we respected and knew we had a friend in him.
He taught American history which was a new exposure for many but he held the attention of the students despite his quiet demeanor. Without any flash or fury he taught the subject and earned the respect of his students. Later in the days when I was no longer a student I would visit the department and invariably made a point of meeting him. We would chat on many topics, far beyond academia. He once discussed his car which he had brought back from Japan where he had gone for a teaching stint. On that topic he spoke for long which I knew nothing about and he knew much. The conversation has stayed in my memory for long.
After he retired, he also set up a gold medal for the meritorious students of the department and gave an endowment of 11 lakhs, so unusual in our world where such grant giving has become so rare.
So farewell dear Sirs, you gave us much and we hope we too can give some to others. Stay well till we meet again, in that one address where everyone checks in.