Syed Badrul Ahsan
There are twilight moments when I go in search of my teacher. I do not spend very many hours with him, for there is yet in me that certain old-fashioned consciousness which informs me that my teachers are my gurus, the lighthouses who continue to point me in the direction where enlightenment and intellectual refinement reside. Which is why when I meet Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury, for a few shining moments when the stars have already made their appearance in the gathering dark, I remain aware of the line that I cannot, must not cross. All the speeches, all the statements I had prepared on my way to see him somehow go missing once I find myself in his overpowering presence. But then, the loss is never mine, for anyone who has heard Professor Choudhury speak will know that every phrase that emanates from him is essentially a spark of wisdom. And so I listen to him, he the pedagogue, I the little wide-eyed child eager for the stories he will tell me.
And, listening to him, I am once more made aware of the richness that comes in humility. For over thirty years, I have observed Serajul Islam Choudhury make his slow yet determined trek to wherever he happens to be going in a manner that eschews the arrogant and the hollow. The sight of him with an umbrella over his head, in all the heat of summer, or of him talking to his students, hands in his pockets and with a natural smile playing on his lips, is what has strengthened my belief in the thought that those who are scholarly are necessarily those who shine in their own brilliance. It remains a mark of SIC’s brilliance that when he made his way to the classroom where we waited for him, back in the 1970s, we sat ready to note down every word, every phrase he would employ in his lecture. Not a word, not a phrase was to be missed, for Choudhury was, and is, one of those teachers whose classroom lectures amounted, for us, to a virtual reading of the literary work he happened to be critiquing before us. You do not come by such academics any more. He did not stumble, he never repeated a word and he never got distracted. In the classroom, absolute silence was loud by its presence.
That is how I have seen my teacher. And there have been other ways as well. His consistent faith in Marxism, his belief that socialism can redefine the way in which he conduct ourselves in this country of tragedy and misfortune are thoughts I have identified with. I cannot say that I am a full-blooded socialist, but that my faith in socialism echoes that of my teacher is a truth I make a point of emphasising to myself every moment of the day. Serajul Islam Choudhury’s assessment of global issues is what has kept me glued to his every pronouncement. In an era when nearly everyone you know is willing and ready to be carried away by such inanities as globalisation, my teacher offers a path out of the dense woods. Internationalism, he tells us, is what ought to underpin the world we are part of. For internationalism reassures us about national cultural identities, about distinctive political priorities. In other words, it is through internationalism that we keep a firm grip on our individuality as nations or nation-states. Globalisation is a road that takes us nowhere, or to oblivion. That I what I have learned from my teacher. And much more.
In Serajul Islam Choudhury, my generation spots a heroic figure who informs us, without fear and with profound conviction, that it is the country that matters. I have learned from him the cardinal lesson that cosmopolitanism is a journey that must always bring you back to your roots. In him I have noted the mellifluous quality of language. He speaks impeccable Bangla. And he speaks unalloyed English. Never has he mixed one with the other. From him, then, I have known the beauty that comes of using language that must not be mangled.
Long years ago, Serajul Islam Choudhury educated me and my friends on the universality of Shakespeare and the metaphysics of John Donne. These days, in the munificence of his wisdom, in my increasingly weather-beaten life, I go on learning from him, by the minute, by the hour. The twilight brims over with starry luminescence.