IN MEMORIAM: Nurul Islam Anu as I knew him

Munshiganj High School, Haraganga College playground, and Idrakpur Fort are where we would rendezvous in the mid-fifties—Nurul Islam Anu; my elder brother Shah Ali Imam, a freedom fighter; and myself. Anu Bhai and my elder brother were in Class X and I was in Class VII. Although they were three years senior to me and had more or less a common school routine that was at variance with mine, we would meet after school hours, usually on the Haraganga College playground.

One of my first recollections of Anu Bhai, who passed away on October 18, was of a rather lanky adolescent with one foot on a number-five football and another raring to kick it. As if frozen in that motion, he yelled to me with a mischievous grin in his face almost reading my mind that I wanted to have a go at it: “Well, this is an oversized football for you, so you better wait for your turn”—a slap on the wrist of a junior trying to punch over his weight.

The second indelible impression etched on my mind was an instruction in history received from him. We would be awed by the aura of Idrakpur Fort, a riverfront fort situated in Munshiganj, tracing its origin to the Mughal era. This was built in 1660 AD during the rule of Mir Jumla intended to protect the empire from the Mogh and Portuguese intruders.

The other relics of our collective heritage in Munshiganj and Bikrampur areas would fire our imagination of the past. Of the three of us, Nurul Islam Anu would take to them—having had seeds implanted in him of a robust sense of history. This would then mingle with a thirst for historical learning into its deeper layers. Thus, we saw him going on to obtain a first class in history from Dhaka University. He also had a stint as a teacher in the department of history prior to taking the superior services examinations. He became a member of the erstwhile CSP of the 1963 batch.

Fast forward, we see him as secretary to Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation. It was an auspicious, challenging and eventful phase in the life of a state born out of countless sacrifices in blood, martyrdom and tears. With Bangabandhu at the helm, reconstruction of a war-ravaged country gathered pace and momentum. The Bangladesh Bank Annual Report 1974 bore that out.

After a stint as secretary to Bangabandhu, Nurul Islam Anu was posted as economic minister in the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington. He subsequently resigned his post and entered into business after Bangabandhu’s assassination during which most members of the leader’s family were killed. Anu Bhai decided not to come back, staying for a long time in the United States. He became president of the Awami League USA branch. During his student days, he had belonged to Chhatra League.

Eventually the pull of his land of birth was to prove strong enough for him to live in Bangladesh for the last two decades. After having been associated with renowned business houses, including a stint as editor/publisher of a Bangla daily, he settled in Bank Asia as a high functionary and member of the decision-making board.

He contributed articles for The Daily Star, especially to some of its anniversary supplements. He shared with me a number of times a simple dream he nursed which never came to fruition: Writing in a Bangla newspaper under the column name “Anu Kobiraj”.

He was a workaholic. Occasionally, when I would visit his office I could see files virtually piled up to his neck. And, as he signed them out at a furious pace to meet deadlines, he would be ceaselessly talking either person-to-person or on the intercom to clarify a point or two. And even attend to a guest. In one word, he was an epitome of multi-tasking!

He was helpful and compassionate to people in need. Quietly altruistic, a good Samaritan to many, he, with his wide contacts, would solve problems of people in difficulty.

In these days of short attention spans both when it comes to listening and talking, he has always been a patient listener and a communicative talker. Above all, he was a good conversationalist.

It is said, having received an inkling of a plan that officials of the occupation force in the then East Pakistan were going to call senior Bangladeshi officials to a meeting to kill them, Nurul Islam Anu transmitted the information to the Bengali officialdom. This warded off the danger to their lives.

Shah Husain Imam is a commentator on current affairs and former Associate Editor, The Daily Star.


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