Dr. Anisuzzaman is no more. The national professor, the living history of Bangladesh, breathed his last at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Dhaka around 4:55pm on 14 May at the age of 83. Anisuzzaman, often called the lighthouse of the Bengali nation, was laid to eternal rest in the grave of his father at the Azimpur graveyard on 15 May around 10:00 in the morning.
He was a man with a myriad of identities. It is as if his life and Bangladesh’s history is intermingled. He was a Language Movement hero, a freedom fighter, a progressive leader, the lighthouse of the nation and the guardian of a country. He was called by so many such names in his lifetime.
A legend is born
The professor emeritus was born in Basirhat of 24 Parganas in February, 1937. He spent his early childhood in Kolkata, previously Calcutta. At the age of 10, soon after the 1947 partition, he with his father moved to Khulna, in what was the then known as East Bengal. A year later his family came to the capital city Dhaka.
His father ATM Moazzem was a homeopathy practitioner and his grandfather Sheikh Abdur Rahim was a journalist.
A genius is born
“Anisuzzaman was very meritorious as well as diligent. He is unparallel as a researcher,” professor Serajul Islam Choudhury said on 15 May after Anisuzzaman’s death.
Anisuzzaman completed his HSC from Jagannath College, now Jagannath University. He completed his BA Honours in 1956 and Master of Arts in 1957. At the age of 25, he obtained his PhD in Bengali from University of Dhaka in 1962.
Professional involvement: A glorious journey
Following his PhD from the Dhaka University, the educationist joined as Post Doctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago between 1964 and 1965. He was faculty at the University of Chittagong between 1969 and 85. He was a Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellow at the University of London (1974-75) at the Oriental and African Studies at the London University from 1974 to 1975. He was associated with research projects of the United Nations University (1978-83). He later joined at the Bangla Department of the University of Dhaka from 1985-2003 and 2005-08. He was Dhaka University’s professor emeritus until his death.
He was also a visiting fellow at the University of Paris (1994) and the North Carolina State University (1995) and a visiting professor at the Viswa Bharati (2008-09).
His life and Bangladesh’s history intermingle
Professor Anisuzzaman fought for a progressive Bangladesh and freedom of Bengali nation all through his life. The battle started during his college life. At the age of 15, Anisuzzaman joined the Language Movement of Bangladesh.
During the movement in 1952, Anisuzzaman was a college student at Jagannath College. He worked very closely with Jubo League and was in charge of protecting many important official documents.
He also fought for freedom of Bangladesh in 1971 and worked with the provisional government of Bangladesh during the liberation war. He joined the Gano Adalat (people’s tribunal) led by the Jahanara Imam. He even made statement after the student being killed in the road accident that sparked countrywide demonstration for safe roads. As the general secretary of the Bangladesh Teachers’ Council in Kolkata during the liberation war, he worked to unite the Indian intellectuals against the Pakistani repression in Bengal.
Anisuzzaman was a member of the Planning Commission of the Bangladesh government-in-exile during the war of independence and a member of the National Education Commission after liberation. He worked to translate the Constitution of Bangladesh in Bangla in 1972.
A treasure trove of history
Professor Anisuzzaman has authored over 70 books in Bangla and English. Each and every book was a treasure of either of Bangladesh’s history or the literature. Interestingly, first story of his life was published in 1950 in a Bangla literary magazine named Nowbahar.
His notable works include Muslim Manas O Bangla Sahitya (Dhaka 1964), Swaruper Sandhane (Dhaka 1975), Purono Bangla Gadya (Dhaka 1984), Factory correspondence and other Bengali documents in the India Office Library and Records (London 1981), Creativity, Reality and Identity (Dhaka 1993), Cultural Pluralism (Calcutta 1993) and Identity, Religion and Recent History (Calcutta 1995).
Anisuzzaman received more than a dozen national and international awards for his magnificent works on history and literature. He was awarded Bangla Academy Literary Award in 1970, Ekushey Padak in 1985. In 2014, he was handed the prestigious award Indian award Padma Bhushan for his contribution to Bangla literature and education. He also received Bangladesh’s Independence Day Award in 2015.
As a person
Throughout of his life, Anisuzzaman led a very simple and Bangali lifestyle. It is nearly impossible to comprehend such a towering personality being just an admirer of his works. Yet, there is an answer.
Once, his wife Siddiqua Zaman, was asked a tough question. During an interview with Prothom Alo on his 80th birthday she was asked to describe him as a person. She replied with just a word, “Extraordinary!” Her answer says it all.