During my fellowship period, I had to discuss not only academic problems but also personal problems with Harun Sir. Very often I found his best friend Professor Anwarul Azim Chowdhury in his office. He was a lovely light hearted person of great wit. Once he said, "Do you know why I come to see Harun here after 5pm? I come to eject him from his office and compel him to go home – he has a family!" It reminded me of why the library assistants had to 'eject' him from the libraries during closing time!
At one stage I became concerned about getting a job or trying to go abroad with a fellowship. I talked to Harun Sir. He said, "You are working in a very good field and you are about to publish papers, so don’t get frustrated."
In 1974 I published my first research paper. I was excited to see my article in print (before that these were poems not physics!) In the meantime I got a room at the International Hostel of the Dhaka University. My residence problem was solved and so I could put my full efforts into research. I must acknowledge the AEC Computer Centre for allowing me and some others to use their machine during that time. I remember it took about 4 hours to diagonalise a 8X8 matrix!! I had to bribe the Assistant Scientific Officer (with a lunch or a few bananas) to keep the machine running even on Fridays! I forgot his name but I greatly acknowledge his help.
I received by appointment letter and joined the department as a lecturer on 1 July 1975 and Harun Sir was the first person to congratulate me. He said, "Now you have two tasks – teaching and research."
In early ’75 the university advertised for 2 lecturer positions in physics. I duly applied and very often used to ask Harun Sir about my possibilities, because the Dhaka University was never completely out of politics or coterie interests in appointments. He used to say, "I hope they will judge you based on your work and I can say nothing more than that." In the meantime I almost finished our well cited works on alkali halide crystals. In June ’75 I asked Harun Sir whether I am killing my time here at the physics department. Many of my classmates had jobs by then. He said, "There is a green light, but I am not cent percent sure about it." In a few days' time I received by appointment letter and joined the department as a lecturer on 1 July 1975 and Harun Sir was the first person to congratulate me. He said, "Now you have two tasks – teaching and research." Until then, whenever I met him, he rarely had any peripheral talks with me. All our discussions were centered on research, teaching and writing books!
Alongside my teaching and research, I was trying to secure a scholarship to go abroad. During that time a new department called Theoretical Physics was in action and Harun Sir was the Chairman of the Department. Brighter students (most of them are settled abroad with senior positions) started working with him with great zeal and enthusiasm. This department with all its possibilities and prospects was closed down at a point (I was in England during that time). Since I was not in the scene, I cannot make any comment on it. But I think if the department would exist it could do a great job!
In 1975 after the killing of Bangabanbhu Sheikh Mujib, Harun Sir became very upset and at a point he went abroad for a while. When he came back in 1976, I started writing my PhD thesis based on my work that I did entirely in Dhaka. In the meantime I applied for the Commonwealth Scholarship. In the interview board Professor Fazlul Halim Chowdhury, told me, "You have done excellent work with Harun, so why don’t you write up your PhD thesis here and then go abroad as a postdoc at a later stage?" My answer was a mixture of 'yes' and 'no' motions. My eyes were in fact on the Commonwealth Scholarship. I got a letter in May 1975 from the Ministry of Education confirming the award. Right at time I was involved with three things together : write-up of the PhD thesis, handling formalities of the scholarship and my marriage!
During all these hectic times one day I asked Harun Sir, "I am going to submit my thesis, can you tell me who will be my examiners?" His answer was, "It is highly confidential, but I can tell you that the examiners are the most distinguished professors in the field." They were indeed Professor G Rickeyzen (UK) and Professor F Bassani (Italy) . Harun Sir never compromised with quality.
The day before I flew to Bristol in September 1976, I went to see Harun Sir. He said, "Professor John Ziman (my early supervisor) is a very distinguished person in his field, so you will have to produce quality work." Smilingly he added, "Now you have three years to prepare yourself for your professional life and then when you will come back we will work together again!" Our conversation was centered only on work. During my stay in Bristol I some correspondence with him but again these were concerning my work.
I remember in December 1979, immediately before my return to Bangladesh, I wrote to Harun Sir, asking about the Theoretical Physics Department and my teacher Professor Rafiqullah. This is for the first time I did not receive any reply from Harun Sir. When I came back in early January 1980, the same day I went to the department and to my dismay, I heard neither the Theoretical Physics Department, nor Rafiqullah Sir existed anymore. I was dismayed. But I was happy to see that Harun Sir at the helm of the Physics Department. The very first thing he did was immediately call the departmental superintendent and asked him to make a key for me for my office which he had assigned even before my arrival. He said, "We already appointed one PhD Research Fellow for you and since you might come to the department during odd-hours you will need a key for the front door." What a caring man! I had not resumed my duties yet, yet he still entrusted me with a number of assignments including organisation of the departmental seminars. He had so much confidence in me.
After I went back to Dhaka on 1 January 1980, I faced the same accommodation problem again. We were expecting our first baby, but we did not have a proper accommodation. One day Harun Sir talked to Professor Ramzan Ali Sardar who was the Provost of a Hall of residence and requested him to find an Assistant House Tutorship for me so that I could live on the hall premises. It did not work out again not because Professor Sardar did not want me but because I did not belong to any party politics (the same trend still exists in the Dhaka University unfortunately!). I became very frustrated. One day Harun Sir said, "Look, my friend Dr Anwarul Azim Chowdhury became the Provost of Shahidullah Hall and I convinced him to appoint you as a House Tutor there." In a few days' time I got the appointment and the residence! I must say, this was a turning point in my professional life. If Harun Sir would not help me in getting an accommodation, I might have thought of leaving the country.
In February 1980, Sir advised me to apply for promotion to Assistant Professor and I did it. But it was frustrating that even after six months nothing happened. At a point Harun Sir wrote to the then Vice – Chancellor Professor Fazlul Halim Chowdhury (I did not know about this letter for a long time!) arguing very strongly that someone with two PhDs was still a lecturer – this is not fair for the person and the institution! It took some more time to get the promotion, but if Sir would not intervene, it could have been further delayed. Such was the feeling of a professor for a student!
The Dhaka University teachers had already been divided into Blue and White. At a point my Provost Professor Chowdhury requested me to compete in the forthcoming Dhaka University Teachers Association [DUTA] election. I agreed. The following day when I saw the panel, I did not see my name there. At a point I talked to Harun Sir. He said, "Mujib, I removed your name from the panel. Look, I have been quite seasoned in these elections but you are not. So in case you fail you will be simply devastated, and that would negatively affect you." What a sense of caring!
In early ‘82 I decided to apply for promotion to Associate Professor. Right at that time the DUTA prepared a scheme what has been known as the Restructure Scheme for promotions. The scheme was made keeping in mind the promotions of some devoted senior teachers who unfortunately could not satisfy all the required conditions of the existing regulations. I also played a small role in preparing the scheme. One day Harun Sir came to my office with a gloomy face and said, "Mujib, you (as a member of the DUTA) have not done a good job. The scheme will open the gate for any damn persons to become a full professor." I did not momentarily appreciate his comment. But later on I experienced that he was absolutely right. The Restructure Scheme has indeed done an irreparable damage to the Dhaka University. Now when I see every one is a full professor in the University, I remember Harun Sir’s blunt comment. The time I got the promotion I was in Trieste. Harun Sir wrote to me, "Now you have more responsibilities to work harder!"
Harun Sir always used to maintain great esteem and integrity in academic, social and other components of life. At a point our promotion file came to the department for departmental review. By some means I got to know that there remained a misinformation in my case. When I talked to Harun Sir, he started shouting at me, "This is a confidential matter. You are not supposed to know what it is in there." I also reacted, " You are right but you should look at the file carefully as my Chairman and kindly correct the mistakes there." Then I left his office in great dismay. The following morning, Monsur, out Lab Attendant came to me and said, "Head Sir would like to talk to you." I went there and without any introduction he said, "Mujib, let us agree that both of us are right on what happened yesterday." I said, yes, and left his office in a better mood.
In early ’81 one morning he was working in his office. All on a sudden a group of students (could be outsiders) gathered in front of his room and started arguing with him, "We will not allow anyone to do the repair work in your office until our people get the job." I gathered these were the student cadres of the government who were demanding extortion money from the contractors. Sir shouted back, "Keep away from my office!" Professor Islam was sitting beside him. He possibly advised Harun Sir to compromise, but Harun Sir replied, "If these unruly people want to enter my office, they can do that only over my dead body." Nowadays I hear the top guys in the university administration invite these types of students and appease them so as to be close to the power-base and have a bite of the carrots!
Harun Sir was a unique personality. In a society where we have rarely people to follow, he was a living example to be followed for all purposes. His students at home and abroad admire him as a complete teacher and a guru. And that is why he has been a great success! He is no more with us.
* S M Mujibur Rahman is a retired professor of the Physics Department, University of Dhaka and of the Physics Department, Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman. Email : [email protected]