A happy birthday to ‘Gachpathor’

Educationalist and writer Serajul Islam ChoudhuryProthom Alo

Serajul Islam Choudhury, being a professor of English literature, used to write regular columns in newspapers, being conscience smitten, out of a desire to bring about a change in the society.

In fact, to me Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury is one of the top three columnists of the 80’s and 90’s. Using the pseudonym ‘Gachpathor’, he wrote a continuous series of columns titled ‘Shomoy Bohiya Jai (Time passes by)’ in ‘Sangbad’, one of the hugely-circulated newspapers of that time.

The other two on that list are Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, who wrote ‘Boihasiker Parshwachinta’ series under the name ‘Olpodorshi’ and Santosh Gupta who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Oniruddho’.

In my school days I used to wait eagerly for their columns to appear. Many subscribed to ‘Sangbad’ just to read their columns.

I wish to pen down some personal memories here. This will shed some light on how Serajul Islam Choudhury is, as a teacher, a mentor and a human being.

It goes without saying that I had become a fan of his since reading his column ‘Shomoy Bohiya Jai’ from a very young age. Basically, Serajul Islam Choudhury is the person who contributed the most in shaping my mindset in a socialist, secular, democratic and humanitarian mould.

One day my college teacher Leonardo Shekhar Gomez took me to meet his teacher, whom I knew as ‘Gachpathor’. While introducing me, my teacher said, “Sir, he is a fan of yours. He may come to meet you occasionally. Please spare him some time.” The bond that was created on that day only got deeper with time.

I have learnt so many things from him that I cannot even put them in words. He was a leader of the white panel, and was nominated for the post of vice-chancellor. A person of his stature greeted and invited me over to the teacher’s lounge whenever we met at the university's Kalabhaban (Arts Building).

When I visited his home, he would made coffee for me. I even used call him now and then with various queries that popped up in my mind. We had long conversations about world politics over the phone as well. He never got annoyed. That’s why I say, I am greatly indebted to him.

It was Serajul Islam Choudhury who inspired me into dreaming of writing columns and playing a role in shaping up people’s mindset one day. It was also him who gave taught me to incorporate rhythm in prose as well.

As a matter of fact, Serajul Islam Choudhury’s columns and books played a massive role in building the mindset of the people of my generation as well as our preceding and subsequent generations. Many didn’t follow his socialistic ideologies in life but his writings inspired a major part of these three generations in many ways. Serajul Islam Choudhury’s columns and books affirmed and sharpened my Marxist beliefs and do so even today.

Serajul Islam Choudhury’s literary criticism is utterly different from others, because he performs this tough job in the light of history and sociology. Literary criticism devoid of the knowledge of historic ideas and sociology is indeed imprecise.

A poet friend of mine once told me, “You cannot comprehend literary criticism, unless you read Serajul Islam Choudhury’s book ‘Kumur Bondhon’. No one could explain Rabindranath’s novel ‘Jogajog’ and Kumu’s character better than him.”

Serajul Islam Choudhury’s socialist ideology, his practices and sense of duty are astonishing. He even took classes on the day his wife died. He gave lectures the whole time in his same familiar manner without any change. I was told about this incident by Professor Anisuzzaman.

Mahatma Gandhi had said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Serajul Islam Choudhury is not a Gandhi enthusiast, but he has been practicing this ideology professed by Gandhi all his life. Throughout his life, he held the socialist ideology in his heart, practiced and professed it. He never faltered from his ways.

The magical power of writing a hard topic in exoteric way is the primary characteristic of Serajul Islam Chaudhury’s writings. The wicked and totalitarian nature of capitalism and the beneficial sides of socialism recur in his writings. And readers don’t find it monotonous.

He subtly brings the incidents that touch the lives of common people in his writings. And, he explains those incidents through analogies in the light of theories.

Another prominent trait of his writing is that readers can easily distinguish a sense of rhythm in his prose as well. I had asked him once, “Sir, you write prose, but I feel like I have been reading poetry. Why don’t you write poems?” He laughingly said, “The day I’ll be able to write better than those who are writing poetry now, I’ll publish them only on that day. I don’t wish to write garbage for my readers.”

This sagacious man was extremely affected by the death of his father and wife. The first death occurred while he was in UK. He expressed his grief over the death of his father and wife, in the poem ‘Bondhur Mukhocchobi’, that he wrote right after the death of his wife. The expression of his grief in such a touching language brought tears to the eyes of the readers.

Today, 23 June, educationalist and writer Serajul Islam Choudhry turns 87. A happy birthday to ‘Gachpathor’.

*Dr NN Tarun is a visiting professor of economics at Siberian Federal University in Russia and editor at large for South Asian Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].

* This column has been rewritten in English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha