MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM
(Abridged Translated version of the author’s original Bangla Memoir Jibone Ja Dekhlam)
Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami
Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation
My Hostel Life and Dhaka City
I spent four and a half years in different student hostels in Dhaka from Class 9 prior to my intermediate exams. I started my hostel life in January 1940 in a two-storeyed building in Koltabazar, Dhaka, situated at the north of my Islamic Intermediate College. There was a mosque near the hostel, where I prayed five times a day. In January 1941 our hostel moved to another two-storeyed building near the gate of Dhaka Nawab Bari (residence of the Nawab family) in Islampur Road, where I stayed until my high madrasah exams in March 1942. From March 1942 to April 1944, during my higher secondary education, I lived in the Paradise Hostel which was located in a big one-storey building adjacent to the eastern gate of Nawab Bari.
There were 20-25 students in this hostel from Class 8 to 10. I was first in a room with four beds; however, the hostel superintendent later changed me to a room with two beds. As mentioned previously, this hostel superintendent was my inspiration for joining the scout movement. He was very affectionate towards me and would always inquire after the progress of my studies. He maintained strict discipline in the hostel. Students always feared him, but at the same time respected him for the way he looked after them. Between every evening and night prayers, he would begin his inspection by checking the students upstairs. . Upon hearing his footsteps, the students downstairs would immediately sit at their desks and study. He did not enter, or require the students to greet him outside their rooms; he merely wanted to ensure that they were studying. He would not tolerate smoking and would fine students who were caught doing so. Smokers learnt to be extra cautious and so no trace of any cigarette could be found inside the hostel.
The hostel was state-run and our monthly food bill was four and a half taka. The health and safety standard was reasonably well due to the superintendent’s sincere efforts. Initially, my mother was worried about the standard of food and its consequent effect on my health. However, upon my first visit home after staying in the hostel, my mother happily noted that my health had in fact improved. She even commented, “You have done the right thing going to Dhaka as your health was not good at all when you were in Comilla.”
Due to my good results in junior madrasah, I would receive a monthly scholarship of two taka from the Haji Muhammad Mohsin fund, so I would only have to pay the remaining two and a half taka for food. I had heard about this great philanthropist from my Bangla text book while in Class 7 in Comilla. He was a life-long bachelor who donated a large portion of his property in endowment for poor and meritorious Muslim students.
There was a small pool in the hostel area through which we would shower, by obtaining water from it using a mug. During the weekends, we would swim in the river Buriganga in Sadarghat, which was particularly enjoyable during the rainy season. When I was small, I would long to swim in the Buriganga and to stand on its pier with my uncle whilst observing its clean water, but I was never allowed. Therefore, my hostel life enabled me to fulfil my childhood wish.
Some of my hostel friends later became prominent figures in Bangladesh. One of them was Mr Nurul Haque of Rangpur who was the district president of Awami League and later became a member of the Bangladesh Parliament in 1973. Another significant figure was Dr Kazi Deen Mohammad, a renowned linguist who was a professor and Head of Bengali in Dhaka University.
Most distinguished among them was Justice Nurul Islam who later became the Vice President of Bangladesh. I have an interesting anecdote with him which is worth sharing. Mr Islam was a judge in Dhaka High Court in 1971 when a person came to see me with a request. He said that some people were trying to grab his hard-earned property by false claims and fake witnesses. He told me that he had won the case in the lower court, but was worried about the outcome in the higher court. He came to know that the case was in the court of my close friend Justice Nurul Islam and asked me to tell the judge that he was the real owner of the property. I am not a student of law and was not aware of whether I should talk to a judge about a case. However, the overall background, appearance and emotion of his deliberation had me convinced that I should attempt to help him. Hence, I called Justice Islam instantly and said what I felt was necessary. His reply caused me to feel rather ashamed and embarrassed. He said, “You wanted to help the person, but have harmed him instead. It was his big mistake to ask you to recommend him. As I know you very well, I am now convinced that the person is the real owner of the property. Therefore, I have already become biased and have lost the legitimacy of judging this case. I now have to refer this case to the Chief Justice who will send it to another judge.” I informed the man of my embarrassment, “You would have got real justice from this judge, but can’t have justice from him now because you asked me to lobby to him for you. If I knew this system of law I would have never called him.”
The Relocation of Koltabazar Hostel
Due to several Hindu-Muslim riots, the Koltabazar Hostel had to be relocated to the Nawab Gate of Islampur Road in January 1941. Muslims were dominant in Koltabazar and Rayshaheb Bazar (then known as Johnson Road) up to the marble statue of Queen Victoria on the south of Bahadur Shah Park (then Victoria Park). After this, Sadarghat, Banglabazar and Patuatoli areas were Hindu dominated. Our hostel was on the southern side of a lake, the northern side of which was a Hindu area. During tense moments we would have to guard the hostel 24 hours a day against any potential Hindu attack. Every student was required to guard for at least two hours a day. Due to this trouble, the hostel authorities decided to relocate to an area in which such threats were unlikely. Although our new hostel was quite far from the college, everyone was content, as it was a safe area for Muslims and there was no need for it to be guarded against Hindu attacks.
We would pray at the Nawab Bari Mosque which was between our hostel and the Ahsan Manzil museum. It was named after a famous Nawab of the 19th century, Nawab Ahsanullah. The Nawab family used to live there at that time. Nawab Ahsanullah’s son Nawab Sir Salimullah was known for his service towards the Muslims of this region in the early 20th century. When Banga Bhanga (The Partition of Bengal) took place in 1905, a new province was created with Bengal and Assam and Dhaka was its capital. When the Partition of Bengal was revoked in 1911 by King George the 5th (after protests from Hindu leaders in Kolkata), the people of Dhaka suffered. Sir Salimullah tried his best to minimise the losses and was instrumental in the establishment of Dhaka University in 1921, which was the first institution of its kind, catering to Muslims in East Bengal. In 1906, when Dhaka was the capital of East Bengal and Assam, the Muslim League officially took birth when Sir Salimullah organised a conference in Dhaka for Muslim leaders of India.
Although we prayed at the Nawab Bari Mosque, we never had the opportunity to interact with any member of the Nawab family. During Friday prayers the male members of the Nawab Bari would pray at the front and leave quietly after prayer. One could easily recognise members of the Nawab family due to their appearance, complexion and clothing. For example, no female member of the family could be seen without hijab. They would travel in horse carriages concealed with silk clothes and when they travelled by car, even the windows would be veiled to obscure them from public eye.
Throughout my four and a half years of hostel life, the government doctor would visit us to check our health. The official who visited us at Koltabazar Hostel was a Hindu doctor who would give us important health advice. I once questioned him about a dilemma I faced; after playing in the field in the afternoon, I tended to feel sleepy while studying in the evening. I required a remedy for this, so I approached him asking, “Sir, you look after us very well, so may I ask you a question?” The doctor smiled and said, “What is it?” I said, “Sir, our exams are looming, but I am struggling to study in the evening due to sleep. Could you give me a medicine that can reduce my sleep?” The doctor removed his glasses and stared at me for a minute, to which I felt quite fearful. He then called me towards him, touched my shoulder with affection and said, “My son, you want a medicine to reduce sleep, but doctors never give such medicines. Today you are demanding medicine to reduce sleep, but a day will come when you will want doctors to give you medicine to assist you in sleeping.” Then he advised me that when feeling drowsy I should walk for a while and attempt to converse with others. By doing so, the urge to sleep should automatically withdraw itself from me.
I spent two years of my life in this hostel adjacent to the eastern gate of Nawab Bari between 1942 and 1944 during my higher secondary education. With only 15 students in this government hostel, the rules were reasonably flexible there and its superintendent, Moulvi Sanaullah, who was also the college librarian, was kind enough to let the students run their own affairs. Free from any draconian rule, we felt that we were living in our own student accommodation.
Hindu-Muslim Riots in Dhaka
I witnessed three Hindu-Muslim riots in one year while in Koltabazar Hostel. The city was divided into Hindu-dominated and Muslim-dominated areas for which religious minorities in those areas needed to be extra cautious during the riots. I was shocked to witness these riots where Hindus and Muslims would fight as if they were in a battlefield. The riots would start with the simple news of a Hindu or a Muslim being knifed to death in an area, which would lead everyone to become aware of the tension. The consequence would be news of further Muslims being killed in Hindu areas and vice versa. Those prone to violence among the indigenous people of Dhaka would develop strong Muslim nationalism during these riots despite their hardly praying or fasting as Muslims. They would step out bearing machetes with the spirit of killing ten Hindus to avenge the death of one Muslim brother.
Once the news spread in Koltabazar hostel that Hindus are attacking and leaving pig meat in a mosque in a neighbouring area. We ventured to discover what had actually happened and were stopped by some youths at the entrance of Johnson Road. When asked about what had transpired they said, “Hindus had come to attack the mosque, but ran away after seeing us.” I saw around eight to ten people guarding the road holding machetes in their hands. No one related to the mosque or anyone with a gentlemanlike appearance could be seen. These people were not pious Muslims, but were ready to sacrifice their lives to save the mosque.
Many innocent lives were lost during those terrible riots. The situation was so tense that even the mere sight of people running would provoke fear that riots have begun. I remember one such incident when we were walking along the crossing of Sadarghat and Banglabazar when we saw some people running. We also started running as fast as possible and reached Victoria Park. When we went back towards Sadarghat to discover what had actually happened, we came to know that a calf had stolen a banana and was being chased by the shopkeeper and that the people were running to avoid being struck by the calf. At the mere sight of a few people running, for what transpired to be such a mundane reason, panic spread that a riot had begun. We too were part of that panicked crowd.
The situation was better in universities where there were initially no riots. However, this was until 1942 when a student of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall of Dhaka University was stabbed to death. There were more incidents in the campus in 1943 and 1946. In 1949, I was unable to attend my MA final exams due to riots. After the partition in 1947, communal riots in India have been a regular feature, but in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the last major riot after 1949 took place in 1964, after which no major incident occurred.
Dhaka City at that Time
I had the opportunity to increase my knowledge concerning Dhaka when I joined the scout movement. Our scout master asked us to draw a map of Dhaka city as it was important to have a map of roads in order to survey an area. To do this task, I was required to visit every area of the city. It was not very difficult as the city was not too large at that time. There was a Bangla saying about Dhaka at that time: ‘bayanno bazar teppanno gol’i (52 markets and 53 lanes) suggesting that Dhaka was a city of small lanes. One of my servants in Rangpur Carmichael College campus once asked me, “Sir, I heard that there is no end in Dhaka city and if someone goes from outside Dhaka they would be lost in endless lanes after lanes. Is that true?” When Mawlana Maududi was taken to the Jamaat city office known as ‘Kawsar House’ in Siddikbazar during his first visit to Dhaka, he seemed very puzzled by so many small lanes in the city. He said, “Generally, a city has a few main roads and small lanes are found beyond those roads, but in Dhaka, I could only see lanes after lanes.” I informed him that Dhaka had only two major roads, Sadarghat to Nawabpur and Sadarghat to Chakbazar, and the rest were all lanes.
Dhaka after 1905
After the Partition of Bengal in 1905, when Dhaka was the capital of East Bengal and Assam, Dhaka city extended to the north. To the north of Gandaria Rail Station that divided old and new Dhaka, the Secretariat, Assembly House, Governor House, High Court building, residents of Secretaries, and such buildings were built. After the Partition of Bengal was revoked in 1911 and the subsequent establishment of Dhaka University in 1921, the buildings that were created for the capital were used for different purposes. For example, the High Court building was turned into the Government Intermediate College (now Dhaka College) and the Secretariat was turned into the Government Eden Girls College.
The big two-storeyed building that was erected for Dhaka University later became Dhaka Medical College and Hospital and the residential houses built for Secretaries were used as two hostels: Sir Salimullah Muslim Hall for Muslims and Jagannath Hall for Hindus. A new hall for Muslim students named Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall was opened in 1940 when Sher-e-Bangla Fazlul Haque was the Prime Minister of Bengal, with its first provost being Dr Muhammad Shahidullah. The effect of the Second World War could be felt in Dhaka in 1942 when the Anglo-American allied forces used Dhaka College and Salimullah Muslim Hall, and the main building of Dhaka University was turned into a military hospital. Dhaka again became a provincial capital when East Bengal separated from West Bengal and India and became a province of Pakistan. The Dhaka College building became Dhaka High Court and Eden Women’s College became the Secretariat once again.
Dhaka after 1947
The buildings created after the Partition of Bengal in 1905 were not sufficient for a provincial capital as many Muslim government officials who used to work in the ‘Writer’s Building’ in Kolkata migrated to Dhaka after 1947. It was difficult to arrange the office and residential accommodation for so many people. Temporary barracks had to be created in the areas of Nilkhet and Palashi, and new four-storey buildings were built in Azimpur. As many Indian Muslim businessmen decided to move to Dhaka, exchanging their business with Hindus in Dhaka, the Dhaka city’s population started to increase rapidly, leading to massive extensions of the city. New colonies of Urdu-speaking people were built in Mirpur and Mohammadpur areas. Many Hindus in Dhaka also exchanged houses with Muslim counterparts in Kolkata. A rise of businessmen in the city also contributed to the extension of the city.
Those in the government bought big plots in Gulshan and Dhanmondi and developed them as residential areas for the affluent, leading to the opening of big markets. Thus Dhaka city extended hugely in the north and by 1971, when Bangladesh became independent, the new Dhaka was already five or six times bigger than the old Dhaka.
Our area, Moghbazar, was then in the middle of the old and new Dhaka. The area of Moghbazar is quite immense, but I am not sure why it is known as Boro (big) Moghbazar as I am not aware of a Choto (small) Moghbazar. There are both Boro Katara and Choto Katara in old Dhaka, but in Moghbazar, there is only Boro Moghbazar.
Dhaka after 1971
As the capital of an independent country, Dhaka has naturally evolved rather quickly after 1971. The present Dhaka is extended up to Tongi and is gradually moving towards Joydevpur. Foreign embassies and residents of diplomats are spread over Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara-Uttara areas. Many high rise buildings can be seen in modern Dhaka. Many developers are operating in Dhaka by building residential flats in high rise buildings. Although Dhaka has not extended in the east as much as it has in the north, it is likely to have extensions in the east as well, thus leading the city to become a mega city.
 A title given by the British to some distinguished Muslim families in British India
 Bangladeshi currency
 A prominent philanthropist in Bengal in the 18th century
 A title given to an Islamic scholar
 Inhabitant of Dhaka
 A prominent educationist, writer, philologist and linguist of 20th century.
 Secretariat building of Indian State of West Building which originally served as the office of the writers of the East India Company.