The Test of Time - my life and days
- Victoria College, Cooch Bihar
Like the general administration of the country, educational policy and to a large extent educational management too was controlled by the Government in those days. The anti-government and anti-British agitation in the wake of the partition of Bengal had received enthusiastic support from the students.
As already mentioned I passed the Entrance Examination in the year 1906, known amongst students as the “Year of Massacre”. Though my Entrance Examination success was hailed with joy by the entire family it created for me more problems than it solved. A teacher of mine suggested that I might seek an appointment under the Zemindar of our village, others suggested that I might apply for the post of a Sub-Inspector of Police, which I could easily secure. Any such appointment would have been of great financial help to my father who was finding it more and more difficult to maintain the growing family. But my ambition for higher studies was so strong that I could not reconcile myself to the idea of accepting an appointment however lucrative at that early stage of my career, though I did not know how higher studies could be financially practicable for me. My father fully sympathised with my ambition but his heart sank when he thought of the expenses involved.
I consulted my Persian teacher Moulvi Muhammad Ismail who gave me encouragement and said that I might join the free College at Cooch-Behar where he had an acquaintance who might provide me with board and lodging. I readily accepted his advice and my father also gave his approval. With great difficulty my father could collect for me a sum of rupees thirty, and armed with that small purse and a letter of introduction from Moulvi Muhammad Ismail, I started for Cooch Behar probably in the month of May, 1906. The journey was very interesting. Our servant Meghu who had become a member of our family carried my luggage consisting of a small bed roll and a steel trunk to the Khankhanapur Railway station a mile and a half to the north of our house. I had to change train at Rajbari and again at Poradah from where I went to Saraghat where the board-gauge lien ended. The Hardinge Bridge had not yet been constructed. A Ferry steamer took the passengers from Saraghat to Damukdia ghat on the other side of the Padma. At Damukdia the metre-guage line commenced. I travelled from Damukdia upto Gitaldah by a metre-guage train and from Gitaldah I had to travel upto Cooch Behar by a narrow-guage train. This was the first time I saw a metre-guage or a narrow-guage train. Compared to the board-guage engines and coaches, the metre-guage and narrow-guage counterparts looked like ridiculous pigmies and I felt greatly amused.
On reaching Cooch-Behar my first disillusionment was that the soil there, which I had imagined to be of an altogether novel composition was more or less like the soil of our own place and this one factor made me feel at home. Some very fantastic notions existed amongst the people of our locality regarding Cooch-Behar and its people. Another pleasant surprise was that the language there, though different in certain respects was essentially the same as spoken in our place.
There was no one to receive me at the Cooch-Behar Railway station and I had to hunt out the house which was my destination. On reaching the house I found it overcrowded. There were already quite a number of students who were residing there. Some were members of the family. Some were relations. And there was one, named Abul Khair Muhammad Ebrahim who was a stranger like me. It was only natural that I could not be very enthusiastically received in circumstances like these. But I had no other alternative than to stay on till I could find an alternative accommodation about which I had no idea at the time.
I came to learn that Moulvi Abdul Halim, the Persian Professor of the College used to do his best for students placed in circumstances like mine. I met him and got a very warm and sympathetic response from him. He took a fancy for me and from that very day began the search for a suitable situation for me as a residential student-tutor. About two week elapsed without his efforts being rewarded with success and he advised me to stay in a mess for some time before he could find out a place for me.
So I removed to the only Muslim students’ mess housed in a few thatched huts in an outlying part of the town. As the little money with which I had gone to Cooch Behar was almost exhausted, at the advice of Moulvi Abdul Halim I wrote to my father to do his best to send me a sum of forty rupees. I received the money in due course but I was distressed to know latter on that the money had been collected by my father with the utmost difficulty.
At the mess I became intimate with a student named Tafsiruddin Ahmed who was then a school-student of the top-most class. The intimacy grew up into warm friendship which continued till his death in Calcutta years later.
While at the mess I had no complaint about the living accommodation or the food, but I could not stand one thing. The latrine was so unclean that any approach to it completely upset me and during the 8 or 10 days that I was at the mess, I had eased myself only once in a neighbouring bush.
One day Moulvi Abdul Halim said that he had found a place for me and took me to the house of Akhtaruddin Ahmed, a Sub-Inspector of Police, who belonged to the district of Faridpur. He was not then living with his family and I got an entire hut as my bedroom. The food also was much better. But I felt uneasy as there was no scope for me to give anything in return for the generosity extended to me, since there were no children for whom I could act as a tutor in accordance with the usual practice in such cases.
But I had not to stay there for long. After two or three weeks Moulvi Abdul Halim said that he had succeeded in finding a very good place for me. He took me to the house of Choudhury Amanatullah, a landlord of Cooch Behar. Besides his country residence at Hatibandha in the Mikhliganj Sub-division, he had a house in the town of Cooch Behar. His only son Emdad Ahmed, who was a school student, used to reside there, along with another school student, Abul Hossain who was a relative; there was a servant who used to cook the food and also did the rest of domestic work. The main hut was a big tin-roofed structure with a raised wooden platform as the floor and there was a spacious grass-covered compound at a corner of which stood besides other trees, a big jackfruit tree. I was to act as the tutor of Emdad and Abdul Hossain. When Moulvi Abdul Halim took me to the house, Choudhury Amanatullah was present. He was a venerable looking gentleman aged about 60 with white flowing beard. He was a thoroughly cultured man with a broad outlook and generous disposition and from the very start he not only became a mere benefactor to me but also a guardian solicitous of my welfare. All arrangements were quite satisfactory and I felt very happy.
Victoria College, Cooch Behar, was housed in these days in premises which formerly comprised the Maharaja’s stable. The Maharaja was a native chieftain, and though his state was not large, the then Maharaja on account of his personal qualities of head and heart held an esteemed position in the galaxy of native Princes. The spacious buildings of the stable which at one time had served as an efficient training ground for young hourses, proved equally efficacious in the training of human youth under the able superintendent of an intellectual giant of the age, Brajendra Nath Seal, who was the Principal of the College. As already stated it was then a free College and students had not to pay any tuition fees. After a year or so the College shifted to more suitable new premises and it ceased to be a free College. A monthly fee of six rupees per student was prescribed.
The College had a very efficient staff of Professors. English was my favourite subject and I became particularly enamoured of the English Professor Mr. Joy Gopal Banerjee. His lectures couched in high flown, almost grandiloquent language, delivered extempore, could not but captivate his audience. There were some very meritorious students in the class, namely, Mohini Mohan Sarkhel, Lakshmi Kanta Majumdar, Nalini Kanta Bose and a few others and in the beginning I was diffident as to my capacity to hold my own in competition with them. The first occasion that aroused confidence in me was the annual examination in which I secured the highest marks in English amongst all the students. This also made me an object of admiration particularly amongst my classmates.
In those days besides English and a second language, which in my case was Persian, the Intermediate Course also included Mathematics, Geometry, Trigonometry, Physics and Chemistry as compulsory subjects. I also look up Logic and History which were optional subjects. I did moderately well in these subjects, but in Mathematics and Persian I was below the average. For some reason, at a critical stage of studies in mathematics, I was unlucky to miss some crucial lectures in the class and as I never received any assistance from any quarter outside my class, I lagged lamentably behind in mathematics. In Persian I was a victim of inefficient teaching during the Entrance Course and inspite of the best efforts of my new Professor of Persian Moulvi Abdul Halim I could not sufficiently make up the deficiency.
Amongst Hindu classmates I became particularly friendly with Nalini Kanta Bose of Malghar, Khulna who was amongst the best students in English, besides Lakshmi Kanta Majumdar and a few others. The number of Muslim students in my class was very small. Besides me there were only three others,¾ Muhammad Ali, Bazlay Rahman Sarkar and Abul Khair Muhammad Ebrahim. The greatest intimacy and a very warm attachment grew up with Muhammad Ali who hailed from Domar, Rangpur and was putting up at Cooch Behar with his relation and future father-in-law Moulvi Shafkatullah who was the only Muslim lawyer at Cooch Behar at the time. My friendship with Bazlay Rahma, who later on rose to be the District Judge of Cooch Behar was also quite intimate.
My relationship with Abul Khair Muhammad Ebrahim took an awkward and unpleasant turn. He was the oldest in age amongst us. He hung around our house where I met him first, as an unwanted guest. He used to dress well and was a good conversationalist. His approach towards me was very friendly but somehow or other I felt an inner repulsion against him from the very start.
On one occasion he had come to know that I had drawn from the office of the College some money due on account of a scholars hip. He told me that I was a youngster and might lose the money through inadvertence. I could safely deposit the money with him and take it from him gradually as and when required. I felt something fishy, but in my simplicity I made over forty rupees to him out of which I received back ten rupees in two installments after repeated demands. Gradually I found that he was almost a cypher in the class, except in small talk with his classmates. He did not know even the most simple algebrical forms taught in the High School stage. I felt within that he had not passed the Entrance Examination and told my friend Muhammad Ali about it. But a proposition like this seemed apparently absurd because without passing the Entrance Examination he could not have possibly secured admission in the College. But time showed that my intuition was correct. One day we learnt with great surprise and consternation that Ebrahim was arrested. He was tried, convicted and sent to jail. He did not pass the Entrance Examination and secured admission in our College on the strength of a transfer certificate from the Jagannath College, Dacca, which he had managed to forge.
Sun’s eclipse and my indiscretion
While I was in the first year class and living as a resident tutor at the town residence of Choudhury Amanatullah there was an eclipse of the sun. It was not a total eclipse. I and my pupils Emdad and Abul Hossain took to various devices to see the eclipse. We tried glass blackened with soot. We also saw the reflection thought water put on a shallow plate. After having looked at the sun in this way for a while I looked directly at the sun and found that my eyes could stand it very well. So I lay flat on the unroofed wooden planked veranda and pored on the partly eclipsed sun for quite a long time. When I stopped looking I found that my sight was no longer normal and there was a haze over everything I looked at. Even a nights’ rest did not improve matters and when this condition continued for several days I got alarmed. I consulted the eye-physician in the state Hospital. He rebuked me for my foolishness and said that the damage might be serious. I felt completely upset and wrote a letter of dispair to Nasir, which proved a great shock to him as well as to the members of my family. Luckily things improved in course of time, but the indiscreet act permanently weakened my eyesight though not to a very inconvenient degree. My studies seriously suffered for about a couple of months.
In the schools and colleges of our Province there were two long vacations, the summer vacation (May) and the Puja vacation (October – November). I went home during the Puja vacation. Nasir was then preparing for his Entrance Examination. He found a great change in me. He said I had become far more smart and also more clever in speech. I occupied myself during the vacation, visiting friends and relatives, rowing and catching fish.
My old school at Khankhanapur was also closed. But the headmaster Babu Aghore Nath Roy and several other teachers had not left the station. I used to pay frequent visits to them in the afternoon. A very pleasant surprise was in store for me one such afternoon. My old Head Master Babu Aghore Nath Roy showed me a copy of the English Daily, Amrita Bazar Patrika in which the names of recipients of a number of Government special scholarships were published and the list included my name. Nasir and other friends who were with me at the time were also very happy. But the news was particularly welcome to my father who was finding it extremely difficult to provide me with the expenses of my studies although the expenditure was much reduced on account of my provision as a resident tutor at Cooch Behar.
There was another happy event in our family during this vacation. My younger brother Abu Ahmed was born. As he was the first male child to my parents after five successive daughters, one not mentioned before having died in infancy ¾ his birth was hailed with great joy. The first intimation I received of his birth was from my younger aunt who cried out to me form the hut saying “come and see that longish fingers your brother has got”. Abu has particularly long arms and fingers, said to be signs of courage.
- Encounter with Indian Soldier
The next time I went home form Cooch Behar was during the summer vacation of 1907. Keshab Chandra Dutta II, who was a class mate of Nasir was also a very close friend of mine. He passed the Entrance Examination form our school in 1907 and decided to go with me to Cooch Behar for the purpose of further studies. So we started together at the close of my vacation. In the train we were of course in the same third class compartment. It was either at Parbatipur or some other big station that a number of Indian soldiers boarded our compartment. I was at that time occupying a window seat. One of the soldier unceremoniously asked me to move away from the window so that he might occupy that seat. My spirit revolted within me and I declined to oblige him. When he began to threaten me I asked Keshab in English to pull the chain for stopping the train. Keshab did not dare to do so and repeatedly requested me to yield. As I was still adamant the man pushed me away and took possession of my seat. There was nothing further that I could do. I sat still smarting under the insult and felt awefully angry against Keshab. I felt convinced that soldiers are not really human beings but beasts. But shortly afterwards the offending sepoy showed me a softer side of his character. This first incident had taken place during the latter part of the night. Early in the morning when the train had stopped at a big station the soldier along with some of his comrades got down and plucked some flowers from a row of plants that flanked the platform. On boarding the train again the man smiled at me, gave me some of the flowers with a very friendly gesture accompanied with appropriate apologetic words. Although my mind was still bitter against him, this unexpected human behaviour had a mollifying effect on me and temper quickly cooled down. We parted as friends. I thought later on that Keshab perhaps acted wisely in not complying with my request to pull the chain. But the incident showed how different my nature was from that of Keshab.
Keshab was a versatile person. He was ever jolly and on account of certain peculiarities of his nature he was called ‘Pagala’ (madcap) by his friends. I still recall with unique pleasure some of the hilarious stories with which he used to entertain his companions. After passing the B.L. examination he had joined the bar at the Sub-divisional headquarters at Rajbari but he died only of few years later.
The Test Examination for admission into the first Arts University Examination took place either towards the end of 1907 or the beginning of 1908. I stood first in English having secured sixty percent marks. In other subjects also I did moderately well.
Choudhury Amanatullah at about this time made a unique gesture of generosity towards me. He told me one day that my studies would suffer if I had to act as the private tutor of the two boys who had been placed under my charge and that thenceforward till my first Arts examination I would be relieved of the duty of giving instructions to the boys and that he would engage another tutor for them for this period. I expressed my hesitation to accept such unilateral favour, but at his insistence I agreed.
The examinations over, I came home in March or April, 1908. Choudhury Amanullah Saheb advised me to go back to Cooch Behar for B.A. studies, but I was yet undecided in my mind. I was not satisfied with my performance at the examinations and my first anxiety was with regard to the result of the examination.
The result was out while I was vacationing at home. The result was somewhat disappointing as I could not pass in the First Division, but was placed in the Second Division. I got a star for my essay in Bengali which was an optional subject. I had also got a star for Drawing in my Entrance Examination, which also was an optional subject.
My greatest disappointment was that my friend Muhammad Ali failed to pass the examination.
A very difficult question faced me when the result of the first Arts Examination was out. From the start I had the ambition of studying in the Presidency College which was the premier College of the Province and I felt very much tempted to go to Calcutta to join that College.
On reaching Calcutta I took up temporary lodgings at the hostel attached to the laik jubilee Institution at 29, Mirzapur street, the same place where I had stayed during my Entrance Examination. I received my first shock when I found that the last date for submitting application for admission in to the presidency College had already expired. I should have then hurried back to Cooch Behar, but I did not.
- Scottish Churches College, Calcutta
In July, 1908 I got admitted in to the Scottish Churches College which had the next best reputation. I took up the Honours Course in English along with History and Philosophy as my other subjects. Teaching had started in the classes several weeks before I took admission and I found it somewhat difficult to catch up with the rest of the students, specially on account of the fact that I had no money to purchase all the text books. My mind was also unsettled on account of financial difficulties. I was too poor to stay on in the Jubilee hostel. Seeing my difficulties the Superintendent of the hostel found me a ‘jagir’, the position of a resident tutor at house of Mr. Hassibuddin Ahmed who was then a Munsiff, at Buddha Ostagars Lane. I had to teach three or four boys and had very little time to attend to my own studies.
I used to keep a diary in those days in which I jotted down in short my important experiences. I was then carrying on a struggle against a minor short coming in which the eye was the culprit and I used to jot down instances of that struggle in my diary. One of my pupils surreptitiously went through the diary and built up rumours upon it, which also added to my mental misery.
Hassan Shahed Suhrawardy, elder brother of Mr. Hussain Shaheed Suhawardy was a student of the same class with me and was one of these with whom I became familiar. Sree Kumar Banerjee, whose extraordinary talents had not yet become manifest was also amongst those who had taken up the Honours Course in English. He ultimately rose to be the Principal of the Presidency College. There was also in the same class with me Sisir Kumar Bhaduri who later in life became the prince of the Indian stage and film. I heard him deliver a speech in English in a College function. It was a prepared speech which he had got by heart and delivered without reference to the written text. The speech bore ample evidence of his histrionic talents. Pramatha Bose of my own district but who was not known to me before, was also my classmate. He too, like me later on joined the bar at Faridpur as a legal practitioner.
It was a Missionary College and we had to attend a Bible class once a week. Every student was given a copy of the Bible free of cost. Rev. A. Lomery used to take the Bible class. He was an impressive speaker. To my mind the lectures fell flat upon the alert minds of his young audience because he had mostly to speak in support of certain dogmas which did not appeal to reason. Christian bias was hardly evident in other classes although in one instance a Professor of English while lecturing on Lamb’s Essays on Shakespeare made reference to a fictitious story about the Prophet of Islam derogatory to his character. It might have been however more due to ignorance than bias. Islam and its holy Prophet have been in the past so much maligned by Christian writers that unwary students may be easily taken in and misled to accept fiction as fact.
- My Marriage and Triple Tragedy
My heart bleeds when I ponder over the nerve¾racking financial difficulties that my father had to face to meet the expenses of my education. Had I not gone to Calcutta, his difficulties would have been much less. He was, notwithstanding, as eager for my higher education as myself and was on the lookout for help from all possible quarters. The only possible quarter was matrimony. Some well-to-do persons were anxious to give their daughter in marriage to me on the stipulation of bearing my educational expenses. My old Persian teacher Moulvi Ismail was the sponsor of one such proposal. My father was not only agreeable to the proposal but was eager to accept it. He however probably suspected that I might not agree and so instead of talking to me directly on the subject he sounded me indirectly through others. My reaction was utterly unfavourable and so also was Nasir’s. I went home during the Puja vacation (October, 1908) when all this talk was taking place.
Towards the end of the vacation a new proposal of my marriage was received. The father of the girl, Dr. Bashiruddin Ahmed of village Charnarayanpur which was about a mile and a half to the north-west of the town of Rajbari, actually visited our house to have a look at me. He was a homeopathic doctor and had the reputation of being well-to-do. The first reaction of all of us was favourable. A few days after that I went back to Calcutta.
Negotiations continued to be carried on and Nasir wrote to me about all developments. He also visited the prospective bride’s house and thereafter wrote to me about the accomplishments of the bride. She was good looking, fair in complexion and was very good at her studies. She had already completed the reading of the Holy Quran and was learning Bengali and also a little English. But she was very young, only about 11 years old. He name was Rahatunnissa Khatoon, but later on at the suggestion of Nasir she assumed the name of Rabea Khatoon. Dr. Bashiruddin Ahmed promised to provide for the bride’s dress and jewellery and to bear all the expenses of my education thenceforward. The marriage was settled on these terms. He also made over to Nasir a sum of money for my dress and for a watch and a gold chain as wedding presents. The money was in due course sent to me by money order. The 25th of February, 1909 corresponding to the 13th of the Bengali month of Falgun was fixed as the date of marriage. I had a pink coloured alpaca “sherwani”, a “choga” and trousers to match, prepared. I also purchased a “pagree” inlaid with gold thread, and a watch and a gold-chain from the West End Watch Company. I went home about a week before the date of the marriage.
It was the advent of spring and the natural bloom in my face became prominent. One morning while I was returning home form some where and passing along the courtyard of one of our barber neighbours a woman of the house jokingly remarked, “Look, his face has already assumed the wedding hue”. I came back home with quickened steps !
Very soon our house became more than filled with relatives both male and female. Amongst those who came were my married sisters and their husbands, some of my maternal uncles and my grandmother who was then about 80 years old.
On the appointed day, early in the evening after “Maghreb” prayer, dressed in the wedding costume I was placed in a palanquin sent from the bride’s house. And just before starting, my mother came to me to give me her blessings and quite unexpectedly kissed me on both cheeks to my inexpressible delight though mixed with some feeling of embarrassment. My brothers-in-law and some other youngmen accompanied on foot; the palanquin was carried by four bearers with two extramen for alternation. It took about an hour to reach the bridal house. When the palanquin was approaching the house the bearers produced a peculiar loud vocal music which alerted the entire locality. The rest of the bridegroom’s party, including my father and Nasir, about 20 men in all arrived later by train. The ceremony took place in due course followed by the usual wedding meal. According to the usual custom of those days there was a special gigantic tray for the bridegroom, which along with the wedding dinner was full of a large number of extra delicacies.
I saw the bride for the first time next afternoon shortly before the return journey home. I was taken to the inner apartments and was introduced to my two mothers-in-law, my paternal and maternal grand mothers-in-law and certain other ladies to whom I extended ceremonial salutations and who in return gave me their blessings. My father-in-law then brought my wife with face covered by veil, and formally presented her to me with appropriate words introducing her little hands into mine. She was taken back immediately afterwards.
On the occasion of the return journey there were two palanquins one for me and the other for my wife and my paternal grand-mother-in-law who also accompanied my wife as the latter was so young. My wife was very well-received in our family and everybody was pleased to see the bride. After a stay of 2 or 3 days she was taken back to her father’s house and I had to accompany with a few relatives according to custom. After 2 or 3 days I returned home, leaving my wife at her father’s house.
Although my marriage took place in early spring, the weather had occasional wintry spells. Our relatives who had come to our house on the occasion of the marriage, did not and they were not expected to bring their own beddings. Naturally there was a shortage of quilts and other night coverings, and the consequence was that the members of the family had to do with very scanty coverings during night. A few days after the marriage my sister Mazirunnissa was attacked with fever and pneumonia. Dr. Haramohan Shah of Kholabaria was called to treat her. But all efforts proved futile and she passed away after about a week’s suffering. In her delirium during her last moments she made repeated heart-rending references to me. When she died, her son Nuruzzaman was about two years old.
About two weeks later my third sister Laekunnissa had an attack of high fever. She never rose from the sick bed and suddenly died on the 3rd day,¾ the symptoms indicating that it was an attack of meningitis.
My second sister Badrunnissa had gone to her husband’s house with her infant son some time after the marriage. A few days after Leakunnissa’s death, information came that Badrunnissa had a serious attack of fever. The whole family was alarmed. I went to her house and found her in a serious condition. A doctor of Panchuria was treating her and I went to the doctor several times to bring medicine for her. A few days later I returned home and after the lapse of two or three days I went back to my sister’s house. There was no improvement in her condition. I returned home after a few days stay and while I was at home information reached that she too had expired.
These tragedies occurring in such quick succession cast an ominous gloom over the remnant of our family. My mind was in an extreme state of depression.
There was an apprehension that in pursuance of local superstition particularly prevalent among Hindus, my parents and aunts might be led to connect these tragedies with the marriage, in which case they could never be favourably disposed to the bride supposed to be the ostensible cause of the misfortune. Luckily no such indication was given by any member of our family who always remained favourably disposed towards my wife.
The poignancy of the bereavements gradually diminished in course of time and I began to think of going back to Calcutta to resume my studies. As my studies had received setback on account my long absence from College, there was an apprehension that I might not be able to appear at the B.A. Examination due in 1910 on account of a probable deficit in the percentage of attendance at lectures required by the rules. The question therefore arose whether I should begin a new from the 3rd year class. At this juncture my father-in-law who was himself a physician, advised me to study medicine. My ambition to study in the general line was go great that his advice did not appeal to me.
I went back to Calcutta rather in a dubious state of mind. At this time I came to know that I had been awarded a Government scholarship which I could not avail of if there was a break in my studies. This tempted me for some time to continue my studies in the regular course. But my earnest desire to read in the Presidency College, coupled with the fact that my friend Muhammad Ali after passing the first Arts Examination in 1909 had joined the Presidency College and I would again have the pleasure of being in the same class with him if I too joined that College, made me ultimately decide to join the Presidency College in the 3rd year class, which meant that I would lose one year and would be due to appear at the B.A. Examination in 1911 instead of 1910.
- Presidency College, Calcutta
So I got my self admitted to the Presidency College. I took up the Honours Course in English and my other subjects this time were Philosophy and Political Economy. My friend Muhammad Ali took up the Honours Course in Philosophy, his other subjects being English and Political Economy. English was a compulsory subject for all.
As I was more solvent now on account of the assistance received from my father-in-law I gave up my previous residence at Budhu Ostagar’s Lane where I had to live as a private tutor in lieu of board and lodging and tried to secure a place in the only Government Hostel which was then available for Muslim students, viz. The Baker Hostel. But that Hostel was already full and so I took up temporary residence at the Jubilee Hostel where my friend Muhammad Ali was also staying at the time. Two Faridpur students Abdul Karim and his younger brother Abdur Rahim, sons of Khan Bahadur Abdul Ghani, and Abdus Sobhan, a very meritorious student, were also there. As this hostel was over-crowded I was on the look out for a move to some more convenient place.
After a few months I heard that a new private hostel was started at 26/9, Harrison Road, very conveniently situated near the Sealdah Railway station and shifted there. I got a seat in a very well-ventilated room with windows opening to a spacious vacant field to the south on the other side of which stood the Ripon College premises. My other room mates were my old friend Tafsiruddin Ahmed and Nur-ur-Rahman Khan hailing from village Charan in the Tangail Sub-division of the district of Mymensingh who is now a pleader at Tangail. Abdur Razzaque, an M.Sc. student, coming from the district of Nadia, was the Superintendent of the hostel. Syed Nasim Ali, a talented Philosophy student of the M.A. Class, who stood first in that subject in the M.A. Examination and later in life rose to be the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court was a resident of the hostel. Later on Abdus Sobhan Mahmood also shifted from the Jubilee Hostel to this hostel. He stood First Class in Mathematics both in the B.A. and M.A. Examinations and was appointed as a Deputy Magistrate on the nomination of the University, a coveted prize in those days, and ultimately became the Chairman of the East Pakistan Public Service Commission. Much later, my friend Muhammad Ali also moved to this hostel. My old friend Bazlay Rahman of Cooch Behar also joined later on. Mr. Shamsuddin Ahmed, now an advocate of the Dacca High Court, who was a Minister in pre-partition Bengal was a resident of our hostel for a considerable time.
We lived a very happy life in this hostel and the atmosphere on the whole was edifying though much later I came know to my utter disgust that a section of the residents of the hostel had been contaminated by the vitiated atmosphere pervading the decadent under-world of Calcutta. This small section, which was gradually extending its wings was a menace to the moral life of the rest of the students. I had reason to believe that the evil was quite widespread both among Hindu and Muslim students all over Calcutta.
The Presidency College was the premier College in the Province and it was par excellence a college for the aristocracy. The fees charged from the students were very high and so also were the charge of Eden Hindu Hostel attached to the College. The vast majority of the students were sons of wealthy Hindu landlords and other aristocrats. Admission was restricted to only meritorious students. That some Muslim students also could secure admission to the College was due to the fact that a certain number of Muslim students could be admitted at half fees on account of subsidy received by the College from the “Hajee Mohsin Fund” for the benefit of Muslim students. Mr. James was the Principal of the College at that time and there was a distinguished staff of Professors including the Physicist Sir J.C. Bose of international fame, P.C. Roy the renowned Chemist and the two famous Professors of English, Mr. Percival and Mr. M. Ghosh, the poet who was a brother of the celebrated Hindu savant Arabindu Ghosh and the revolutionary Barin Ghosh.
It was a treat to listen to the superb exposition of Shakespeare by Mr. Percival and to the measured poetico-philosophical lectures of Mr. M. Ghosh.
Amongst my classmates in the Honours class was Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, the famous linguist, Philologist and literature. There was no other Muslim student in this class, but in the general English class and several other classes there were a few Muslim students including my friend Muhammad Ali and Azizul Huq who later in life rose to be both a Provincial and Central Minister, the Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University and High Commissioner for India in the United Kingdom.
I was doing very well in my English class so far the general branch of the subject was concerned. In the annual examination I got the highest marks in the same, but in subjects requiring memorising such as Philology, history of English literature etc. I was far surpassed by Sukumar and several others. It was apparent that most of the students who were sons of rich father had the advantage of private tuition at home and had an ample supply of relevant books. My father-in-law could provide me with money just sufficient to meet only the most urgent necessities and I could never dream of the facilities enjoyed by most other students. I had another drawback in my own nature. I had not the inclination nor perhaps the aptitude to take advantage of our well-equipped College library. Moreover, the atmosphere in our hostel, which was a private one, without any restriction to the movements and behaviours of the residents of Government managed hostels, was not very favourable for steady application of the mind to studies. The distraction were too many for any serious mental work. Apart from normal visits from friends, a good chunk of my time was consumed by the too frequent and prolonged visits of my childhood friend Keshab Chandra Dutta whom I first met when I was a student in the Primary School at Basantpur. He had to give up his studies prematurely and was in Calcutta trying for some job. He harped on his woes and worries for hours together and whole I had every sympathy for him, my mind naturally smarted at such unnecessary wastage of my valuable time. At the primary school I found Keshab to be a very meritorious student, but his talents gradually faded away.
Cyclone of 1909
I went home during the puja vacation of 1909 in the month of October. While I was at home a devastating cyclone swept over the Province. In our locality its intensity was cooperatively less. Yet what I experienced during the dismal night of the cyclone is unforgettable. All our huts were in constant danger of being blown away and not a member of the family could go to sleep. Our cowshed actually gave way. Luckily in the nick of time my father assisted by me,¾ both being drenched from head to foot by the gale-swept torrential rain¾ was able to untie the bullocks, cows and calves, and though some of them strayed away at the time there was actually no loss.
Two memorable events, one a natural phenomenon and the other a family misfortune took place during the year 1910.
- Halley’s Comet of 1910
While I was at home during the summer vacation of 1910 the entire country was alerted by the appearance of the brilliant Halleys’ Comet with its enormous tail. It was an awe-inspiring phenomenon invested with a solemn charm. According to popular superstition it foretells disaster to mankind. The thought that it would next appear in 1986 after 75 years when very few of the generation then existing would be alive used to throw me into a sombre mood pondering despairingly over the mysterious limitlessness of time and space.
Shortly before I was to leave Calcutta for home on the occasion of the Puja vacation in the autumn of 1910 Nasir informed me by a letter that our homestead had been destroyed by fire. I felt very much upset. I went home as quickly as I could and found a heart-rending scene of resolution. The family was living in the open with hardly any bed, except that my father had improvised a temporary shed to accommodate my mother who had given birth a few days before the burning of our house, to a male child who was named Tafazzal Hossain. A few more temporary sheds were erected later on to accommodate the rest of the family.
As far as I could gather the fire was due to incendiarism. It occurred in the evening when my father was not at home. The man suspected belonged to our village. He was jealous of my father and was inimically disposed towards him. He was seen by a neighbour hurrying away from near our house at the time the fire broke out. My father did not think of sending information to the police because the evidence was so meagre.
Some time after our house was destroyed by fire, I went to my father-in-law’s house. Finding me in a very dejected mood by my father-in-law tried to revive my spirits and smilingly said “Do not worry. It is all very well that the old dilapidated house has been burnt up. God willing you will get a new and a better house.” When I returned home he gave me some money for putting up new huts.
My father had already collected some money, probably by borrowing. With that money a tin-roofed house was built on the western site. That was occupied by my parents. The money that my father-in-law had given was spent in erecting tow good thatch roofed houses, one on the eastern site and the other on a new site to the north-west, the latter being used as a multipurpose outhouse. Out homestead assumed a new and a more impressive look and we all felt very happy.
- Faridpur’s First Muslim Honours Graduate
In March or April, 1911 I appeared at the B.A. Examination and thereafter returned home. In June or July, I received a telegram from Moulvi Abdur Razzaq, Superintendent of our hostel informing me that I had passed the B.A. Examination with Second Class Honours in English. It was an occasion for great jubilution in our family. I became the first Muslim Honours graduate of our district.
On return to Calcutta after the summer vacation I took admission in the M.A. English class of our College and also in the Law class in the Ripon College. The reason for choosing the Ripon College for my law studies was two-fold. The said College was situated within a stone’s throw from our hostel. Moreover the Ripon Law college held law classes early in the morning and as such attendance at law classes there did not interfere with attendance at M.A. classes during the usual hours. But to attend both the classes was a great strain both on my mind and body. Muhammad Ali also graduated with 2nd class Honours in Philosophy and was studying both M.A. and Law. Bazlur Rahman, my old Cooch Behar friend was also my classmate again in the Ripon Law College. Professor Janaki Bhattacharjee was our most renowned law-professor.
In those days the post of a Deputy Magistrate was the highest that a graduate could aim at under ordinary circumstances. As I was an Honours graduate everyone hoped that I would be able to secure such an appointment with ease. On returning home during the Puja vacation I went to Faridpur and saw the District Magistrate and Collector Mr. Woodhead. Recruitment to the Executive service in those days was by nomination. Mr. Woodhead seemed to be very much impressed with my qualifications but he told me with regret that no recruitment of Deputy Magistrates would be made that year from our district. He said however that he would favourably consider my case of I applied the following year, or if I applied for post in the subordinate service that very year. I did not feel very enthusiastic about applying for the post of a Sub-Deputy Magistrate, but at the advice of my father, father-in-law, Nasir and others I applied. To strengthen my case my father-in-law took me to Dacca to secure the support of Nawab Salimullah Bahadur. My father-in-law arranged for my interview with Nawab Bahadur through a person known to the latter. There was some talk of a general nature and I do not think the interview proved efficacious in any way, except I got an opportunity to see this renowned personality from close quarters. But I do not know if Nawab Bahadur had kept any note about me.
However, later on I was called for an interview before a Committee consisting of the Divisional Commissioner, which made the final selection. The Committee, to all appearances, was satisfied about my suitability.
The Puja vacation over I went to my hostel in Calcutta. I and my friends, Muhammad Ali, Bazlur Rahman and others, held a long conference one day to discuss the question whether we should try to enter Government service or join the Bar after taking the law degree. Our young minds drew a very rosy picture of the glories and thrills of public career and we decided that we should all join the Bar after taking the law degree and should not accept any service. Some time after we had taken that decision the names of appointees to the subordinate Executive service were announced. My name was not in the list. But it was no disappointment to me in view of my decision not to go in for service. In one sense it was a relief as it saved me from the disagreeable task of refusing to accept such an appointment. Muhammad Ali received a telegram from Government giving intimation of an appointment as a Sub-Deputy Magistrate, but he stuck to our decision and replied back refusing to accept the appointment. Abdus Sobhan Mahmood who had stood first class first in Mathematics both in the B.A. and M.A. Examinations was appointed as a Deputy Magistrate on the nomination of the University, which was regarded as a coveted prize and he accepted the appointment. He was not however a member of the group that had decided not to accept any Government appointment. Later on Muhammad Ali, Bazlur Rahman and I joined the Bar. When I passed the M.A. Examination I heard that Mr. Woodhead, who was still posted at Faridpur as District Magistrate inquired whether I would like to apply that year for the post of a Deputy Magistrate, but in view of our decision with regard to the matter, I did not apply.
- Principal James’s Advice
As I was studying together both for the M.A. and Law (B.L) degrees I could not pay proper attention to either of the subjects and in fact I was paying less attention to my law studies than the M.A. Course. In view of my decision to enter the Bar I thought that the M.A. degree would not be of much use in my career and I made up my mind to give up my M.A. studies so that I might bestow more attention to my law studies. This would mean my departure from the Presidency College. Before leaving the College I thought of taking a certificate from our Principal Mr. James and once I met him, I told him about my intention and asked for a certificate. Mr. James thought that I had taken a wrong decision. He drew my attention to the backwardness of the Muslim community in education and said that as an Honours graduate I had every chance of passing the M.A. Examination creditably and that an M.A. degree would add considerably to my prestige and would also be helpful in my career. I felt persuaded and gave up my intention. I appeared at the M.A. Examination in 1913 and was placed in the 2nd class amongst the successful candidates.
After taking the M.A. degree I wanted to pay more attention to my law studies. But two things stood in the way. My father-in-law who had been financing my studies expressed his reluctance to provide me with further funds on the plea that I could now take up some job and earn the expenses for my studies. He wrote me a pungent letter and I was acutely stung by it. After some effort, I was able to secure the position of a private tutor for the son of distinguished Shia educationist, but the arrangement continued only for about a couple of months. Then I had to take up the position of a private tutor at the house of a hide merchant near Sealdah. They lived in a mudwalled house with a tiled roof, in which I was given a small room opening on a spacious yard which was used for drying raw hide. In the beginning the stench was unbearable but in the course of time I got used to it. For my baths I used to resort, along with other youngmen of the house, to the pond within the spacious compound of the Sealdah residence of the renowned Zemindar Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandi of Cassimbazar. I lived in this house for two or three months after which I got a job as the Assistant Headmaster of the Laik Jubiles High School and moved to the congenial precincts of my old hostel at 26/9 Harrison Road. The Headmaster Moulvi Mahbubul Huq left the school soon afterwards and I became the Headmaster. But my tenure there was neither long nor peaceful. While I was the Headmaster a major clash developed between the Wakf Committee, which managed the school, and the heirs of Mohammad Laik Choudhury, the founder of the school, with regard tot he proprietorship of the school. Abdul Aziz Choudhury, a son of Mohammad Laik Choudhury, was the ringleader of behalf of the heirs. Although legally the Wakf Committee stood on a secure ground, their opponent Abdul Aziz Choudhury was a bully and he forcibly took possession of the institution after a grueling struggle lasting for several weeks. Since I was siding with the Wakf Committee I had to leave when the school was forcibly taken possession of by Abdul Aziz Choudhury.
The kind of life I lived during these hectic months was not at all conducive to my law studies. I left the Laik Jubilee School in April or May, 1914 and soon afterwards the summer vacation came. I went home for a brief period and returned to my hostel in Calcutta to prepare myself for the final Law Examination to be held in July.
But the hostel was then empty on account of the vacation and even the cook and the boy servant had gone on leave. I had to purchase my food from dingy eating establishments at Sealdah and I was lucky that my health did not entirely breakdown. I however, used to study hard, though it was impossible to fully recover the lost ground. However, I did fairly well in the examinations and passed in the 2nd division standing thirty-seventh amongst near about 500 successful candidates.
The Test of Time – my life and days
MAULVI TAMIZUDDIN KHAN