We loved and respected Professor Ahsanul Haque as a teacher. He taught us in the Department of English, University of Dhaka, in the late nineteen seventies and the early nineteen eighties. He was a self-effacing, modest man but a very talented and responsible teacher. Now I feel he was almost perfect at that, a man born to teach. He was also soft-hearted, and passionate. But he was morally strong and courageous during a crisis. No wonder as we students grew older we admired him even more.
Mr. Abul Ma'al Abdul Muhit, Honourable Finance Minister, was chatting with us once during our last annual get-together. He was reminiscing that their class had thirteen students. Replying to a question I had asked, he smilingly remarked that there were as many as four young ladies with them. Then he became very serious and affectionate. “Seraj's class had three outstanding students – Seraj, Ahsan and Mohammad Ali.” I nodded very happily in agreement. Seraj is our great teacher Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury and this Ahsan is none but Professor Haque. They were a year junior to the Minister.
Ahsanul Haque Sir had been meritorious in school and college too, and had been placed fourth in his Matriculation examination. He lived a very simple life. One of my uncles was his close friend. When Sir became a Professor, my uncle asked him, “How do you feel, Ahsan? Any difference?” Sir smiled and quipped, “The butter on the bread is a little thicker during breakfast. No other difference.” My uncle would tell me the anecdote once a year, knowing very well that I admired my honest and upright teacher a lot.
Sir was truly simple but always elegant and dignified. I wonder if he knew or even bothered to understand the corrupt aspects of life at all. We never found him talking loudly, let alone getting angry with anyone. He would have talked smilingly even with his enemy, if there was any such person. He was always a gentleman.
My best memory of Professor Ahsanul Haque is a story of great courage and patriotism. I shall never forget the August 1975 incident during an English Department meeting at the TSC auditorium upstairs to commemorate the two great martyrs of 1971 – Professor Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta and Professor Govinda Chandra Dev. The event took place a week after the gruesome killing of Bangabandhu and his family. The meeting had many brilliant speakers and senior teachers. around twenty five students of the department turned up to attend the meeting. Uttering Bangabandhu's name was taboo then. But being the brave man that he was, Prof. Ahsanul Haque delivered his short speech right after Razia Khan Amin Madam. He said a few words about the martyred teachers and mentioned Bangabandhu as the inspiration behind it all!
We were all electrified by Ahsanul Haque Sir's speech! I was only twenty. We were afraid for him too. Weren't army intelligence people supposed to be present at TSC? But the brave and upright patriot went on saying, “We've killed him! Even his youngest son, a child of ten, was not spared. But he was not a villain! He was our greatest hero! Our greatest patriot! Our people will never forget him!” I just silently murmured, “Hats off, Sir! I shall remember your courage as long as I live!” It was much later that I came to know that Sir had been a very committed Language Movement activist. In 1971 he had been arrested twice by the Pakistani army and was even on on the hit-list of the Al-Badr forces.
Prof. Haque was awarded an MA by Bristol University and a PhD by the University of Dhaka. He was a brilliant researcher, a superb essayist (as his English and Bengali collections of essays and book on TS Eliot will testify) and a wonderful research guide. He was also involved in all sorts of progressive causes. Not only he led the anti-smoking organization ADHUNIK (Amra Dhumpan Nibaron Kori), but also launched a movement to educate illiterate and disadvantaged adults and children, introducing his Bangla Reading Method on how to learn Bangla in three weeks to three months. He wrote almost a dozen books on the subject.
Prof. Ahsanul Haque was the Founder-President of the English Department Alumni Society (EDAS) as well, which began its journey in 1986 and has crossed thirty years as of now. He had been a very active General Secretary and Vice President of Dhaka University Teachers' Association, for two terms in each case. He never failed his students, colleagues and admirers when the call came.
How was Prof. Ahsanul Haque in the classroom? Always well-prepared, always focused. He was well-informed, secular and progressive in his analysis. He was the ideal teacher who enlightened and delighted his students. Soft-spoken but witty, affectionate and curious, he earned love and respect from his students.
The renowned Nazrul buff, musician and essayist Asadul Haque was his brother as was Amanul Haque, the great photographer whose Language Movement photography had turned him into a legend. Amanul Haque was very close to Satyajit Ray and his family and had worked for him too. It's no wonder that he had a great interest in music and painting. He was a passionate lover of Rabindra Sangeet, could sing, and even paint so well that at one point he considered to join Art College after his Intermediate years! Paternal disapproval forced him to give up the idea. A multi-talented man in the true sense of the term, Professor Haque wrote poetry during his later years. He is a progressive modernist in his poems. If only he could devote more time to poetry! Ratribahini Padma is the book of poems that brought him due recognition.
An eco-conscious man, Ahsanul Haque was one of the founders of the Tree Plantation Movement and the government borrowed ideas from him to start their own program. He was closely connected with Chhayanat as well as the Sandhani. He dreamt of eradicating adult and child illiteracy, Born on July 09 1933, in Shahjadpur of Pabna, Ahsanul Haque was eighty-three when he left us on October 02, 2016. Like a Ulysses he drank “Life to the lees.” A bhasha shainik in 1952, a 1971 activist, a brilliant student and teacher, a wonderful writer and poet, even a talented painter and singer, he was also a social worker and philanthropist par excellence. However, I would love to remember him most as an ideal teacher. As speakers confirmed in the departmental memorial meeting held after his death, he was a man born to teach, born to lead the path.
Junaidul Haque is a bilingual writer of fiction and essays.