Sitting under the cool shade of the large chestnut trees by the playground of Notre Dame College, students read, chat and take some rest from their otherwise hectic day. When ripe chestnuts fall, they pick those up promptly, but they never shake these fruits from the trees. The giant Gagan Shirish trees, located opposite the Harrington Building of the college, are home to countless birds—living in an undisturbed, harmonious environment for generations. Every spring, hundreds of flowering trees such as plum, naglingam, magnolia, rose and Ixora bloom and adorn the beautifully landscaped premises. This is how the students, teachers and staff of Notre Dame College, for generations, have been paying respect to the college's natural aesthetics and to Professor Dwijen Sharma, the institution's former teacher and an eminent naturalist, botanist and writer who spent years designing the institution's beautiful landscape and planted most of the trees with his own hands.
“Even long after my retirement from the college, I used to visit the campus just to sit under the trees, to enjoy the sounds of a thousand chirping birds. Amidst trees and flowering bushes, in total isolation from human noise, I would be absorbed by the absolute silence of nature. It was so beautiful, silent and pure,” said Professor Sharma in a speech given to his disciples of Notre Dame Nature Study Club.
Professor Sharma passed away on September 15, 2017, leaving behind his family and numerous disciples. Never again would the plants and animals that he loved like his own family members receive the care of their loving patron. Never again would the trees that he planted all over Dhaka city feel the loving caress of their devoted champion. “I know almost all the trees of Dhaka. I can locate where they are and can tell you how they grew,” said Professor Sharma once.
Sharma developed an emotional attachment to nature from his early childhood. His ancestral home in the lap of the hills and Madhabkunda Falls in Moulavibazar district gave him the opportunity to enjoy the untouched beauty of nature. “On my way to school, I would explore the jungles. I would collect wild flowers and pick wild fruits. One of my favourite fruits was wild guava. I have never seen such guavas and their bush-like trees in my life since. In the jungles, I have faced herds of wild elephants many a times,” recounted Sharma to his students of Notre Dame Nature Study Club.
As a student of Notre Dame College and the vice-president of Notre Dame Nature Study Club, I met Professor Dwijen Sharma in 2009 when he was already 80 years old. Even then, he never looked old or tired. Whenever we asked him to take a session for the students, he happily agreed to come to his favourite campus and take a tour around the college, sharing his personal stories with each of the trees. “In 1965, I planted these shirish (Brahmaputra Rain Tree) trees to teach my students about the Fabaceae family. See how they have grown! The way these trees fold their leaves when it rains and in the evening is one of the greatest wonders of nature,” he said on one of those tours. He would walk all around campus without any assistance, and proved that he was more energetic at that age than many of his young students.
Professor Sharma was also a great philosopher and writer. He was introduced to Marxism during his undergraduate years at Calcutta City College. His book Shomajtontre Boshobash (Life in Socialism)—which explains socialist theories in simple, lucid Bengali—is considered a classic. Professor Sharma was also famous for his ability to explain complex topics of science in simple Bengali. His books Shyamoli Nishorgo (Green Nature), Phulgulo Jeno Kotha Bole (Each Flower is a Word), Jiboner Shesh Nei (There is no End to Life) and Biggyan Shikkha O Daiboddhotar Nirikh (Science Education and Our Responsibility) are considered some of the greatest works of science literature in Bengali.
As a teacher and educationist, Sharma played a key role in organising the education movement of 1962 in protest of the Sharif Education Commission Report which suggested that Bengali would be taught and written in the Roman alphabet. Due to his role in the protest, Sharma was locked up by the Pakistani government in the local police station for three months.
In 1974, Sharma concluded his teaching career at Notre Dame College and joined Progress Publishers at Moscow as a translator. In 2000, he returned to Bangladesh and joined Asiatic Society's Banglapedia project as the Editor of Biology. Professor Sharma has been honoured with many awards including the Bangla Academy Literary Award (1987) and Ekushey Padak (2015). Despite these recognitions and his busy schedule, he led a humble life and loved to spend time in nature with his students. He used to say, “I want you to love the purity of nature; I would like to teach you how to preserve nature without harming its beautiful harmony. Remember, even learning to decorate your home with plants and trees is a great lesson and can contribute a lot to preserve nature.”
Professor Sharma's teachings and works have taught us to value nature and its beauty. He was the pioneer of the nature study movement and nature education in Bangladesh. He is no more with us but his ideals and teachings will stay with us forever.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org