Salman Rushdie has said, "The difference between a memoir and an autobiography, as far as I see it, is that a memoir is there primarily to tell one particular story, whereas an autobiography tries to be a full account of a life." What Zakiuddin Ahmed, a do-it-yourself entrepreneur and not a professional writer, has penned is his autobiography, not a memoir. His monumental autobiographical book titled 'Sriti- Bismritir Aami' is completely in tune with what Borris Becker has once said. The world-famous Australian tennis player has said, "An autobiography is not about pictures; it's about the stories; it's about honesty and as much truth as you can tell without coming too close to other people's privacy."
One of the legendary Zaki-Mosharraf duo, Zakiuddin Ahmed has penned, blow by blow, his own eventful life along with that of his lifelong business partner Mosharraf Hossain. He is not a litterateur, but the prose-style he has followed in the book gives a moving picture of his childhood days, the turbulent times he has witnessed and the interactions he had with a large section of leaders of the then society irrespective of different political hues. He, along with Mosharraf, had such a magic wand that personalities of those bygone times had lost no time to feel at home with them. Although Mosharraf Hossain is now resting in heaven, all those great personalities - still living in their respective glory - missed no chance to be with Zakiuddin Ahmed at the largely attended book-launching ceremony at Gulshan Club in Dhaka the other day. All his classmates and close associates were there and one could feel the warmth of yesteryears even on that day. On the stage were eminent persons -commanding heights in their own right. Professor Emeritus Dr Serajul Islam Choudhury, Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, Dr Momin Chowdhury, Mostafa Zaman Abbasi, Dr Enamul Haque of the National Museum-fame, Hasnat Abdul Hye and Sheikh Shahidul Islam appeared to have returned to their old days while sitting by Zakiuddin Ahmed on the dais. They all reminisced about the greying past and let the younger guests present there know that the book served as a solid bridge between the past and the present.
The Zaki-Mosharraf 'twin' has a lot to offer to the younger generation in terms of halting the ongoing dangerous erosion of moral and ethical values in society. They have shown, as written in the book, that they did never go astray despite being born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Instead they lent credence to the fact that only hard work with a little bit of perseverance and imagination could make one succeed in his or her life. That good company could still yield rich dividends is amply evident from the lives of Zakiuddin Ahmed and Mosharraf Hossain. One can easily understand their bent of mind by learning that at the beginning of their career they chose to publish first a periodical, and then a monthly, called The Concept of Pakistan. In those days of Pakistan, the Zaki-Mosharraf duo could rightly choose a brilliant student of erstwhile East Pakistan --- Mizanur Rahman Shelley, to edit the magazine. And Shelley did his job admirably.
What was very significant was the fact that The Concept of Pakistan could expose quite effectively the economic repression let loose by the then Pakistani rulers on erstwhile East Pakistan. The authoritative articles and features written by intellectuals of those days could take the monthly magazine to newer heights of excellence. And then came the Forum, edited by Hamida Hossain, wife of Bangladesh's first Foreign Minister, and one of the authors of the country's Constitution --- Dr Kamal Hossain. It was in fact a joint venture of Prof Rehman Sobhan and Dr Kamal Hossain. This writer too had tried his hand in writing articles for The Concept of Pakistan and the honorarium he used to get per article helped him immensely in pursuing his studies at Dhaka College and Dhaka University.
There are hundreds of history books dwelling on the socio-political-economic scenario of Dhaka in the pre-1971 days, but almost all these are research-oriented taking facts from other books and articles. And here Zakiuddin Ahmed's book 'Sriti-Bismritir Aami' makes a remarkable departure from the others, as the author goes by the truth --- "seeing is believing." The book is an eye-witness account of the events by the author as he saw those taking place, and he was even involved in some of them. He saw the developments as a person who was born and brought up right here in Dhaka. He witnessed the rise of Dhaka from what had been limited to its older part to its present status of a mega-city. That is why the autobiography is a credible testimony to the fleeting events of those days.
Zakiuddin Ahmed began his life as a toddler and emerged as one of the leading 'humane' entrepreneurs, and his autobiography can certainly provide the 'elixir of life' to the new generation. He has narrated how he joined Mosharraf Hossain as a 'conjoined twin' and then travelled a long way as a publisher of magazines, the owner of a prominent advertising firm called 'Barnali' and then in the setting up of the manpower export company 'Bay Eastern'. Together, they had even helped establish the mass circulation daily The Financial Express. In all these ventures, the Zaki-Mosharraf twin had left indelible impression of their arduous but successful journey as businessmen. Both of them were instrumental in implementing the concept of Islamic banking by sponsoring, along with others, the Islami Bank.
'Sriti-Bismritir Aami' also sheds light on many political events of those days. Zakiuddin Ahmed narrates here his eye-witness account of a move to have Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman freed on parole in the Agartala Conspiracy Case to attend the Round-Table Conference (RTC) arranged by President Ayub Khan. He has seen in his own eyes how Mosharraf Hossain unmasked such a secret move to Aminul Haq, elder brother of Sergeant Zahurul Haq. At one stage, he along with Aminul Haq and Mosharraf Hossain met Bangabandhu and gave him a vivid description of the mood and sentiments of thousands of people then marching the roads to get him freed. At that time, Tajuddin Ahmed and Begum Fazilatunnessa Mujib were there to see the conspiracy unfolded. Convinced, Bangabandhu changed his mind on going to attend the RTC and refused to be released on parole. The history of the mass upsurge took a dramatic turn following this event. Had Bangabandhu been trapped in the quagmire of the RTC, the history of Bangladesh could have been otherwise. Zakiuddin Ahmed makes no secret of who the conspirators were.
The 468-page book is priceless if the detailed narration of rare events, hitherto unknown and directly witnessed and encountered by Zakiuddin Ahmed, is considered. Moreover, its style is lucid. When one starts reading the book, s/he will feel excited as if the reader himself or herself were a fellow traveller along Zakiuddin Ahmed. This reviewer fully agrees with eminent writer and former member of the Civil Service of Pakistan Hasnat Abdul Hye when he told the book-launching ceremony that he was first struck by the 'jumbo size' of the book. But once he started reading it, he went on without pause and had gone through the book till its last page. The flavour of Zakiuddin Ahmed's writing is so magnetic that a veteran writer like Hye had to leaf through all the 468 pages of the book in a breathtaking mood. After all, the author has unearthed the past of Dhaka and the turbulent political and social events of those times for all to savour.
Zakiuddin Ahmed has enriched the skinny list of autobiographies in Bangladesh. Many others too were gifted with such eventful memories. Veteran journalist Mashir Hossain (Hiru Bhai) of the Dainik Bangla was one of them. This writer used to request him at the National Press Club when he would enlighten those around him with vital information on Dhaka to write a book in this respect. But he did not. His rich stock simply vanished with his sudden death. Zakiuddin Ahmed deserves our kudos because he has written and published his autobiography in his life-time. He has done it in spite of the general reluctance to write autobiographies. Stephen Hawking once said, "I don't want to write an autobiography because I would become public property with no privacy left." But Zakiuddin Ahmed has published his autobiography to make his 'privacy' public.