During the troubled days in Dhaka University more than two decades ago, we often enjoyed 'EL' just as a full-time job-holder does. But this EL was not 'Extended Leave' as it is generally understood; it was 'Ershad's Leave'. The university was often announced closed sine die due to violent clashes among the student groups, patronised by the then ruling party of General HM Ershad. This, though most undesirable, offered us ample time to read books beyond our curricula. I developed a great love for many remarkable books that I came across at that time.
Prof Serajul Islam Choudhury's Amar Pitar Mukh was one such compelling book. It was a book full of real-time experience of a son and his relationship with his father. The book touched me deeply when, later, I saw my father, too, reading it with tears in his eyes. The book first came out in a tiny edition in May, 1980, and later in an enlarged edition in 1999, simultaneously from Dhaka and Kolkata. Dhanshish Prokashani was the first publisher of the book while Annyaprakash was the publisher of the revised edition. I have both the editions in my collection as a memento in memory of my late father, especially the first one.
A regular weekly column in the Bengali daily Sangbad by Professor Choudhury, fondly called ‘SIC' by his students and admirers, in those days attracted me like thousands of readers all over the country. It was his uniquely distinct style - lucid as well as analytical -- that drew such a wide and diverse readership. He would dwell on so many things, social and political for the most part, and the beauty lay in the way he looked at things conjuring up observations that were rooted in his beliefs and commitments.
I would never miss the weekly column of SIC's in the Sangbad. By then, I came to know from my elder brother poet Mashuk Chowdhury about Professor Choudhury's earlier books such as Anweshan (The Quest 1964), Dwitiya Bhuban (The Second World 1974), Nirashray Grihi (The Homeless Homemaker 1974) and Pratikriyashilata Adhunik Ingreji Sahitye (Reactionary Trends in Modern English Literature). Both my father and elder brother were avid readers of his another column titled Uparkathamor Bhetorei (Within the Superstructure) that used to be published in the weekly Bichitra, where he scathingly criticised the many anomalies and contradictions that often define our social and cultural nuances.
Meanwhile, I began to attend different seminars and symposiums held in the Dhaka University campus only to be spellbound by Professor Choudhury's analysis of social issues.
Later Professor Choudhury authored a good number of books during our graduation and post-graduation period and I collected many of them to enrich my thinking. So far, he has written over 100 books which reflect the kind of objectivity that has always endeared him to his niche readers. A recently published voluminous book, Jatiyatabad, Sampradiyakata o Janaganer Mukti' (Nationalism, Communalism and People's Emancipation) attracted me like many of his thought-provoking writings I had read earlier. It is a chronicle of the turbulent socio-political scene prevailing in pre-partition India and the events that followed the partition.
I now realise why he did not aspire to fulfil his father's wish to become a CSP officer in those days. He always loves to be a reader. He strongly believes that a library is the temple of learning and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history. Had he been a CSP officer, there would not be so many books intricately woven with our past and future, authored by him. He also successfully escaped the bureaucratic treadmill by not becoming a CSP officer; rather he dedicated his whole life in the pursuit of knowledge and rendering his thoughts in books and instilling his ideas of moral and ethical standards into the hearts of his students in the English department of the DU.
Prof. Choudhury carried in his heart a favourite quote of his father: an average teacher tells, a good teacher instructs and a great teacher inspires. He indeed belongs to the last category. We get inspiration from him to do something good for the welfare of our country and also for the next generations.
Yves Bonnefoy, one of France's most esteemed modern poets, who died in mid-2016 at the age of 93, once said: a poet's job is to show us a tree, before our mind tells us what a tree is. Professor Choudhury, now an octogenarian, similarly shows us a beacon through many of his literary achievements.
He edits the Natun Diganta, a periodical on literature and culture that features thought-provoking articles on various issues. The readers love the journal, partly because it is edited by none other than the most notable luminary of our time. On his 81st birth day, we wish him a long life so that the silver lining that he is in our decadent social structure remains as bright as ever.