Dhaka was a quite city at that time and there was a lot of greenery in many parts of the city. There were some dedicated men in the city who felt the urge to enlighten the people and society in the greater interest of the newly-born country. The memories of the nine-month Liberation War in 1971 were still vivid in their minds and also there were many stories about the war telling of both joy and sorrow. They were working within their own capacities to contribute to the painful process of nation building. Abdullah Abu Sayeed, a professor of Bengali literature at Dhaka College, was one of them. He had already been active carrying forward a literary movement and also became a popular television personality by anchoring educational and entertainment programmes on Bangladesh Television.
Professor Sayeed was eager to encourage the reading habit among the students and raise a debate or discussion among them to widen their horizons of thinking. He was of the view that reading different books-fiction or non-fiction-and talking about the books would gradually open up the minds of the people. Thus he initiated a small study circle on December 17, 1978. The venue was a small auditorium of now the National Academy for Educational Management (NAEM) beside Dhaka College. The idea was simple. Members of the circle would read a selected book throughout the week and met at the weekend to express their opinions and observations about the book they had read. Thus Bishwo Shahitto Kendro (BSK), the world literature centre, started its humble journey. Within a short span of time thanks to overwhelming response, Sayeed and his associates felt that activity needed to be expanded. Thus the nationwide enrichment programme has kicked off focusing on schools and colleges. In the meantime, the Kendro has found its own permanent address at 14 Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue in Dhaka. It was a one and a half-storied building with a green yard surrounded by trees and flowers. This scribe was a member of a college-based reading programme through which he got an opportunity to listen to and interact directly with Professor Sayeed. Moreover, being a student of Dhaka College, this scribe had also experienced direct teaching of the professor who is being applauded as one of the most successful teachers in Bangladesh. His spell-bound way of talking and delivering his speech with a combination of humour and thought makes him an unparalleled personality.
With his unending endurance and high optimism, Professor Sayeed has taken a series of steps to spread the book reading and discussion programme across the country. He and his associates had to face a lot of obstacles to advance the programme in this semi-conservative society. Tireless and creative efforts of Mr Sayeed earned him admiration from hundreds of students and youths while many others were also moved.
Professor Sayeed has been on a specific mission with a clear vision for his institution, Bishwo Shahitto Kendro. 'We need enlightened humans' became the motto of the Kendro. To make classics, creative and thought-provoking books easily available it has launched its publication wing. To take the books from door to door, the Kendro has introduced a mobile library service. In Dhaka, a library with around 0.2 million (two lakh) books is well-established now. Besides book reading and discussions, cultural activities like listening to music and watching movies have also made their way into the list of programmes of the Kendro. In fact, over the last 40 years, BSK has designed, developed and implemented a number of cultural and educational programmes for all. It has been conducting its operations and activities from a nine-story building with an area of 57,000 square feet in Dhaka. The building was constructed with a grant from the education ministry of the government of Bangladesh.
Being a versatile and imaginative man, Abdullah Abu Sayeed actually has transformed the activities of the BSK into a social movement for illumination of the human beings in this country. He goes beyond educational and cultural boundaries by actively participating in social movements to protect environment and ecology.
This scribe reminisces those days of his college study circle programme. One unique feature of the programme was to note down different sentences quoted from books given to the participants. On the inaugural day, Sayeed sir said that the quotations from the books would indicate the choice and outlook of a reader. He also mentioned that the exercise would appear as a pleasant thing long after the completion of the programme. This scribe has preserved the notebook for around three decades. During the eve of the 40-year celebration of the Kendro, when this scribe goes through the notebook, it makes him pleasantly nostalgic. His only younger sister, Tamara Kibria, was also a member of the college programme in Narayanganj.
Even after formal completion of the reading programme, some of our mates actively remained engaged with different activities. There was also a tradition of naming different batches of the college programme. Our batch was known as 'kochi atel' meaning young intellectuals indicating that members of the batch would be mature intellectuals at one time! The Kochi atel batch has, however, proved the worth of the name by working for the Kendro. For instance, this batch edited and published a book titled Otikranto (passed) to mark the celebration of the Bengali calendar year 1400. The small book briefly presented development of education, culture, politics, music, fine arts, drama, newspaper and literature in Bengal during the 100 years (1301 and 1400). This batch also published another book titled Juddho Juge Juge (Wars in different ages).
In fact, Sayeed Sir and his Kendro provide a wonderful platform for thousands of young men and women so that they can cultivate and develop their level of intellect by pursuing the habit of reading, debating, writing and thinking. That's why a number of patronisers and sponsors always have extended their helping hands to support the continuation of the never-ending journey of the Kendro. The institution owes them a lot and they are also equally indebted to the institution. Having millions of well-wishers, it requires no evaluation of the success or failure of the Kendro.