Dreams and Realities: Reflections of a Bangladeshi
1st Dr. Alimullah Khan Memorial Lecture
The Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh
January 20, 2004
Fazle Hussain, Ph.D.
Hugh Roy & Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Houston
Houston, Texas, USA.
e-mail: [email protected]
Just like a man is judged by the company he keeps, so is a society regarded by the calibre of the people it chooses to honour.
By deciding to start a Memorial Lecture series in honour of Dr Alimullah Khan, the institution of Engineers, Bangladesh (IEB) has defined itself. I know of no engineer or scientist of Bangladesh who has contributed more and is more worthy of such recognition than Dr. Alimullah Khan.
Furthermore, by selecting people of the stature of Dr. Anwar Hossain and Dr. Shohrabuddin Ahmad to confer its highest honour, the IEB Gold Medal, this great Institution - with which I was very closely involved and for which I have a great deal of respect - has reaffirmed its commitment to very high standards.
These honourees set the level of excellence up to which all other Memorial Lectures and Gold Medallists have to measure.
Recognition by one’s peers and one’s own people is the hardest, and typically comes at the last, if at all. I am immensely grateful to IEB for the great appreciation it has shown me by asking me to give the 1st Dr. Alimullah Khan Memorial Lecture and by giving the Gold Medal to me as well, which I will always cherish with great pride and joy.
1. Dr. Alimullah Khan: his life and legacy:
This talk is in memory of Dr. Alimullah Khan – a great engineer, academic, scholar and researcher, administrator, visionary, organizer and leader. Son of a high school headmaster and born in Comilla in 1929, he graduated in mechanical engineering from Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur in 1949 and received MS in 1959 and PhD in 1963 - both from the University of Michigan, USA. He started his teaching career as a lecturer in Ahsanullah Engineering College (AEC) in 1950 and became professor of mechanical engineering at BUET in 1965.
In 1966 he left the teaching profession to become the first Project Manager of Machine Tools Factory. He left government service in 1969 along with his notable associates, Dr. F. U. Mahtab and Dr. Zahedul Alam, to start his own consulting firm, “Prakaushali Sangshad Ltd”, which played critical roles in various major projects in the early development of Bangladesh. After liberation, he became the Chairman of the Steel Mills Corporation for a short while, before returning to the stewardship of Prakaushali.
The brilliant engineer passed away on June 11, 1984 in London at the age of 57.
A life Fellow of the Institute of Engineers, Bangladesh, he served IEB in various significant roles, including being its Vice-President more than once and its President in 1978. He was an influential and positive force as a senate member of BUET and Jahangir Nagar University. Though fairly short, his career – which included advanced training in UK and USA – spanned the whole gamut: research, scholarship, teaching, engineering and technology (particularly manufacturing and machine tool technology), business, administration, and leadership roles in academia, in industry and in the topmost national profession society. How can any one match his chequered life and legacy? Few can aspire to achieve all this in multiple lifetimes.
None who has met Dr. Khan can ever forget him because of his incredible charm, astuteness, sharp intellect, his uncompromising commitment to excellence, absolute integrity, blunt honesty, and dominant personality. He was highly moral, courageous, outspoken, always standing up against any unfairness. I feel he should have been recognized by professorship at BUET sooner. He was extremely hard-working, absolutely serious, and totally incorruptible: the ultimate professionalism personified. His indefatigable devotion to truth, excellence and decisiveness brought him in conflict with the reality time and again. It was a matter of principle, apparently triggered by an unfair interference from the ministry that caused his unanticipated departure from the Steel Mills Corporation.
He was particularly notorious among the students, to whom he was universally known as “The Field Marshall” (he was also called “The Royal Bengal Tiger” by some students in awe of his commanding personality), not only because he served as “The Marshal” at the Annual Sports Day, but also because students felt he acted as one. It’s well known that his intimidating personality drove away some students not only from mechanical engineering, but some from engineering for good – surely a favour to the profession and to the students who obviously lacked the commitment and tenacity to go through the rigour of being trained as an engineer. He was unusually strict, always sticking to his guns; he would set clear deadlines for projects, heavily penalizing, as promised, any who dared to be tardy (students were too scared of him even to think of it). Although at that time I felt such severity was unwarranted and was a display of excessive authority and showmanship, I actually feel on hindsight that he imbibed in us a clear sense of professionalism and respect for timeliness and efficiency. We Bengalees indeed needed such a strict disciplinarian as a task master. In reality, a mechanical engineer needs to be precise: the factor of safety in aerospace and mechanical engineering is much tighter than, say in civil engineering.
All students were terrified of ever confronting him as it was impossible to win against him because of his sheer power of persuasion, or of approaching him for any concession or leniency (students were usually more interested in getting by less work than acquiring knowledge). He was merciless in adhering to principles of straightforwardness and honesty and never minced his words, saying the harshest things just the way they were with a smile on his face. His infectious candour and fierce independence had an indelible impact on my psyche.
I must assert that if you are mentored by the likes of Dr. Alimullah Khan, Dr. V.G. DeSa and Dr. M. H. Khan (this session’s chairman) and inculcate even a small fraction of their rich attributes, which I have definitely attempted to, you will do just fine. I can say with full confidence that few ever have the privilege as we had of having these three dedicated teachers as role models; those who didn’t have them would never know what they have missed. All three had tremendous influence on me and my personality, and I am infinitely indebted to them.
I will give an anecdote. In my first year at AEC, he was as usual the Marshal on the Annual Sports - a crowded, probably the most significant event on the campus. As he was inspecting the athletic track boundary he noticed that a student, struggling to have a clear view of the impending 100m run event, stood with one foot within the rope bounding the track. I was the announcer for the event and happened to follow the Marshal. He stopped, stared at the student and commanded fairly loudly: “Will you remove your leg or shall I?” The student of course meekly withdrew his leg and felt totally decimated, left the field and apparently never set foot on the AEC campus again. His stern style was a part of his agenda of teaching how to really stand up to authority figures. At least that’s what I learned from him.
He was undoubtedly the toughest teacher in the history of the Ahsanullah Engineering College and BUET. Although no student could know all the teachers in the history of AEC and BUET, all who have ever taken a course from him will believe that this is most likely true.
He had a penchant for cutting through the chase and get to the heart of the matter. This he actually demonstrated consistently in all aspects. His deep competence was reflected by the fact that he was equally comfortable with concepts, theory, mathematical analysis, experimentation, laboratory protocol and real-life engineering and technology. Although his main strength was in Applied Mechanics, he was also highly savvy in manufacturing processes, production engineering, materials and management – an incredible blend. He was a champion of fundamental concepts; there was no chance that a student weak in fundamentals would ever escape his immediate detection, let alone pass his course. When asked by young colleagues (i.e., former students), he admitted that he did indeed often ask questions whose answers were unknown to him or he himself wasn’t sure what the answers were. He wanted to examine how a student thought in problem-solving situations – the real arena of engineering. I considered this to be the hallmark of a true scholar: a probing mind without any fear of making mistakes, particularly in front of students. He took all responsibilities with utmost seriousness and did them with full vigour, without wavering.
Under the veneer of being utterly tough and strict, he happened to be rather understanding, particularly to the better students and when he was convinced that the student was genuine and had a justified reason to default. He introduced the honour code and would entrust the students with ethics. Once he happened to have an important meeting come up in parallel with his invigilating in an exam. He asked the students to write on top of the exam script “I neither helped nor received any help in preparing the answers” and then sign it. Students signed and he left the exam room entrusting the students with the responsibility of not cheating; this was unheard of at that time. Actually, no one tried to talk or cheat. They lived up to the trust of the professor. Although students feared him intensely, he was a pleasant conversationalist, having amiable relationship with friends and family. He enjoyed literature (particularly reciting Tagore and Nazrul) and photography.
2. His influence on me:
Dr. Alimullah Khan had a profound impact on me personally. When I was a new lecturer and taking his MSc course in parallel, I would often talk to him seeking his wisdom. He actually encouraged it.
Then I was able to get an offer to go to China for graduate studies and a Fulbright scholarship to study in USA. In view of my having been a left-leaning student leader (I must assert that I was never aligned with any political party and openly advocated that students should not be pawns in the hands of political leaders), it seemed obvious to me that I must go to China, and I decided to do so.
Dr Alimullah Khan summoned me and said with a smile: “I understand that you are going to China for higher studies. If you want to learn more communism, that is a good choice. But if you really want to learn science, I think you should go to America.” I meekly withdrew from his office feeling flattered that he cared (though he, like some others, thought that I was going to be a communist leader), but felt a bit hurt as I took his unprovoked comment as a rebuke and a direct challenge to my idealistic beliefs (it appeared that many could not distinguish idealism from following some established ideology).
Because I held him in very high esteem, I pondered over his comment for some time and decided to explore the possibility of going to USA. I then got from him and our prior principal, Dr. Waqar Ahmed, the addresses of their graduate schools: Michigan and Stanford, and also three other schools (I don’t recall which they were). It is now amazing to me that at that time I had no idea about these schools or the concept of differing perceived qualities of different schools. I would have tried Cambridge University or Imperial College(of which I knew then, the latter being the graduate school of my research advisor, Dr. V. G. DeSa) if I had any financial support to go there. I was very desperate to go for higher studies as soon as possible and was apprehensive about ever getting the chance to get a scholarship (I wasn’t awarded a few others I applied for; among them was the highly coveted Commonwealth scholarship). Time was slipping by.
3. Going abroad:
Stanford’s admission happened to come very quickly, perhaps because Dr. Waqar Ahmed wrote a recommendation letter. Also, on guidance from Dr. DeSa, I had developed a research focus on plasma dynamics in which Dr. Waqar Ahmed and Dr. Alimullah Khan told me that Stanford had a major effort. I accepted the offer promptly as there was no time to shop around, nor had I had a reason to wait to weigh other possible admission offers as all of them seemed at that time to be the same to me. I had no concept of program rating. So, while my choice to go to America was influenced by Dr. Alimullah Khan, my choice of Stanford as my graduate school was completely accidental. I could have easily gone to a much lesser renowned school without knowing any difference among the schools I happened to consider at that time. In the middle of my research at Stanford, I became well aware of the fact that magneto hydrodynamics (MHD) power generation - my area of MS research - was a highly esoteric field even for USA and USSR, with virtually no possibility of its being used in Pakistan. As I was determined to return to Pakistan after my PhD and be of use to the country, I decided that I must change my field to a relevant, classical field and then chose fluid dynamics, in particular turbulence, as the topic of my research for PhD.
When I was giving the opening Lecture at the 2nd ACFM (Asian Congress of Fluid Mechanics) in Beijing in 1983, I started with a dramatic statement, “It’s an accident that I am not a Chinese but am an American”. The audience was surprised and most didn’t believe that had I gone to China, I would have stayed on there in search of greater scientific challenge as opposed to that available in Bangladesh. Looking back, it’s clear that most probably I would have done that. It seems that it was a good idea that I didn’t. I have to credit Dr. Alimullah Khan for a very important piece of advice, which has radically changed my life, even my identity.
4. Growing up:
Born in the middle of nine children, supported by the meagre income of my father who worked as a rice research assistant in the government agriculture laboratory, I grew up in poverty. Father was stern and aloof. We talked to him only when talked to. He had chronic asthma, which was the cause of our extreme concern and panic during his frequent severe attacks. Mother was very loving, but between her cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, and feeding the different children at different times, we had to share her time with beggars who also revered her as their adopted mother and would visit her often and unload all their personal details and miseries; they came not to beg but to spend some time with mother, to receive solace and sympathy from her, which they got plenty. She would feed them whenever possible. I was quite close to mother and was always amazed at how she remembered the names and many details of even the relatives of numerous beggars. She had infinite compassion and empathized with their problems.
Neither could I afford to play badminton which most of my contemporaries played, nor there was any time. I was taking care of our cows (source of milk for the family) and growing vegetables in the spacious yards around the house (watering them by lifting water from wells and carrying water to the plots were very demanding); both were staples for the family. These chores would take quite a few hours a day, often in the dark at night.
5. High School and College:
For financial reasons, I had to go to the cheapest schools, never knowing any better anyway. The break came at the establishment of a new school with modern building, Tejgaon Technical High School (now I think is called Intermediate Technical College) to which ASM Quasem and I moved in 1954 from Tejgaon High School at the start of Class 8. Quasem (I never understood why he switched from English medium to Tejgaon High School) and I were competing with each other not only there, but also subsequently at Dhaka College and BUET in mechanical engineering. We have remained close friends all along and since.
I was an extremely shy boy, always being conscious that I was the youngest in the class and never really having had much of a childhood, having been pushed through double promotion twice and merely making the passing grade. Father probably wanted us to work and have earning power as long as possible before the mandatory retirement age. I had no skill in speaking, let alone in English. Highly introverted as compared with my two older brothers who were both excellent speakers and were active in all local cultural functions, my total focus was to eke out a modest career to enable me to earn a livelihood; the sole challenge was to find a way to survive with dignity. I remember while standing in line as a boy scout in the High School, a visiting dignitary asked if I wanted to be an engineer. I said: “Sir, I want to be a technician.” I knew no better at that time. Soon after joining the Technical High School, our popular but strict headmaster, Mr. Quazi Ambar Ali, was retiring. The students selected me to speak at the farewell ceremony, most probably because I was the top-ranked student in the senior most class. I panicked but struggled to prepare a modest presentation. When called, I went to the dais and struggled to say what I had planned but froze: not a word came out of my mouth. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I came down from the dais, feeling totally humiliated and shattered by letting the students down. Mr. Ali knew that we all admired and appreciated him, but I could not forgive myself. I vowed to overcome stage fright and never allow myself to be embarrassed like that.
While Mr. Ali was the headmaster, I became a close disciple of Mr Razzaque – a pleasant, friendly and suave young teacher. I remember feeling a sense of devotion to all the teachers I adored, as if by osmosis I was going to absorb their qualities. Strange on hindsight, this personality of emotional attachment and trying to soak up wisdom from others seemed to have stayed with me forever. When Mr. Razzaque went to England on training, he maintained contact with me through letters. This had a very encouraging effect on me. On his return, he became the headmaster. He was accessible and had frequent interactions with me and other students. He subsequently became the DPI of Bangladesh. During I.Sc. studies at Dhaka College, I was not particularly visible, although I was in awe of Manzur and Maniruzzaman as they were prolific in debating and literary activities. It was immediately clear to me that they were headed to be political leaders. Among all students in Arts, Science and Commerce at Dhaka College, the person getting the highest marks was given a prize. Mizanur Rahman Shelly, the top student in Arts and the topper in Matric, seemed unhappy when I was given the prize as he felt that marks in science were higher than in arts. He had a valid point.
In the 2nd year in Dhaka College, I joined UOTC (University Officers’ Training Corps); I was already a corporal when I joined AEC where UOTC was compulsory for the first year students (an admirable move by Dr. Rashid); as all students start at the cadet level, I was automatically one of the commanders and eventually rose up to RSM, the second highest rank! I applied to the Pakistan Army for being commissioned as an army officer, but was rejected after I went to Rawalpindi for the final interview. Although I took it hard at that time (I was apparently declined for being short), as this was the first unambiguous rejection that clearly stared into my face; yet this is one failure that was truly good for me, as subsequent events proved that military would be too much discipline for me to adopt. I should have known better as Capt. Haleem Chowdhury, Commander of UOTC, had some difficulty earlier in putting me in line when I openly complained about food at the camp. He was a true gentleman, and I feel sorry that I indeed overreacted in an imprudent manner. I just seemed to have a tendency to stand up to authority and challenge any perceived autocracy.
Misfortune seemed to follow me often. In High School, I prepared meticulous notes postponing preparation for the last moment, as procrastination seemed to be the rule rather than exception with me, as it is even today! Just ten days before the Matric exam, there was a burglary in my house. Only thing stolen were my notes and only from my room. It was too late to recompile the notes and I had thought seriously of dropping out, but then took a chance. I fell severely ill during my I.Sc exams and had to take the exam in sick bed. I was ranked first in Matric (Tech) and third in I.Sc finals. I gained some confidence that I had probably genuine merit. I actually never felt that I was more capable than others.
6. AEC and BUET:
My career and subsequent evolution were a result of a sequence of accidental choices and not at all a result of careful planning; I think this is the case with most people. I first got admitted into Economics at Dhaka University (somehow I was fascinated by the role of economics in planning and nation building, hoping also to compete in the Civil Service after graduation; that seemed to be the way to go then) and then finding out that the first rank holder in ISc, Nripendra Nath Chakravarty, went to physics, I chose to switch to physics, as if I must prove to myself if I was truly any less! (I tried for tripos but was told that this very difficult route of simultaneous Honours in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics had been discontinued for many years. Looking back, it was strange that I tried for tripos as Chemistry was my Achilles’ heel; I had a very hard time memorizing those formulas and had a very low score in Chemistry in ISc; that chemistry had some logic wasn’t apparent to me then.) Soon Nripendra left for Germany for higher studies in physics. I found out that all the remaining top students interested in science went to engineering.
I felt I will face more competition (as it appeared that I thrived on competitiveness! And I would go nowhere without any serious competition. Little did I know then that the only person I must compete with is myself) in engineering and so there’s where I must go, and then I joined AEC. My roll number was high, 225 in a total of 240 (courtesy JRC) in the first semester in AEC because I joined late. By the strange hierarchical system my roll number from second semester till graduation was 1. Once you get no.1, it seemed to be an obsession that you must remain no.1. This can be severely unhealthy. But I didn’t know any better. I always envied Jamil as he was an all-rounder, surrounded by a large number of very good friends who were also quite well off (perhaps nothing unusual for the BD scene). I didn’t have the class or the affluence to belong to this “in-crowd” club. It turned out that I didn’t have the time to spend in this elite, highly social group, which also spent significant time together playing ping pong, badminton, tennis, billiards and a lot of camaraderie. I have since been accepted by this great group and I indeed appreciate their friendship.
7. Can-do approach:
UOTC helped me in two ways. It forced me to do the almost-absent physical exercise and gave me some much-needed endurance and stamina (I was always feeble and sickly, getting cold very easily). Engineers need it sorely (not only for the arduous projects, drawings and reports as a student, but also on the job). I think this emphasis by Dr. Rashid was very good, although most students – intellectual and lazy alike – hated it. UOTC was very good for me personally as the role of being sergeant major helped me to come out of my shell and introverted ness. My humiliating experience of trying to say a few words in public at the farewell of our headmaster in high school loomed very prominent in my mind. I became determined to change myself so that I could speak. Simultaneously, I was having pangs of rebellion against Dr. Rashid’s tyranny; it appeared that he was running AEC with iron hand, totally intolerant of any one having another opinion.
Anyway, the point is – which I often mention to my students even these days – that you can do whatever you decide to do. My eagerness to overcome my shyness and to stand up for student rights and champion their cause seemed to be my calling. The shy boy was shy no more. I became the Editor of the BUET’s Students’ Central Union in my 2nd Year(1961), General Secretary in the 3rd Year(1962) and Vice-President in the 4th Year(1963)(VC was the President). There was an outburst of extra-curricular activities (clearly unreasonably too much, indicating an excessive obsession). The conflict with Dr. Rashid heated up so much that it was affecting the senior teachers. The entire cabinet of the Students’ Central Union, except me as the GS, resigned soon after election. I refused and carried on with all the responsibilities of the Union the whole year. The sustained conflict, purely on matters of principle, took a heavy toll on my health; I was a broken man physically, but not mentally. I was simultaneously carrying my work as a Varsity Correspondent (for the years 1960-63) of the Pakistan Observer (Mizanur Rahman Shelly was the other Correspondent), both reporting to Mintoo Bhai (Enayetullah Khan)), which was my only source of income (paid one anna per line of news written by me).
So I declared in 1962 that I did my share and much more already, and I wouldn’t run for the position of VP of the Central Union. I didn’t run, as promised. Md Anis, who had won the position of Joint Secretary the previous year, won the GS position, but no one filed for the VP position. This was strange as these were turbulent years and the consciousness of the BUET students were heightened at that time. There was never a dearth of candidates wanting to be the VP, the head of the student body. I was told that after my record as GS, none felt that he (no female student at EPUET yet) could match it. I wasn’t impressed. After a few days, Prof Kabiruddin, Chair of the Students’ Union summoned me to tell me that I was chosen VP by acclamation and that I must accept it. I declined it and requested him to call for VP election again. He did, but none filed again. I ran out of excuses. That’s how I became VP.
My additional, concurrent activities involved being President of the Literary and Debating Society and President of the Student Chapter of the Institute of engineers, Pakistan (IEP). I participated in the BUET annual drama (I chose the role of not the hero as I was determined to further shatter the “goodboy” image and took the role of a naughty man, heroine’s brother-in-law) which seemed to receive wide appreciation. It was indeed a good drama, and I had fun doing it. I won the Governor’s Challenge Cup at the 1963 Inter-University Debating Championship (I happened to draw the OPPOSE side of the topic “Third World War is Inevitable”). I concluded that I must have presented a convincing rebuttal, as I was nowhere near as good a speaker as the others. I also won the first prize at the 1963 Speakers’ forum on Science organized by the Pakistan Association for the Advancement of Scientists and Scientific Professions, where I drew the topic: “Energy Resources and Energy Problems of Pakistan”. This showed that I was able to become a reasonable speaker, an achievement beyond my own expectations. It proved to me that you can be whatever you want to be: self-engineering.
8. Dr. M. A. Rashid: the Principal and the Vice-Chancellor:
There were many conflicts between me (mostly as the student leader) and Dr. M. A. Rashid, the renowned principal of AEC and then the first Vice-Chancellor of the East Pakistan University of Engineering & Technology (later BUET). Much has been said and much has been speculated about this conflict. I think this is a good forum where I must state the facts as I know and try to set the record straight. The circumstances behind the apparent and open conflicts were not known to others. As I have been maligned by some un-informed, so was Dr. Rashid on some matters as well. I will surely give him credit wherever it’s due. Some engineers told me over the years that mainstream politics entered AEC during my student leadership. This is misinformation as I helped bring in more national awareness among AEC students, but was myself a staunch opponent of national party activities entering AEC campus, and openly criticized the use of students as pawns in the hands of political leaders.
For years Dr. Rashid, the Principal, ran AEC (Ahsanullah Engineering College) with absolute authority and ran all aspects of the place with an iron hand. He was actually popular with the Education ministry for maintaining strict discipline and for fiscal conservatism (apparently returning money because he felt some expenses were unnecessary). Few teachers, let alone students, had any say. Students and junior teachers feared him and would say little in his presence. Senior teachers either surrendered to his unquestioned power or kept quiet about their not seeing eye to eye with him. It was common knowledge that he didn’t have complete acquiescence from Mr. Rashid, a Civil Engr. Prof. and surely not from Prof Najmul Haq. The three ME professors I mentioned and Prof Mohsin Ahmed, all of mechanical engineering and Prof Waqar Ahmad of electrical engineering were the giants, who seemed to maintain peaceful co-existence with Dr. Rashid.
On my arrival at AEC, I found Dr. Rashid’s style overly controlling, unduly repressive, and like that of a village chieftain, often petty. AEC was a small place, and our paths would often cross (it’s also possible that I gravitated to the centres of power or “the source”). The students were treated poorly, shepherded like sheep, and expected to act like minions. I wondered: why should the best brains of the country be treated like slaves? Treating engineering students like little kids wasn’t the way to train them as future leaders (that was at least my goal for going to AEC). Though rather young, I felt this must be stifling creativity. Without creativity we will be just technicians, which I didn’t want to be any more. I became rather resentful of the teachers, but found that all roads led to him. They mostly followed what he told them to do. They either knew nothing better or didn’t think it was their place to do so.
It’s surprising that in a very short time after I started at AEC, I happened to have a few run-ins with Dr. Rashid, which progressively convinced me that he developed a strong dislike for me. I will recount a few incidents that I remember.
9. The first encounter:
In the first year, my room (along with five others: Khalil, Mamoon, Maudood, Anis and Towhid) happened to be precisely the current VC’s office in the old main hostel. In the large number of community latrines, there was no water when flushed. Complaints at the hostel office made no difference. I felt this was a big problem that needed to be brought to the attention of the “boss”. I went to see the principal; Dr. Rashid cordially consented to let me into his chamber. After hearing my anxious complain, he said: “Hyder Azam, your superintendent, should be able to fix them; he’s a sanitary engineer.” I felt it was an arrogant dismissal of my serious request, and on top of it, a serious put down of our friendly super. Those days, super didn’t look after these details. When I meekly protested that professor shouldn’t be fixing latrines, he said: “what’s wrong with that? He needs the practice”. Dr Rashid did indeed order them repaired some time later (as nothing moved without his approval), but his tyrannical response left a bad taste in my mouth. I was stunned by what appeared to me to be his derogatory treatment of another teacher in his absence, knowing well of course that he wouldn’t hesitate to say the same thing in his presence. I left with a clear sense that maintaining order was more important to him, irrespective of whether the students are suffering or not. I have often seen him eager to teach the teachers, whether students were around or not. It’s now clear to me that he actually felt that teaching the teachers (often it was teaching them a lesson) was his job.
Being somewhat disorganized, I was neither efficient, nor punctual, sometimes being late (except in the class of Prof Jabber, who would inevitably decimate a student if he showed up even a few seconds late. It just didn’t appeal to me to be such an essential part of pursuit of knowledge or of excellence. I always wondered why he put so much emphasis on that. Perhaps the concepts were more important.) One day, I was coming to a class a bit late. Dr. Rashid happened to be patrolling the corridors (I always felt at such moments that the jail guard was making the rounds to check that the prisoners were behaving). Seeing me rushing to class and recognizing me, he yelled at me to stop, summoned me, and asked who was the teacher of the class that I was supposed to be in and which room the class was in. He rushed to the room (I sheepishly followed the dictator) and motioned the teacher to come out to see him. Dr. Rashid told him with his characteristic reprimanding look and tone that he mustn’t be teaching well or anything useful, otherwise this boy wouldn’t be wandering around outside. I protested that it wasn’t sir’s fault, but by that time the subject of his wrath was the teacher, not me. It seemed he was waiting for an occasion to give some lesson to this particular teacher.
There was another interaction in which Dr. Rashid was indeed justifiably irritated with me. In my third semester, I happened to get excited about the recently-invented Wankel engine. I was so excited that I wanted to immediately jump into a project of building an engine at EPUET and develop the concept further. I realized that it would demand a lot of resources: some materials and mostly labour (which we had plenty of). Dr. Rashid seemed surprised as he hadn’t yet known about my usual habit of thinking out of the box. He told me that he wondered if I had enough background to undertake this sizeable project. I said that if he supported it, I would get into details and learn all that’s necessary. I have no doubt that I would have. I pushed harder, he resisted harder. I wasn’t at all convinced that he did the right thing. I was highly disappointed by his rejection, but was grateful to him for listening to me. I feel I would have done something significant with it.
10. Early awakening:
Something happened that gave me an early view into the psyche of Dr. R. Not much after I joined AEC, we had the brilliant, impressive, youthful, incredibly charming, recently promoted full-professor of physics at the Imperial College, Abdus Salam, come and visit as a Special Speaker. Totally uninvited, I got highly motivated to interact with him and interjected myself into the host group. We were happy to have two perfect gentlemen as our leaders: LK Siddiqui (VP of the Students’ Central Union) and Ahmedul Ameen (the General Secretary). I talked with them and offered to help with Prof Salam’s visit, which they welcomed; we all got busy converting the large drawing room upstairs into a make-shift auditorium; in the process we chatted and agreed that Prof Salam would be requested to speak on something like: “some possible technological implications of his breakthrough research and also his personal experiences in his journey as a physics researcher”. I think he came prepared to talk on that. Prof Salam, Dr. Rashid and Mr Siddiqui sat on the dais. Dr R took the microphone, mumbled his unnecessarily modest welcome (I expected a much more gracious and glowing greetings), but then stunned us all by asking Prof Salam to speak specifically on: “the daily life of a student at Imperial College”.
I was aghast by the insipid greetings (the greater the man, the more polite he’s supposed to be, I had known) and by this arbitrary imposition of such a mundane, meaningless topic. As I quickly suspected, Salam appeared caught by surprise and grudgingly struggled through some unfulfilling comments about what a student might be doing each day. Is that a topic for Salam to talk on? I asked. I distinctly recall being both ashamed and embarrassed. “That says we’re a bunch of technicians”, I said it to myself. Is this why we were so excited about Salam’s visit?
What did we get out of it? What did he? I had the distinct feeling that he felt, as I did, that it was a wasted time for him. We were excited about his visit for no reason: he was asked to say nothing and he politely complied. It is possible others have a different take on it. At best I can attribute Dr. Rashid’s behaviour as jealousy. But I felt Dr. Rashid’s blatant jealousy was unwarranted as he never came across to me to be a brilliant thinker (although he had a sharp memory in selected matters), let alone being a scientific brain even remotely of the calibre of Abdus Salam. This is what I thought then; I haven’t found any reason to change my mind.
Preceding and during Salam’s visit, I felt Dr. R was not sufficiently deferential to Salam and actually seemed quite resentful of the tremendous outpouring of adulation exuding from the students for Salam. It should now be clear that Salam did indeed deserve such high regard, and students should be given credit for having had the right values flocking around and mobbing him. I felt proud that we knew how to honour our own. I did wonder: should these brilliant students be turned into minions or morons through endless hours of hard labour in survey fields, machine shops, and carpentry and foundry shops? During the thousands of hours of drawing projects (in mechanical and civil engineering projects), spending many sleepless nights, I often struggled to understand what was the point.
11. Other encounters:
After the new university was announced, there were two important events that decidedly soured him on me. At the installation ceremony of me as the new General Secretary (the largest indoor event on campus attended by faculty and students) of AEC’s Students” Central Union, just immediately after the announcement of EPUET, I asserted at the assembly that University of Engineering & Technology was not a good name. and that it should be University of Science & Engineering or Science & Technology, as science must be at the core of this new university. There can be no good engineering or technology without mathematics and physics. (I emphasized this privately to Dr. Rashid earlier, and I repeated this twice in open lectures.). He viewed that to be beyond student comprehension and thought it was impudent on my part to talk on that matter. I disagreed with him then and also now. He took this uninvited assertion as a criticism as he was involved in the National Committee to recommend the formation of the two universities of engineering and technology.
The second event concerned my job as the Varsity Correspondent of Pakistan Observer, the major English daily at that time. I was very proud to have been already a student of this new university of science and technology and wrote a big article profiling its Vice-chancellor along with a large picture of him. I obtained bio-data from reliable sources and was happy with the article. Dr. Rashid summoned me. When I appeared, he seemed quite upset although I was sure I did a good job. He told me that I should be studying rather than wasting time writing such articles. He insisted on knowing who provided the facts on him. I told him that as a reporter that was my secret. He then got louder and asked who told me that he got MS in 1947 and PhD the next year. I actually hadn’t noticed this striking information, but now quickly realized that this was his closely guarded secret (totally unknown to me). I told him if there was any factual inaccuracy, the paper will surely publish a corrigendum. He remained angry as I withdrew. It stuck in my mind that there must be some question about his PhD. I never pursued the matter although I have heard comments about “wartime quick PhD” and also the opposite: his was a DSc, much higher than a PhD. The latter wasn’t at all true. We always tend to exaggerate to feel good but seldom judge the depth or get experts’ confidential evaluations. His contributions in East Pakistan engineering education was significant, but only experts in civil engineering can objectively judge his citations and the true depth of his contributions. We should probably do so and give him his due. If his contributions were notable, we should say so.
12. Conflict in style:
My high school headmaster, Mr. Ambar Ali, was somewhat strict, but nowhere near as much. Mr Razzaque was like an older brother, he was endearing, and caring; he played badminton with students. At Dhaka College it was total freedom: large mass of students taking very large classes from a few teachers who were on campus mostly to meet classes; they were like western professors, totally detached from any involvement with any student, who can do whatever he/she wants. As a result each left the other alone. At AEC, I found a problem: we’re pawns in the hands of a control freak, who seemed less interested in educating and promoting thinking and more in regimenting and controlling. This is the beginning of my problems with Dr. Rashid: a conflict in style not in goal. I was OK with it, he wasn’t. He took my push for more student rights and reasonable flexibility as a direct challenge to his rule and authority, which had remained intact for years and he wasn’t about to give in. Hence started a series of confrontations. The more he wanted me to disappear the more I was pushing for reasonable rights and privileges for students.
Just after my election as GS, once police came and cordoned the new hostel and arrested about 200 students. They were detained in a police compound across town. In view of my various almost endless meetings with student leaders from Dhaka University and Medical College, I happened to be not in the hostel at the time of police invasion and was thus not arrested. When I heard of the arrest, I was very upset, particularly because they were being held overnight in the compound. At about 2 am, in the dark of the night, I came to the Vice-Chancellor’s house and rang the bell. He opened the door, with a startling surprise on his face. I wasn’t invited in, but I requested to just step inside the door so that police or anyone looking wouldn’t find out that he was talking with me. I appealed to him to have sympathy for the students and get them released. I was convinced that he could get them released if he wanted. It seemed he was bent on teaching the students a lesson for their then rowdy behaviour. He said with a straight face, ”young man, they came for you and arrested them instead because you slipped away. You should go and surrender.
All the students will be released immediately once they catch the real culprit.” His cold response pained me althoughit didn’t surprise me. I didn’t see any connection between the police raid and me, and didn’t believe they would have released the students. I was not sure I will be alive if caught by the military. I didn’t go the police as there was no warrant.
I was getting very unhappy about the poor facilities: classroom, laboratories, hostels, living conditions of the students, too few toilets in the dorms to accommodate that many students during short breaks between endless lectures and sessional classes, unsanitary kitchens, waterlogged passage between dorms, no sanitary canteens, emphasis on just busy work and not thinking. I felt this wasn’t really what engineering education should be. How to bring some semblance of scholarship, thinking, and reasoning?
13. Gen. Azam Khan: a turning point:
I decided we were not going anywhere with Dr. Rashid and must tap a higher power, someone who cared and who would do something. Meanwhile, as the GS I met the governor, Lt Gen Azam Khan, who appeared to be genuinely interested in bringing about some improvement in East Pakistan, not just facilitate Ayub Khan’s rule. I decided to contact the popular and friendly governor who was also the Chancellor of the University. I approached the military secretary who seemed offended that a student dared to call him directly. I told him that there was no need to go through the Vice-Chancellor as it was
students’ living conditions that the students wanted the chancellor to see for himself if he really cared about the students. Azam Khan accepted to visit 10 days later.
The word somehow reached Dr. Rashid (nothing ever happened on campus that he didn’t know as he made it his busiuness to know all details) who challenged me, saying that I have no business contacting the Governor. I politely said that I did so only as the elected leader of the students as he was the formal head of the institution. He said that as Vice-Chancellor he should have been informed (I didn’t say that if he was informed, he would surely not allow it, and the students would never get to tell him of their grievances). I told him that yes, as the VC he has the right to call the Chancellor and tell him not to come and cancel the visit. He understood that I was ready to call his bluff.
Dr. Rashid, instead, got very busy getting the big drawing hall that was under construction to be ready as we didn’t have an auditorium, finishing plastering, whitewashing, installing ample lights, fans, etc. His keeping construction costs low by returning money to government was catching up with him. There were frantic works going on round the clock so that this boss of his, well known for spotting incompetence and inefficiency, doesn’t find any fault with this great academic leader. I really took pity on Dr. R. as he seemed extremely nervous, less by the fact that the student leader upstaged him by bringing the Chancellor to the campus which he himself had failed to achieve ever, but more by the fact that someone having an authority over him will, for the first time judge him first hand. I do not think Azam Khan had any plan to change EPUET stewardship, but Dr Rashid’s response suggested that he may have felt that his job was at stake. Or may be this lad with deep political connections is manoeuvring to get someone to take his job. I had nothing of the sort in my mind.
I must say that Dr. Rashid refrained from punishing me severely (including rustication) as he was wrongly convinced that I had close ties with Maulana Bhasani (who I never met), Hamidul Haq Choudhury (I happened to meet him at times as a worker at Pakistan Observer, which he owned; he never discussed politics with me; he knew me only as a good student) and some others. I did have some contact with Mr Mujib, initiated by him. Student leaders were often invited to meet with him, less often invite by the other leaders. It was mutually beneficial as most student leaders had political aspirations. I didn’t have. I wouldn’t go, but would catch up with the gist from Enayetur Rahman from DUCSU and Ahemd Zaman from Medical College Students’ Union. Once I did meet with the Bangabandhu. Seeing me, he thundered, but with a smile, “You have become a Laat Shaheb, don’t come when called”. I said with a firm but surrendering tone, “Sir you’re in national politics, concerned with the whole country. I am elected by the students to air their grievances to the authorities. I have nothing to do with you.” He probably took offence but clearly understood that this boy wasn’t like other student leaders (later). He left me alone since then. But Dr Rashid’s misfounded belief that I had deep connections with the mighty (he must have thought, why else is this boy so arrogant with him? Challenging his authority all the time?) worked actually as a blessing for me: it may have actually helped me as I was neither rusticated nor my scholarship cancelled (my only subsistence other than my income at Pak Observer, was actually held back for a year, causing me severe financial hardship).
An hour before the Governor’s late afternoon visit, Dr. Rashid came to the Hall where I was busy organizing the chairs for the audience, setting up the lectern, testing the microphone, etc. When I greeted him, he said, “Why two chairs on the dais? Where will I seat?” He understood I was planning to seat with the governor. I said: “Sir, you will seat on that special chair in the front row. This is a student event, although you are definitely invited.” He then asked his assistant to put the third chair on the stage, in line with the other two. I told him that I had discussed with the governor’s military secretary the seating arrangement, and then put his chair back at the front of the audience seating in the big hall. After receiving Azam Khan downstairs, Dr. Rashid. was standing next to me and also greeted the governor, when I brought him to the hall, I was stunned to find that again there were three chairs. Dr. Rashid quickly escorted the governor to the dais and made him sit on the middle chair, he himself sat on one side, leaving the other chair next to the lectern for me. I quickly enquired as to who put the third chair. I learned that while I was waiting downstairs for the governor’s arrival, Dr. R himself climbed the dais with the heavy chair in his hands and he himself reset the chairs, before he came down to join me in receiving the governor.
I felt Dr. R was interfering in my serious effort to substantially improve the inhuman living conditions on the AEC campus and to uplift student morale, as they deserved better. I recalled vividly how my and other students’ enthusiasm on an earlier occasion was hijacked by Dr. R., who successfully ruined the student exuberance for Prof Salam, and turned his visit into a non-event. So I came on full gear, perhaps overreacting. I was aware that virtually all faculties (seated in the front) and most students and staff were there, struggling to be within the big room to be able to hear the governor. It was a packed house.
14.Should I or should I not?
I gave a long speech, outlining the hardship of students on EPUET campus, the extremely poor academic and living facilities on campus, extremely insufficient toilet facilities even in the New Hostel (the latest, where there were often long lines of students waiting to use toilets; somehow I was offended by that scenario: short break but long lines of people standing in line with badnas in hand. The daily scene. How much more humiliating can life be?) In my speech I became somewhat insolent in making it clear that this hostel was designed by the country’s prominent civil engineer, Dr Rashid himself. Almost an open warfare, as if to settle the score, to fight back for all the humiliation and torture that the students were facing, hoping that only such unpleasant words were needed to stop the torment. I think Dr. Rashid had tears, not from caring for the students, but from the “insult” in front of the boss. I was sad then, sorry later. I was indeed torn between standing up for the students’ right versus being courteous to Dr. Rashid. I wanted to do both, but found it impossible.
In the same speech, I mentioned that scholarships had been held back for about a year by the VC, causing undue hardship for the students. I also mentioned that during the arrest of the students in the New Hostel some articles were found missing from the student rooms. I emphasized the importance of engineers in the building of the young nation and that engineering students deserved a cafeteria, an auditorium, much better facilities, classrooms, laboratories, seminar rooms, etc. Then I invited the Chancellor to visit the dorms.
Dr. Rashid was neither invited to speak by me (I felt justified because most grievances were really about him) nor did he make an effort to do so. He seemed highly shattered by my attack. Also, he was intimidated by Azam Khan’s personality and was hoping that Azam Khan would ask him to respond or speak. He didn’t, presumably not to embarrass Dr Rashid any more.
In his speech, the Chancellor accepted all the demands. In particular, he ordered the VC to release all the scholarships immediately (actually done). He also ordered that some hostel rooms be converted to toilets (done within a few months, now unnecessarily too many toilets!). He promised to refund all demands of missing articles (I did receive a large cheque from him at the Governor’s House; the picture was published in the Pakistan Observer with a sensational caption: ” Engineering varsity general secretary,Fazle Hussain, receiving from Governor Azam Khan a cheque of Rs 10,000 to replace articles stolen by police during raid of university hostel.” In my excitement while I was writing the caption as the Varsity Correspondent late at night, I got carried away. Clearly “stolen” was a unjustified defamation. I should have known better.
The sub-editor in charge of checking the caption trusted me and didn’t get to check at the last moment. The editor, Abdus Salam, and the news editor, A.B. M. Musa, summoned me in to the editor’s office; both told with a very sad face that the caption I slipped in would severely cost the newspaper. Musa bhai then looked at me and with a stern face told me that the sub-editor and I were fired. I understood the great harm I did and left with a great sense of shame . Of course, after three months I was summoned by Musa bhai who reinsted me.
He then went with me (the VC and many students following) to inspect the Plassey hostel (tin sheds with brick walls). As it was after a regular rainfall with some drizzling going on, there was water. Azam Khan had to walk over a plank to go from one the hostel to the dining hall. He told me that he did not fully believe me when I spoke earlier, but thought the situation was actually worse. He told me the country needed good engineers, but with good mental and physical health (parroting what I said in my GS speech).
15. Mission accomplished:
I felt the mission was successful. We got the much needed airing of our significant grievances to the highest authority of the province. (During my six years on campus, I never saw another Chancellor set foot on it.) All the students felt victorious. Dr Rashid took it very hard. He found his unquestioned authority and his firm grip on the entire campus slowly fade. He held me totally responsible and could never forgive me. The facilities on BUET campus were poorer than on the DU campus, they were much poorer before. I do not believe without my tenacious push and fight, BUET campus would be anything near even as nice as it is today.
Though I became VP, I focused on my research on solar refrigerator and started getting involved at the Institution of Engineers, Pakistan Headquarters under the tutelage of Mr. Rafiqul Haque the Honorary Secretary , Mr. M A Jabber, the President and Mr. Kafil uddin Ahmad, Vice-President . I became their personal assistant in all IEP matters. In the final exam, I got only the passing mark of 40 in Fluid Mechanics (!) while the highest mark was around 90. There were two who were ranked First in the Final. I was thus ranked Third. I was shattered. But I did manage to move on somehow.
I must assert that I never showed any disrespect to Dr. Rashid, nor ever questioned his intentions. Some students felt the floodgates were now open and thus anything went. Some would make taunting comments about him from behind the crowd. I never did, either in front of him or in his absence. That is just not my style. Whatever I had to say, I always said face to face, as I truly convinced myself to be almost totally fearless about him. I had many disagreements with him. I was always polite in telling him that I disagreed and explained why, and also explained that I was merely doing my duties as the elected student leader. It seemed he felt I was out to get him, so offense was his best defence; hence he was out to get me. It was clearly unfair as he had too much advantage over me.
He meant well, but his approach was too archaic and punitive. He took undue interest in teaching me a lesson. He hadn’t sat on any scholarship committee for years as he delegated this duty to other professors. He himself sat on the committees for all scholarships I could apply. The Committees for Fulbright and the Chinese (Mao Tsetung?) Scholarships had not invited any member from the Engr. Univ. That’s why I probably got them. After struggling for a year, I was able to get Dr. DeSa to convince him to accept me as a lecturer, particularly because I was already carrying the full load of the MSc program, and all of them were lecturers. I was given the rank “Acting Lecturer (Temporarily Against Deputation)” at the lowest salary; that is, I could be terminated instantly at any time. I swallowed my pride and accepted the lecturership as I felt that was the only way to continue graduate studies and I was not sure I could otherwise go abroad for higher studies.
16. The Next blow:
In the last semester of our MSc courses at EPUET, Advanced Mathematics II was our last exam. In the exam hall, just before the start of the exam, the students (about 10) bemoaning that they really enjoyed the math course, but the tests will really not show the level of the course as they didn’t have enough time to digest the material because of other exams. Our teacher, Prof Zahiruddin, from whom we had been learning math for the past 6 years, empathized with the students and felt that we should have digested the material thoroughly (As ours was the first MSc batch, he pushed us really hard, may be also because he wanted to be sure that other teachers in this engineering university were convinced that the material was really advanced). The students, somewhat in an exploratory manner, wondered if he had any objection to giving the exam two days later. He hesitated but then agreed. We all felt good that it was really a university: the teacher and students unanimously agreed on a positive move in an informal manner.
The next morning, we all students (actually all the faculty) were stunned by a terse announcement signed by the VC: “the MSc Mech Engr program is closed sine die” and posted everywhere. Our attempts to meet Dr. Rashid failed. An absolute wall and silence. A few days later, message came from VC that this decision was final, nonnegotiable. Three semesters of serious hard work (all students had a full-time job, some outside EPUET) gone down the drain! We felt absolutely disenfranchised; the rug has been pulled from under our feet. We all went to Prof Zahiruddin, who told us what happened; it was clear that he wasn’t supposed to tell us, but he himself seemed to be both disheartened and embarrassed. He didn’t seem to care any more about the reprimand he would receive if Dr. Rashid knew he told us.
This is what he told us. As he was walking back from the exam hall to his flat that evening, he ran into Dr Rashid who inquired why he was not in his math exam (Dr Rashid thrived on remembering such details and took pride in feeling that he’s really in charge). After hearing the straightforward explanation of why he decided to postpone the exam by 48 hours, he asked Prof Zahiruddin if Fazle Hussain was in this exam also. Dr Rashid turned furious when he was told “yes”. He rebuked the professor for allowing himself to be manipulated by this boy and told him that he will not tolerate this lawlessness in this university and only the VC had the power to postpone any exam. He wrote the program suspension decree that same evening and ordered it posted all over the campus. It’s strange that in the request to Prof Zahiruddin, I didn’t open my mouth (although I also felt that we had insufficient time to prepare and should put in the effort to digest the material in the two extra days; after all that will help the whole purpose: to learn the subject), nor did I have any role in the spontaneous discussion on the possibility of postponing the exam. All the students were flabbergasted by this totally unwarranted and irrational executive action, based on an imagined scenario and obsession of Dr. Rashid.
After many pleadings and begging for forgiveness (although we committed no offence or mistake) over a number of days, presumably by some teachers also, we were told that Dr Rashid might reconsider if we would go to Dr. Alimullah Khan and apologize. We all immediately went to his flat on campus. He seemed touched and forcefully reminded us that he and other teachers put in extra time to teach the graduate courses as they wanted to help us, and we should not find ways to bypass exams. We didn’t argue and unconditionally apologized profusely for hurting his feelings as we meant nothing against the teachers. He forgave us and wished us good luck with a smile. I had to imagine what he was told by Dr. Rashid. I breathed a great sigh of relief, hoping that I will now go to USA with my MS degree. After the rescheduled Math II exam, I got very busy putting final touches to my MS thesis.
17. The Last bombshell:
Then came the next bombshell, some days later. Dr DeSa, my revered mentor and advisor (he was also my BSc Engr thesis advisor) on my MS thesis on a rocket motor, on which I had invested hundreds of hours (many times staying all nights first for design and installation and later because it made too much noise to allow its running during the university days) abruptly one day summoned me and told me with an uncharacteristic stern face that I should first go abroad and submit my thesis later. I was never told why (I had some good guesses. Giving benefit of doubt, I wondered if someone felt that the first MSc degree of the university should not be given to a revolutionary or communist leader, although I was neither, at least by then).
When I finished my MS at Stanford, Dr DeSa wrote to me in USA that he was expecting the final version of my thesis. I politely told him that I would not submit it as I had started on a PhD and had no need for the degree.
I do not know if he felt my pain. It was very likely that he felt even more. Unlike Dr. Alimullah Khan (I think I’m like him in this regard), Dr DeSa, Dr. M H Khan and Dr. Waqar Ahmad have incredible ability to keep their feelings totally private (professors are supposed to). Dr DeSa has always been very caring and loving, much more since. About a decade back, when the American Association of Bangladeshi Engineers and Architects gave me a special award, Dr DeSa came to give me the award. He also spoke very highly of me, as I did of him.
18. Students should not be pawns of politicians:
During my terms as GS and as VP, I resisted very hard to disallow party politics from entering the campus and was successful, although I was aware of increasing pressures to the contrary from outside and from students inside in its favour. At the EPUET installation ceremony at the IEP Hall at the end of 1963, I closed my lengthy farewell speech with the assertion: “There is no room for mainstream politics on campuses. I resisted it successfully and I urge you to be vigilant about keeping it out of the engineering campus.” Although I was an immensely popular student leader and received multiple bursts of applause, I was booed down at this point. Soon after that, I came to learn to my utter dismay that mainstream politics entered the campus.
19. Prof. Nazmul Huq:
When I was at the Johns Hopkins University as a Visiting Assistant Professor, I got a long, hand-written letter from Professor Nazmul Haq requesting me to come to BD at his expense as a witness in his lawsuit against Dr. Rahsid. He attached a few pages of his presumably long brief, where he mentioned my name as another victim of Dr. Rashid’s unfair treatment. This was his first letter to me and first contact since graduation. I wrote to him that Dr Rashid was one of my teachers and I would never testify to hurt him anyway. I said that “I believed in forgive and forget.“ He then pleaded with me to send a written response to a number of questions prepared by his lawyer. I politely declined. I was really surprised how he collected information about what happened between Dr Rashid and me, and disliked that he thought that I will testify against Dr. Rashid.
20. Staying back in USA:
By the time I finished my PhD at Stamford, I got very serious in research, having given the Eckhart Prize for the Outstanding. PhD Dissertation and published a few papers in a top journal. I was highly apprehensive of Dr. Rashid’s vengeance against me ( I tried to make peace with him during my interim visit in 1968, but he avoided meeting me. Then I went to invite him to my wedding with the invitation card in hand. He was a long-time friend of my would be father-in-law. He told me that he was surprised by who I was marrying. Suddenly the wedding was cancelled next ady, as somehow he convinced my would be father-in-law that he was going to have a lot of problems with me. Finally, Rehana was adamant and stood up to her father, the rest of the family supporting strongly. The wedding was reinstated after a few days of turmoil; there was a long lead time, fortunately. I felt I will get nowhere in East Pakistan with Dr. Rashid being angry at me, and there was no question of getting a job in West Pakistan. I was always afraid of the military as I was previously being hunted by the military during my student ;leadership days (1960-63). I was tipped off by an intelligence officer in 1963 that “I would be shot on suight” because of my strong opposition to Ayub Khan’s military rule. I was told that the military would justify that saying that I was involved in clandestine operation to overthrow the government. For a long while, I was in disguise, at times sporting a long beard, making sure I moved veery 2-3 hours., once in Rawalpindi when they were searching in Dhaka. But I wasn’t a terrorist., though it was rumoured like that.
So I struggled to stay in USA and looked far and wide for any research position I could possibly find. I was lucky to meet Professor LSG Kovasznay of the Johns Hopkins University who managed to get me a low-paid job: Visiting Asst. Professor, doing teaching and post-doctoral research. I was actually thrilled to get even this chance, primarily for research.. At that time jobs in aerospace engineering were very hard to find all over USA because of massive layoffs at Boeing and other aerospace enterprises , in anticipation of US decision of shutdown of the supersonic plane (SST) project; it was a wise move by USA, unclear at that time, causing a lot of turmoil for the numerous, unemployed high-tech engineers, but the eventual Concorde fate proved the point. I then quickly applied for a change of visa. Legally, Fulbright scholars cannot stay. I was given a political asylum, particularly because of the military rule in Pakistan. I hadn’t planned to stay back in USA. I have to say: mainly because of Dr. Rashid, I felt forced to saty in USA. This is how East Pakistan lost a young, ambitious engineer-scientist.
I was always ambivalent about East Bengal being a part of Pakistan which I felt was a mistake as the creation of Pakistan didn’t solve the muslim-hindu problem, and equally many Moslems were left in India. When I travelled in West Pakistan, I had felt it difficult to relate to them. Is religion enough reason to belong to a country? Why weren’t we part of Saudi Arabia? During my frequent visits to Bangalore, I feel quite at home, more than I feel in Pakistan; although I have many friends in Pakistan the culture is different.
Like any Bengali anywhere, I followed the liberation movement very intensely from USA. During this time, family emergency required my wife, Rehana, to travel to Karachi for a few days. Her exit visa from Pakistan was denied and it was unclear if she could return ever. After extensive struggles, championed by papa George Bush (the US representative to UN and a resident of Houston) and Senators Kennedy (Foreign Affairs) and Fulbright (I was a Fulbright Scholar) – their effectiveness was severely limited as we were still citizens of Pakistan – Rehana was able to return after six months. During these months, I was almost sure I was going insane. I was advised by some sources that if I went to Karachi, it was unlikely that I will be alive, let alone ever go free. My father-in-law, Mr. Kafiluddin Ahmed, chief engineer of Pak PWD, who built Islamabad, the Second Capital in Dhaka and the Zia Airport (also a founder and VP of IEP) was already out of favour with the Pakistan Government.
Bangladesh came into being when I happened to be entrenched in USA. I tried to help its cause during the liberation and was happy that we got independence. I promptly changed my passport and became a Bangladeshi.
It now gave us the chance of being a peace loving nation (hopefully never a nuclear power), affluent (probably like Singapore), self-sufficient in food production, an exporter of brainpower. As I have said over many years, in many ways, we can learn a lot from Israel in many areas.
These were my dreams when I was a student and my dreams for Bangladesh. But the realities are so different and so painful. Pollution, corruption, inefficiency and all that we know and do not need to be told. The question is: Why? I know for sure and I am convinced after my recent visit that Bangladeshis are basically honest, sincere and hard-working (contrary to popular notion, they are not lazy); they can be led, motivated and energized.
Forced by time constraints in writing, I will give in the following my very brief thoughts on the issues I feel are important for the development of Bangladesh.
22. Military and Civil Service:
Do we really need the Civil Service? This is what I used to ask myself when I was a student. Legacy of the British Raj, and created as an elite buffer between the ruler and the ruled which was definitely unavoidable under the circumstances and at that time, this massive (also growing) bureaucracy may indeed have outlived its value and its effectiveness. We should ask if in balance it is really helping the country or if it is actually hindering the evolution of Bangladesh as a nation.
The natural question to ask : Do we need such a relatively gigantic military? Yet still, Do we really need a military? Providing international peacekeepers cannot be the mission of any country’s military. If attacked by India (who else?), can we stop them? What can we do with a submarine, with a few jet fighters or a few tanks? Are they there for consolation, for ego gratification? At what cost? What is the share of defence in the national budget? Does that have to be a secret? Surely we neither want to be a superpower nor a nuclear power. India will be both and there is nothing we can do about that. We must accept that and adjust to live with that. What other choice? I wonder whether we can get by without any military and can do with only police and rifles. Highly professional police will also help in all spheres of nation building, including homeland security, law-and-order, corruption, traffic control, etc. and is a worthwhile investment. I think we should consider entering into a peace treaty with India and maintain a joint border force under a joint border Commission. If that doesn’t make us feel secure, we can have agreements with China and United States to watch and protect our interest. I don’t think that should hurt our pride.
I have thought for many years that to become an advanced society with a high standard of living, we should join hands to form a bigger nation. Although I had previously thought of ‘United States of India’, I feel it may be more acceptable if called UNITED STATES OF SOUTHEAST ASIA (USSEA). Perhaps consisting of the current countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Bangladesh, Myanmar Srilanka and India (divided into a few) as the constituent states, it will have a common military, common currency, a central parliament (consisting of upper and lower houses), a supreme court, and of course a central foreign office. Two states belonging to a country will never invade each other. So our main budget headache will be gone.
24. Corruption and nepotism:
Corruption is innate to human society, unfortunately. We seem to have a bit too much of it in this land. I am tired of seeing BD’s sustained but sorry distinction as the ‘most corrupt nation in the world.’ I feel offended when I see this written or mentioned as all my friends are unquestionably honest and of impeccable integrity. (It isn’t a matter of ego that I must say I choose only honest people as my friends; they are actually honest) How is it possible that out of hundreds of Bangladeshis I know, I know of absolutely no one who is corrupt, yet it is a thoroughly corrupt country? I do not think it is because I cannot detect dishonesty.
We need to stop corruption and nepotism at the top first; I have no doubt that it will trickle down the line to the lowest level. People throw their hands up in the air in total despair: “it’s impossible”. I emphatically disagree. Our people are basically honest and sincere. The circumstances encourage them to find shortcuts. They need role models and examples. Regulations and restrictions are definitely not the solution. Although formulated with sincerity and good intentions, precisely the same rules and regulations breed further corruption. They are the instruments of corruption, particularly at the lower levels. I strongly believe that simpler the procedures and softer the restrictions, the less will be corruption. Some abuse will be there and cannot be controlled by rules, nor by religion, but only by leadership and cultivation of values.
I feel we can reverse corruption by significant remuneration. The prime minister should be the highest paid public servant (say, 10 lakh taka per month in today’s value), next ministers (say, 7 lakh takas), national professors (say, 3 lakh), agency heads and top scientists (say, 2 lakh), then professors, technocrats, bureaucrats, etc. The quality of public service (not to be confused with Civil Service) will improve if salaries are brought in line with the private sector. Most jobs should be on contract basis at a competitive salary. This is bound to create some insecurity, precisely what keeps people productive and competitive. That is not bad.
Incentive is the driving force behind productivity and efficiency. Time and again, not in the western countries only but also in China, India and Bangladesh, it has been proven that privatisation does work, although some initial government subsidy and nurturing may indeed be necessary and justified. It is the norm in the health service here. Even in the education field, privatisation from the elementary level all the way to the graduate level is healthy and should be encouraged as much as possible.
26. Manufacturing, IT and value addition:
There were times when I was worried if there was too much trading activities in the industry sector. Building very expensive houses, for example, falls in this category as that doesn’t create any long-term and sizeable labour employment nor any goods. We must encourage activities which add significant value. Foremost should be production and manufacturing. Better yet, endeavours utilizing indigenous resources. Production of fabrics should go hand in hand with garments manufacturing, for example. I have said often over the years that Bangladesh should become a major exporter of skilled labour and brainpower. In these days of globalization and electronic communication, one can serve any company anywhere in the world sitting right at home in a Bangladesh village. Electronic communication with technological education in a massive scale can not only make us economically prosperous but can also solve our traffic problem.
27. 4th Wing of Government:
Along with the (independent) Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary branches, we need the fourth branch of government: an impartial and probing News Media. This will keep a vigilant eye on all activities, reporting all irregularities without any vested interest. This itself should be deterrent enough. In a democratic society, it is the ultimate weapon: the fear of being exposed, let alone prosecuted. I strongly believe that an aggressive and honest News Media, driven by SEARCH FOR TRUTH, can keep all vested interests in check, minimizing corruption, extortion, nepotism, promoting productivity, efficiency, and exposing incompetence. This power of the news media is not unknown, but needs considerable development and encouragement.
27. Technocrats and Professionals:
Top brains by nature shy away from the public domain and politics, but they are vital in nation building. I strongly urge that there should be more ministers under the Technocrat Quota, and this quota should be used strictly that way. All technical and scientific organizations and autonomous bodies should be truly autonomous with separate, independent governing bodies practicing self-governance; they should be headed by top professionals, who will hire qualified administrators and assistants on contract basis. Any time a new chairman of a body joins he must have complete authority to decide if he wants to retain the existing administrators and assistants. The truly capable ones have nothing to worry. They will always be in great demand both inside and elsewhere.
Do we need so many ministries? It seems the work will be done much more effectively, if we have fewer ministries, may be about fifteen. There can be deputy ministers, if absolutely essential, but reporting to ministers (mostly professionals) only. I think we can achieve a lot more that way.
29. Who will build Bangladesh?
Who? Actually the people sitting in this room. I could be accused of not being objective. I think I’m being objective. I do not believe bureaucrats and politicians can or will be able to lead or bring about the change that this country desperately needs. I think only engineers can bring about a real change in this society through technological growth. But how? Engineers in Bangladesh are notorious for being corrupt. My information is that with the exception of a few, most are indeed corrupt. They exploit their expertise for extortion, quite often slowing down projects, instead of facilitating them. In fact, engineers may indeed be the most corrupt professional group in this country. It is a shame. No strict training or religious education will change this, but only cultivation of values can. Fear of punishment or of hell has not decreased corruption; I am told corruption among engineers has been progressively increasing! This is one area which IEB should have been able to not only clearly address and even found a realistic cure for it. IEB,this is your biggest assignment. I am pleased to note that there is significant IEB activity in promoting retraining of technical manpower. In these days of rapidly changing technologies and globalization, engineers need to keep up-to-date with retraining in new areas and IEB seems to be doing a good job.
30. Higher Education and Research:
Let me now make a few specific recommendations about the sector with which I have some close familiarity.
a) BUET: I think BUET should become primarily a research university, relegating most of the undergraduate teaching to the newly formed universities of engineering and technology (hopefully will be renamed universities of science and technology). Most teaching loads will involve graduate (MS and PhD) courses and supervision of post-doctoral research. BUET should openly adopt the philosophy: “Professors are paid to think, not to do classroom teaching”. So the share of all effort in classroom teaching of the total load should be minimal. Of course there should be clear accountability through publications in refereed, international journals. BUET should also house a number of serious research centres and institutes.
b) NAET: I strongly recommend the formation of a National Academy of Engineering and Technology. Top brains, selected on the basis of original contributions and evidence of creativity, will be inducted to become its members and will give critical, in-depth evaluations on all matters affecting engineering and technological aspects of Bangladesh. It should be clear that its function will be distinctly different from BAS, IEB and other engineering societies. It will be comparable to the Third World Academy of Sciences, US National Academy of Engineering, the Indian Academy of Sciences, etc.
c) BIAS: There is a strong need for the formation of a non-profit, non-government think-tank to be called, say, the Bangladesh Institute of Advanced Studies. It will prepare impartial position papers on all critical issues affecting Bangladesh: before legislation delineating the pros and cons of different versions of proposed bills in the parliaments, analyzing the implications of final legislations, tracking the progress of programs, analysing the effectiveness of programs at completion and some years later. BIAS will be funded through private sources, external agencies, etc and can involve significant participation by expatriate experts, many of whom would be happy to donate free service. The structure should be loose, under the guidance of a board, with each report reviewed and edited by experts. The report and review committees will be clearly mentioned.
d) Atomic Energy Commission: I wonder if the enormous brainpower at the AEC of Bangladesh can be put to more direct service of the country by refocusing its activities into energy problems and by renaming it Bangladesh Energy Commission (BEC), which will pursue not only the existing nuclear projects, but also renewable and alternative energy sources and advanced energy concepts.
e) Research University status: All research organizations like BCSIR, BRRI, BJRI, etc. should have the status of research universities, like BUET, where scientists’ promotion and reward, including multiple increments and accelerated promotions, will be based on peer evaluations of quality productivity, primarily judged by publications in top international journals. Top scientists should not head labs and can be paid higher than the center directors, if better accomplished.
f) No retirement: Top researchers at universities and at research laboratories will never retire, preventing the enormous national of waste of brainpower by forced retirement at peak productivity age. We must stop this terrible wastage.
g) National Professors: There should be 50-100 National Professors in BD, decided by peer evaluations of proven original contributions. They will be paid very high salaries (say, 2 lakh takas), each having a private secretary.They will serve till death, unless voluntarily retiring but will get a scaled down salary when choosing to be inactive. It will be unusual that a National Professor will not be elected to one of the national as well as international academies. They will be the nations jewels and will be the custodians of excellence in all sphere of science, technology, and culture. They will be available to societies and serve the nation in different review panels, committees, commissions.
h) Merit: Once again, all promotions should be based on purely merit and verifiable research productivity, totally independent of seniority. I find this to be a serious problem in Bangladesh. Even in India, they have been able to outgrow the seniority mentality.
i) National Science and Engineering Foundation: Substantial funding should be provided through peer-evaluation of individual proposals from investigators on their own.from universities, and from research laboratories.
j) Science City: We should establish a large area as a residential picturesque garden for IT, think tanks, universities, various scientific, technical and medical research labs, academies, institutes, professional societies etc, within easy access from Zia airport and Dhaka city through helicopters and rapid transit. Allocation of plots and landscape should be carefully controlled.
k) Private Universities: It is a good sign that private universities are mushrooming in Dhaka. There is nothing to be alarmed about their motive.There should be moderate control. The successful ones will stand out by the fact that their graduates will be hired at top salaries and top students will compete to attend them. The weak ones will fade away, for sure. The current open competition among the universities is really good . Good brains cannot be ruined by poor education, as the best always rises to the top.
l) Management by Objective: Each scientist should submit before the beginning of each year a fairly detailed outline of what she/he plans to do and rate her/his own plan’s merit. At the end of each year she/he should evaluate his/her accomplishments. The reward and increment level should depend on the review of this self-analysis as well as on the quality of the productivity.
m) BAS: I would like to see a very active BAS with a higher credibility and moral authority; so that in all matters of science, it is consulted for its opinion and its findings are highly objective and highly respected. It should consider inducting Fellows purely on merit, irrespective of age and seniority. It may have to struggle to identify rather young members and shift its leadership to much younger scientists, who can undertake ambitious projects and aggressively pursue their completion.
n) Expatriates: These are perhaps the most valuable resources of Bangladesh. They are world-class researchers, technologists, entrepreneurs, management experts, etc. Almost all of them are eager to serve BD and many, like me, would be happy to serve free. They can do for the country much more with their expertise than with cash. This major resource should be seriously tapped. Perhaps under the Science ministry, there should be a Directory prepared of the expatriate experts and the ministry should keep in close contact with them. As India has started recently, we should organize an Annual Expatriates Convention, where they and local experts will meet to deliberate on how to solve the major problems facing the country.
o) Bring Expatriates Back: Serious efforts should be made to attract them back to Bangladesh. If they succeeded in a competitive foreign land, they must be talented and thus can help Bangladesh. In unusual cases, exceptionally high remunerations should be considered.
It would have been impossible for me to make this trip without the kind hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. A.S.M. Quasem. I have typed this hastily prepared draft only after reacquainting myself somewhat with the Bangladesh scene through discussions with Dr. Anwar Hossain, Dr. J. R. Choudhury, Mr. S. M. Mamoon, Mr. N. A. Khaled, Mr H. Hasan, Dr. Iqbal Mahmood, Dr. M.H. Khan, Dr. Sadrul Islam, Dr. F. U. Mahtab, Dr. Ali Asghar, Mr. A.R. Azimul Hoque, Mr. L.K. Siddiqui, Mr Ahmadul Ameen, and other friends, including Mr Quasem.