Abu Tayeb Mohammad Anisuzzaman aka Anisuzzaman in the two Bengals and the world over was born 18 February 1937 and passed away on 14 May 2020 in Dhaka after having a well-lived life and having earned respect, admiration, love and affection.
This piece is a way of showing respect, paying tribute and thanking my fortune in belonging for a short while on the periphery of Anis da’s charm and magnetism. It is not my intention or in my capacity to do justice to either his scholarship or to his academic depth; the wish is to be able to create a word picture of the person. Anisuzzaman, Anis da, Anis Bhai and Anis Sir were sobriquets that each person who came within his orbital path appropriated for herself or himself as choice of address.
He had long ago given up on his rather resplendent name and was plain Anisuzzaman in the world of academe and in the world of literature.
He straddled the academic world with his feet firmly planted on the uncompromising pillars of knowledge, scholarship and the relevance to human kind to steer on a path of progressive thought and action. Religion, faith and belief, in his actions were of individual concern; they were not quite de rigueur in public life or space.
His faith was constant in the founding principles of Bangladesh, the battle for the voices to be heard without the dictation of an imposed language and for the right of participation in governance that was brutally suppressed since the formation of Pakistan. Long before the actual war of independence in 1971, the language movement had been set in motion almost after the partition of 1947 and was carried forward on the able shoulders of Anisuzzaman and his compeers following the lead of their teachers and progressive public figures.
Anisuzzaman pursued academics single-mindedly gaining his doctoral degree at a fairly young age and moving into the world of teaching. He was in University of Chicago as a post-doctoral scholar – the place where he honed his skills in the study of linguistic expression.
He travelled the universities of the world teaching, researching, mentoring and accelerating and organizing projects and studies. A very keen observer, an arch conversationalist, and a deep listener were among the gifts that enriched his writing and narration.
The same stories sounded fresh; he repeated stories only on request. My introduction to Anisuzzaman was through his book Kaal Nirobodhi (2003) and his more recent book Ihajagatika O Ananya (2012, Karigar, Kolkata); the former before meeting him in person.
The former is his account of the time he belonged to in a turbulent period of history – partition, two-nations, shifting and then tackling the heated winds of the language movement and playing a significant role.
There were accounts of many situations and conditions – the interplay of religion, language, culture at one level, individual perceptions and responses of his colleagues in Chittagong University, where he spent more than 16 years contributing to its growth and spread. It was like reading a book that any academic would be able to relate to and probably think commonplace if not for the style of narration and the sharpness of recollections.
It was clear that Anisuzzaman maintained a diary from which he ‘dairy-ed’ the discourse.
The book offers us deep insights into an intellectual mind beset by the lowest common denominator but being churned by the strands of forceful and shifting conditions beyond individual control that have deep repercussions on each being. The vision of hope that out of the ordinary rises the colossus – the story of revival of cherished values and aspirations.
The other book is a collection of brief essays on a variety of subjects rather like a potpourri, of interest to wider readership. The narrative style is of essence here too.
My acquaintance with Anis da and his wife (always called Baby di) began in Santiniketan when he came to VisvaBharati as a visiting professor chiefly attached to the Rabindra Bhavana in 2008.
The august couple loved Santiniketan dearly and over the years became intimate with many of the inmates of this university town. He and his family have visited Santiniketan in many capacities a number of times over the years. Many of us would wait for his stories and anecdotes and his choice of words in storytelling.
He followed this same style in his public addresses and speeches making us wonder at his immense gift for delivery. Anis da’s innumerable speeches, academic deliberations and scholarly discussions embodied the art of communication that appeared to breach gaps and address all.
His talks would be well-constructed and took into consideration various angles or perspectives; he did not push his point of view at the cost of other views; the audience was made as much a participant. When asked how he prepared for these, he explained that he made no conscious effort other than speaking as if holding a conversation with the audience.
A patronizing tone was absent in his deliberations. This stance is observable in his writings as well. Anis da has received many awards among which we may count the highest recognition from his country of migration and his country of birth. I will mention a few that we may be able to relate to – Padma Bhushan from the Government of India; Ishwarchandra Plaque, The Asiatic Society of Kolkata; D.Lit, Rabindra Bharati University; Ananda Purashkar bestowed twice; Sarojini Basu award and Jagattarini medal by Calcutta University.
I have been deeply struck with the easy relationship of friendship he maintained with his publishers; his respect for them and their idolizing a very accommodating author. Anis da, no doubt, a distinguished looking personality, never appeared intimidating; there was no visible weight of scholarship or show of his highly refined intellect; as a consequence of these qualities, one did not feel any sense of insufficiency in interacting with him.
The writer is a retired Professor, Visva-Bharati University