Mizanur Rahman Shelley
For nearly seven decades he traveled through the throbbing corridors of thrilling times. Most of his life coincided with the last six decades of the 20th century. He was a child in the formidable forty’s and young man in the swirling sixty’s of the last century.
Ataur Rahman Khan, popularly known as Kaiser, described himself as a fighter who never tired of struggles. Politician with a difference, distinguished diplomat, dedicated social worker and generous friend, Kaiser was the epitome of our challenging times. Even as he breathed his last at the age of 70 in a hospital in his hometown Chittagong on the October 9, he symbolised the unfailing spirit of an undaunted fighter.
A few days before leaving Dhaka, recovering from the wounds received in a road accident, he smilingly said (mutual friend Tofail Sami reported): “Let me die in Chittagong.” That was typical Kaiser: courage, determination, tenacity and sparkling humour rolled into one. A brave warrior he stood tall and unbending in life and in the face of death.
Photo: Ataur Rahman Khan Kaiser
Years before his sad demise he was elevated to member of the Presidium of the Awami League. He had joined the party as a young man in the late ’60s when the organisation became the platform of Bengali nationalism and self-assertion under the epoch-making leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Kaiser entered the tumultuous arena of national politics after a period of initiation in student politics during the stormy years of early ’60s. That was the unforgettable time when we met as freshers in the Dhaka University. We were admitted into the department of political science in 1959. Time fails to erase the enduring memory of the first encounter. He was a tall and impressive young man dressed smartly in spotless white shirt and trousers. We became friends for life after that first meeting in the legendary “Madhu’s canteen.”
For us, more so for Kaiser, the beginning foreshadowed later developments. The early ’60s were not only a swinging time when existentialism and rock music cascaded down the flowing stream of life. It was something more. It was also struggling Vietnam, fighting American aggression, and Bengalees in erstwhile Pakistan resisting the then West Pakistan-centric military and autocratic rule.
As a prominent and spirited student leader Kaiser played a significant role in that resistance. That initiation led him, after the end of his student career, to join the struggle for Bengali self-assertion and emancipation in the late ’60s. Subsequently, he participated in the War of Liberation.
Kaiser actively participated not only in student politics but in the entire range of cultural, literary and recreational exercises which were part and parcel of university life. He and I belonged to the same student organisation, the now defunct “Student Force,” and played the role of leading activists in student politics through that institution.
From 1961 it shared in spearheading the Dhaka university-centric movement against the autocratic order imposed by the Pakistani military dictator Ayub Khan. Kaiser, I and other active members of the “Student Force” also participated with other student organisations, including Students League and Students Union, in the successful movement for rejecting the unreasonable recommendations of the Education Commission in 1962.
Kaiser began his political life as a loyal and committed member of the Awami League. From the twilight of the ’60s he took active part in the party’s historic struggle for Bengali emancipation culminating in the glorious victory in the War of Liberation in 1971.
As a competent inheritor of the family tradition of public service, Ataur Rahman Khan Kaiser contributed his best to politics, social service, national and regional development and welfare. Despite constant involvement in demanding political and social activities Kaiser and his wife Nilufar together built up a happy home and family life. As loving father and mother they reared up three daughters, Wasika, Humayra and Munija, with unfailing care and loving attention.
Enlightened political endeavours formed the stuff and essence of Kaiser’s life. But in the social spheres he moved beyond and above politics. His mission was quintessentially human. He saw politics as a means to an end, not an end in itself. Pursuing politics of vintage he sought to sustain human values of love, understanding and fellowship. He symbolised the modest and quiet resistance against the politics of violence and confrontation.
The spirited and vibrant atmosphere of the Dhaka University in the ’60s permeated his entire being. Along with his contemporaries, class fellows and friends he acquired enduring and enlivening ideas and knowledge of global import. This made him and the entire generation of which he was a member virtual citizens of the world without severing the roots of profound national consciousness.
In their minds Viddya Sagar, Michael Madhusadhan Dutta, Rabindranath Thakur, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Jibanananda Das easily coexisted with Shelly, Keats, Byron, Jean Paul Santre, Albair Camus and Jack Keruak. The blend was at once majestic and joyful.
All this made Kaiser more than a run of the mill politician. He was a cultured man. The awareness of those noble ideas and thoughts helped him break the barriers of race, religion and language. One remembers in fond memory a youthful Kaiser walking cheerfully with friends under a moonlit sky in the streets of Ramna during autumn, singing Manabendra’s “Bane noy mone more pakhi aj gan gai,” or the lilting song of Mukesh “Suhana safar aur yea mausum hasin” enthralling the deserted roads.
He was in the heart of his hearts a poet. Several of his touching poems found place in our collection of poems “Mukhar Araynna” (Eloquent Wilderness) published in the 1980s. Poets, as the romantic P.B. Shelly asserted, “Are unacknowledged legislators to the world.” Poets move human minds. So do successful and farsighted political leaders: they change human societies and life by working on minds. There was, thus, no contradiction in Kaiser’s politics and poetry.
Now that he has departed and there is no chance of meeting him again this side of Eternity, one can only remember him in poetic terms:
“A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stage of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once tall and handsome as you.”
Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelly, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh (CDRB) and Editor quarterly “Asian Affairs,” is a former teacher of Dhaka University and former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister.