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To sir with love

  • Published at 06:04 pm August 19th, 2019

A tribute to the late Mizanur Rahman Shelley

On August 12, the auspicious day of Eid-ul-Azha, my beloved teacher and senior friend Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley passed away. A great man left the earth after prolonged suffering -- but even then a shockwave ran through me.

Most of those who read his biographical serial “The symphony of our times,” know a great deal about him. This is a small attempt is to portray the man I got to know and addressed as “sir.”

My connection with Dr Shelley was long and full of varied interests and experiences. In 1966, I got admitted to Dhaka University. I studied English literature with political science and history as subsidiary subjects. Dr Shelley was a teacher in the Political Science Department. Well-dressed and lean, he was the best teacher I had met.

For each topic he discussed he had a witty incident to elaborate it and create interest among his students. He made dry subjects full of life with witticism. He made his classes unforgettable. That was my first introduction to Dr Shelley.

Decades later in 2004, I met him again. Over three decades had passed and I had just returned from the Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK, where I had completed my assignment.

Dr Shelley had not altered except he had put on some weight, but his twinkling eyes remained the same and he was as vivacious as ever.

He was then chairman of a think tank he had established Centre for Development Research Bangladesh (CDRB) and was the editor of the quarterly Asian Affairs. Moreover, he was the founder chairman of Premier Leasing and Finance Ltd and also had an academic press.

He was involved in numerous ventures. His also wrote books, articles, and poetry. His phenomenal memory helped him in multifarious ways. With a varied social life, he got to know many people and once he met someone he never forgot their names or conversations.

Often a crowd would gather around him when he spoke, such was his wit and magnetic character. His conversations were often scintillating.

Numerous other activities took up his time. He chaired book launching ceremonies including my son’s book launching in 2014, was a keynote speaker, the main discussant in talk shows, cultural events, and many other programs. He loved what he did and his time was full.

But he was not too well.

I once said: “Sir you should relax a little.” “Yes,” he smiled. His smile was like sunshine.

He became my senior friend with whom I could discuss all kinds of topics, ranging from deforestation to governance. Often we spoke of different personalities and hilarious incidents that had taken place. We participated in talk shows, poetry reading sessions, discussions in the press club, and in many events where he invited me as a participant.

With a phenomenal memory, once he heard something he never forgot it. This assisted him when his eyesight failed him and he relied on others to read him his newspapers and books. He could quote verbatim what someone had read to him from a book or the newspapers.

He loved poetry, even wrote a few, and remembered poems he had read as a young man and could recite them with ease.

He would come to my house to dinner parties and we got to know each other more. At that time his beloved wife was ailing and passed away in 2016, but he remained strong despite the tragedy and became more preoccupied with numerous events.

Last year, I had prepared a project proposal for his organization (CDRB) and was about to discuss it with a donor. We talked a lot about it. We spoke to each other almost every day.

His conversations were always informative and witty. Now there will be no more regular conversations with a person I valued so much, and whose talks were both absorbing and wise. This has left a void in my life.

Intelligence, kindness, helpfulness, courtesy, generousness, were only a few of his attributes. His knowledge was phenomenal, his understanding deep, his generosity unique. But life has its hurdles and Dr Shelley faced them with astuteness and grace.

Problems with property, the death of his wife, his youngest brother, and other tragedies beset him and he took them in his stride like the great man he was.

Gradually, his health deteriorated. He had to undergo treatments for various ailments. But he did not lose his love of life, interest in intellectual pursuits, work, and people.

I once asked Dr Shelley about his physical ailments. He replied: “Everything -- heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, eyes just about everything,” and laughed as if they were of no importance.

In the last years of his life, he was in and out of hospitals, but he did not lose his sense of humour, his sharp intelligence, or his interest in life and work. A year ago he told me: “Selina, I have to discuss something important with you when I get a little better.” 

“Of course, sir,” I replied.

But that day did not arrive. Dr Shelley’s physical condition deteriorated further. His kidneys failed and he was undergoing dialysis. About two weeks back he gave me a call: “How are you doing?” he inquired. “Are you at home, sir?” I asked.

“No,” he chuckled, “I am in the hospital undergoing dialysis.” “What!” I exclaimed, as he laughed weakly. Even severe illness did not get him down. But in August -- he went into a coma and suffered a brain stroke that ended the life of a great man.

A phenomenal intellectual, a former civil servant, a technocrat minister, a financier, he held numerous roles and positions. He always wanted to do good things for his country and his achievements are great. A good friend, he received friendship in return.

His qualities and achievements made him a unique figure, I give my profound respect and admiration to my sir with love. 

Selina Mohsin is a former ambassador.

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