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Remembering Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

  • Published at 11:00 pm February 10th, 2020
Photo: Bigstock

He cared for people and about them

He was an inimitable storyteller. It was a vast treasury of anecdotes, of humour drawn from real-life experience which he had in his possession. In informal conversations, among his friends and peers, he was symbolic of quiet energy. His tales sent his audience spinning into fits of laughter even as he kept calm, almost unfazed. 

It was a trait which certainly ran in the family, for my brother Sadrul -- a close friend of Mohammad Badrul Ahsan since their days as students at Notre Dame College -- has often enlightened me on the sense of humour that was a quality in Badrul’s father. You can then understand the roots of Badrul’s humorist role, the laughter he caused among people sharing a room with him.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan was the life of the party, be it a matter of weaving yarns on human foibles or proffering his views on the more serious issues of the day. It was a talent that came of his wide reading, reflected as it was in his weekly columns in The Daily Star. 

He kept going back to history, to re-emerge with pearls of wisdom he had discovered among philosophers long gone in the course of his search. An essential quality in him was sharing his find with his readers. 

He did that in plain language, avoiding that certain urge for loftiness which often renders good writing arcane. It was a reason behind the affection and indeed the loyalty in which his readers held him.

He was different from many of us, the first point of difference being his contentment in remaining a bachelor. 

He never spoke of his personal life, which was a reason why no one, not even people close to him, ever knew of the pains he may and could have gone through life. But, then, observe the extrovert in him. 

There was that magical quality in him to draw people, of all ages, to him. He cared for people, and about them. He demonstrated the deepest respect toward our good friend Madan Shahu, making sure that he had a role to play at First News, the weekly journal he edited with finesse. 

For Badrul, First News was more than a challenge. It was his baby and diligently did he spend hours improving its content and its quality. His heart quite broke when ownership issues led to the closing down of the journal, and yet he kept a brave face.

In our greater Dhaka dialect -- he was from Narsingdi and I am from Araihazar -- he addressed me as “baiye” to which my response was “sodo baiye.” His telephonic conversations with me were long and detailed. 

His worries were quite a few: a former classmate needed a job, an erstwhile colleague at First News needed to be provided for. There was too the quiet irritation he felt when a prominent figure he respected borrowed quite a hefty loan from him and despite reminders did not pay him back. 

It worried him that his Friday column was sometimes shifted on the ground that an “important” write-up needed that space but which in the end did not arrive and yet his Friday was taken away from him.

Like all committed and conscience-driven writers, he was upset when bad editing marred his column (and columns are not to be edited without seeking the opinion of those who write them). These and myriad other subjects he spoke to me about.

And, yes, it was our shared name, sort of, which was intriguing for both of us. Emails for him came to me while those meant for me went to him. People simply did not have the time or the inclination to note that he was a Mohammad and I was a Syed. 

They saw “Badrul Ahsan” and that was that. Not long before he passed away, Badrul spoke to me of a caller who was quite sure he was speaking to the Badrul Ahsan of his preference. 

He went on showering praises on him for his articles, prompting Badrul to ask him again if he was sure he was talking to the correct Badrul Ahsan. The caller insisted he was and then gave himself away. 

He asked Badrul, “You left The Daily Star in 2014, didn’t you?” He had actually been talking about me! You can imagine what Badrul did next. He gave the caller a good piece of his mind.

It has been less than a week that the gods took Mohammad Badrul Ahsan away from amongst us. He lies buried among his ancestors in his village, fallen silent for all time. And yet he lives -- in his laughter, in his banter and repartee, in the wisdom underpinning his old columns. 

His visits to our old home in Rankin Street, his ease in communicating with our family, his home on Tipu Sultan Road are images that keep coming back.

On a bright afternoon not many moons ago, Syed Fahim Munaim, Badrul, and I met over lunch at the American Club -- to consider the chances of a new English-language newspaper emerging in an already crowded media field in Dhaka. 

Then Munaim, Tipu bhai to many of us, died in unexpected swiftness. Now Badrul has joined him in mortality.

Life goes on, stalked by the silent but insistent spectre of death.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.