Reflecting on a hundred years of transformation
A hundred years ago, when the founder of a future sovereign republic of Bangladesh was born in the serenity of a little village in Faridpur, the world beyond the frontiers of Tungipara was defined by its own colours and characteristics.
Much was happening, enough to have people know that in the second decade of the 20th century, life was driven by social and political engineering that promised a new era of global realities.
It was a year after the massacre led by General Dyer at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. It was a time when the Treaty of Versailles concluded -- a deal that left Germany humiliated in the aftermath of the Great War of 1914-18.
In 1920, the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh was elevated to the status of Aligarh Muslim University. In the same year, moves were finalized for the establishment of the University of Lucknow in what is today known as Uttar Pradesh. Dhaka University would come into existence a year later.
It was a time when Gandhi was busy planning strategy against British colonial rule through launching his non-cooperation movement on August 31, 1920.
In the same year, the Indian nationalist political leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the scientist Srinivasa Ramanujan passed away.
In 1920, Subhas Chandra Bose was away in Cambridge, already driven by thoughts of a future crusade against British rule that would, the next year, be initiated by his resignation from the Indian civil service.
Deshbandhu CR Das was with Gandhi engaged in making a success of the latter’s non-cooperation movement. He would die five years later.
Jawaharlal Nehru remained busy in 1920, organizing a Kisan March in the Upper Provinces (Uttar Pradesh) even as he went through spells of imprisonment between that year and 1922.
In 1920, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, unable to support the non-cooperation movement from his belief in the pursuit of constitutional politics, left the Indian National Congress and would in the following years adopt a distinctively individual approach to politics in the country.
A young Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy married Begum Niaz Fatima, the daughter of the very well-known Justice Sir Abdur Rahim, in 1920. The young Fatima would, however, die two years later.
It was a year in which the rising poet Kazi Nazrul Islam would leave the British Indian army, where he was a humble soldier, and focus on the rebellious streak that would soon define his poetry. Nazrul’s novel Badhon-hara was published in 1920.
In the year when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was born, Lawrence Dundas, Earl of Ronaldshay, served as governor of Bengal, to which position he had been appointed in 1917 and from which he would move on in 1922.
The governor-general of India in 1920 was Lord Chelmsford. Appointed to the office, he would serve till 1921.
In 1920, Mohammad Ayub Khan, who would in future torment the Bangali nationalist politician Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was 13 years old. Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, who would subject Bangalis to genocide and try Bangabandhu on charges of waging war against Pakistan, was three years old. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would not be born till 1928.
Beyond India, like India, it was a world in energetic motion. Woodrow Wilson, having been disappointed in his efforts to have the US play a role in the newly established League of Nations, was in his second term in the White House in 1920. He would serve till March of the following year.
It was a year when the League of Nations was given institutional shape, a clear measure aimed at preventing future conflicts of the kind that had left Europe ravaged between 1914 and 1918. The League, however, was not fated to last.
Politics in Britain in 1920 was dominated by David Lloyd George. Entering 10 Downing Street in 1916, he would be in office till 1922.
In 1920, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin remained busy consolidating the Russian Revolution of 1917 through desperate political and economic measures.
It was a time when the rivalry between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky began to manifest itself in subtle ways.
In June 1920, Mao Zedong organized a student rebellion in Changsha and in the same year was appointed headmaster of the junior section of the First Normal School in the city. In the winter of 1920, he married Yang Kaihui.
In the year when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman opened his eyes to life and to a world he would eventually shape to his specifications, a number of individuals subsequently to be famous in their own areas were born.
Hemant Mukherjee, destined to be a reputed music director and singer of Bangla and Urdu songs, was born in 1920. In the same year was born KR Narayanan, future president of India, and Roy Jenkins, the future politician in Britain.
In 1920, the world witnessed the birth of Isaac Asimov, Yul Brynner, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Federico Fellini, Mario Puzo, and the future Egyptian King Farouk.
Mehdi Ben Barka, the Moroccan politician who would disappear without a trace in Paris in 1965, was born in 1920.
In 1920 was born Elliot Richardson, who would in 1973 resign the office of US attorney general rather than go along with President Richard Nixon’s action over investigations into Watergate.
Melina Mercouri, the celebrated Greek movie actress who would later go on to serve as her country’s minister for culture, was born in 1920.
A hundred years ago, Tungipara was a sleepy little village in eastern Bengal. A hundred years on, it is the centre of the world for a nation which recalls the child born in its clime, the child who would go on to father the birth of a sovereign state for his people.
A century after 1920, it is comforting to sit back and reflect on a world that has come through a long, natural process of transformation since the birth of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on March 17, 1920.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.