Reminiscing our friendship - Anisur Rahman

We all come and live in this strange world for a short while and then go leaving behind a legacy. As the Bengali poet and song writer, Dwijendralal Roy, said in his song, “Amra emni eshe bheshe jai; alor matan, hashir matan, kushumo ghandha rashis matan, hawer matan, neshar matan, dhaweer matan ….. Amra emni eshe bheshe jai” (“We just come and float away; like the ray of light, like the smile, like the scent of a bud, like the wind, like intoxication, like a wave ….. We just come and float away)”. 

When I reminisce on my friendship with Naiyyum, who passed away a few months ago (7 September 2019), I can only echo D L Roy’s song - Naiyyum came and floated away like a ray of light, like the scent of a bud, like the wind, like the wave. 

Nearly 57 years ago (back in 1963), when I met Naiyyum, at the foyer of F H Hall, it immediately dawned on me that there was the young man with whom I could really strike good friendship. He looked smart, bright and sharp. Probably I created a similar image in his mind and we clicked simultaneously. Although we were only 17 at that time, but out of our social customs we started addressing each other as “apne”. But within a few days, this “apne” had given way to “tumi” and then to “tui” and we were in “tui” terms ever since.  

Despite the fact that he was in Biochemistry and I was in Physics, we struck good friendship. As usual, we were reluctantly drawn into student politics – he drifted towards the Students League (SL), the student arm of the Awami League and I got drawn into NSF, the student arm of Ayub regime. Although the leaders of these student political parties were sworn enemies, but we, the reluctant members, were not at all antagonistic towards each other. We used to talk freely amongst our close friends belonging to opposing parties about these political leaders, their misdeeds, their thuggery etc. Student politics was just fun to us. 

We had a small circle of close friends in the Hall and our fun was to pull each other’s legs, in a rather friendly way. Few months later, one evening as I was looking at the English literary books, detective, philosophical, political, scientific books that were laid out at the gate of F H Hall, Naiyyum came along and said, “Anis, you read English books. What is the correct name of ‘Ber..nd Russel’?” I said, “Do you mean Bertrand Russell?” “Oh, you know, lot of our friends say that they read Bernard Russell’s books”! We had a good laugh about Bernard Russell! Our Hall life was full of tittle tattle, particularly when friends from two or three departments were involved. In the evenings we used to get together in one room, have good gossip, exchange romantic (actually made-up romantic) stories. 

When we became somewhat senior and got into M.Sc. class, NSF requested me to stand for Vice President (VP) post of the Hall, and Naiyyum was invited by the SL for the same. I was totally disillusioned by that time with NSF and I had no hesitation in rejecting the request. Naiyyum possibly also turned it down, as he was reluctant to dip his toe in the dirty and violent students’ politics at that time.

After the M.Sc. exam, we had few months of mark timing before the exam results were out. He left the Hall and went to live with his brother who rented a flat at Bashabo, about a mile or so from my parental home at Rajarbagh. He used to come to my house in the afternoon and we used to walk along the wide green verge of the road from Malibagh corner right up to Bashabo. We used to buy good amount of fried peanut (spicy salt used to be given free) and we used to munch those nuts as we talked and walked, not once but quite a few times. What we used to talk about for about two to three hours every evening, God only knows. But the talk would never end!

After about a month or so, he went to his ancestral home in Noakhali and served his old college for six months. Then he joined the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as a scientific officer. I joined the Department of Applied Physics, D U as a lecturer. Naiyyum, Sarwar Alam and I continued our friendship in our early career life, meeting at sometimes at the DU Teacher’s Club and sometimes at the Atomic Energy Badminton Club. 

At the end of 1969 we were told to apply for Commonwealth Scholarships. I applied from the University and he applied from the Atomic Energy Commission. Both of us were awarded the scholarships – I went to England and he went to Canada. From the time I left the then East Pakistan in September 1970 (and probably he left soon afterwards), we lost contacts. We were busy in our respective fields to build up our careers, but then nearly 15 years later we had a dramatic and very pleasant encounter in Bangladesh.  

From England I went to Saudi Arabia as a Radiation Consultant to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There I met a Canadian Food Irradiation Facility manufacturer and at the same time a Bangladeshi industrialist approached me if I can help him with irradiation of foodstuff like potatoes, rice, spices etc. So, I put two and two together and led a team of Canadian manufacturer to Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) needed to be a partner in that venture. The Director of Applied Sciences of the BAEC organised for us a presentation and experimental demonstration of the facility at Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) at Savar. So, on the day six of us, including the Director, went to Savar from Dhaka. At the exact time, the door of the Boardroom where we were sitting  opened and there he was! He was thunder struck as he saw me and I was completely speechless. He came over to me, ignoring the normal etiquette to others, and said, “Is that you, Anis!”. I said, “Naiyyum, how are you?” Anyway, we re-established our contacts there and exchanged our whereabouts on earth. When I went back to Riyadh, I gradually lost contacts with him again.

Nearly 20 years later when his daughter (Sarah) and son-in-law (Shakil), both doctors, got jobs in England and moved to Sheffield and then to Manchester, we established contacts again. Naiyyum and his wife (Shamima) came to visit their daughter and obviously came to see us. In fact, they visited our house a number of times and we had many very enjoyable dinners at our home and also at Sarah’s home. We used to exchange jokes and talk about our missing times. He jokingly said once that while he was in Australia, he had a car and his daughter Sarah, about 4 years old, used to enjoy the ride. Shortly afterwards, they came back to Bangladesh and he could not afford to buy a car immediately. Sarah was missing the ride. One day she said, “Dad, if you can’t afford to have car, you can surely have a rickshaw and then you can drive it!” We had a good laugh. Such little quips were the trademark of Naiyyum. 

I remember one particular encounter about four or five years ago when he came to have dinner with us. As usual, before the dinner, he opened his pandora’s box i.e. medicine box and systematically spread out various medicines – different coloured and shaped tablets - on the dinning table. I jokingly said, “Naiyyum, why do you have to have so many medicines?”. He said facetiously, “Anis, when you come to this earth with defective machineries, you have to service them properly”. Looking back in retrospect, I think that was almost a prophetic statement! His pancreas was definitely defective and that was why he had diabetes. Cancerous cells in his pancreas were probably having a field day when he said those words. Cancer in pancreas does not show any outward symptoms and very difficult to detect. When pancreas cancer became metastatic, it became too late and that was when my friend gave way.

When I reminisce, so many of small tit bits, little jokes, little encounters that I had with him come flooding in me. He had a high sense of humour. We shared our hopes and aspirations, ups and downs, agony and ecstasy in life. We were not rival, we were not jealous of each other, we were pure and simple well-wishers and good friends. 

Good bye, my friend, Naiyyum. It breaks my heart to say farewell to you. We joked about so many things – life and death, God and angels etc. We never thought that these things would one day descend on us! You came, you touched so many lives, you gave pleasure to so many friends and then you left like a wind in the willow. Again, D L Roy’s song comes back to me, “Amra emni eshe bheshe jai” (we just come and float away)!   

Dr. Anisur Rahman, Friend