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    Volume 2 Issue 43| November 07, 2010 |


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Sankar: The Agony and Ecstasy of a Writer

Shaiful Islam

Gleming curious faces kept turning back towards the entrance. The moment a car horn sounded, people rushed to the doors only to return with disappointed faces. It happened several times but their enthusiasm did not decline.

Soon enough, however, whispers were heard, "He has come". Their patience gave way and they rushed to greet him. It was none other than the noted Bengali novelist Mani Sankar Mukherji popularly known as Sankar. Those in eager anticipation were mostly students and teachers of English Department of IUB.

After a brief introduction of the author (simply because he did not require a longer one) by Professor Razia Sultana Khan, Head of Department of English and Department of Modern Languages, Sankar opened the workshop on creative writing. Through memorable anecdotes and kaleidoscopic descriptions of his childhood, Sankar narrated his journey as a writer. Being forced to shoulder the responsibility of running a large family of eight members after his father's unexpected death, Sankar tried a number of jobs that included being a typewriter, cleaner, a clerk, a steno and even a hawker. At one point, a friend introduced him to a British barrister called Noel Barwell who became his employer. It was through his companionship with Noel Barwell that Sankar was introduced to literature.

One day Sankar took Barwell to lunch. After lunch they visited a few places in Kolkata and later watched a cinema together. While returning, Barwell offered him dinner at his place. They chatted the whole evening and talked about a number of things especially literature. When he was about to leave, Barwell called him back and said, "For quite a few days something is spinning in my head. I had thought of saying this to you, but I never got to. I feel that you are an extraordinary boy". This comment of Noel's moved Sankar. The whole way back he was engrossed with this small phrase. "Extraordinary Boy", "EXTRAORDINARY BOY" was buzzing in his head. He felt something change within. This was the beginning of Sankar becoming a writer.

After a mesmerizing three hour session, Sankar distributed certificates among the participants. Taking the audience of the morning session beyond their anticipation, Sankar started his evening session at the same venue, the Multipurpose Hall of IUB. The session was titled 'The Making of Chowringhee- a not-so-well-known story'. The event started off with an introduction of the writer to a crowd of 200 people. The Head of the English Department, Professor Khan said, "Sankar is a household name in Bengal and much loved by readers in the subcontinent''. Then came Professor Omar Rahman, Pro Vice Chancellor of IUB with the anatomy of Sankar's most popular novel Chowringhee which was published in 1962 in Kolkata and filmed by Oscar winning movie-maker Satyajit Roy. Arunava Sinah has very recently translated this book into English. Professor Rahman: "When I read Chowringhee as a young boy and several times since then, I have remained enthralled and drawn into the subtle and nuanced descriptions of a city and a society on the cusp of change from a polyglot cosmopolitanism to a more strident parochial Indian identity-a veritable fin de siècle. When you read Chowringhee, you become the characters: Sata Bose the urbane receptionist/concierge who has seen it all the venality of the rich, the squalid lives of the hotel employees, the daily compromises you need to make to go along and get along with. You suffer with him in his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to escape from this sophisticated but tawdry world that the Hotel Shahjahan represents into the anonymity of middle class domestic bliss." Professor Bazlul Mobin Chowdhury, Vice Chancellor of IUB followed Professor Rahman with a rumination of his days of the fifties when he got the taste of Sankar's book Koto Ajanare.

Professor Chowdhury presented the IUB sash to Sankar. Then came that auspicious moment the audience was waiting for. Sankar began with this line, "Lucky is that land where authors are born and doubly lucky are the people who recognise their authors in their lifetime". He has written around 100 books and is now busy writing a biographical fiction. This is Sankar still writing, a prolific writer at the age of 77.

After the talk the floor was opened for discussion. The audience
got the chance to know more about the revered writer. He did say that there are three ways of answering a question, I know ,I don't know and I know but I decline to answer. This set the vein for his talk, which kept everyone at the edge of their seats.

Sankar's visit to IUB was coordinated by Dr. Akimun Rahman, Associate Professor, Department of Modern Languages. The event ended with Professor Khan thanking everyone who attended.

(The author is a Senior Lecturer, Department of English, Independent University, Bangladesh)

Absolutely Fantastic!

Sumaiya Ahsan Bushra

In today's competitive world, we as a nation are not really far behind. With Musa Ibrahim conquering the Everest and the Tigers' unfathomed victory against the Kiwis, we are slowly but surely marking our position in the world. With this notion in mind, the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and the British Council in Dhaka honoured the outstanding academic achievements of Bangladeshi secondary school learners in November 2009 and June 2010 Cambridge examination sessions with the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award. The award ceremony was held at the Radisson Water Garden Hotel on October 30.

The guest panel who handed over the awards comprised of Ian Chambers, Regional Manager for South Asia; University of Cambridge International Examinations. He gave a welcome speech and handed certificates to candidates who achieved four or more As at CIE AS Level and three or more As at CIE A Level. Murray Keeler, Director Examinations, British Council, Bangladesh was also present and he gave out certificates to candidates who achieved seven or more As at CIE O Level exams. Nick Low, Acting British High Commissioner in Bangladesh handed certificates to candidates who received High Achievement CIE O Level, AS and A Level and also to those who are best across seven, eight and nine CIE O Levels, best across three, four five CIE AS Levels and best across three, four, five A Levels. Lastly, Dr. John Guy, Syndicate Member of Cambridge Assessment, also graced the occasion with his presence. He gave out certificates to the category of Top in Bangladesh and Top in the World. The last category of award was dedicated to the teachers, without whom none of this would have been possible; Ian Chambers gave the Inspirational Teacher Award.

“You are outperforming the rest of the world,” said Ian Chambers in his welcome speech. In his opinion, it is a great achievement for Bangladesh. He added, “The teachers are constantly trying to improve their skills. The level of commitment shown by the teachers and the school authorities are phenomenal”. He also talked about the teachers training - a programme organised by the CIE, which takes places every six months.

Next, Nick Low commenced his speech by congratulating the students in a rather unique way. He began by pointing at the row, where the teachers were seated and said, “None of you (the students) would be here without this side of the room”. In addition he said, “The number of students has doubled since last year and those 15 of you who have secured your positions in the world, it is absolutely outstanding!”

Lastly, Dr. John Guy delivered his speech and he began with greetings from the University of Cambridge. After that, he talked about the Cambridge education system elaborately and emphasised on its international nature and how these Bangladeshi students are indeed competing against the very best in the world. “This system is not about cramming, this is the 21st century system and it is the Cambridge way of teaching”. Furthermore, he stressed on the idea of avoiding rote-learning and accepting the path of critical thinking. He opined, “I encourage you to not see an exam as something one crams for to achieve a grade”. To him, it isn't just about learning knowledge; it's about education and especially about teaching oneself to inquire further.

Other than the honourable guests, some of the school principals and parents also expressed their views and ideas on the students' performances and endeavours in the future. Tazeen Ahmed, Principal of Sunnydale School explained how the pressure is extreme now. Given that her school has established such excellence in the country and (to some extent) the world, she believes that now it is more difficult for her students to maintain that level of excellence. Despite that, she strongly believes that her students will pass with flying colours not only in the academic field but also in all arenas of life. She said, “I am extremely proud of my students, but being a Sunnydalian is not just about being top academically. It is about being the best in everything and especially about being a good human being”. From the district schools, Principal of Tulip International School and College, Dinajpur, spoke delightedly about his students who secured their position as top in Bangladesh. He said, “The results in Biology were excellent and I am very happy about it”.

“I am extremely proud of my grandson. He has obtained the certificate for top position in the world for Mathematics!” exclaimed the excited grandfather of one of the top achievers. Some of the parents explained how they wanted to see their children, especially their daughters, holding a prestigious position in our country in the engineering sector. “I want to give my daughter all the freedom to choose her own field of study” said the proud mother of Shawana Habib, who achieved ten As from Presidency International School, Chittagong, while some of the other parents mentioned that, they would like to send their children abroad for higher education.

The students on the other hand had mixed responses to their success. They were thrilled but, at the same time, had better expectations. Mohammad Abrar Wadud of Oxford International School, who received High Achievement award for Applied ICT said, “I had to struggle a lot since this is a comparatively new subject and I expected better scores but regardless I am happy. However, I plan to study Physics in the future.” Mohaimin Al Aoun of Greenherald International School who received High Achievement award for French said, “French was a different subject, I enjoyed studying it because I am interested in learning about their culture and tradition”. Tahmeed Rafee of Chittagong Grammar School received certificate for holding the Top in the World award in Mathematics for the June 2010 session. He talked about his future plans and said, “I want to study in a prestigious university in the UK and I plan to enter the Mathematics, Physics or the Engineering field of education”.

Such a programme of celebrating the “High Achievers” in the secondary school is not something new. The CIE and British Council have been jointly organising these programmes for the past 5 years. This year's ceremony ended with the expectation that the number of students will increase in the next year and that they will by far achieve exceptional grades in more varied fields. With this spirit, the programme concluded with the teachers, students and parents gathering together in the stage to capture the perfect “Kodak moment”.

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