Khan Shamsur Rahman ... our very own Dr. Johnson

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Syed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 16:43, Apr 07, 2019 | Updated : 17:18, Apr 07, 2019

Syed Badrul AhsanKhan Shamsur Rahman, or call him Shamsur Rahman Khan, was a richly-stocked storehouse of knowledge. His encyclopaedic mind remains unmatched, his memory bank of facts and figures and history is yet unparalleled in its intellectual affluence. His patriotism was second to none.
This man of substance died a good number of years ago at the age of eighty four. There ought to have been all the reminiscences on his life and times in the media. Those who have kept watch on Bangladesh’s history as it unfolded in the 1960s and 1970s should have found time to reflect on the man whose contributions to the creation of Bangladesh were based on pure conviction and undiluted courage. The Agartala conspiracy case instituted by the Ayub Khan regime in late 1967 and pursued with vigour bordering on vengeance all the way to early 1969 made Khan Shamsur Rahman a household word inasmuch as it helped turn the tide for the people of a soon to be born Bangladesh.
It was Khan’s suffering, as accused number nineteen in the case, along with that of thirty four other Bengalis that sealed our collective belief in our future being well outside the parameters of the state of Pakistan. Those of us who remember the tumultuous times that were the late 1960s recall too the terrible pain Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Khan Shamsur Rahman and everyone else implicated in the Agartala case were subjected to by the Pakistani military and civilian establishment, the better to have them convicted and sentenced as traitors to the cause of Pakistan.
Khan Shamsur RahmanWhen Khan Shamsur Rahman died on an October day, it should have been for those among us who knew him well, and knew of him, to dwell at length on his career and his personality as a way of understanding our own place in the global scheme of things. He did not deserve our silence. In his death it was not an insignificant soul that was passing into the Great Beyond, for Khan was one of those Bengalis whose superiority of character matched his greatness of humility. He did not speak of himself. He did not drop names. And yet he was, and will always be, part of the processes along which Bangladesh’s history has shaped itself.
There was sheer brilliance in the man. It was not merely the fact of his topping the Central Superior Service examinations of Pakistan in 1951, which of course was a feat that will make every Bengali proud, that defined him. The brilliance went beyond the frontiers of the government career that he passed through and through which he rose to the heights. He served with distinction in different regions of East Pakistan, in a variety of responsible positions. He served a stint at the Pakistan embassy in Jakarta in the 1960s, which again was a pointer to the powerhouse that was his mind.
When you speak of Khan’s brilliance, you tend to think of his intellect, of the wisdom he brought into his defence of the cause of his fellow Bengalis. And then, of course, there was the honorific as well as the honour in which he was held by his friends, indeed by everyone who knew of the mettle he was made of. He was Dr. Johnson, for he was emblematic of the wisdom that knowledge could throw up. He knew history, he comprehended facts and in him came this amazing ability to relate knowledge to the pursuit of life. Men of wisdom are men of courage, which perhaps explains why Khan Shamsur Rahman did not flinch when the Ayub Khan regime brutalized him in all the darkness of the Agartala case. And that case, if you will recall, was a glowing instance of how men like Khan stood ready to sacrifice themselves in the defence of their land and heritage.
As part of Pakistan’s civil service, he was especially under pressure to confess, to inform the regime that he and his co-accused had all been party to a grand conspiracy to break Pakistan into two and lead its eastern wing to independence. Khan did not break. Nobody broke. In the end, all the accused Bengalis but one emerged free of the case, not because Pakistan had relented but because the Bengali nation had prevailed in its determination to have these patriotic men come home. One did not come home. Sergeant Zahurul Haq was murdered by the military in the cantonment. Nearly two years down the road, one other brave one among the lot, Commander Moazzem Hossain, would be brutally cut down by the army of occupation from Pakistan in the early hours of the genocide on 26 March 1971.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was seen with family after his release from Cantonment in Agartala conspiracy case.DAWN/file photoKhan Shamsur Rahman’s place in the pantheon of Bengali heroes became an assured reality long before Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman sent him off to Moscow as Bangladesh’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union. And from there it was to Delhi that he went as high commissioner. In him was symbolized the Bengali cause, the essence of what Bangladesh stood for. In the early 1980s, he faded into silence. It was just as well. He was one of those few men who did not wear their heroism on their sleeves. It was enough for Khan Shamsur Rahman that he had served the country he had suffered for.
In the days of the Agartala case, Khan Shamsur Rahman’s faith consisted in his belief that Bengalis would not let him down. As a free man, he repaid the debt: he did not let his fellow Bengalis down.
We wait for the Boswell who will someday speak of this, our very own, Doctor Johnson.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is the editor in charge at the Asian Age.

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