Tuesday, February 27, 2024

An interview with an original and outstanding person in the literature and culture of Bengal

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Author with Jamil Chowdhury

If we talk about the contribution of the first television establishment in our city of Dhaka, we have to mention many more qualifications and abilities. Our respected man, Agraja and Varenya Jamil Chowdhury. Who was intimately involved with the Liberation War. He enriched the development of Bengali language and culture by working behind the scenes. Above all, with his hard work and talent, he researched the Bengali language and edited the ‘Modern Bengali Dictionary’ with pronunciation.

Jamil Chowdhury was born in 1934 in Comilla district. Primary education in his village school. Later during the winter of 1943, he went to Calcutta to survive, as rice was available in rations in big cities. He enrolled in school and studied there, and in 1946 Calcutta riots, the school was closed for a few days, he grew up in the middle of all this turmoil.

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He was admitted to Dhaka University with Honors in Physics in 1951, when the language movement was at its height. He was a participant and eyewitness of the eventful period of February 21, 1952. The student leader was shot next to him. He is the witness of all those merciless and tragic events.
Later, when the Shaheed Minar was built, he took the first picture published with his camera.

Studies continued amid the agitation, and in 1955 he obtained his M.Sc. degree, with the great distinction that he stood first in his first class.

In the early part of his working life, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission sent five people including him to America for training. Among the five, two are Bengalis and three are from West Pakistan. After returning home after training, the commission appointed three West Pakistanis as first-class officers but two Bengalis as second-class. So Jamil Chowdhury rejected the job of Atomic Energy Commission and joined a private company.

I encountered Jamil Chowdhury, the author of this article Nanigopal. To know more about the publication of ‘Adhunik Bangla Dictionary’ along with the launch and pronunciation of TV establishment in Dhaka.

After the exchange of greetings, the interview lasted for about two hours in genuine and sincere conversation between the two.

Nani: Please tell me a little about the beginning of TV establishment in Dhaka.

Ja. Chow: When my friend Rehman Sobhan’s company Institute of Technical and Economic Consultants was interested in joining me as a consultant, I agreed and started working. At that time, Japan’s Nippon Electric Company (NEC) sent a letter asking for consulting advice on the feasibility of setting up a TV station in Dhaka, conducting a survey. NEC wanted to know some indicators like how many traffic lights there are in the city, whether there are neon signs at different places etc.

I was asked to answer that letter, as an advisor. I didn’t say anything about traffic lights, neon signs, I just said that Dhaka is a big city, rich in art culture, there are dances, music shows, dramas and a large number of visitors. So if a TV station broadcasts these activities, many people will want to watch TV and even buy it.

It is worth mentioning here that the Government of Pakistan actually asked the NEC to conduct a feasibility study on whether TV could be launched in major cities and to start the experiment privately.

But when NEC sent a letter to survey, after getting my reply they believed that introducing TV in Dhaka first can be effective, as compared to other cities of Pakistan.

“The then Managing Director of NEC Mr. Masudima came to Karachi and called me there. I went to Karachi on March 27, 1964 – the first question was whether I am willing to take charge of a TV station in Dhaka? I reluctantly agreed.”
After returning, I rented a house at Siddheshwari in Dhaka and opened an office for TV there.

However, the NEC later stated that studios should be built in buildings as high as possible so that antennas can be mounted on top. At that time DIT was the tallest building in Dhaka, with office and studio space available in August 1964. When the equipment, camera, TV set all arrived from Japan very quickly, the studio work was completed quickly, test broadcasts were happening occasionally, we continued to observe everything sitting in the office.

In such a situation, one thing arose in my mind that all the writings on TV will be in Bengali. Although I avoided many obstacles, the one who helped me the most in this matter is the famous Munir Chowdhury. A committee was also formed on Bengali writing headed by artist Zainal Abedin, I was also a member. “TV is now a reality in Dhaka city, where is our happiness!” Jamil Chowdhury said.

A more notable thing to see or say is that the first TV station of the Pak-India subcontinent is in Dhaka. NEC was also conducting experiments in Lahore but we got it going.

Nani: Launched but how was the opening?

Ja. Chow: The government has told us that if the tests go well, there is a plan for President Ayub Khan to come to Dhaka in the end of December (1964) to arrange the inauguration. We were busy organizing the program in the same way, even a committee was formed to edit the work led by artist Zainal Abedin, “Here too we decided that whatever is written or said to honor Ayub Khan will be in Bengali on TV.” On 25th December 1964, President Ayub Khan cut the ribbon, and the TV screen flashed, “Honourable President, accept our sincere greetings today, 10 Paush, 1371.” The first TV broadcast of the Pak-India subcontinent started in Dhaka, we celebrated.

Nani: How did people see?
Ja. Chou: Yes, NEC also gave us 500 TV sets, we distributed 300 to various government agencies in Dhaka, 200 were released in the market at a fixed price, on a first-come, first-served basis. But then the transmission capacity was only 20 km. in radius, which covered Dhaka city only. The limit was gradually increased.

Nani: Where were you on the black night of March 25, 1971?

Ja. Chou: I was in Dhaka with a little cover, but for quite some time the days were passing with extreme tension. We don’t obey government orders, fear is always in our hearts. The entire period after the black night is called black. “On March 27, I went to visit Dhaka University, I went to the staff accommodation and saw that one Vasudev and his wife were killed and a two-year-old child lying in bed was also shot in the back. I couldn’t stay still after seeing this silence. I thought that this country is not mine, I reached Agartala on the 3rd of May after a lot of effort, from there I left for Kolkata on the 7th.”

Nani: Then how did you participate in the work of the liberation war?

Ja. Chow: An information booth was set up in Kolkata, I was put in charge of it. The job was to provide foreign journalists with as accurate information as possible from inside Bangladesh during the war. “On the other hand, all the sensational information of fierce fighting continued to come, I kept observing all the important events and giving them to the journalists. As it went on, the golden day came, the surrender of the Pakistani invaders on December 16, the victory flag in Bangladesh in the hands of all.”

Nani: When did you start Bangladesh TV again when you came to Dhaka?

Ja. Chow: I was called on 17th or 18th of December, then this, Imam said that I have to go to Dhaka and start Bangladesh TV again, I came and restarted the work of TV with a lot of joy and enthusiasm. Jaddu remembers sitting in Dhaka on December 21st and contacting all the previous officials and all the arrangements were made to start the work. I want to say with a very happy heart that, “We have decided, the day Bangabandhu comes to Dhaka, we will show the entire journey from the airport on live TV. I successfully demonstrated it, and the huge crowd of Bangladesh was delighted to see it.”
Nani: Did you meet Bangabandhu?

Ja. Chow: I was lucky that I only met him a few times. To tell the truth, “On August 14, 1975, I went to meet Bangabandhu, you know about the brutal incident of Beiman on August 15, he passed away with his family. I could not meet on August 14 because Bangabandhu was in a very long meeting with the Indian High Commissioner. Later came to know that the High Commissioner had actually come to warn Bangabandhu that there was a big plot against him.”

Nani: What was your role on TV when the pot changed on August 15?

Ja. Chow: What actually happened was not the power of direct conflict, “because now it was not Pakistan, but its own brothers who were being unfaithful. I didn’t have the mentality to support, I couldn’t find a way except to take a middle path. But later in August (as those who are now old, who were in Dhaka at the time, should remember), on the night of November 6th there was an all-night shelling in Dhaka. Some people also chanted Pakistan Zindabad slogans. On the morning of November 7, I received a phone call, saying that there was a meeting at the TV station all night yesterday, a list of names was being prepared, my name was number one there, asking me to escape. I didn’t go to the office anymore, I went to hide, all the people who went to the office that day were killed. Among whom were four senior officials of TV.” This was or is Beiman Bengali, what was the role and what to keep.

After being in hiding for a while, I thought that the situation had cooled down and one day I called and said, “I don’t want to work on TV anymore.” I was transferred to the Ministry of Planning, then the Ministry of Information and finally the Ministry of Education from where I retired.
Nani: What was the role of Ziaur Rahman at that time?

Ja. Chou: I can talk about TV in particular, where Zia’s time there had done everything in a Pakistani style, “Everything we wanted to carry forward with Bengali culture had been erased. We felt like we were watching Pakistani TV.”
Nani: How did you become so interested in Bengali spelling, pronunciation and dictionary, being a science person?

Ja. Chow: Actually, I had a special interest in Bengali spelling since my student life. I decided that “all the writings on TV will be in Bengali, then I would check all the writings myself so that the spelling is not wrong.” Pronunciation is also related to spelling so pronunciation has to be worked on. Words cannot be used properly without knowing the pronunciation. Obaidul Haque, Anisuzzaman, Naren Biswas and I also made a pronunciation dictionary together. In 2000, Visva Bharati, who went to Santiniketan as a Visiting Fellow, called about that spell. Then I compiled a dictionary with pronunciation, our dictionary didn’t have pronunciation then. First a book called Shabad Sanket was published from Calcutta, named by Shankha Ghosh. When he came back to Dhaka, the Director General of Bangla Academy said, “There are many mistakes in the dictionary to be corrected. I decided to make a new dictionary with pronunciation. Working on the ‘Modern Bengali Dictionary’ was published in 2009.”

Nani: Have you written any stories, poems or essays?

Ja. Chou: Yes, I wanted to write an essay, but I have some opinions that many people won’t like, so I didn’t write them because I didn’t want to give up on myself.

Nani: Finally a personal question. When and how did you get married?

Ja. Chow: I married Kamar Chowdhury in 1956, she was a political science student in Dhaka University. They became acquaintances, became life partners, but passed away in 2007. I have a son and a daughter, they have two grandchildren at home, they are my friends.

Nani: Thank you so much for taking the time to share so much valuable information.

Ja. Chow: Thank you very much too.

Our interview ended with great kindness, we hope you will be happy to know the information.

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