In the passing of Professor Anisuzzaman, one more of the nation's conscience keepers transits into the ages. He lived a long life and ought to have lived more, for his presence in national life had always been a vibrant one, pregnant with meaning and underpinned with purpose. When the life went out of him on Thursday evening, it was a time for us to recall the immensity of the contributions he made to our collective life as a nation.
In Anisuzzaman lived a perennial scholar who believed in the world of letters coming in accompaniment with the cosmic pattern of politics. Not for him the aloofness, indeed the isolation which generally define the lives of souls given over to intellectual pursuits. For him, intellectual life needed to be fused with the world outside his window, the better to take a quotidian stock of societies and nations. His nation, with whose destiny he identified so integrally during the War of Liberation in 1971, was for him a constant call to duty. And duty manifested itself through his identification with the struggle that was to lead to national sovereignty through nine months of arduous guerrilla war.
In that fiery crowd of patriots who shaped the course of the war in 1971, Professor Anisuzzaman was one of our points of light. His association with the fledgling planning commission of the country, in those trying months, was recognition of his abilities the Mujibnagar government was quick to draw on. Here was a man of letters, a scholar in literary matters, who was to prove equally adept in providing advice to the government-in-exile. His links with Tajuddin Ahmad, the embattled and yet determined leader spearheading the battlefield strategy for freedom, were proof of the deep respect in which he was held by the nation and certainly by the nation's freedom fighters.
But, of course, respect was what naturally came Anisuzzaman's way. As an academic, at such illustrious centres of education as Chittagong University and Dhaka University, he had convinced students and peers alike of the indispensability of scholarship and research as a means of strengthening the educational base of the nation. It was this commitment to education that was pivotal as also natural in his inclusion in the Qudrat-e-Khuda education commission constituted soon after the liberation of the country. His inputs, which were as substantive as they were necessary, were a significant contributory factor in the formulation of a liberal education policy for a country which had recently come through a war and was engaged in reconstruction efforts across the social and economic landscape.
In an era when stars are a fast receding phenomenon in the firmament of intellect, Anisuzzaman was consistently a symbol of brilliance, both in his youth and through the years of middle age and onward. His journeys abroad all had specific purposes, which were woven around scholarly pursuits, be they in higher studies or in the capacity of a visiting scholar. Here at home, his was an endlessly powerful voice in defence of people's rights, which in essence was symbolic of his abiding faith in democratic liberalism. It was not for him to be cowed into silence by the forces of darkness, for he knew he had to speak up against the viciousness that was religious fundamentalism. He did the job bravely, without fear and with conviction.
Anisuzzaman's place in national history became an assured fact years before mortality claimed him on Thursday. The Bangla Academy award, the Ekushey Padak were but two of the innumerable instances of the honour a grateful nation has showered on him. The reasons are not far to seek, for through his writings, through his lectures, through his conversations, he persuaded the nation into believing that darkness could not be a permanent feature of life. He was the embodiment of light, like so many others who shared ideas with him, believing in the inviolability of Bengali nationalism. It was just as well, for Anisuzzaman was part of history. He was history's child. He was there, in his strapping youth, raising the demand for the Bangla language in 1952. In 1969, he was loud in his call that an entrenched dictatorship needed to go. For him, as for millions of others, 1971 was a defining point in history.
In a free Bangladesh, he had new responsibilities to fulfill. His association with the framing of the Constitution in 1972, through giving it the richness of the Bengali language, is an indelible part of our story. He was away from his country when deep darkness swept over it. Abroad, he grieved at the assassination of Bangabandhu. And yet he knew that the darkness would be pierced, forcefully, by new light. His belief came to pass in the course of time.
We are left poorer by the passing of Professor Anisuzzaman. But we know too that the legacy he leaves behind --- of belief in democracy, of dedication to scholarship, of faith in the future of the land --- will prove enduring. He was a star that did not fall to earth. He was a star that has broken free of earth, to be part of the heavens.