"I sometimes hold in half a sin,
To put into words the guilt I feel
For words like nature half reveal
And half conceal the soul within".
I heard the late Justice Murshed recite these lines from Alfred Tennyson's "In Memoriam AHH", quoted above, on an occasion when he suffered a personal bereavement. Yet today, after more than four decades of Murshed's death, I find this verse still haunts me.
It is difficult for me to put into words the feelings evoked by these lines and the memory of the extraordinarily brilliant man, with whom I associate them.
Syed Mahbub Murshed was undoubtedly among the most striking public figures that appeared in our national scene. Born in 1911 in one of the most distinguished Muslim families in Bengal, he had shown signs of his vast talents from an early age.
The late playwright and litterateur Professor Nural Momen recalled the precocity of the youthful Murshed during his Presidency College days at Calcutta in his essay. The great expectations he had aroused among his contemporaries from his student days were subsequently materialised.
After brilliant academic performances both in the subcontinent and England, Syed Mahbub Murshed began his career as a lawyer in the late 1930s, where he soon made his mark on the Calcutta Bar.
His attachment to the Bar and to his colleagues in the legal profession lasted till the end of his days. Later on in life, while serving as a Chief Justice on the bench, he would talk nostalgically about the Bar.
"The Bar'', he said, "is my professional home, a place where I shall continually return. Even when I am dead, my disembodied soul shall hover around the premises of the Bar." His affection for people of his profession was deep.
As a young barrister in 1942, Murshed's article "Quo Vadis Quaid?" appeared in the "Statesman" of Calcutta created a stir in Bengal as he criticised Mr Jinnah and defended his uncle Sher-e-Bangla Fazlul Haque.
After the partition of the subcontinent, Murshed moved to Pakistan. Being a humanitarian all his life, the Bengal famine and the communal riots of 1946 moved him to work with Anjuman Mufidul Islam.
Murshed was also among the persons who put to motion the process that culminated in the Nehru-Liaquat pact. He was drawn into the vortex of the language movement and along with his uncle, the Sher-e-Bangla broke Section 144 in 1952.
In 1954, just before becoming a judge, Murshed along with Abul Mansoor Ahmed drafted the Manifesto for the Jukta Front government led by his uncle.
Later that year, Mahbub Murshed was elevated to the bench of the High Court of Dhaka. He also worked relentlessly as the Chairman of the Red Cross. After a brief stint as a judge in the Pakistan Supreme Court, he was appointed Chief Justice of East Pakistan High Court in May 1964.
As a judge, Justice Murshed remained committed to his lifelong ideals of liberty, justice and excellence.
His Judicial pronouncements, delivered as a High Court and Supreme Court judge and then as Chief Justice, clearly reflected these ideals. Some of Justice Murshed's judgements created constitutional history and not only won him national fame but also international acclaim.
He will always be remembered in history for fearlessly upholding the rule of law. He remained a reflection of courage despite pressures from the highest quarters. As Chief Justice, he stated during a verdict, "It is not the use but the abuse of power that the courts are meant to readdress." Hence, he will remain a titan in the judicial arena of South Asia for his landmark judgements.
Not being a lawyer, I will not comment more. But I am told that Chief Justice Murshed is among the finest judges in legal history and vastly quoted as references by lawyers, not only in his native Bangladesh but also in other SAARC countries like Pakistan and India.
Murshed again teamed up with Abul Mansoor Ahmed to put the final varnish on the Six Points Programme. In the same year, the then President of Chhatra League Mazharul Haque Baki and the then General Secretary Sirajul Alam Khan asked him to chair their annual conference where Murshed also echoed Bangabandhu's clarion call for provisional autonomy.
During the peak of the Six Points Movement, Syed Mahbub Murshed resigned from his post as Chief Justice. During his farewell speech, Murshed received a standing ovation. He concluded his speech by stating "I salute you - you who were my erstwhile comrades, the members of the Bar."
After his resignation from Chief Justice, the first thing Murshed did was to organise the defence of the Agartala Conspiracy case. It is mainly due to him that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not have to come out on parole, but was set free unconditionally along with others who were accused.
Murshed's active participation in the mass upsurge in 1969 further earned him respect. It was his protest resignation from Chief Justice that made the public believe that he was the only acceptable candidate to run against President Ayub.
During the Round Table Conference of 1970, when Ayub Khan was brought down on his knees, Murshed demanded the "one man, one vote" principle be implemented. Previously, both East and West Pakistan had 150 seats in the parliament.
But as a direct result of Murshed's demand, East Pakistan got 169 out of 300 seats, paving the path for Awami League's historic win in the subsequent election.
The agitation that Justice Murshed created with the then High Court Bar on account of the constitutional hiatus went to such an extreme that no judge was willing to swear in General Tikka Khan as the governor of East Pakistan in 1971.
His contributions did not stop after the liberation war. For example: in 1977, he advised the late President Ziaur Rahman to form what is now called SAARC.
Justice Murshed is an integral part of the history of our country. I can only conclude by saying about him the same passage he said about his uncle, "In life and in death, he was a king without the trappings of a monarch, for he had built an empire in the hearts of his fellowmen."
K Sallahuddin is a retired official of Radio Bangladesh and a poet. He is also the secretary of the Syed Mahbub Murshed memorial committee.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.