Shafiqul Haque Chowdhury
‘Men don’t cry’ is a myth. It was rein forced when Dr Gaush Mohammad Chowdhury, popularly known as Dr GMS Chowdhury, former Professor of the Department of Surgery in Assam Medical College, broke down as he talked about his father, Shafiqul Haque Chowdhury. Eleven years has passed since his death but for the son, he is ever present even in his absence.
The senior Chowdhury belonged to a zamindar family in Churkhai in Sylhet district. According to Dr Chowdhury, his forefather came to Bengal with Mir Jumla, the general of Emperor Aurangzeb, to whom he was a war official. He married a local girl and settled in Sylhet. Mir Jumla bestowed a zamindari on him as reward for his brilliant work. It was Shafiqul Haque Chowdhury’s grandfather, who first came to Assam and was greatly impressed by what he saw in the region. He returned to Sylhet after buying a large plot of land in Nagaon.
The zamindar of Churkhai sent his eldest son, Mudarish Ali Chowdhury, who was an engineer, to Nagaon. During this period, the tea industry was flourishing and the pass-out of Dhaka Technical Institute found himself in great demand. He became the visiting engineer to many tea gardens, which had factories and needed a technically qualified person to oversee the smooth functioning of the machines. Mudarish Ali Chowdhury married Jamila Khatoon and they became parents to five sons.
The eldest was Shafiqul Haque Chowdhury, who was born in 1920. He was sent to Dibrugarh with his uncle, Jalaluddin Ahmed Chowdhury, to study. During this period, the town was a leading center of education. Both rented a place in what was then known as ‘Medical Ward.’ Within a year or so after their arrival, the uncle passed his tenth from George Institution, now known as Bagmibor Nilmoni Phukan Higher Secondary School, and went on to become the pleader’s clerk with advocate Saidur Rehman, who later became the Education Minister of Assam. His nephew did his matriculation from Calcutta University with a first division with letter marks in Maths and Additional Mathematics. He joined Berry White Medical School but gave up his medical studies in his final year when he became embroiled in the freedom struggle.
Dr GMS Chowdhury remembers his father talking about the period. He believed in the path of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose rather than Mahatma Gandhi. A proponent of armed struggle if need be, he had seen the ouster of British from India and India’s Independence as an inevitability, rather than the handiwork of non-violence movement of Gandhi.
This follower of Netaji turned a businessman after Independence. While he was dabbling in various businesses, he came in touch with Sirajul Haque Ahmed, a prominent tea industrialist and owner of Ahmedi Tea Estate near Nadua. Shafiqul went on to become the Assistant Manager of the garden. He also married his benefactor’s eldest daughter, Mahmuda Khatoon. Keen to pursue his interrupted education, he took up commerce and did his B.Com before taking admission in law. After graduating as a lawyer, he joined Dibrugarh Bar Association in 1954. All this while, he was traveling from Ahmedi Tea Estate, where he resided with his family. Soon thereafter, the advocate shifted his base back to Dibrugarh.
Shafiqul Haque Chowdhury came to be held in high regard. He was known to practice law, not to make money but to help people. An anecdote narrated by his son attests to the fact. When Dr GMS Chowdhury entered Assam Medical College as a student, Dr BK Kar of the institution told his father that medical studies would require a lot of money. His father, the son remembered, said that he would give his children the best of education and build them up instead of constructing a house. The same determination to educate his son well was also behind the decision to send his son to Cotton College to do his PU, despite the advice of all to keep him in Dibrugarh. His daughter-in-law, Dr (Mrs) Helina Rehman Saikia, who is the Head of Pediatrics Department in AMC, saw in her husband’s father, a strong advocate of education. She revealed that she did her post-graduation after marriage with the support of her father-in-law. He himself was a voracious reader.
Shafiqul Haque Chowdhury’s political beliefs leaned towards the Left. While he never belonged to any political party, he was critical of the Congress and he never shied from voicing it. It had its repercussion, which he was well aware of. The former Professor of Surgery had never thought of becoming a doctor. Despite being selected to some of the foremost engineering colleges, he decided to change track following a conversation with his father. The elder Chowdhury told his son that it might be difficult to further his career as an engineer in a government department but becoming a doctor provided the option of private practice, if getting a conventional job failed. The surgeon credits his father with what he is today and has no regrets whatsoever.
The well-regarded personality had his downs but took them in his stride. He was arrested and put in jail for four months during the Indo-Pak War in 1965. With the sole breadwinner in prison, the family faced hard days. His arrest invited criticism. One of his juniors, Dwipendra Narayan Chowdhury, whose sister Gyanada was a classmate of the advocate, still remembers the outrage among people when the news of the arrest spread. He mentioned going to the police station and questioning the police officer about the logic behind it. Chowdhury attributed the incarceration to conspiracy.
After being released, it was back to his legal practice. An operation, laryngectomy, in 1981 took away the advocate’s voice. Displaying an indomitable spirit once again, he did not let the handicap come in the way of his profession. His son proudly revealed that he used to write out his arguments on paper while fighting cases.
Shafiqul Haque Chowdhury was a role model and the epitome of goodness for his children. A strict father and disciplinarian, he became their playmate for a game of badminton or cricket. For his daughter-in-law, he was the support, who laid to rest her apprehensions during her pregnancy and subsequent delivery through the C-section in the absence of her husband, who was then in Guwahati. A loving grandfather, he used to give treats to his colleagues in the Bar when his only grandson did well in exams. For Dwipendra Narayan Chowdhury, he was a devout person, who lived by the dictum of simple living, high thinking. The advocate, who remains a towering personality and an example to be emulated for his son, died in 2001. Mahmuda Khatoon, his wife, was a pious lady, who was happy to go where her husband led. She died at the age of 82 on August 29 in 2008.
Dr GMS Chowdhury, the eldest of four children, was born to Shafiqul Haque Chowdhury and his wife in 1949. He did his schooling in Dibrugarh and PU from Cotton College, from where he passed with first division with distinction. An MBBS degree from AMC followed. After a brief stint in Silchar Medical College, the doctor worked in Behali Tea Estate near Tezpur before qualifying in APSC and joining his alma mater as Registrar of Surgery in 1975. Dr Chowdhury did his MS, worked in Gauhati Medical College from 1979 to 1988 before coming back to AMC. In between, he got his FICS in 1985. He retired from AMC in 2007. Marriage to Dr Helina Rehman of Jorhat happened in 1978. Their only son, Dr Zakaria Chowdhury, is a pathologist in NEIGRIHMS in Shillong. A brilliant student throughout, he secured the fifth position in HSSLC from Cotton College. He completed his MBBS and MD in Pathology from AMC.
The second son of Shafiqul Haque Chowdhury was doing his B.Sc, when he was drowned in June 1972 while on his way to Sylhet, which was in flood. He had gone to find out more about their ancestors but lost his life there. His daughter, Dureka Shafique, presently stays with the surgeon and his wife after the death of her husband. The youngest of the four is Mahmud Mohammad Chowdhury.