Memory of Professor Wahiduddin Ahmed

Memory of Professor Wahiduddin Ahmed

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MA Taher Khandakar
A convoy of five vehicles started at 11:26 hours on 05/11/2018 (Monday) from the BUET campus, Dhaka, for Motlab of Chandpur District. The lead vehicle was an Ambulance of the Anjuman-e Mafidul Islam. Mr Anwar Hossain, Driver, hailing from the District of Bhola was driving the vehicle. In the Ambulance laid still the dead body of Professor Wahiduddin Ahmed, former Vice-Chancellor of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Dhaka. It was 21:30 hours on 05/11/2018 when Mr Shaheen I Khan, son-in-law of the deceased conveyed to me that burial ritual of Prof. Ahmed in his village was carried out as required perfectly. I went to sleep exactly at 24:00 hours, saying my deep sorrow to my wife at the death of Professor Ahmed. He died on 03/11/2018.
I saw Professor Ahmed for about 24 months from May 1975 to April 1977 (not very closely). He was the Vice-Chancellor of the BUET from 24/04/1975 to 24/04/1983. He was the 3rd V-C of the BUET. His predecessors were: (i) Professor M.A. Rashid (01/06/1962 to 16/03/1970) and (ii) Professor M.A. Naser (16/03/1970 to 25/04/1975). I knew Prof. M.A. Rashid and Prof. Naser, both.
It was a hot day on 25/04/1975 when Prof. Wahiduddin took over charges of the V-C in the morning. Mr Kabir was the PA to the V-C. In the afternoon Mr Kabir gave me a photograph of Prof. Ahmed and Prof. Naser shaking hands after the new V-C took over the charge of the office. I went to the Bangladesh Observer office at Motijheel, wrote a few sentences in the format of a news; the news and the photograph were published on the following day. Prof. Ahmed didn’t find out me to offer any thank for writing the news or printing it in the paper. That’s that!
One day I met Prof. Ahmed in his chamber. I went to take an interview of Prof. Ahmed. I didn’t have either a pen or a notebook. I asked him a few questions–those were not important. Neither his replies were important. It was tea-time.
Prof. Ahmed took tea with lemon and no sugar and milk. I was given tea with sugar but no milk. There were four pieces of small biscuits in two small plates. The economy was comparable with the poor condition of the German soldiers after World War I. I ate my two pieces faster than Prof. Ahmed. That is that!
After that useless interview, which is rather a conversation instead of an interview, much water flowed through the Buriganga, Dhalswari and Meghna Rivers. I met Prof. Wahiduddin many days; he talked with me on matters of substance or without substance; I was always offered in such meetings that traditional one cup raw tea and biscuits, two pieces, rather two small pieces! The chemistry of Prof. Ahmed’s affection changed a lot to my advantage. While I was in the fourth year in 1976, he loved me more, and would like to speak with me, even more! Might be, among so many of his pupils I was the luckiest!
One Seminar I attended with Prof. Ahmed and Prof. Eusufzai (of Civil Engg. Department) one day, is yet bright in my memory. Probably it was a holiday, maybe in January 1978. The two professors were scaling the road on foot on the north side of the playground of the BUET; their pace was slow; I came quickly near to them from their rear. Prof. Ahmed asked me if I was willing to go to a seminar in the TSC of Dhaka University. I humbly nodded my head and walked behind them to the venue in the TSC. Entering into the auditorium of the TSC, both of them proceeded further to the rear and chose seats beside the isle–about 15 rows from the front (although the front row was partially vacant).
Soon Prof. Ahmed was spotted by a few of the organizers; they approached him urgently; and requested him to take a seat in the front row; Prof. Ahmed politely refused to comply with. I understood honour was not attached to the position of the row. (It is in the power of Allah!)
However, days passed on!
One day Prof. Ahmed was in a displeased mood. I walked behind him to his chamber as he returned from a class delivering a lecture. He was agitated even when he sat down in the chair asking me to take seat opposite to him. He discovered in the class that students did not receive the correct understanding of “Slenderness Ratio”. “Slenderness Ratio”, a term in civil engineering, is rather a criterion to check the safety of design of load bearing member(s) of structures (walls, columns/pillars etc.). It is determined, in general, dividing the unsupported length of a compression member by radius of gyration (overall cross-sectional dimension of the compression member); however, there are some other conditions to be satisfied. Two more conditions to be considered are effects of deflections on moments and forces; and the effects of duration of loads. Against a certain value of Slenderness Ratio, it shall be checked if the member would exhibit deflection on sustained loads. The students in the class could not respond to this point on the day. Prof. Ahmed blamed a new lecturer for this; he said the teacher lacked the proper understanding of the subject. He took one piece of pencil and another piece of white sheet. He explained to me the correct explanation of “Slenderness Ratio”. He said that “The students failed to understand this very crucial clarity.” Prof. Ahmed taught me this lesson for about 15 minutes in his chamber; he explained almost the full chapter to me so that at least I could understand the seriousness of the matter. I told him that I understood his point of anxiety very clearly. I was also grateful that after about two years I could refresh my memory of the subject that I had studied in the second year in the past. (In fact, it was almost a norm for an examiner in the engineering education to reduce marks of a student, making him unsuccessful in the exam, if an answer written by him was on the wrong concept of a matter.) That is that!
However, there was a different taste of Prof. Ahmed I had experienced. We, a group of about six students, led by me, begged his apology one day. And an apology, of course, was secured too!
We, six students of the fourth year, either in January or February 1976, played roles of volunteers in the convocation function. Our leader was late Prof. H.R. Khan, one of my beloved teachers. Our duty was simple–to receive guests of the front rows; lead them to suitable seats; hand over to them some printed materials for reading. About 20 minutes prior to the arrival of the chancellor’s procession in the Canopy, there was a sudden influx of guests. And there were
not ample vacant seats in the front rows. This created an unanticipated situation and volunteers took decisions and ‘proceeded according to the development of the situation’; they managed it in a haste without instruction from any senior, neither from Dr. Khan (he was locked in the chancellor’s procession). Everything was peaceful; the ceremony was a grand success!
But the sign of a problem emerged subsequently. About a week later, Prof. Khan told me that the V-C was displeased because his wife was pushed out of her reserved seat in the convocation canopy; and that although the act was attributed to by one student-volunteer, the V-C was unhappy with H.R. Khan. About four days later again Dr Khan told me the same story (and presumably he was at unease at such unhappy incidence). I told Dr Khan that we would go to the V-C to beg his apology. Dr Khan considered my proposal for a moment and then told that the V-C might be more displeased if he knew that we had acted on the advice of Dr Khan. I assured him firmly that we would not mention Dr Khan to the V-C.
On the following day after the sunset, we went to V-C’s residence without a prior announcement. We were cordially received; Prof. Ahmed invited us to take seats. On his question, I stated that we had been there to beg apology for our bad manner to his wife. He asked me what that was for. I replied that it was I who had removed his wife from the reserved seat at the convocation ceremony; that my manner was mean; so I felt sorry and I wished to beg her apology.
My classmates had gone there to plead for me to his wife, I further added.
Prof. Ahmed smiled. He called in his wife. A fair lady with elegant appearance and clean and fine dress stepped in the living room. We all stood up to her respect. Prof. Ahmed told her that we were his students and we had come there with the intention to seek her apology. I took the cue and told her politely that I was the person who had turned her out from her reserved seat on the day of convocation. I added that I felt sorry for my conduct and, therefore, I begged her apology sincerely. She said, “Certainly you were not that person!” Then she added, “But I did not keep the incidence in my mind.” The V-C laughed and pleaded in favour of us. His wife told that “You are our sons! You just forget!” The V-C told to his wife that, “You see, how fine the boys are!”
We were offered sweets and some other ready food! The V-C and his kind wife kept us confined for more than an hour in that evening just to talk and laugh with us.
The following morning I reported the proceedings of the last night to Dr H.R. Khan. He was very, very happy.
I was not a good student in the BUET. I didn’t care for more marks than the ‘pass marks’. I had my other problems than reading textbooks and solving problems repeatedly and attentively. We had a “BUET Journalists’ Association”; we had altogether four members. My senior Mr Abdus Salam (Salam Bhai) was the President and I was the Secretary of the Association. When I was in the fourth year, in August (1976) it was raining heavily; and we celebrated an annual conference of the Association. I went up to the residence of late Md. Abdus Salam, then former-Editor of the
Bangladesh Observer; brought him in the venue of the conference (Civil Engg. Building); Prof. Wahiduddin Ahmed and Prof. Eusufzai came in. These three persons delivered lectures on Salam Bhai and on me. The conference ended; snacks were distributed to the guests. Salam Bhai and I stood behind the three wise persons; our photograph was taken. Then I accompanied Md. Abdus Salam to his residence at Dhanmondi, at about 11:00 P.M. (Those were days of my youth!)
It’s now a bit more than 42 years since we were framed in the camera with our beloved Vice-Chancellor Professor Wahiduddin Ahmed in that night of heavy rainfall (Prof. Ahmed is in the right, in the Photograph). I have a large laminated copy of the photograph in my locker. I see the photograph of Prof. Ahmed, Md. Abdus Salam and Prof. Eusufzai. The photograph is more worthy than my labour that was spent to arrange the BUET Journalists’ Association’s Annual Conference planning and working a few days!
Returning back to the events of the 05 November 2018, Monday, it is mentioned that Prof. Ahmed’s last prayer was held in the BUET playground with due solemnity and prayer by many for salvation and peace of his departed soul. I got an opportunity to carry the coffin a short distance and to place it into the Ambulance. I stood guard alone for about 10 minutes, beside the Ambulance with Prof. Ahmed’s dead body, expressing grief and praying.
Professor Wahiduddin hailed from Village: Pachani, Upazilla: Motlab, District: Chandpur. He was born on 01/10/1923.
At death on 03/11/2018, he was 95 years 03 days.
Professor Ahmed was a good man; nothing more needs to be said about him.
A religious gathering for Prof. Ahmed was held at Bhola Mosque, Gulshan-1 in the evening on 10/11/2018, attended full mosque by devotes. Professor Jamilur Raja Chowdhury, National Professor and I spoke paying homage to late Wahiduddin Ahmed. Then blessing was offered by devotees for the departed soul of Prof. Ahmed.
We pray to Allah that He grant Prof. Ahmed blessings and may his soul rest in peace, in heaven! Ameen!
(MA Taher Khandakar is a Former Director General, Water Resource Planning Organization, Ministry of Water Resources, GoB, Niketon, Dhaka.)

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