A tribute to Dr. Mizan Rahman

Published on Wednesday, 7 January 2015

I have read Avijit Roy's piece published in Mukto-Mona Bangla Blog, titled, 'বিদায় মীজান ভাই, গুড বাই'.

I wish I could write this in Bangla.

Many years ago, at my home in Manhattan, I received a call from Ottawa. The caller was Dr. Mizan Rahman. I did not know him then, but had read some of his newspaper article in Bangla. He introduced himself and explained the reason for the call. He called me, he said, because he had read an article of mine in The Daily Star and that he liked it very much. He had got my telephone number from a mutual friend.

That was Mizan Rahman. He was calling from distant Ottawa to speak to someone whom he did not know but whose ideas he liked. And that was the beginning of my acquaintance with an extraordinary man. He and I were about the same age, I a little younger. We were both of small physical stature. But there the similarity seemed to end. He was a brilliant student all his life; I was not. A brilliant mathematician, he could not be more different from me, an economist who have always dreaded mathematics and could barely make do with the subject where economics called for it.

Perhaps I exaggerate the difference between us. I do not have much idea about his mathematics. But to me he was best known for his humanism. Thoroughly secular, he looked upon all human being not as Muslims or Hindus, or Christians, but just as they are, which is to say, humans. He wrote and spoke against blind faith. To him, rational thinking trumped religion.  Almost by accident we found ourselves sharing the same ideas. I cannot match his prodigious writing. But the bits and pieces that I have written over the years, mainly in The Daily Star as an occasional contributor, were centered on the themes of rational thinking and humanity.

We met only occasionally, and that too very briefly. A few years ago we spent half a day in my apartment in Manhattan, talking about the growing trend towards religious fundamentalism and the need to do more to stir people's mind, to make them aware of the danger. We also had a hearty dinner cooked by my wife. He was a great connoisseur of food and a good cook himself. And he heaped praise on my writing of which there is only precious little. Later he read my autobiography, in Bangla, and heaped some more praise. The occasional telephone conversations we had were mostly very short, as I knew how busy he was with his work.  And he was never fond of tall talk.

In our latest conversations, we agreed not to talk about aging. But I have no doubt that he did not fear death.

In truth, we were not close friends. Yet I feel terribly lonely today.