I never knew I would become an academic. Like many others, I wasn’t sure what I was good at. During my childhood I used to say I would join the army to serve my country. I wasn’t desperate about it, but the challenges of a soldier attracted me. When my fourth brother joined the army in 1979, I had to give up that idea. My parents always wanted one of their sons to be a doctor. The first three sons took different lines, so my fourth brother was expected to fulfill that expectation. However, he wasn’t much interested and decided to join the army. The fifth brother studied commerce all along, which left me as the only hope of my parents. I also made up my mind that I would become a doctor without thinking whether I had that talent or not. It is a common story in the sub-continent where parents decide what their children will become without even trying to know where their talent lies.
The first step to become a doctor is to take science when you are in class IX. Although my marks in Maths and Science were not excellent, they were good enough to take science in Ideal High School (now Ideal School & College). I completely ignored the fact that I had excellent marks in Bengali and English. Rigorous coaching in school ensured that I did well in my secondary school results (equivalent to GCSE) with more than 80% marks in all the science subjects except one (ironically it was Biology). My good results, which I attribute completely to my school and my teachers, gave me and my parents the confidence that I had the ability to become a doctor. Again, we were far from reality. It was during my college life when I realised that this is not what I want to be. I understood that my talent was not in science, but in humanities. My realisation was reinforced when I received my higher secondary results (equivalent to A-Level). I scored far higher in Bengali and English than in science subjects, whereas it should have been the other way round. I got fully convinced that I couldn’t study medicine, and it would be a futile exercise even to try for it.
I was too scared to break the news to my parents, particularly my father. However, I thought that I had to inform them, so I told my mother. She was not ready to accept that, and almost forced me to get admitted into a medical admission coaching centre. After the first day in the coaching centre, I stopped going there, though my mother was not aware of it. Luckily, she left Bangladesh for the UK to visit my brothers, which made me a free bird. My father was too busy to check whether I was going to medical coaching or not. His only demand was to be at home during meal times, which I never missed. I knew that I couldn’t get away for ever and always dreaded that moment when they would come to know what I had been upto.
Finally, the day came. I was so much away from this medical admission matters that I didn’t even know when the admission test was. One day I opened the newspaper where an important news headline was, ‘Today is medical admission test”. What do I do now? My father would not miss that news! I skipped a few meal times – the only time when I used to see him, hoping that he would forget it. But it was not to be. Not seeing me for a couple of days, he called me at his chamber. I trembled to contemplate how to face him but had no other option. I reached his room with my heartbeat in a 100-metre sprint. I knew I had dashed the hopes of my parents. I was their last hope, and I completely ignored it.
“Why don’t I see you at meal times?”
I had no answer, just remained silent with my eyes locked on my feet.
“Did you appear at the medical admission test?”
“I thought so, why not?”
“I don’t want to study medicine.”
“What do you want to study?”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before? English is a good subject. You don’t have to study a subject you don’t like”
What did I hear? Am I dreaming? No shouting, no rebuke, no anger – in a friendly voice he solved all my problems. I was in total oblivion about this pragmatism of my father. This is fatherhood! He could sacrifice his lifelong desire for the sake of his child’s happiness – a lesson I will always try to remember. He rather became happy when I told him that I wanted to be a teacher of English. He was a teacher himself – a very popular teacher in fact. He lost his job at Rangpur Karmichael College due to his involvement in the language movement. A strong student movement did restore his job, but in the meantime he had already decided to change his career. Probably he could see in me something he could not accomplish himself.
I got admitted in English literature at Jahangirnagar University. I studied there for one year, but decided to pursue my studies at Aligarh Muslim University. I wanted to study English Literature, but they offered me Linguistics. I had no idea what that was but still decided to go hoping to change the subject as I heard that it was possible once I got there. However, after my very first class in Linguistics, I changed my mind. I literally fell in love with the subject and never looked back since then. I had some wonderful teachers who guided me like parents. Among them Professor Fatihi was my mentor under whose supervision I later did my PhD. I learned some essential qualities of a teacher from him. His academic depth, strong personality, amiable behaviour, extreme honesty, and uncompromising commitment and dedication to his profession made a deep impact on me. I decided that university teaching is the only profession I would pursue. By the grace of Almighty, I never stood second in any exam in my three years’ undergraduate and two years’ postgraduate study and won the University Medal for my achievements. This result enabled me to enter into the Higher Education Sector.
I started my teaching career in January 1996 with a part-time job at North South University. I was assigned to teach a group of students who needed to develop their English before starting undergraduate courses. It was a nervous morning for me. Success as a student does not automatically guarantee success as a teacher. It is a skill that one has to possess in order to pass on the knowledge to students. Many brilliant students do not succeed as a teacher, whereas a mediocre student may turn out to be the most successful teacher. I was thus not sure what lay in store for me in my career. I had heard many stories about my father’s short but very successful career as a teacher. That however, was of no use to me as no one can genetically inherit professional skills. It has to be achieved through talent and hard work.
The moment I entered the classroom I felt an unprecedented calm inside me, as if I had been doing this for a long time. The chemistry between me and my students clicked right from the word go. Thus, I began a career, which ultimately became my passion. Ever since I stepped into that classroom in Mid-January 1996, I realised that it was the only career I could excel. I also knew that it was specifically university teaching that suited me. I have experience of other professions as well. I had been a part-time sports journalist for a long time, but never thought of taking it up as a career. Coming to the UK, I could not get into full-time university teaching for three years, so I had to do some community jobs. Although I tried my best to do well in those jobs and successfully completed the projects I led, my heart would always crave for the job I love so much.
There is a saying of the Prophet (PBUH) that the position of teachers for an individual ranks second to parents. If you think deeply, you will realise why it is so. Like parents, a sincere teacher only gives – doesn’t take. A true teacher becomes extremely proud when their students become successful. The love and affection is unconditional.
One of the best things of being an academic is independence. Apart from teaching, office hours and meetings, you have flexible time schedule. One should not think that it means we have less work. We have teaching, marking, and very importantly research. We also have to supervise BA and MA dissertation projects and PhD students. There is constant monitoring of performance. The list can go on. Above all, we are expected to make ground-breaking research to contribute to the humanity at large. Yet, I feel no pressure. What suits me best is that, apart from teaching and marking, the rest I can do in my own time. The bottom line is, university teaching is a job for a self-conscienteous person who enjoys the flexibility of time, but fulfills their responsibilities to the best of their ability.
Teaching is not my profession – it’s my passion. Allah has been very kind to me. I thoroughly love my job!