Remembering Karunamaya Goswami

Asjadul Kibria | Published: June 29, 2018 20:40:12 | Updated: July 01, 2018 11:09:38

Late Karunamaya Goswami

The news sent a shockwave through the circle who came to know about him. The sudden death of Dr Karunamaya Goswami on Friday night on June 30, 2017 was a bolt from the blue. He was suffering from fever and collapsed on the bathroom floor at his residence. He was immediately transferred to the United Hospital. Little could be done there as he had already left this world on his journey into the eternity. This brought a luminous life to an end.

Dr Goswami had been versatile. Being a professor of English literature, his domain of work was quite diversified and astounding. Though popularly known as an eminent Nazrul exponent and connoisseur, his proficiency covered Rabindranath and also overall music. He was a musicologist, litterateur, researcher, educationist, translator, editor and writer. Above all, he was a very dynamic and evergreen man.

This scribe had the opportunity of knowing him personally for more than 30 years. It was in 1986 when this scribe first encountered him at Sudhijan Pathagar, the much-known non-government public library in Narayanganj. In that year, he was elected director of the library. He was also a teacher of English at Tolaram College in the port city. In fact, he started his teaching career at this college in 1966 and at the same time also became an active volunteer of the library which was founded in 1964.

Dr Goswami's interest in music grew in his early life. Second son of Rasbihari Goswami and Jyostna Rani Debi, he was born on March 11, 1943 in a village named Gosain Chandura in Mymensingh district. Brought up in a cultured family environment, he devoted himself to knowledge gathering and music. He passed MA in English in 1964 from the University of Dhaka. His enthusiasm drove him to take extensive training on classical music. He also decided to prepare a lexicon of music in Bengali and started to work on it. In 1971, during the War of Independence he had to leave his home and took shelter in India as a refugee like millions of other Bengali people. After the independence of Bangladesh, he returned and found almost everything destroyed and lost. But he restarted his work. Thanks to his very strong willpower, the voluminous lexicon finally was published in 1985 by the Bangla Academy. It was titled 'Sangeet Kosh.' Dr Goswami also did his PhD on songs of Nazrul in 1987 from his alma mater, University of Dhaka.

Besides teaching, Dr Goswami devoted himself to research on literature and music. I was a very close witness to his two landmark works. One was his extensive contribution to the Garland Encyclopaedia of World Music. He prepared the entry on music of West Bengal and Bangladesh. At that time, in the early '90s, internet service was not readily available. He prepared the manuscript with pen and paper and it was composed on computer at Sudhijan Pathagar. Later the composed manuscript was mailed to the United States through the postal service. A few months later, the publisher (Taylor & Francis, Inc) returned an edited version for final check. The first time we saw what an editing of the international standard looks like. Another work was the oral history of Bengali music. Compiled in a set of 10 cassettes, the evolution of Bengali music was narrated giving the brief history and characteristics of songs. Dr Goswami wrote the narration and selected the songs. Khulna-based Lok Shahitya Unnayan Kendra, with funding from Ford Foundation, released the work in 1994. Eminent artistes rendered songs on these cassettes.

In those days, I found Dr Goswami as a man with much devotion to his work and also found him as a tireless man who happily undertook all the painstaking works. To celebrate the 1400 years of Bengali calendar, Sudhijan Pathagar decided to publish an anthology on 100 years of Bengali culture. Dr Goswami was the head of the editorial panel and I was actively involved with the production process of the book. It was a compilation of essays on the advancement of literature, education, drama, music, library and publications in Bangladesh and West Bengal in 100 years (1300-1399 Bengali calendar years). The essays were written by both eminent and young scholars of the country. The 750-page book is still considered one of the best works related to celebration of the new century of Bengali calendar. The researcher also contributed to the history of Narayanganj (in Bengali) published by Sudhijan Pathagar in 1985. He was an editor and contributor of the book which is still the only referential history of Narayanganj, the port city once known as the Dundee of East meaning the city of jute. He was also a good translator. In the early '80s he translated stories and poetries of Africa. Probably his best translation is Bharotiyo Sangskritite Islamer Probhab (Influence of Islam on Indian Culture by Dr Tara Chand).

Dr Goswami was also a wonderful person to have a conversation with. I spent many evenings with him in the library listening to his thoughtful discussion on different subjects-from global geo-politics to local sports. He liked tea, coffee and nuts. Interestingly, he strictly maintained his routine of breakfast, lunch and supper. And he was almost uncompromising in this regard. On one occasion, we invited him to our house. He came in time while other guests were yet to arrive. Without any hesitation, he told my wife that he used to take his lunch by 1.30pm and requested her to serve the meal. His daughter Tithi, who lives in the United States with her family, also told me a similar story of his food habit after his death. While staying with her in the US, one day there was a little delay in serving the lunch. He expressed his annoyance at the delay. The thing is that he did not want to deviate from the routine except any unavoidable situation. This helped him maintain his physical and mental fitness until the last day. His wife Shipra Rani Debi (I use to call her Shipra Masi or auntie) was a professor of Philosophy at Narayanganj College. She silently lent her all-out support to Goswami Sir that helped him continue his works. Without such an active support from Shipra Masi, it might have been difficult for Dr Goswami to diversify his realm of works.  All the recognitions and successes of Goswami Sir made her very happy and proud. But she revealed little of it. Their son Sayantan Goswami is an engineer and lives in Canada. I have a friendship with him. But it was their daughter Tithi Goswami with whom I became more intimate and she is treated like my younger sister. After completing her graduation in economics from the University of Kalyani in India, she briefly joined a private university in Dhaka. Later she went abroad with her husband, commpleted her higher studies in Canada and finally settled in the US. Both Sayantan and Tithi take care of their parent and provide different logistic support. After the death of Dr Goswami, Tithi undertook the painstaking job of sorting and arranging the huge collection of books belonging to her father within a short period of time. Like her father, she is also brilliant, dynamic, laborious and, above all, caring.

After retiring from Narayanganj Government Women's College as principal, Dr Goswami shifted to Dhaka and joined the Cambrian International Study Centre and Cambrian Cultural Academy as principal. He held the position until his death. During this period he occasionally visited his son and daughter in North America where he delivered several lectures on Rabindranath and Nazrul. At that time, we used to talk over telephone infrequently and he shared his thoughts and plans on future works.

It surprised many of us when Dr Goswami wrote his first fiction titled Bharot Bhager Asrukana' (Tears of the Partition of India). The voluminous book describes a long story of Solim Begh and his family who suffered a lot in the process of independence of India from the British colonial rule in 1947. He personally requested me to read it and give my feedback. After reading the book, I told him that I was dumbfounded. I also told him that the book didn't fully qualify as a novel as it had a number of shortcomings but it was a tale. He appreciated my feedback. The book also reflected his family's sufferings during the partition period when Bengal was divided between India and Pakistan. Inspired by overwhelming appreciation and fine criticism, Dr Goswami wrote another long story titled Lahorer Rahim Kher (Rahim Kher of Lahore). It was his last book published in 2017.

Many more words could be written about him as I have a lot of vivid memories of Dr Goswami and his family. He also planned to write on several events of his life and about many intellectuals he had personal attachments with. A few weeks before his death, he called me and shared the idea. He also referred to a few events. He said it was his duty to reveal the truth, no matter how unpleasant some of those would be. Unfortunately, the curtain fell on luminous life leaving us to rue what we were wrested of in his death.

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