Recently it seems not a day goes by when we do not hear of a national figure or an acquaintance passing away. In the midst of this sadness, it is also an opportunity to learn from these lives lost. I would like to share some personal insights on one such individual whose professional achievements have rightfully been celebrated from all corners - National Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury, a true builder of bridges in very sense of the term.
Having grown up overseas, I was not familiar with Professor Choudhury's stature, but soon realised how special he really was. I was taken to meet Professor Choudhury to seek his support for a safety monitoring organisation which I had been recruited to head. He certainly needed no more notches on his belt, but rather we needed his expertise and integrity so the meeting was crucial. Mrs. Choudhury in her elegant jamdani brought out delectable snacks which she plied on our plates, while her husband opened by sharing what he had learned about my father, the late Abdul Majid Khan, BUET '69. Their kindness was disarming, encouraging us to forget that it was we who had come to seek their help. That conversation set the tone for future interactions and made clear that they were a dignified partnership, who always made their guests feel welcome.
As we began to work together, I asked how I should address him and he answered simply "everyone calls me JRC." At the first meeting with our Board, his phone rang, and we were delightfully surprised to hear the sweet sound of a young boy repeating "nana tomar call eshechey " ('grandfather you have a call') as his ringtone. I grew to love that ringtone because it demonstrated such a human side to this distinguished gentleman, who was otherwise reserved in his emotion. He apologised that he had to cut short the meeting to receive an award from the Japanese Embassy. We only learned later the immense significance of this award, the "Order of the Rising Sun," one of Japan's highest civilian awards given in recognition of JRC's contributions to Bangladesh's development through collaboration on Japanese projects.
Given the at times charged nature of our work, JRC's calm demeanor and objectivity were irreplaceable. Despite knowing that others were waiting to meet him, he never made me feel rushed or misunderstood my occasional frustrations. Rather his comments and advice reassured me while holding me accountable. Two such comments, one off-hand remark that I seemed to be doing my work 'alone, with missionary zeal' and later during a particularly rough patch, that he could finally see the impact of the stress on my face, let me know that he cared and understood what was going on. His sparing words, including a call for dialogue, showed great judgment and quiet wisdom. His first formal question was regarding the safety and zoning of our office building. We were on the phone the moment the FR tower broke out in flames. Our last meeting in JRC's office was to discuss fire safety concerns in the proposed changes to the Bangladesh national building code, which he originally drafted. He never took any compensation for his advice and withstood various pressures, including of his own health, to serve for the greater public good. His last text to me was inquiring about my family in the US.
JRC's pleasant civility was a key to his universal credibility. My mother's uncle, engineer Faraz Khan, seven years senior to JRC, recently shared a story that in the 1960's JRC refereed a tennis match in the BUET engineering club between him and the son of a prominent engineer who was an excellent tennis player. Nana was being thoroughly thrashed in the game when JRC called yet another point for his opponent, which seemingly could have gone either way. Nana stopped the game, took up his racket and confronted JRC, to which the referee smiled and advised him to get back in the game as this was the nature of competition. Somehow nana's anger dissolved in the face of JRC's grace and fairness and he, like countless others, became a JRC fan for life.
It is said in our religious tradition that if 100 people speak well of a person, God Himself will honour this individual. Not just 100 people have praised him, I do not believe that a single person can or has said anything negative. Forty days have passed since JRC's soul rose to the heavens, but his lessons and his good works from designing bridges to building bridges of goodwill between people remain. I will always be grateful for our paths crossing and can only hope that I may try to practise a bit of what I learned from him. Thank you dear JRC.
Moushumi Khan is a Bangladeshi-American lawyer.
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