The years of higher education comprise the most important learning phase of life and I was fortunate that I could spend these years at a prestigious institution like Dhaka University. When I look back now, I learnt some of my most vital life lessons back in Dhaka University. I am honoured to be recognised as an alumnus of the University.
I did my B.Sc. (Hon.) and M.Sc., both in Statistics, from Dhaka University. I am from the 1982 M.Sc. batch that completed in 1984, which translates to six fruitful years on campus, starting from 1978. As per my original plan, I was to study Physics but I ended up with Statistics. To be honest, when I was directed to the Statistics department building, which was right next to the Physics department, I did not even know how to pronounce the stream, let alone have any idea of what it was all about. All I was told was that Statistics is a form of applied Mathematics.
I had two options within Statistics – Econometrics and Demographics. I chose Demographics because it works on studying the population and I was keen to learn more about population – age, education level, occupation and income, etc. The knowledge of Statistics, and in particular Demographics – which was my area of specialisation – has helped me immensely in my quest to help economically underprivileged people create sustainable livelihoods through access to financial services. This work is the foundation on which Bandhan Bank stands today as a universal bank, with inclusive banking at its core.
I now realise how important the knowledge of Statistics – either as a specialised stream of study or as a part of other academic streams – is for any profession that one decides to pursue. The concepts of data analytics and big data that are so popular today among various businesses find their roots in Statistics. Today, Bandhan Bank works across the length and breadth of India. Each state has different demography and characteristics. By analysing the need and viability of various products and services, as also the demand and fitment of the same, I have been able to fulfil the needs of various populations across the country. We have a Research and Development wing in the organisation and on many occasions, the team would come to me with their doubts, let’s say in terms of sampling. Using my training and education in Statistics, I was able to guide them effectively on whether stratified sample was to be used or purposive sampling or random sampling or any other method. Similarly, while taking decisions that have significant monetary value or effort, I urge my teams to use concepts like Type I error vs. Type II error. The knowledge of Statistics helps me understand the situation and guide my teams well in practical situations.
When I think back about my years on campus, a flood of happy memories come rushing to me. While I was allotted room 23A in Jagannath Hall East Wing, I preferred to live in the Brajananda Burashib temple, popularly known as Shib Bari, on campus, which took care of my food and accommodation. My friends would come over the day before exams and we would spend the entire day and night together in the courtyard of the temple, studying and chatting. Every year, on the eve of February 21, the day when Bangladesh commemorates martyrs who fought for the recognition of Bangla language, the University used to be decorated with flowers and artwork. I mean it when I say, one had to see it to believe it. The students of the Art College used to decorate the entire roadways and the boundary walls next to them with graffiti and paintings. Each year it would be a different theme with different renditions. Those pictures are still fresh in my mind. Even during Poila Boishakh, the celebrations were a treat for the eyes. In the campus, there was a bungalow, which belonged to the king of Bardhaman, which was converted to the Bangla Academy. This used to be the venue for a month-long celebration commemorating Poila Boishakh. Thousands used to visit the venue dressed in their ethnic best and we all used to enjoy the celebrations a lot. I miss that fervour and zeal of celebrations at the University and often remember them fondly.
While living in the temple, my breakfast used to be the temple prasad and dinner used to be rice and vegetable. Lunch used to be at the Teacher Student Centre (TSC) on campus. Occasionally, when we would like to indulge in a sumptuous non-vegetarian fare, we would walk some distance away to a small eatery called Chacha Bhatija located in New Market. The curry of Kachki fish and rice there, was unmissable. It was made all the more special because of the reasonable price of under five Bangladeshi Taka at which this meal was available those days.
After class, at the intersection of TSC, Ruqayyah Hall and Shamsun Nahar Hall, we used to have our usual ‘adda’. We used to eagerly look forward to that time of the day. It was our regular de-stressing routine. We used to bond at a different level during this time. In fact, there were a few students who would go back to their house after classes but would return to this ‘adda’ time, though their residences were a good 90-120 minutes away from campus! Madhur canteen was the usual evening tea time hot spot.
While at the temple, I was also given responsibilities of an interesting nature. Every year, during Shivratri, the temple would organise a puja where a huge crowd, including girls and women from the campus as well as neighbouring areas, would come to offer prayers. I, along with some others, was in-charge of their safety and had the responsibility of ensuring that no untoward incident happened during the festivities.
I fondly remember a few teachers from the University – Nurul Islam sir (taught Demographics), Shahadat Ali Mallick sir, Mosleh Uddin sir, Borhan Uddin Ahmed sir and Nitai Chakraborty sir. The latter two were very close to me and they were my friend, philosopher, and guide. Not only did I enjoy their classes but also the ‘adda’ after class. I fondly remember the times spent with them, full of learning as well as light moments that helped me feel at home.
There is a humorous incident involving Nitai sir that comes to mind. He got a scholarship to pursue his Doctoral studies in another country and was all set to leave for his new destination. We gave him a farewell and bid adieu. However, the next day we saw him walking around in the department. We were astounded and asked him why he did not leave the previous day. It turned out that this person was actually Nitai sir’s identical twin, Gour Chakraborty!
The spirit of unity and camaraderie that we shared with our fellow students at the University is truly an example for the present and future generations to emulate. This was exemplified during an unfortunate accident that occurred at the University. In front of a students’ hall called Jagannath Hall, there was an Assembly Building. This building had a TV room where students would congregate to watch their favourite television show in the evenings, after classes. One evening, it was raining heavily and I couldn’t make it to the TV Room for our usual evening recreation. Unfortunately, the roof of the building suddenly collapsed leading to several students getting injured and loss of lives as well. Students from all across the University assembled in no time for rescue and relief work. Requests were made over the public announcement system to ask students to come and donate blood for those injured. Students from all walks of life – irrespective of caste, creed or religion – came forward to help their friends in whichever way they could. This was truly a lesson in humanity, which is so relevant to the times we live in.
I have cherished my time at the University of Dhaka where I learned lessons that have helped me in my professional as well as personal life. When I arrived at the University, it was the first instance of me staying away from home. This phase helped me get exposed to diverse social and cultural experiences, allowed me to make new friends, gave me teachers who helped expand the horizon of my knowledge, and prepared me for my life journey ahead.
When I look back at my student life in Dhaka University, I feel truly grateful for all that I learnt there and the experiences that helped shape me as a human being. I congratulate my alma mater Dhaka University on completing 100 glorious years; and I wish the students, faculty and administration of the institution the very best for the centenary commemoration.