M S Khan
M S Khan:The father of Library and Information Science in Bangladesh
M Siddiq Khan: His life and Philosophy
"For the last three weeks my wife and I have been ill. This want into which I have been thrown is indeed poor reward and bitter consolation for the sacrifices I have made in raising the moribund University Library to a state of efficiency and in creating a school of Library Science to serve the country in which matter, also, I have been ill-repaid by malice, calumny and animosity."1
This was what Muhammad Siddiq Khan widely known as M S Khan wrote to Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh and Chancellor of Dhaka University on the financial straits and psychological devastation he suffered at the fag end of his life after retirement. His provident fund had been withheld on audit objections raised by the Auditor General. Here was a hero who had fought all his life against insurmountable odds and here he was at last , tired and exhausted, driven to penury, overcome by disease and human ingratitude. He went to his grave as quietly as he preferred to live his life. No one even looked at the huge contributions he had made " neglecting my own affairs my home and family, to make the Library an outstanding example of efficient service to readers with the very limited resources given to me."2
Humble and shy, M S Khan was not detailing all his contributions to the society he belonged. He was, above all, a pathfinder, someone who had instinctively realized what was good for his poor country's world of letters. By the time he retired, he knew quite well that he had helped set up a new discipline in Bangladesh, blazed the trail of a new movement for generations of librarians and set his own library at par with the rest of the world in terms of service and automation despite serious constraints of funds.
M S Khan was born in a respectable family of Dhuburia, Tangail. His grandfather Jalaluddin Khan alias Chamu Khan was one of the nine recipients of Shahi Firman from the Mughal emperors.3 His father Muhammad Israil Khan, B.A. B.L. was one of the first few Muslim]graduates of Calcutta University. He was assigned to be a house tutor to the grandchildren of Bahadur Shah Jafar (RA) who was exiled in Rangoon after the First War of Independence colonially dubbed the Sepoy Mutiny. Israil Khan later joined the bar in Rangoon and prospered in his profession. M S Khan was born in Rangoon on 21 March, 1910. His father died when he was still very young, leaving his widow Bolonnessa Begum in a long-drawn-out litigation with his uncle on proprietary rights to his vast wealth and establishments. Though born to rich parents, Siddiq Khan spent his childhood in utter financial straits owing to the death of his father. He went to school in Yangon and made a mark as a talented student. He took the Matriculation examination in 1925 and stood 5th in Burma (presently Myanmar) with distinctions in four subjects. He passed his Intermediate in arts in 1927 and stood 1st in the University with distinction in English. For this brilliant performance he was rewarded the Jardin prize. He graduated from Rangoon University in History with honors and stood first in the second class in 1929.4 He obtained his M A in 1936 and was awarded the Yakub Ghani Gold Medal. He also did a B L degree in 1931 and his performance there too was brilliant.
M S Khan joined the Rangoon University as a lecturer in History and Political Science in 1931. He was a faculty of this University until the outbreak of the World War II. This was a period that he seemed to have enjoyed most: he taught with gusto and had among his students such a distinguished person as Aung Sung, the father of the Burmese nation 5; he joined a health club and built an enviable physique ; he listened to both Indian and Western Music avidly and learnt to play the violin. This was when he married Jahanara Khanam(1917-1983), the daughter of Abu Naser Mahmood of Dinajpur.
M S Khan was not destined to bask in prosperity that goes with the lives of ordinary humans. The World War II broke out and as Yangon came under fire of the advancing Japanese army, he left Yangon and took the Burmese trail trekking hundreds of miles through difficult mountainous terrain. He saw human misery at its worst, even mothers abandoning their babies behind overcome by hunger and exhaustion.
M S Khan, rendered penniless by a devastating War, came back to his village home and from there he headed for Calcutta in search of fortune. In 1943, he became an officer in the Civil Defence department of Bengal government. In 1944 he joined as Liaison Officer under the Industries Directorate of the Bengal government. In 1946 he was made the General Secretary of Bengal Red Cross Society.
The partition of India in 1947 was yet another blow on Siddiq Khan's career. He had to move to Dhaka though he retained his job with the Red Cross. In 1950 he joined Manikganj Debendra College as its principal.
Destiny brought him to where he should belong in 1953 when he became the secretary to the Vice-Chancellor, Dacca University, Dr. Moazzem Hossain whom he served only for eight months. Dr. Hossain was impressed by his scholarship and his command over English and he had this to write about him: "Mr M S Khan possesses a scholarly temperament and is widely read.... In my opinion his services may be better utilized as a teacher and research worker in the Department of History of this University." Dr. Hossain was succeeded by Dr. W A Jenkins who also was much impressed by his near native competence in English and his range of reading. Dr. Jenkins sent him abroad to get higher training in Library Science in 1954. He successfully completed his training course in England which was not intended to lead to any formal degree (see M H Khan. "Muhammad Siddiq Khan: Life and Struggle for a Librarianship". Granthagar Parikrama Vol II No 2,1987 pp 8-10). On his return from London, M S Khan was made the Librarian of Dhaka University where he was to serve with efficiency and dignity until his retirement in 1972. He ran into problems with his provident fund and the last days of his life were spent in dire financial problems. He used to write columns and reviews for the Holiday and Bangladesh Observer even in his frail health. He wrote some of the best book reviews during this period. Towards the end of his life his kidneys failed and he died in penury.
M S Khan did not receive any honours during his life-time though he was held in high esteem in the world of scholarship. Two of his extended articles were published abroad.6 He was made a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society for his scholarly contributions.7 Ms Katherine Smith Diehl, the author of Early Indian Imprints was life-long with many western and regional librarians. He was a Vice-President of Pakistan Library Association (1957, 1958, and 1968) and President of the East Pakistan Library Association for several tenures. He was the General Secretary of Pakistan Library Association from 1962-1965. He was a Vice-President of Asian Federation of Library Association from 1957-1960. Nearly a quarter of century later the Tangail Association introduced a gold medal in his name, the notable among others in the same distinguished list of being Maulana Bhasani and Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury. In March 2004 the Bangladesh government posthmously awarded him the highest civil award Swadhinata Padak which was received by his daughter Mrs. Shireen Rashid.
The best years of M S Khan's adolescence and youth are sandwiched by the two World Wars. The WWI was a distant phenomenon which he may have heard and read about as a mere child. The WWII hit him hard and he was in the midst of death, disease, hunger and hatred caused by weapons that could annihilate hundreds in a trice. He saw the Bengal famine of 1943 and the great communal killings of 1946 after the Direct Action Day. A sensitive mind M S Khan must have been affected immeasurably by these violence and hatred shaking the pages of history. No wonder he wanted to write a novel on his experiences of the Burmese trail and he did even plan the chapters in his note book.8As a student of history M S Khan must have been aware about the historicity of these cataclysmic events that took place around him. He must have known that significance of history attaches itself more to those who shape history than those whose lives make up the historical events. He was therefore constantly switching jobs restless to find out the significance of his own life. When destiny held out the prospects of his becoming a teacher and a librarian at Dacca University, he instinctively chose the latter. Here was a chance for him to create a meaningful future that would influence the lives of his countrymen for generations to come. By his wide reading he knew about the changes that had taken place in the systematization and arrangement of resource material in the western world under the new cataloguing and classification system initiated by Melvil Dewey.9 So his first vocation was to adopt this new system for the biggest storehouse of knowledge of his country and to make resource material easily accessible to its readers. He completed this job to his own satisfaction during the 19 years he served as Librarian.
Founder Head of the Department
M S Khan believed in human action for its own sake as long as that action meant good for his fellow country men. He was not deterred by criticisms once he resolved to accomplish something meaningful for his society. He once again instinctively felt that mere organizing one single library would not be enough for his country; he must arrange for an army of librarians who would constantly update accessibility of knowledge through the advanced scientific systems. So he needed to think of a Library Movement in the then East Pakistan keeping in line with national and international perspectives. He along with Mr. Ahmad Hossain set up the Library Association of East Pakistan and introduced a Diploma Course for the budding librarians. He was convinced that the Diploma course was not enough to cope with the growing need of having trained librarians for all the libraries in East Pakistan. So he moved the Dhaka University authorities who agreed to set up the Department of Library Science in 1959 and he became its founder Head.
M S Khan was an intensely self-conscious person; he knew his own worth as a man of letters and yet he was very humble in his attitude to others. He was one of the most widely read persons of his time and contemporary scholars had great respect for his scholarship. But when he came to his fellow librarians, he knew they were far below his own standing and yet he held their hands with extreme care and compassion. He was indeed a hero who always encouraged his soldiers to come up to his intended goal. Some of his own students criticized him by way of finding fault with his programmes, but he never gave up or ever believed in paying them back in their own coin.
M S Khan was never seen beating his own drum, but he helped build the image of the institutions he served by creating appropriate literature for awareness among the clientele. He used to bring out a news bulletin from Dhaka University.10 Later he brought out the Eastern Librarian11 to promote the Library Movement and he held the post of its editor until 1976. He had few friends and he was rarely seen talking about his achievements.
Though his big eyes flashing through thick glasses created a feeling of awe in many of his contemporaries, he was, after all, a loving husband and a very affectionate father who never made any public show of his emotions. Perhaps it would be grossly unfair not to mention the role Jahanara Begum, his wife, played in his life. The endless time Mr. Khan could devote to studies and work was possible because of the sacrifices of a devoted wife who managed the household, took care of the children and thought and planned about the future.
M S Khan did not propagate any philosophy as such, but one may begin to see a pattern in his ideas and attitudes which were largely conditioned by familial, environmental and global happenings that saw him grow up as a human being. He was like a mountain climber; every time he clutched a rock to get up the steep rise, it gave way sending a shiver down his spine as it made him see his death awaiting him thousands of feet down below. The rocks kept giving way under his weight, but he never gave up. At each bend of his life, he tried to give a fair account of himself with whatever resources he could lay his hands on. It was like a child building a sand castle on the beach. Every time he finished building one, a big wave came rushing and destroyed it. But the child did not give up. At the end he did build a castle not for himself, but for generations of librarians whose sacred duty is now to build many more castles for their country men.
Having accomplished his mission, M S Khan now sleeps in his grave far away from all our encomiums , perhaps feeling a little amused that a whole nation took a quarter of a century to understand his life and work that he had dedicated to his people.
1. After his retirement, M S Khan was completely baffled by the audit objections against his leave salary for training abroad and grant of Rs 8000.00 to meet expenses in England. Though the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Muzzafar Ahmed Chowdhury viewed the matter with great sympathy and himself moved the Education Minister and the Auditor General, M S Khan found himself in great financial trouble and made a petition to the VC to grant him " a reasonable subsistence allowance of say , at least, Rs 500.00 ex gratia until the sum due to me on account of Provident Fund Contribution and University's donation handed over to me". He later called on Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, President of the Republic, on 10th March, 1973 who expressed his sympathy and very "generously offered to assist me by speaking to the Minister for Education and Cultural Affairs, Government of Bangladesh , about it." The above extract is from Muhammad Siddiq Khan Rachanabali ( Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 1994)
2. In his appeal to the President of the country, he was reminding the ex-Vice Chancellor of his University about the dedication with which he served the University. Needless to say, this reflects the desperation to which he was driven by the circumstances after his retirement. Ibid. p. 632
3. In a book called Shahi Datta:Lakheraj Dhuburia Gramer Sankhipto Biboroni by Sheikh Mohammad Fakhrul Islam published from Rangoon in 1937, the author refers to the firmans given by the Mughal emperors to some residents of Dhuburia and adjoining areas. A total of 9 firmans were produced, when asked to pay rent, before the British court in 1837 by one Mushi Mohammad Negha to prove that the land holdings referred to were Lakheraj given on the emperor's orders. One of the firmans got destroyed by fire; the others were produced before the civil court. One of Muhammad Siddiq Khan's distant forefathers was a recipient of one these firmans. ( photocopy of genealogy enclosed. ) The story goes that emperor Shahjahan was an admirer of a Sufi saint named Nazir Khan who went to Delhi and later came to settle in Dhuburia. On his recommendations some of his murids and admirers got lakheraj endowments through Shahi firmans.
4. The citation of the Swadhinata Padak claims his being was one of the first few Muslim graduates of Calcutta University. In fact, it was his father, Muhammad Israil Khan, who was one of the first few Muslim graduates of Calcutta University.
5. M S Khan had Aung Sung as one of his students at the Rangoon University. The citation of the Swadhinata Padak claims his being the house tutor of Aung Sung for 11 years from 1931. Mr Khan serialized a column on Aung Sung in the long defunct People's View edited by Abidur Rahman. I have not been able to have a glimpse of what he wrote there about his student Aung Sung, but the information regarding his being Aung Sung's house tutor for 11 years is not corroborated by available references. Maybe, the compilers of the citation were confusing this with his father being the house tutor to the grandchildren of Bahadur Shah Jafar.
6. (a) "William Carey and the Serampore books" (1800-1834). Libri, II:197-280 Np 3 , 1961. (b) "Early History of Bengali printing". Library Quarterly 32: 51-61, January , 1962.
7. He was the first Bangali Muslim to become a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society as is evinced from the updated list of the Fellows published in 1969. ( Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, vol 20 . London: 1970 p 226 )
8. The draft of the chapters was contained in a note book which was last seen in his Kalabagan residence in 1992.
9. Melvil Dewey (1851- 1931) devised a system for classification of books based on decimal system of numbers which became popular through out the world. The Dacca College collection that DU inherited along with its own acquisitions had the traditional cataloguing system. The system of having cards with author, title and subject index was introduced in the DU library in the fifties and it was M S Khan who implemented this in full during his tenure of office.
10. M S Khan started editing the Dacca University Library Bulletin from November, 1957 and I as a student grantee of the Asia Foundation had the pleasure of assisting him with this. The last issue of this cyclostyled bulletin was published in December, 1960.
11. Eastern Librarian, the mouthpiece of the Library Association of Bangladesh was first published in September, 1966 as a quarterly.