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Professor Jamal Nazrul Islam — as I saw him

by K Siddique-e Rabbani

Professor Jamal Nazrul Islam speaks as chief guest at the inaugural ceremony of the National Conference on Physics for Technology Development, organised by the Bangladesh Physical Society in December 2012.Professor Jamal Nazrul Islam speaks as chief guest at the inaugural ceremony of the National Conference on Physics for Technology Development, organised by the Bangladesh Physical Society in December 2012.

I MET Professor Jamal Nazrul Islam about a decade back when I went to one of his relatives’ house in Dhaka to collect an MSc thesis which he evaluated. The brief discussion there revealed his great personality to me. He very much appreciated our work in the applied field of biomedical physics and technology although it was very different to his domain of theoretical physics involving the grand design of the cosmos. While we received a rather oblique view from many of our seniors working in fields similar to Professor Islam’s, this open-hearted appreciation from him increased my confidence many times, and I could realise he was different, he could see things from high above, towering high in knowledge and wisdom. Subsequently he sent one of his students to work with me and once invited me as a speaker at an international conference that he organised through the Research Centre for Mathematical and Physical Sciences that he established in Chittagong University. There I was exposed to more of his talents and visions. He and his wife invited all the guests at the conference to a dinner and a pre-dinner informal adda at his house. There he sang a ghazal and played the sitar and we were amazed at his skills at this difficult-to-play instrument. In the round for the guests when I sang a couple of songs including one that I composed on the current socio-political impasse and possible solutions, I could feel his increased affection towards me. He later showed us round a display of his rich treasure of paintings and art pieces in a large room of his house. While there, he told us about a hidden dream, he wanted to transform his dwelling house and the compounds surrounding it into a mini-Shantiniketon, following poet Tagore’s model.
In 2010 the education ministry initiated a research grant for the first time and I was surprised to find that our project in the field of biomedical physics and technology received the highest allocation while it used to be the reverse in most other grants that we received, if any, from other local sources. Later I learnt that Professor Jamal Nazrul Islam headed the committee that allocated the funds although I never talked to him about it, a principle I always maintained. This shows that although soaring in the abstract world of mathematical physics and cosmic physics, he nonetheless understood and sincerely felt the importance and necessity of applied research in relation to our country’s needs.
The last two times I met him was at the annual conference of the Bangladesh Physical Society on December 27, 2012 where he was chief guest at the inaugural ceremony and then at a lecture on Higgs Boson by Belal E Baquiee, our talented class friend and a nephew of Professor Islam. During one of these occasions when I informed him that to make our innovations in healthcare technology available to the deprived people of the world at low cost we have decided not to take out any patents and that we have decided to establish a non-profit organisation outside the realms of the university, Professor Islam appreciated the ideas saying that his efforts for the RCMPS could not gather the momentum it should have because of the administrative limitations of the universities in our country. Professor Islam had sacrificed his towering career in the West to establish something worthwhile in Bangladesh, but it is our misfortune that we could not utilise his talents and visions fittingly. We hope his successors at the RCMPS can strive to remove these limitations and establish the RCMPS as one of the finest research centres in the world.
K Siddique-e Rabbani is professor and founding chairperson of the Department of Biomedical Physics and Technology at the University of Dhaka.




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