Dr. Chowdhury Sajjadul Karim
I was still a student of physics department of Dhaka University when I saw Dr. M.A. Wazed Miah, a lively young scientist at the Atomic Energy Centre, Dhaka. I was using the mainframe computer facility of the Centre, the only one in the then Pakistan. The place had already left its footprints firmly on many laboratories in many countries. The achievements were made possible by the dedication of the scientists of the centre. In those days these finest and highly trained gentlemen believed in sharing of knowledge and making output excel though group endeavors.
Dr. Wazed Miah was an important member of the select group. It appeared that he was possibly restless, looking for new opportunities for advancement of science and technology, to make science more meaningful to societal development. I remember having seen him for the last time as a senior colleague at Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission in February, 1999, the last day of his career with the organization. Even at that point of parting with his workplace of 36 years, not even an iota of his enthusiasm had withered. This is the finest example of dedication and unflinching commitment to a cause.
In a developing country science and scientists are considered by some as redundant and unreal in the context of development. He once told me, “In a developing country, where resources are scarce, it’s only science and technology that can help maximize the benefits to the nation”. All the prolific years of his life were dedicated to the task of glorifying science and the men behind it.
I had the opportunity to work closely with him for a number of years towards the end of his career at the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission. This engagement was related primarily to the introduction of nuclear power. He was persuasive. I remember him calling on International Atomic Energy Agency director general Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei in Vienna in 1998. He emphasized the country’s commitment to peaceful uses of atomic energy and urged the agency to send a high-level delegation to Bangladesh to help assess the needs for fast-track implementation of the project. His request was entertained and following deliberations in Dhaka a time-bound action plan was drawn up delineating the time lines for various activities to be undertaken by the two sides. A year on, a training course was financed by the agency, which was possibly the largest of its kind conducted in any of its member states. Without the persuasive request it would have taken years to arrange such an event. Such examples of his way of getting difficult tasks done efficiently and quickly galore.
Dr. Wazed Miah had the sharpest of minds. He could often recount exactly how he had written his comments on a matter even after many years. This is a glaring evidence of application, merit and sound logic that went behind his decisions. Many tend to forget even in a matter of days or months simply because a particular decision was made in the past without sound logic and analysis and commitment. These were alien to him. He dismissed anything done by a scientist unless it had impeccable and sound rationale. He believed firmly in this, and indeed it formed the basis of whatever he did in science.
He was a great believer in our combined capacity and potentials of the country. He had confidence in the role of science in development and in international collaboration in materializing that goal. But it is the responsibility of the scientists to choose appropriate programme that suit our needs. The cardinal objective should be found in a facilitating synergy between science and development, he once asserted. He found a lot of opportunities to tap nuclear science, be it in solving the problems of energy supply, or health care, or industries. Such perceptions made him look for new fronts and avenues. His vision was to have a future society based on scientific knowledge.
Dr. Wazed Miah wrote as many as seven text books, six of which have already been published. The seventh I hear was at the final stages of his editorial attention when he expired. I bear the testimony to the great efforts level that went into these tasks. The books were exhaustive to cater to the pedagogical needs of undergraduate or graduate students.
His logic was clear—the students in a developing country cannot afford to buy multiple text books for a subject. A student should buy the second text book only if he needs to learn beyond the curriculum. These text books were, therefore, written in such a way that they were more or less in-depth. I saw him editing one or two manuscripts. He read and reread each sentence, each paragraph, made editorial corrections, usually with pencil, eraser or even razor blades. The painstaking job went on and on until he was satisfied that the text was acceptable. His passion and patience for excellence were almost insatiable when it came to writing and editing. It is not that he had all the time in the world and easy tasks to do. Such problems were solved by putting in long hours day in and day out.
Dr Wazed Miah set different standards for his colleagues and knew exactly what could be expected of each of them. Any deviation, unless justifiable on solid grounds, would mean a glare or two and in most cases one such episode was enough. I once took longer than expected to do something, or perhaps the job was not to his liking, I don’t remember correctly. The famous glare he gave me was so scaring that I decided to be out of his sight for some days. I requested one of my very good friends to carry my files to him. The respite was brief, though, as I had to visit him in the hospital where he was receiving treatment for heart ailment. He waved other visitors out of his room, gave me a smile and said, “C.S. Karim (that’s how he used to address me), how long can you keep on running away? Take these files, I have signed them already.” He hardly took more than a day to sign anything that landed on his desk. And files and papers always came back with comments, usually making one to ponder, “How could I miss this, or make such a silly mistake?”
To Dr Wazed Miah, the man behind scientific pursuit was the most important pre-requisite to any success. He told me about the importance of understand the divergence of opinions of society about the scientists if we want to change the perception. Only then scientists will have better chance of finding their due places in the society. We should do our bit before expecting a reciprocal action. The research and development programmes have to be made responsive to national needs and priorities. “Reach out and find out where your effort levels are needed most,” he would say.
He headed professional associations and outlets where one of his main goals was to sensitize a wide spectrum of society to the need to understand the impact science and technology could have on the national life.
Probably he was not fully satisfied with what was possible to attain. The unfinished task has to be taken forward; the responsibility lies with today’s scientists.
I don’t know of any instance in Bangladesh where a scientist has been honoured, even in a small way. The exception to this is the naming of a road on Dr. Kudrat-e-Khuda. Can we, even for a change, make an exception? Can we do something that would not only pay tribute to this outstanding scientist, but also serve as an inspirational icon for the next generations of scientists.
On Saturday, the 9th May of 2009, came the final moments of the life of a visionary scientist—Dr. Wazed Miah., a scientist with outstanding qualities, dedication and versatility. We will mourn and brood, no doubt. At the same time it is time to take a vow to finish his dreams. The torch is passed on to the new generation of scientists to march ahead with the same dream, with a resolve to finish the task begun with great vigor and traversed only a part of the road that lies ahead.
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Dr. Chowdhury Sajjadul Karim, popularly known as Dr. C.S. Karim, is a former Chairman of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and was an advisor of the de facto 11 January, 2007 undemocratic government of Bangladesh.