History Wars: Kamal Hossain’s Interview – Part 1
Originally published in the weekly Shaptahik in Bengali; translated by Alal O Dulal
Translators: Nadine Murshid, Nayma Qayum, Irfan Chowdhury, and Farida Khan
Shaptahik: First tell us something about your childhood?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I was born in Kolkata, 20th April of 1937; but my family hailed from Barisal. My grandfather Syed Sadat Hossain was zamindar of Shaestabad. He was popularly known as Sadu Mian. My father Doctor Ahmed Hossain was an MBBS physician. He was one of the few Muslim students in the famous Presidency College of Kolkata. He passed MBBS in 1929 and started practicing in Kolkata.
My uncle Muhammad Ahsan remained in Barisal. My father formally gave him the responsibility to look after the zamindari by doing the required paperwork. My father used to say to us that, “Look, I have become a professional. I did not want to depend on the income from zamindari. I also want you to embark on a career and not depend on inherited property. Study and become a respected professional who earns his own livelihood through work”. My father even discouraged us from giving CSP exam and become government official.
Shaptahik: When did you first come to Dhaka?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: We first visited Dhaka in 1947 to prepare to move to East Pakistan. We migrated permanently in 1949. My father joined Dhaka Medical College. The Department of Electrotherapy started and expanded under his supervision.
Shaptahik: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: We are one brother one sister. My sister Ahmedi Begum graduated from Dhaka.
Shaptahik: Where did your family stay in Dhaka?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Gulfashion Building near Bailey Road was completed in 1950. We first lived there. Our present house was a Mango orchard then. While living in Gulfashion my father told us to look up lands for building an house. We built our house in 1954. The current house we are living in was built in 1956-7.
Shaptahik: You were an school student when you came to Dhaka?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes, I got admitted in Saint Gregory High School. I took the Matriculation exam in 1951.
Shaptahik: Did you have any famous school mates?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes, Professor Anisuzzaman was one. May be also professor Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, I am not sure. The martyred intellectual Giasuddin was one year senior.
Shaptahik: Who were your classmates?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Professor Anisuzzaman was there, and maybe even Professor Sirajul Islam Chowdhury. And a year ahead of me was martyred intellectual Giasuddin Shaheb. We were together again in college. St. Gregory College later became Notre Dame College. It was at a small two-story building in Laxmibazar. Shaheed Giasuddin went there as well, a year ahead of me.
In 1953 I sat for my Intermediate exams from St. Gregory’s College. Came to University. They told me they want to give me full scholarship to go to America, and you can do a BA honours in two years. It was an attractive proposition and I accepted it. I was only 16 years old.
At 16 it wasn’t easy to go across the seven oceans. I was my parents’ only son, it was a risky proposition for them. I still thank my parents for saying, go if you want to.
Shaptahik: Was your mother involved with anything?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: My mother was not a professional, but she raised us well, in the right way. It’s quite surprising that she found the strength to let me go, even though I’m her only son.
My parents always focused on education and being self-sufficient, and I’ve done the same throughout my life. I was a minister for three years. Other than that I took no wages for work, I did only as an educator at university. I’ve always wanted to live freely.
Shaptahik: How was your matric and intermediate results?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I was within the first 20 in the matriculation exams, which enabled me to get scholarship for college. And I came first in the intermediate exams.
Shaptahik: Why did you choose arts over science after your matric exams?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Because I wanted to be a lawyer. I had wanted to be a lawyer for a very long time. I always wanted an independent profession, I always wanted to do things independently.
Shaptahik: You chose law as an independent profession. Did anyone inspire you to choose law?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Judge Fazle Akbar, who was the last Chief Justice in united Pakistan is a relative from my mother’s side. He died in 1971 after retiring. As a barrister he was a District Judge – in ’49 he was the District Judge in Khulna. He was the first registrar of Dhaka High Court.
When he used to come to Kolkata to visit us he would keep all his court files and papers bundled together and work there. He later lived in Shegunbagicha’s Nasim Villa. He was a great inspiration.
On my father’s side Hossain Suhrawardy Shaheb was also a relative, a well as a friend. He used to come to my father for medical advice. He was also a source of inspiration. Both him and my uncle wrote recommendation letters for me to attend Lincoln’s Inn. My father says our forefathers were in the judicial line as well. This is perhaps genetic. And I also wanted to be independent, that’s another factor.
Shaptahik: You went abroad to study. Then?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: At Notre Dame University I studied economics for two years.