Julius Lipner: Portrait of Generosity

Mohibul Aziz
Julius Lipner

Julius Lipner

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As ridiculous as it may sound, it is true that I first saw Julius Lipner in the basement room of Cambridge University Clare Hall. That room was not for anyone to live in. There was a telephone stand in that room. There was no mobile then. We used coins and cards to talk to relatives and friends from that telephone stand and Cambridge University had its own network. At low cost we could talk to friends inside the university.

That day was Saturday, the first day of the weekend. My wife and I were talking to my parents in the country. It would take a long time to talk to many people.

Suddenly I noticed a gentleman standing a little behind us. I thought he might use the telephone. Fair, tall, white, he looked like a European. So I said softly to my wife, someone is probably waiting in the queue, let's finish. But then I was so surprised that I wouldn't be so surprised if it started to rain that winter morning.

The man who seemed to be European in my eyes started saying in pure Bengali, that is, in our mother tongue, in a smiling voice: No problem, I will start when you are finished. Then my wife and I said to him, please, now your turn, we're done. He told us to wait a while.

He took exactly one minute. He told someone to come to the department on Monday then put down the phone and looked at us and said, Hello! This time he did the greeting in English. But again he said in Bengali, did you come from Bangladesh? In response to his question we said, yes. Then we climbed the stairs. Turning left was the lobby of Clare Hall's cafe.

The lobby was empty because of the holidays. The gentleman said, I am Julius Lipner, Fellow of the College and Student-Secretary. He said he heard that a married couple from Bangladesh had come to the Keyneside House. He was happy to be with us. My wife and I were also very happy to talk to him.

That was the beginning. Then gradually I got a chance to know more about him. Since we were in college-accommodation, we would meet him from time to time. The atmosphere inside Clare Hall was very homely. It was as if we were living in a house. To the right of the college's porters' room was Julius Lipner's room. A little further on, there was a small gallery in Clare Hall. In fact, it was like a narrow passage. But the conscious authorities at Clare Hall turned it into a small painting gallery. They used the walls on both sides to hang the paintings. I enjoyed paintings of different countries and continents of the world in this small gallery in Clare Hall.

We would talk to Julius Lipner, perhaps in the lobby, or in the courtyard. Thus one day he became ‘Lipnerda’ to us meaning brother Lipner (Liper+Dada). I saw that he was very close not only to us but also to the Indian, Bengalis of Cambridge.

Christmas was an occasion to rejoice in the cold winter. At that time, all the foreign students who were European or Canadian or American would go home. But we Asians in particular stayed in college. A few days after Christmas and Boxing Day, Julius Lipner invited us to his home. It’s been the memories of a long time ago. I remember, Shamita and Debashish from West Bengal were with us at Lipner's house on that post-Christmas occasion. Clare Hall Fellow Sugata was also present. Maybe there was Abhijit Mukherjee of Physics and his wife Sima too.

We were introduced to Anindita Lipner, the wife of Julius Lipner. Seeing Anindita Baudi, a pure Bengali woman wearing sari, it seemed that she was the woman next door to us. Lipnerda, however, had earlier said that his wife was Bengali. Lipner himself is of Czech descent but was born and raised in Kolkata. He studied in Pune and Jadavpur and received his PhD in 1974 from King's College London. He joined the University of Birmingham in the same year and moved to Cambridge the following year. Since then he has been a teacher at Cambridge University. He is Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion.

At first glance, Divinity Religion Hinduism seemed to suggest that Julius Lipner would be a conservative, somewhat reserved type of person. But talking to him and Anindita Baudi and hearing the story of their family, those ideas disappeared from me. In fact, I actually saw Lipnerda as a person of a completely different nature.

On the contrary, knowing that I am a man of literature, he joined me in discussing literature. I saw that he read all the classical books of Bengali literature. He read many important and great works of world literature. I was talking to him about the three famous Banerjees of Bengali literature. He said that his favorite novelist was Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. I am also an avid reader of Bibhuti. I asked Lipner about Manik Bandopadhyay. Manik's novels in particular were like an explosion in Bengali literature at one time. Lipnerda also endorsed that the novels 'Ahimsa', 'Padmanadir Majhi', 'Putulnacher Itikatha' are always memorable. He also told me that in the same year that Hemingway's novel 'Old Man and the Sea' won the Nobel in 1949, Manik's 'Padmanadir Majhi', translated by Hirendranath Dutt, also gained fame.

But Lipner liked Bibhuti's novels because of their strange serenity and a deep sense of life. I then remembered the American novelist David Thoreau. One such peaceful deep life is found in his novel Walden. Lipnerda said he was working on a translation and introduction to Bibhuti's novel 'Pather Panchali', which was to be published by Heinemann, a British publishing house.

We talked a lot more about literature and other topics that evening. As we were talking, I could see the books written by him on his bookshelf. Lipner was originally a scholar of Vedas, Upanishads, nineteenth century Bengal, but his knowledge of literature and society was no less. I picked up his book, 'The Face of Truth', published in 1986. Its subject is the analysis of Ramanuja's philosophy in the light of Vedic theology. The title of his book, published in the joint authority in 1989, is also excellent: Hindu Ethics: Purity, Abortion and Euthanasia.

Interestingly, he was also working on Bankimchandra's novel 'Anandamath' which was also expected to be published in the future. Since Bankimchandra is also one of my favorite novelists, I said, the language, prose and character construction of Bankim's novels are of extraordinary level. Moreover, in his novels he did not preach, but what he did was an expression of his fascination with ancient India. His grief is because it was later lost. He expressed his displeasure against Muslim and British colonialism because of his original grievances. Lipnerda agreed with me. I told him that Bankim's ability to make my Bengali language stand at that time was undoubtedly commendable. Moreover, Bankim showed that it is possible to create excellent novels in a language of peasants and ordinary people, keeping in view the structure of Sir Walter Scott's novel. That is no less important.

Apart from fish, the favorite food of Bengalis, Anindita Baudi cooked meat, vegetables and many other dishes for dinner that night. The dessert was rice-pudding. I also tasted one or two pieces of Lipnerda's favorite thin mint chocolate. Our conversation ended at midnight. Anindita Baudi said to Lipnerda, you rest I am giving them a lift. Cooking all day, then having dinner with us and doing all the chores: after doing so much, giving us a lift to Clare Hall again, Baudi's sincerity was truly incomparable. In the middle of the night and in the cold, under the huge English sky, we were returning home speaking our Bengali language. That experience was unique.

Even after that I talked to Julius Lipner many times in the lobby of Clare Hall or in the courtyard adjacent to the college. Donald Anthony Low, president of Clare Hall, was a great man. I also remember his wife Bell. When seen, she would say in a loving voice: how are you dear? Bell was once a nurse in her career. Seeing her reminded me of 'Florence Nightingale'. Florence may have had such a loving voice.

Some days I met Donald and Lipner together in the lobby. They are like that, if they had time, they would not forget to speak sincerely. Donald Low's presidency ended in 1994. We foreign students said goodbye to him. Julius Lipner was also there. Donald was actually Australian by birth. However, due to his expertise in Commonwealth history and Indian history, the Indian context would come up whenever I sat down to talk to him.

Donald Low's successor was Jillian Beer. Jillian's subject is English literature. Her husband, John Beer, is also a well-known critic of English literature. Jillian's book, 'Darwin's Plot', was published in 1973. In addition, her book on Virginia Woolf was published in 1996. I also met Jillian Beer in the lobby of Clare Hall. One of his favorite writers was the British novelist Doris Lessing. Jillian later presided over the Booker Prize in 1997 when Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize. Julius Lipner also had a good relationship with Jillian Beer. At Christmas 1995, Jillian hosted a Christmas party in honor of the foreign students who did not go home. We had a wonderful time with both John and Jillian.

I remember an incident in 1993. It was May and quite a nice summer in England. That month, the famous Nigerian novelist Chinua Achibi came to give ‘Tanner and Ashby Lecture’ at Clare Hall. His theme was 'Education of a British Protected Child'. Led by President Donald Low, many of us gathered in the auditorium of Robinson College for that evening's event. Clare Hall did not have a large hall of its own, so they rented either the auditorium of Trinity or the auditorium of Robinson College. Robinson College was on Herschel Road, across the street. Chinua introduced the speech with a lot of fun. He was saying: One day I wanted to be admitted to Trinity College in Cambridge University but could not. Today I came to Cambridge as a speaker. There was a burst of laughter in the audience. Chinua was beautifully talking about his own experience on the one hand and Nigerian life developed under the British on the other. With that came the Nigerian civil war. He was talking about how the country was torn apart by the tug of war between the three tribes. These three tribes are: Gikuyu, Euroba and Hoxafulani. Julius Lipner was sitting next to me in the audience.

Chinua also spoke about the language and sense of life in his novels. His first novel, 'Things Fall Apart', was published in 1958 from Heinemann, England. He also gave some details of that memory. He said that the language of his novel cannot be called pure English. Again, the life inside his novel is also Nigerian. So this is the third thing in the combination of British and Nigerian. We met for a tea party after the ceremony. I talked with Chinua for about an hour and a half later. Other writings on that subject will surely be written. Lipnerda thanked Chinua for his excellent speech

In that brief conversation, the story of Indian novelist R K Narayan came up. In response to Julius Lipner's remarks, Chinua said that he personally liked both Narayan and his novels. Interestingly, in his shoulder bag was a novel written by Narayan, 'Malgudi Days' and a book of essays written by him, 'My Dateless Diary'. Two days later, he would have to go to Channel Four to talk about R K Narayan's novels. Lipnerda and I both were amused to know that. I myself am a fan of Narayan, especially a few days ago I read the book 'Waiting for Mahatma' written by Narayan in the Cambridge Library.

Dr. Dilip Chakraborty was another friend of ours in Cambridge. He is a teacher in the department of Archeology in Cambridge Univerity. I used to call him Dilipada too. When the Department of Archeology was opened at Jahangirnagar University, he was the founding visiting professor there. His student was Sufi Mustafizur Rahman who is memorable for ‘Wari-Bateshwar’. An entire book can be written about Dilip Chakraborty, his wife Sima and their daughter Nayana. Lipnerda was also mentioned when I was talking to Dilipada. In particular, we knew that although religion and divinity were his subjects, in fact, a lot of knowledge was gathered in his character. In a real sense, such people are rare in today's world.

Julius Lipner is currently an Emeritus Professor at Cambridge University. But I am sure that in spite of such a high position, no sense of ego will arise in him. He will say in a humble voice just like before, you must have come from Bangladesh!

September 2021

Dr. Mohibul Aziz, Dean and Professor, Chittagong University.

Who will lead France for the next five years?

Dr Mahfuz Parvez
Macron and Le Pen Prepare for Showdown

Macron and Le Pen Prepare for Showdown

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France on Saturday (April 23) prepared to choose between centrist President Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen to rule the country for the next five years after a bitterly contested and polarising election campaign. By Sunday (April 24) evening, the world will know whether France has elected its first female leader, or the first two-term president since Jacques Chirac.

Considering the election processes, It’s looking like Emmanuel Macron is headed for victory; he holds a ten-point average lead in polls over his challenger, the far-right Marine Le Pen. That she is still within range of Macron, who trounced her by 30 percentage points in 2017, has Western capitals nervous that the French could swap an ardent EU supporter for one closer to Moscow than Brussels.

However, Undecided voters are one concern, with as many as 11 percent still yet to make up their minds. The supporters of the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon are another wildcard. The worry for Macron is not so much that they would go over to Le Pen, but that they simply won’t vote at all. Just under half of his first round voters don’t intend to cast a ballot on Sunday, but two-thirds of those who plan to vote say they’ll back Macron.

Michele Barbero, in a Paris dispatch for Foreign Policy Journal, spoke with one Mélenchon supporter who isn’t sure whether to vote on Sunday. “I feel disillusioned, desperate, and I have less and less confidence in politics to bring about more social justice,” she said.

As the election of Joe Biden in 2020 showed, a victory for a centrist candidate doesn’t magically de-polarize an electorate. So even a loss may not spell the end for Le Pen, who will be just 58 when the 2027 elections come around—and would no longer have to face Macron, who would be barred from serving a third consecutive term.

With Le Pen within arm’s reach of Macron, some world leaders have gotten off the fence. In a rare foray into French politics, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made the case for Macron in a Le Monde op-ed on Thursday. Sharing a byline with his left-leaning counterparts Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, the three men presented a choice between “a democratic candidate, who believes that France grows in a powerful EU. And a far-right candidate, who openly sides with those attacking our freedom and democracy.”

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former Brazilian President has also stated his support for Macron, describing the election as one where “the future of democracy” is at stake.

Although U.S. President Joe Biden has not publicly expressed his preference, his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama still might. The former president would be leaving it late; he already had backed Macron by this time in the 2017 election cycle.

Perhaps doing Le Pen a favor, given the distance she has tried to put between herself and the Russian leader during her campaign, Russian President Vladimir Putin has stayed silent. Her ideological allies in Hungary and Poland have too.

Imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny has also stumped for Macron—while skewering his opponent, saying on Twitter that any so-called conservative who is sympathetic to Putin “is actually just a hypocrite with no conscience.”

Barring a too-close-to-call election, exit polls should predict the winner by the time voting ends at 8 p.m. Paris time on Sunday.

Dr. Mahfuz Parvez, Professor, Political Science, University of Chittagong and Associate Editor, barta24.com


Let’s talk about the elephant in the room

Tazlina Zamila Khan
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room

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Our nation has reached a point where just walking down the street is the most risky and courageous undertaking that one can perform. Once you go out into the street, there is no assurance that you will be able to return to your loved ones. No matter what mode of transportation you choose, such as a bus or a car, you are not protected. I was taken aback when I received some news about one of my students. He and his mother were driving home from school like they often did when their car collided with a rickshaw, killing one of the passengers. The chauffeur was able to flee the scene very quickly, but my student's mother was gravely injured. It was a traumatic experience for such a young boy like him to see such an occurrence unfold in front of his own eyes. The person who died could have been anybody, and it might have been someone you know. Every day, the number of accidents increases, and the worth of human life decreases.

Sometimes it does remind me of one of the dialogues of Spiderman II --‘Uncle Ben was killed that night for being the only one who did the right thing’. Bangladeshi street scenes are similar to this in terms of situation. Even if you are driving safely and, in your lane, you may be involved in an accident due to the negligence of another driver. Thousands of Uncle Ben is Somebody else's careless behavior resulted in these people's death. To make a safer road, how much blood must be shed?

According to a news report of The Daily Star which stated the road accident rates increased by 30%. In addition to reckless driving, a lack of skilled drivers, mental and physical illness in drivers, insufficient benefits for drivers, slow vehicular movement on highways and youths riding carelessly on motorbikes, an ineffective traffic management system, and a lack of awareness among the general public are all factors contributing to traffic fatalities and injuries.

If the management is tight, however, all of these issues will not be addressed for some time. What annoys me the most is that in our nation, there is no consequence for individuals who are guilty for their actions on the road. The vast majority of the time, drivers escape after murdering someone. Every attempt is made to bring justice to the victim's family, but all of it is in vain.

With each victim who escapes, it sends a message to the whole society that "it is alright to murder someone since no one else will come to haunt you." This is very hazardous, and sadly, this is the reality of the situation in the country. As a result, accidents are happening on the other hand culprits are moving freely without being punished.

Despite the government's stated goal of reducing road accidents by 20-25 percent by 2024 and 50 percent by 2030, the number of accidents in the nation has continued to rise over the last few years.

When it comes to following the rules of the road, motorcycles have a particularly difficult time. They indicate that time is more important than human lives by rushing to the destination with the passengers. Every member of the family is affected by even a little accident. No matter how sympathetic or empathic you are to the victim's family, you will never be able to replace the gap left by the death of a spouse, a daughter, or a son. It's impossible to fathom the anguish and misery endured by the families affected by such tragedies.

Despite this, traffic accidents are still being referred to as the elephant in the room. As a matter of fact, it should have been dealt with and resolved much sooner had it been given more priority. In reality, though, it is steadily increasing. Why has it been put off for so long?

Road accidents are still a severe problem, despite the fact that our communication system has undergone a major shift. Adequate driving instruction is essential, and law enforcement authorities should be harsher with those who breach the rules. To illustrate that no one is above the law, the perpetrators of these crimes should be punished.

The writer is a faculty member of a private school


Japan, China and Asian Peace

Dr. Mahfuz Parvez
Japan, China and Asian Peace

Japan, China and Asian Peace

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Japan and China, two important countries in Asia, are also influential in regional and international politics. These two countries can play a leading role in peace and development in Asia. Although their pasts are conflicting, their peaceful alliance is essential to world reality. Especially for Asia-Pacific peace, it is essential that the two countries come together.

Considering the important position of two countries, researchers have worked on the positive aspects of the friendly role of Japan and China. As they look to the past and the present, some researchers have raised hopes for the future. Ezra Feivel Vogel was an one of them.

Ezra Feivel Vogel, (Born: July 11, 1930, Delaware, Ohio, United States, Died: December 20, 2020, Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States) was an American sociologist who wrote prolifically on modern Japan, China, and Korea, and worked both in academia and the public sphere. He was Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and the author of a masterpiece titled China and Japan: Facing History, published in 2019 just before his death.

According to Ezra Feivel Voge, China and Japan have cultural and political connections that stretch back fifteen hundred years. But today their relationship is strained. China’s military buildup deeply worries Japan, while Japan’s brutal occupation of China in World War II remains an open wound. In recent years less than ten percent of each population had positive feelings toward the other, and both countries insist that the other side must deal openly with its history before relations can improve.

From the sixth century, when the Japanese adopted core elements of Chinese civilization, to the late twentieth century, when China looked to Japan for a path to capitalism, Ezra Vogel’s book examined key turning points in Sino–Japanese history. Throughout much of their past, the two countries maintained deep cultural ties, but China, with its great civilization and resources, had the upper hand. Japan’s success in modernizing in the nineteenth century and its victory in the 1895 Sino–Japanese War changed the dynamic, putting Japan in the dominant position. The bitter legacy of World War II has made cooperation difficult, despite efforts to promote trade and, more recently, tourism.

Vogel underscored the need for Japan to offer a thorough apology for the war, but he also urged China to recognize Japan as a potential vital partner in the region. He argued that for the sake of a stable world order, these two Asian giants must reset their relationship, starting with their common interests in environmental protection, disaster relief, global economic development, and scientific research.

Dr. Mahfuz Parvez, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh and Associate Editor, www.barta24.com.

Our victory: our pride

Syed Iftekhar
photo: Barta24.com

photo: Barta24.com

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In the 21st century, technology is a crucial factor for economic development. Bangladesh is not left behind, the current time the region is part of the global community. The country embarked on a long way since the declaration of independence in 1971.

Nowadays, Bangladesh turns 50 years. Digital Bangladesh is developing swiftly with this momentum that will lead the territory into achieving its future goals. Meanwhile, the region has commenced the journey towards Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's 'Sonar Bangla' through this massive triumph.

Here and now, Bangladesh is making an impressive leap on the Earth as our situation has dramatically improved. The world leaders have even noticed our successful transformation. Consequently, Bangladesh has ranked the fastest-growing economies in the world. From 1971 to 2021, Bangladesh ameliorated enormously; our food safety has significantly improved, poverty is also declining.

On the other hand, the private sector has expanded at an astonishing rate. Although there are still some sectors Bangladesh needs to address. We need to do major works more efficiently at present to secure an ample future. In this case, the present government is striving. As conscious citizens of this country, we have individual responsibility too.

However, as a firm citizen, I also have a gigantic dream. A dream for a better life, prosperous life. It is not just a conception. This would happen soon. I am immensely hopeful because without hope this country could not be created. Further, we could not overcome several obstacles as well as challenges. Nonetheless, the rigorous reality is hopes are not well enough. We must make a noteworthy endeavor to turn them into reality, thus, we can go far.