33 C
Sunday, June 16, 2024


An in-depth conversation with Dr. Mir Masoom Ali, a pioneering statistician, distinguished professor, educator, researcher and author and a Bangladeshi-Amercian social contributor

Dr. Mir Masoom Ali, a Bangladeshi-American, is considered as one of the top statisticians in the globe. He is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, Institute of Statisticians, Royal Statistical Society, and Bangladesh Academy of Sciences. He is also an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. He came to the United States in 1969 and became a naturalized citizen in 1981. Dr. Ali founded the graduate and undergraduate programs in Statistics at Ball State University. He co-founded the Midwest Biopharmaceu- tical Statistics Workshop (MBSW), held annually at Ball State University since 1978. The workshop is co-sponsored by the American Statistical Association. Dr. Ali served as editor/associate editor of several international statistical journals. He is the founding president of the North America Bangladesh Statistical Association (NABSA). In 2002, he received the Sagamore of the Wabash Award, the highest award given in the State of Indiana, USA by the Governor of Indiana for his significant contributions to Ball State University, to higher education in the State of Indiana, and specifically to the Statistics profession. Dr. Ali has published extensively in many professional statistical journals. He was the first recipient of the Qazi Motahar Husain Gold Medal in 1990 and was also recipient of the ISOSS Gold Medal in 2005. He was awarded the “Our Pride Award” by the Bangladesh-American Foundation, Inc. (BAFI) in 2005.

Theme- Life Journey:

Fintech: Your incredible life journey is too difficult to capture in any format, Sir. A life that started in a remote Bangladeshi region of Patuakhali in 1937 has explored and enriched the world in such a magnificent manner. Being honored among top 25 statisticians in the world, you actually have surpassed the limitation of any time or space boundary. Can we start with a sort of ice breaker for the readers and audience (who also may feel overwhelmed watching an incredible personality like you)? Would you like to mention any particular practice or habit, in academic and/or personal arena, which you have been following throughout your life, and which you have found quite useful?

MMA: I was born in 1937 toward the end of the British Colonial Rule in India in a small town named Patuakhali in the southernmost part of East Bengal in British India, not far from the Bay of Bengal and also not too far from the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem, the Sundarbans. I am talking about a remote small town where I was born 85 years ago. As was the case in most of the small towns in British India in those days, there was no electricity, no running water, no gas and no indoor plumbing. The streets, paved with bricks, were about three feet wide and at night there were few Kerosene street lamps at corners of streets. There was no vehicle in town. Very rarely one would see a bike. The only way we could go from one place to another place in town was by foot. There was one cinema hall and the electricity for the cinema hall was generated by the owner’s private dynamo. The streets were primarily for pedestrians. The town was cut off by rivers from the rest of the country. Railroad was not there because of too many big rivers without bridges. The only way we could D go to visit our relatives in nearby places out of town was by river in a small country boat which could carry only four or five people. The only way to go to Barisal or Dhaka was by steamer powered by coal. They were very slow modes of transportation.

It is against this backdrop that I spent my infancy, childhood and part of my teen-age years in Patuakhali. And you know what? We didn’t miss anything of today’s modern living because we were not aware of those. Using kerosene lamp for studying at night, using outhouse or not having indoor running hot and cold water and many other facilities of today which were not there 85 years ago in a small town did not bother us. Because these were not all that meant life or a good living to me. Frankly, I looked at these minor inconveniences of life as just part of life. So, what made me happy growing up in such a small town? Believe it or not, it was the culture, education and good friends in addition to the simple unadulterated life the small town had offered.


The small town was culturally very advance, especially in two areas – music and art in the form of drama and theater which were so important to young people. Remember, I am talking about a time when mostly the Hindus were the ones who would patronize these art forms. After the partition of British India when most of the educated Hindus moved to India leaving the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) with a big void in this areas of music and theater the young Muslims soon filled that void and engaged in these cultural activities keeping them alive. I was very active in both music and drama until my college years of Dhaka.

But education was an important part for the people of this small town. Despite the fact that Patuakhali was located in a remote part of East Bengal, the town had one of the best schools in the country and still is. Remember in the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century most of the educated people of the region were Hindus and they were the ones who had established many high schools and colleges following the British system of education while the Muslims’ emphasis was on the Islamic Religious system and this was true for most of British India under the British rule. The main school of Patuakhali was named Patuakhali Jubilee High English School in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s ascension to the British throne in 1837. My father who was a lawyer in Patuakhali and his four sons, all of whom attended Jubilee School and all of whom later received their PhDs, two in Statistics and the younger two in Engineering became highly successful in their careers. My parents’ three of four daughters were among the first Muslim females of Patuakhali to obtain college and university degrees from Dhaka. In high school we had the best teachers both academically and as mentors. All my teachers from Class III through Class X were Hindu teachers except in Classes IX and X when we had a Muslim teacher for those who took Arabic as a Classical Language. One example, I remember vividly, our Headmaster Nobo Chandra Banerjee who taught us English in Class X used to bring to class an equipment resembling a suitcase type gramophone called linguaphone. This equipment was used to teach proper pronunciation of English (British) words. I do not know if there is anyone today who has heard about this equipment. Such was our education in Patuakhali in those days.

It was in this backdrop my early pre-college and pre-University years were shaped – British educational system, Hindu educators and Islamic teachings. It was this combination of these three cultures that had shaped my thinking and outlook. These early exposure to three major cultures enabled me to develop a more secular view of the world which I carried with me through all these years. However, If one asks me to mention just one thing which I practised throughout my life, then it would be my ability to choose those as friends who would encourage me to progress in life, no matter whether they are poor or rich, so-called educated or not but have a heart of pure gold and who are not consumed with their success but would also encourage and help others to reach that goal.

Fintech: Your magnificent life journey had some dramatic turn also, most notably the surprise call to join Ball State University in 1969. Till then also you had an enriched career – a statistics graduate from Dhaka University, an official in erstwhile Pakistan’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Ministry of Commerce and the Central Public Service Commission, and a Doctorate from University of Toronto. However, that life changing decision to join Ball State University just initiated a new era. Would you like to share some advice for the current youth, who also aspire to contribute for the world, but often remain puzzled to make a right career choice? Should we always remain too realistic and pursue existing trends, or sometimes we really need to try different career track following our passion and intuition?

MMA: The present question you posed is really very difficult to answer. The answer would vary from person to person depending on what they want in life – becoming rich, developing intellectual superiority, becoming a famous artist, singer, musician, actor, athlete, or becoming a great humanitarian, for example. In order to achieve one’s goal to achieve success the way one defines it, one has to go through many twists and turns in life and at each twist and each turn one has to make a decision as to what should be done. Those are important decisions that should be made depending on whether one has the knowledge, skill, background, preparation and the tenacity and patience to see it through fruition. One has to be aware of his own limit and trying to go beyond that limit one may become unsuccessful. So, we need to know what we want to do in life and that goal may change from time to time as we run the course. Our success in life depends on our reasonable goals to pursue which we think we will be able to achieve using the education and knowledge we already possess. But we also need sound advice from well-wishers and an element of luck or good fortune to realize that goal and yes, one has to have passion for the career one wants to pursue and also good intuition to follow through.

Let me now come down to one life, my life, to illustrate what factors, decisions, and peoples’ advice brought me where I am now. My life is possibly not an ideal example but nevertheless it would help people track my career path and learn something. Well, as a youngster I never thought of my goals or what I wanted to be in life. I was a fun loving kid. I would do things that my parents would not always approve such as mixing with kids who did not study and did not do well in school, coming home late in the evening playing soccer, albeit those friends were also good students in class and well disciplined. All my friends liked me. So, I had a wide group of friends from all backgrounds and they taught me many thing – my parents simply didn’t want their children to be outside the home after sunset. I could see lot of good qualities in every student but realized also that some students help you to progress and some hinders your progress. But this huge group of friends from my third grade through my university life taught me many lessons of life. They formed my network and help me to understand who would lead me to the right direction and who would lead me to the wrong direction. This experience also taught me who was my true friend and who was not but that I should be everyone’s well-wisher. I have observed those who were very meritorious but introverts could hardly reach their potentials in many cases.

I always was the youngest kid in class. So when I was in school in Classes VII and VIII, I used to be protected from the bullies in class by the students who were not very good academically but liked me because I was very nice to them. So, for your success in life you possibly need help from all sorts of people in your life – your parents, siblings, relatives, teachers, good friends, and even ordinary people. At each point in your life when a new opportunity arrives you have to make a choice depending on your educational background, knowledge, preparation and ability together with a little bit of luck.

Theme- Statistics in Present World:

Fintech: It is now almost seven decades that you have spent in the world of statistics. Your immense contribution to this domain has been acknowledged by countless and diverse range of recognitions across the world. The world has also transformed a lot in these 70 years, particularly in science and technology. As a pioneering researcher, how do you assess these transformations Sir? Are cutting-edge technologies now helping to make significant breakthrough in statistical research, or are still our human intelligence making the ultimate difference?

MMA: The Department of Statistics at Dhaka University is among the world’s oldest statistics departments. The Statistics Program at Dhaka University started in 1948 with two B. Sc. (Honors) and four Master’s degree students in the Department of Mathematics and finally the Department of Statistics was founded as a separate department in 1950 by the Late National Professor Dr. Qazi Motahar Hussain. I joined the Statistics Department as a B. Sc. (Honors) student in 1953 at the insistence of my elder brother who had belonged to the first batch of Master’s students in the statistics program graduating in 1950. The discipline of Statistics was completely unknown to most of us at home, it was also unknown abroad. We did not know or understand why we were pursuing this new field as a career goal. As students we did most of the computations at home manually by hand and in the class we had a handful of manually operated calculating machines and then some electric calculating machines both of which could only perform the four basic arithmetical operations with certain limitation on the size of the numbers. Next, when I was working for the erstwhile Government of Pakistan in the Agricultural Census Department, I was sent to Rome, Italy and London, England through the United Nations’ FAO program. In London I underwent some training to learn the programming of the old bulky IBM machines so that when I returned I could in turn train and supervise the key punch operators and machine operators of the 1960 Agricultural Census Data. Those machines could mainly prepare only some numerical tables. When I went to Toronto, Canada for my PhD in 1966, I again used the bulky mainframe computers feeding the IBM punch cards to not only just to prepare tables but to also numerically compute multiple integrals for my PhD thesis project. This was a very significant development in six years but still it could not do many things. The process was slow and cumbersome. I must also mention that it was at that time the hand held calculators came to the market and later programmable hand held computers became available.

Around early 1980s the desktops enter the market. The developments of Apple and Microsoft computers, Windows, email, internet etc. moved everything related to computer to a new frontier. And on top, the smart phones revolutionized our lives completely. When we were students, data meant just numbers. Statisticians were jokingly called number crunchers. But now data is not just only a number, it can be a picture, can be a printed article, can be a voice mail, and can be an audio or video tape and so on.

So, what do I think of Statistics and Computer of the future? With the tremendous development of fast computers with tremendous memory power, the discipline of statistics has and is undergoing a radical change. When we were students we took pride in the fact that using a small sample we can draw a fairly good inference about the population characteristics. But those inferences were basically valid in general for data arising from certain type of distribution, mainly normal. Most of the early theories were based on this normality assumption because we had few statistical tables available under the normality assumption. But now Big Data is revolutionizing the world. Now because of supercomputers and related technologies we can handle enormous data sets of all types and statistical research is now moving to Big Data and a new group called Data Scientists is fast emerging. With this rapid development in computer technology, I feel if after 50 years I raise my head above my grave, I will find an unrecognizable world – solar or other unknown sources of energy, smaller energy-saving homes, different types of automobiles, faster air travel to go around the earth in couple of hours and of course, space travel going further than we can imagine. Because of this fast computers in the future statisticians will be able to do things that we cannot even think about now.

Dr Mir Masoom Ali and his wife Leena Ali
Dr Mir Masoom Ali and his wife Leena Ali

Fintech: With rapid advancement of artificial intelligence, we are expected to soon reach a world governed by algorithm and data. Statistics and data science are now becoming more universal domain, impacting almost every phase of life. Would you please share your thoughts about a data-driven world and its possible impacts?

MMA: I possibly answered part of this question in my answer to the previous question. Yes, artificial intelligence (AI) has become part of our life. AI teaches machines to perform many human tasks by mimicking them. A signature is verified using AI. A voice can be checked for authenticity using AI. A driverless car can be driven without a driver using AI. A plane can be flown without a pilot using AI. AI is developed using a series of lengthy computer algorithms. These algorithms try to mimic all human activities using lengthy computer programming. But will AI be able to mimic every aspect of human being’s innate qualities for the machines to learn? I believe AI will perfect this process of machine learning to the point where they would be able to think like a human being for most of the human activities which needs intelligence.


Another area that has been developed very quickly with the use of computer and internet is now referred to as Internet of Things (IoT). We don’t have to go to the switch board to turn on/off light and fan, turn on the thermostat and set a temperature, check the inside of a home room by room, open a car door, start a car, turn on heating/cooling without even entering the car and so on, all using voice commands.

Artificial Intelligence has become an integral part of our life. This is all possible because of the development of internet and fast computers. Robotics is another area which is now common in industry. I had a surgery recently. Before my surgery started the young surgeon told me that a robot would help him during the procedure. There are so many things we can do now with the development of computer, internet, smart phones and the likes we can do so many things today that even I in my younger days could not dream of doing. The development of those technologies are so fast, innovative and far-reaching that it is hard for me to foresee what the world would be like in fifty years from today.

About ten years ago I gave a keynote talk on Big Data at an international conference. At that time I had prepared a chart to show the development in the field of statistics and data science along with the development of telephone and computer technologies. During these past ten years both Statistics and data science have developed tremendously as is the case with smart phone technology as well as with computation technology. These data-statistics-computer-smartphone and other new algorithms based technologies will lead us to innovations that we cannot even dream about today. We can see even now the benefits these modern technologies are providing us but at the same time we see what problems they are bringing to our world in terms of social and moral decadence. I see more negative effects on social values in future. We know that no civilization was destroyed from without and it is always from within due to moral decadence. Might be we are heading to such a situation because of all these developments, who knows!

Theme- Community and Family

Fintech: Both academically and culturally, your contribution for the community is so amazing. You are founder of several programs, scholarships and institutions for statisticians. You were instrumental in establishing the Muslim community in Muncie, Indiana, USA. However, all these started back in 1969 when you arrived in Muncie from Chicago as the only passenger on a 10-seater plane. And probably at that time, you along with your family were among the few people of color (or South Asian immigrants) in that region. Now, in this 2022, we apparently have a more connected and diverse world. Do you feel Sir that it is quite essential to have adequate diversity among scientists-researchers (in any domain) to properly address crucial challenges of the world?

MMA: I will try to answer from my perspective, from my own experience and from what I learnt living in a multicultural society which is so different from living in a monolithic society where people do not have the opportunity to have an opposing or different views. America is a country where people from almost every nation of the world live. I used to tell my kids when they are young that every culture including ours has many good things and also some bad things, and that I wanted them to pick the best of all the cultures. Now I am a doer and cannot sit idle when I find that something needs to be done when there is a need for that. As an example, when I came to Muncie in 1969, I felt the need for a place where my young children can learn something about our religion, also a bit of our culture and about our roots. Since ours was the only Muslim family, the only way I could get started was to get help from the Ball State International Muslim students and so we started extremely modestly with the cooperation of the university which gave us a room on campus to pray our Jumma prayers. With the help of the university and the cooperation of the Director of Religious Programs at Ball State we started a Muslim Students Association at the University. As time passed and the Muslim population of Muncie grew, now the city has a beautiful Masjid and the Muslims in Muncie who are professors, doctors and from other occupations and the international Muslim students have a place to offer daily prayers, observe the Eid Prayers, have monthly dinners, hold Islamic talks and discussions and the Masjid holds Islamic school for children. In the initial stage it was the local Christians of various denominations and a Jew lawyer in town provided the support of my efforts as there was no other Muslim in the community in the beginning and in the 1970s and in the 1980s the African American Muslims found a place to pray and became an integral part of the Islamic Center. I left Muncie almost nine years ago but the Islamic Center is growing and thriving. Among others, an African American, a white American who once wanted to blow up the mosque and who then himself converted to Islam have served as President of the Islamic Center. Currently the President of the Islamic Center is a woman who has been extremely dedicated to the Islamic Center of Muncie.

Let me give another example. After I finished my PhD degree in 1969 at the University of Toronto, I was planning to go back to Pakistan when I, to my utter surprise, got a call from Ball State University offering me a teaching position for which I had even never applied. Since I did not come to Canada to stay and also since I never taught before and my previous professional life included working for the erstwhile Government of Pakistan, I was very much reluctant to move to a new country with four young children where I never lived and also since I was never a teacher, I was not comfortable with the idea of changing my professional goal. However, fate had it. I decided to accept the offer and started a new profession. After I joined the university I found that the Department of Mathematics had only two programs, one in Mathematical Education and the other one in Mathematics. And I didn’t belong to any of the two programs and I would be teaching some elementary courses in probability and statistics and mathematics. I felt I did not belong to either of these two programs and I decided not to continue teaching at Ball State University unless I could establish a graduate program in statistics and possibly an undergraduate program in statistics later. So, I talked to the Dean, Chair and faculty members about my intentions and there was a great support of my idea. I had no idea of how to develop a new program and what was involved in this process. I found out it was a difficult process for approval of creating a new program which needed lot of questions to answer, syllabus for all the new courses, and many other requirements to fulfill until the proposal passes through the host department, host college, University Graduate Educational Committee, and possibly Provost’s and President’s Office and finally by the State of Indiana. The Statistics Graduate Degree Program just celebrated its 50th (Golden) Anniversary on April 6, 2022.

Let me consider one last example. Once I founded the graduate statistics program, I wanted the statisticians outside Ball State to be aware of our new program. After long and hard thinking I decided to organize a conference and bring speakers from other universities who teach statistics, and also from high schools and from industries who practice statistics. I called the conference “Statistics Days” and it was held for two days in 1976 on Ball State campus. The conference had speakers from academia and industry. The conference was a great success and I got many congratulatory emails from speakers and some wanted me to continue with this conference in the future years. I was thinking of organizing a conference in biostatistics – an area which was kind of new in the 1970s but it was getting tremendous attention as a sub-specialty field in statistics. It so happened one of the speakers at the “Statistics Days” conference was Dr. Charles Sampson who was the Head of Statistics Division at Eli Lilly & Co., a major pharmaceutical company located at Indianapolis, Indiana. He was so impressed by my “Statistics Days” conference, he discussed with me the idea of holding a conference at Ball State in Biopharmaceutical Statistics and so two years after the “Statistics Days” the First Annual Midwest Biopharmaceutical Statistics Workshop (MBSW) which was later known as “Muncie Conference” and “Ball State Conference” was held in 1978 and was held annually since then when the conference decided to move to Indianapolis in 2015. After a hiatus of two years due to Covid-19, the 45th Annual MBSW will be held this year again in Indianapolis. This conference is one of the longest running conferences in the biopharmaceutical statistics field which brought to Ball State over 8,000 famous statisticians from all major pharmaceutical industries and many major universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Duke, Brown, UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State, Purdue, UC Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon, to name a few. It also brought presidents from such major statistical organizations as American Statistical Association and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics. Through these annual MBSWs over the past 45 years Ball State Graduate Statistics Program has nationally become very well known among statisticians of pharmaceutical industries and academia and other health industries and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

These are few personal examples of what happens when you get involved and do something. You may never know where your initiatives may lead to and how those initiatives may help others. What I learnt from these experiences are the following. In order to pursue a goal, one has to first understand why achieving this goal would be important to you and others. Then make a clear plan in your mind and then figure out how realistic the plan is and who would be the right people who could help you in executing your plan. Don’t get discouraged if things don’t go as planned and try to follow an alternative plan. Have faith in you and pursue your goal until it is achieved. During this journey you may face opposition and/or criticism. But you have to consider them with open mind because there may lie some good points in their comments which were not considered in the original plan. Finally, what you thought would be a small achievement could turn out to be an everlasting achievement. Remember we can hardly achieve anything without the help and support of others.

To answer the last part of the question about whether it is essential to have diversity among scientists-researchers to address crucial challenges of the world, my unequivocal answer is in the affirmative. Diversity is not only in race, as it is commonly understood these days, diversity must be in educational background, in intellectual thinking, in culture, in preparation, even in many other areas, such as national and cultural diversities are important factors to address today’s challenges of the world. America is absolutely an example of a country which has risen to the top as the most powerful nation of the world because of its diversity.

Fintech: Your family members (children, siblings and their children) have also been making remarkable contribution in respective area. We can particularly mention about your daughter Dr. Nicky Ali Jackson. You are the only father-daughter pair to receive the highest Award of the State of Indiana in its 75 year of history. Would you like to share some thoughts about role of family in your career success, particularly in current times when there is rapid rise of individualism and excessive career focus while de-prioritizing family?

MMA: The word ‘success’ means different things to different people. What success means to one person may not be deemed to be success to another person. Once in a social conversation one of my highly educated friends asked me if I had a choice between Nobel Prize and ten million dollars what would be my choice. I immediately replied Nobel Prize without even thinking. When I asked him in return he replied Ten Million Dollars. There is no yardstick to measure success. His answer was as good as mine. It is not debatable. The thing is how we view the world and what we call success is usually formed during our childhood by what my parents and my family viewed or considered as success.

I came from a family where both my parents were great advocates of education and in particular higher education and my mother was also an ardent supporter of higher education for women. As a lawyer and politician, my father did not have time to look after the education of his eight children. It was my mother who would make sure that we children do well in school, college and university. It was due to their devotion to children and their strict supervision and their great love for education that all their four sons got their PhDs and three of their four daughters became university graduates and the oldest daughter married before high school graduation. Including her, my wife’s siblings are all university graduates. So, in my house education was our priority number one in addition for us to be good people with good character and good moral values. And we in turn emphasized the value of education and good character and moral values to our own children. So, in that spirit of pursuing higher education, my eldest daughter got her Master’s in Journalism, the second daughter did her PhD in Sociology with her thesis on Criminal Justice, the third daughter did her MBA and the youngest one, our only son, became an interventional cardiologist. My wife Leena Ali has a Master’s degree in Applied Behavioral Analysis and has been working for many years as a Behavioral Consultant and Mental Health Counselor for the State of Indiana. The emphasis on education runs into my next two generations. Now coming back to my second daughter Professor Dr. Nicky Ali Jackson, Criminal Justice Expert, Victimologist, Social Justice Advocate, Author, Speaker and Philanthropist, one of whose passions is to help the wrongfully convicted persons who later after 10, 20, 30, 40, or even 50 or more years of incarceration were found innocent on the basis of new evidence and released. These people are called exonerees. The convicted people who are never found innocent of their crimes and who were released from the prison after serving out their sentences get some monetary help and help to find jobs etc. from the State but the exonerees who falsely are convicted and later released get no compensation for their wrongful incarceration from the State. Being a professor of criminal justice Nicky felt it was a gross injustice to the exonerees and Nicky fought to overcome this injustice and worked with the judges, criminal lawyers, Sheriffs, Chiefs of Police, State Senators and Congressmen and others in the judicial system for a number of years and finally the Governor of Indiana signed a bill allowing exonerees to receive US $50,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration plus some other benefits. It was for Nicky’s quest for justice for domestic violence, fight against injustice in criminal justice system including injustice to the exonerees that the Governor of Indiana last year named Nicky a Sagamore of the Wabash which I, her father, had also received twenty-one years ago for academic contribution to the State of Indiana, to Ball State University and to the field of Statistics. As I understand in the 75-year history of the award we are the only father-daughter duo to receive this highest award of the State of Indiana, USA. I am pretty sure my daughter and I are also the only Muslim recipients of this coveted award. Family definitely influences children’s intellectual growth, their outlook towards life, the values they should develop and the ambitions they need to pursue. Parents also should not force their values since the children are products of different generations. One thing I will emphasize to the children is that education should be their number one priority. Parents need to also listen to their kids. In these days family hardly eat dinner together. The children are mostly glued to their smart phones or TVs during dinner. This also hinders family bonding and social interactions. This is also because both parents are working these days since one income may not be enough to financially support the family or both spouses may work to raise their standard of living. So, the parents come home tired after spending long hours outside home and the children miss the love and affection of their parents. Not too long ago when we would invite families with kids, the kids would be playing games or running around in the house together. Now when the kids enter the house together with their parents, the first thing they do is ask for internet password. Once they have it, they are in the den, family room, loft, library or sitting on stairs with their smart phones playing games or talking to their friends. This smart phone is a dangerous tool in the hands of the kids for them to become asocial, individualistic and selfish. I don’t know any solution but suggest that parents must make rules and the children must follow them. Also parents must spend sufficient time with their kids. In my opinion we are entering a difficult generation to address all the ills that might be arising due to new technologies. I would not like to see excessive career involvement at the cost of children’s well-being whether it be social development or emotional development so that they don’t live in a virtual world and not understand what real life is.

Theme- Bangladesh in 50 Years:

Fintech: With your amazing guidance and support, you have transformed the lives of so many students and followers coming from different places of the world. Would you please just enlighten us (the Bangladeshis) with this spirit- that how helping others in own capacity can facilitate ultimately development of community and country?

MMA: Sometime my students asked me if they could do anything for me since they thought I had played an important role in their lives. My reply always was that they should do the same thing to others whatever I did for them and told them that would be the greatest gift for me. What I really wanted is that they should be of help to each person whether they ask for it or not. No one alone can help everybody but if we individually can help some people in building their career, then that would be a great thing for community development. So different people can do different things for different people in different ways. It could be financial help for some but more than that it is the valuable advice that many people do not get from others. Again, I will give examples from my own life experience.

After I decided to stay at Ball State, one of the things I did was to help students from my motherland Bangladesh to come to Ball State and fulfill their ambition to pursue higher education in the USA. Most of my Bangladeshi students who came to Ball State University did their PhDs from many big schools after finishing their Master’s at Ball State. Most of the American students start working after finishing their Master’s degree. Before the internet was there, I would carry application forms for admission and financial assistantship to Dhaka. All the Bangladeshi students who came here to study had financial assistantship and they had free education throughout their course of studies. I helped many other students to be placed in other universities. I helped many with their immigration by writing letters of recommendation and I wrote letters of recommendations for promotions for Bangladeshi statisticians living as for as ln Australia. Once the first Bangladeshi graduate from Ball State mentioned at a gathering of many of my Bangladeshi students that because of me now 300 of his relatives are living a very comfortable life in the USA and that would be the case for many students. The thing that all these lives I could touch directly or indirectly have resulted in a good life for them and there is no better pleasure than this that I get knowing they have a better life now. If we all individually can do this then it will definitely facilitate ultimately the development of community and the country.

Fintech: As Bangladesh is celebrating 50 years of independence, would you like to share any thoughts on this occasion, particularly for the enthusiastic youth there for who can learn a lot from living legends like you?

MMA: Many thanks for calling me a living legend but I have to make sure that readers understand that I am not a living legend in any sense of the term. I am just a regular professor who always believed that there is really no brilliant and no dumb student. Everyone has the capability of doing anything if he or she had the right background, right academic preparation, right environment and right opportunity to learn, and if they have “right’ in many other things including motivation. So, here comes the professor whose job is not just to deliver a classroom lecture but to also figure out why a certain student is struggling in class and why the student is not motivated to learn. My personal concern, advice and help saved many mainly undergraduate students from failing. So, I did whatever I felt right to help students who were students needing some guidance to achieve their goal.

Now let me not stray away from the question posed. By today’s standard living conditions in my time in the late 1930s to late 1950s were very primitive. Extreme hard work in school, college and university and doing very well academically were the only ways to attain success. Today’s kids view success in many other ways and not only by their excellence in academic performance. In our time there were “educated’ and “uneducated,” Now they are called “white color” and “blue color.” Now, there are many shades between educated and uneducated. Economic condition and standard of living have gone up tremendously. Bangladesh is doing economically much better than Pakistan and even better than or at least as good as that of India, It is because of the fact the generation has changed. Also with the birth of Bangladesh, the private sector got involved with many development projects – garment industry is possibly the main reason in addition to many other ventures by the private sector. The number of educational institutions has grown manifold and education has spread rapidly throughout the country. I foresee a great future of Bangladesh with right planning. Many people say our universities are not so good but I do not agree with that completely. Our current students are possibly as good as students of my generation, if not better. Albeit, I will say our present curricula should be geared toward the development of independent thinking, and motivation for innovation by our future generations so that they can lead the country further ahead. I am really confident of a very bright future of my motherland.

Fintech: Finally Sir, would you very briefly tell me about your recollections of events on February 21, 1952 (Ekushey February)?

MMA: I was a 17-year old second year student in Dhaka College. Dhaka was spelled by the British during their colonial rule as Dacca and got the spelling as Dhaka after independence of Bangladesh. People of today’s Dhaka have possibly no idea of what Dhaka was as a city then. So Dacca College which is now Dhaka College was the top college of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) and Dacca University which is now Dhaka University, was the only university in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). Many people now think of Dhaka College as the college near New Market. They would not know now that Dhaka College in my time was located near old Fulbaria Railway Station which does not exist anymore and it is but a memory for people of my generation. I lived in Hasin Baag which was supposed to be the best hostel for Dhaka College students which was located at Becharam Dewry near Moulvi Bazar. There was no running water in the whole area and most of old Dhaka. We had to take bath by drawing water from a well and the toilet facility was very primitive without any running sewer system. It was only when I attended Dhaka University and stayed in S. M. Hall that we found bathrooms and showers with running water in bathrooms and showers. There was no water drinking faucets. I now wonder where we got drinking water during my college life. At Dhaka University, the Arts Building was attached to the Medical College Building. The Science Buildings including Curzon Hall were across an open field from the Arts Building. There was a shed on the Curzon Hall side of the building where Physical Education Department and Gymnasium were located.

In 1948 Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the then Governor-General of Pakistan announced to the large crowd assembled at Ramna Park that Urdu will be the national language of Pakistan and there was a resounding NO from the crowd. In 1947 Pakistan was created with East Pakistan on the eastern side of India and West Pakistan on the west side of India with 1000 miles of Indian Territory. At the time of Partition East Pakistan had the majority of the population and in 1948 East Pakistanis vehemently protested this unfair decision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah to impose Urdu as the official language of Pakistan on the majority Bengalis of East Pakistan whose mother tongue is Bangla (Bengali). So this was a big political issue in Pakistan. There were many Dhaka University student political upheavals on this issue but Pakistan never yielded to East Pakistan’s demand not to impose a foreign language on them. In 1952 this language struggle came to a head. As a language Bangla or Bengali is spoken by over 260 million people worldwide. It is a very rich language. National Anthems of both Bangladesh and India are in Bangla (Bengali) written by the Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore. Anticipating that the Dhaka University students were going to have a mass procession along with other students and public, Military Government of Pakistan promulgated Section 144 of the legal code which prohibited assembly of more than four people in Dhaka. The student political groups announced general strike on February 21, 1952 and asked students and public join together breaking Section 144 and defying the Army to assemble at Dhaka University Campus which was filled with soldiers and tanks. I was a Dhaka College student. I had joined this huge procession and I was moving in the procession violating Section 144 and I was about hundred yards from the front of this huge procession which was peacefully walking through the campus. All of a sudden we heard shots and a number people including a rickshaw puller, students, and members of the public totalling 7 on one account were killed. I remember one of the martyrs who was shot about one hundred yards from me. I did not see him being shot but I saw him being taken away and immediately someone raised his blood stained clothing on a bamboo pole. It possibly was the first martyr. There was chaos and I ran to Curzon Hall where my brother was a teacher and I took refuse there. I see that incident so clearly in my thought even today. I understand several were killed on that day and the day after in Victoria Park.

As concluding remarks, UNESCO proclaimed February 21 as the International Mother Language Day and UN General Assembly welcomed the proclamation of the day in its Resolution. Further it may be said that Bangladesh is the only country in the world whose creation was due to the struggle for the preservation of their Mother Language.

Related Articles

Neha Mehta, CEO of FemTech Partners

The FinTech Force: Neha Mehta’s Fight for a More Equitable Future

Neha Mehta serves as the Founder and CEO of FemTech Partners, a prominent player in the FinTech and Climate Sustainability sectors operating across ASEAN...
Kaberi-Maitraya | Photography: Arif Mahmud Riad


In Bangladesh, the reach of business and economic journalism is expanding daily. Business and investing news is frequently published separately in newspapers, online, or...

Cyber Security and Outer space security, A tale of two realms.

The functioning of a large portion of the world's essential infrastructure depends substantially on space, more especially, space-based assets. Communication, air travel, maritime trade,...
Cho Chun il, founder and CEO of KONA I || Photography: Arif Mahmud Riad

‘Within the next 10 years, Bangladesh might become cashless’

Fintech: We know that KONA was founded in 1998 by you, since then you have been working as its CEO. Tell us something about...
Tanvir A Mishuk, founder and managing director of Nagad

‘Nagad is a success because it solves the financial pain points of mass people’

On the thirteenth floor of Nagad’s corporate office in Banani, everything from its calculated decor to the busy office-goers zooming in and out of...
Russell T Ahmed

‘The demographic dividend might not be there after ten years; We have to act...

Fintech: Can you please tell us about yourself? How do you end up having a successful IT career? Where did it start? Russell T Ahmed:...