In some ways, Mohiuddin Ahmed - bhai to me and Emeritus publisher and CEO of UPL to the world- was the odd man out in our publishing world. UPL to that extent still is as an outfit committed to quality. For those of us who knew him personally, he was the great raconteur, the teller of tales carried by him for many years and publisher of excellence.
For some reason we had a wonderful rapport and he never really was the “publisher” to me, always the senior friend, always the one who shared his stories with me and his love of books. A year ago, he passed away on this day.
This is a very personal memoriam for me. So I will not discuss his achievements because they are so well known. He adorned our publishing world with a sense of class and grace that few did before and after. Beginning as a staff of Oxford University Press (OUP), he became the owner of the UPL brand, indigenizing the brand that now no longer needs to borrow from the earlier incarnation. If OUP were to come to Bangladesh today, UPL would be its toughest competitor and probably win. The work goes on, the legacy lives on robustly.
Also read: Mohiuddin Ahmed: The diplomat in history
The publisher and the writer
I am sharing three encounters that I feel images him so well. My first book- a Bangla novel- was published by UPL, a big act for a new writer. It was okayed by Akhtaruzzaman Iiyas bhai who was the official reader deciding what qualifies and what doesn’t.
I remember this meeting at the UPL office where we finalized ieverything.Iliyas bhai was griping a bit about his time spent on duties as a “public intellectual and writer”. Hearing this Mohiuddin bhai, scolded him. “ You are a writer and you should just write , not waste your time doing anything else. There are many others who can do it. “ Iliyas bhai smiled and nodded his head though I think his “activism’ did eat into his time. And then cancer ended what was left.
Mohiuddin bhai knew very well what the task of a writer was, writing came first. I think the words came from both his heart and head. And this belief made him who he became.
The Bergman case
Mohiuddin bhai’s health had declined when I met him in 2012 after my return from Canada. He was increasingly dependent on his daughter Mahrukh but we chatted and talked about books again. Yet despite his ill health he signed the petition protesting the contempt charge against David Bergman in 2014-5. He was there even in his wheelchair attending the court. He was the publisher of “Unfinished Memoirs “ of Bangabandhu but to him, it was a great book and not an act of politics. He became, without public activism, a publisher with a conscience and conviction.
Shakespeare and the ride home
It was at one of the last few social events that I attended at his place. His OUP friend from London was visiting and at the Badda office there was a small gathering. At some point Shakespeare came up and then Mohiuddin bhai was reciting long passages from memory in his wonderful baritone. Hamlet and Lear I remember but maybe others too. I could sense his love of words, as he spoke, the voice becoming the words that make a book.
The last time we met was in 2019. He was dropping me home and we again discussed books. He had thought of writing an autobiography but he felt he knew stuff which couldn’t share. Maybe he thought, a half deleted recall is not worth it. Soon Covid came and ravaged many including him. He recovered but his health finally failed the lion heart with glasses on, always browsing through a wonderful book. Maybe he had published that.
Remembering you ever more everyday Mohiuddin bhai.