Dr. M. Enamul Karim: a true teacher

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11744996741991.jpg’, ‘Phot provided by the family’, ‘Dr. M. Enamul Karim‘);

“See it in your mind’s eye,” Dr. M. Enamul Karim urged his literature students at Rockford College. He spoke of the dreary castle of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in historic Denmark, set on a cold sea sound; or he hinted at the creative process of Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” set in mythical Xanadu with “A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!”

At 72, Dr. Karim passed away March 8 in his home, and this student knows his mind’s eye is still wide open through all of us he so gracefully taught.

Through what he had lived, studied and imparted, Dr. Karim saw more than most with common sight.

Born in Calcutta, India, he attended St. Xavier’s, the University in Dacca (now Dhaka, Bangladesh), achieving a Master’s Degree in English Literature, where he then taught. In 1960, a Fulbright, Rockefeller and other fellowships and scholarships brought him to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for his second and third master’s degrees in English Literature and Language and Indian Literature, as well as his doctorate degree.

He began teaching at Rockford College in 1968, achieving tenure in 1972. Retiring in 1999, he had also served as chairman of the English department and assistant provost. He remained a board member of the Friends of the Howard Colman Library at the college until his death. His courses in world literature, women’s literature, advanced grammar and Shakespeare demanded much from his students, but his compassion and scholarship rewarded all who studied with him on many levels. He was a true “gentle”man.

He was known internationally for his scholarship on Rudyard Kipling, reporter and well-known author of “Gunga Din,” “The Man Who Would Be King,” The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, Kim and many other short stories, novels and poems.

Kipling was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. A literary sleuth, Dr. Karim discovered an editorial poem about inflation written by Kipling when he was a reporter and editor at The Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore (then India), Pakistan. Dr. Karim’s discovery was written in the Jan. 5, 1975, edition of The Washington Post, and subsequently in other newspapers and journals.

In 1978, while on sabbatical in London, he found four more Kipling poems in other editions of the same newspaper.

His other scholarship is cited in his obituary in London’s The Kipling Journal: “Letters and articles from him, on literary and historical aspects of old Lahore, on Lockwood and Rudyard Kipling, On Buddhism and on Freemasonry in India have appeared frequently in the Journal since 1972 and include articles on ‘The Miracle of Purun Bhagat’ and ‘The River of The Arrow’—and he came to talk to the Society in London on five separate occasions between 1975 and 1997. He also published on wider literary topics—Shakespeare, Donne, Wilfred Scawen Blunt, and George Elliot, as well as Kipling.”

That obituary also notes: “Prof. Karim became Honorary Secretary of the United States of America Branch of the Society in 1984, carrying out an active recruiting drive for new members. In 1986, he organized an imaginative celebration at Rockford for the 50th anniversary of Kipling’s death. He remained Secretary until 1998 when changes to the Registered Charities legislation required us to maintain the records of all our worldwide membership in the U.K. In 1991, he accepted our invitation to become one of our Vice-Presidents.”

While his scholarly life was diligent, his spiritual life was rich. In an early visit to Dr. Karim’s office I discovered he was a Muslim because I thought he was a Hindu, which he softly and naturally corrected me about. He explained the constructs of the upcoming Ramadan observances. His ease in presenting the intensity of his faith was enviable. His belief was practiced firmly, yet in an unassuming manner. His ethics were in his everyday life, and he was truly a man of God.

He is survived by his wife Daisy, daughters Tuny and Ermine, son-in-law Jeremy Weintraub and granddaughter Aliza Weintraub. Angela Hamilton and her children Ruthie and Andrew were also part of his family. His family loved him for the fine father he was.

President of the Friends of the Howard Colman Library Edith McCauley, remembered, “He was an inspiration to so many people. There were many people who came out of his classes to become very successful writers. He really engendered a love of literature and poetry for many, many people. I think he was probably a member since the founding of the Friends of the Howard Colman Library and served for many, many years on the board of the Friends.”

Joan Clark, former professor and archivist at Rockford College, said: “He was both a gentleman and a scholar. He cared sincerely for the welfare of his students.”

Rockford College Professor Emeritus Dr. Peter J. Stanlis remembered him well, since they both arrived at the college in 1968: “He was a very conscientious teacher, oriented toward his students. He was a hard worker. He never failed to do his duties toward the college, the English department or his students. He was warm and understanding.”

Former student Lisa Palmeno said: “Dr. Karim always told me, ‘It’s so much easier to do well than to do poorly,’ and now I know it’s true. He was a great teacher who always showed kindness to his students and spent the extra time, and I’ll remember him for all the days of my life.”

Saturday, March 17, a memorial was held at Rockford College’s Fisher Chapel with the following speakers: family friends Magdi Kandil, Elmer Kent, Nasim Rabbani; colleagues Dr. Gordon Wesner, Dr. Gopala Rao, Dr. Ray Den Adel, Dr. Donald Martin; former RVC Professor Dave Bloomstrand and other grateful students.

He may have been a Kipling scholar and book lover, but Dr. Karim’s real passion was Shakespeare and life’s lessons. He taught The Bard’s works in two semesters: divided into the history plays, and the tragedies and comedies. His affection for Hamlet was enthusiastic and philosophic. Every student dreaded being asked the theme of that work, but their hesitation or false assertions were the answer in themselves. Dr. Karim was very subtle in pointing this out; and for most, unlike the tragedy of the play, the consequences were a fine learning experience. He loved the “To be, or not to be” speech, and said everyone should memorize it. So, enjoy:


To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep—

No more—and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to: ’Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep—

To sleep—perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life:

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveler returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have,

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pitch and moment,

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.—Soft you now,

The fair Ophelia!—Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins remembered.

The other work that Dr. Karim really loved teaching was Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “Kubla Khan.” He also said that should be

known by heart. I challenge all with a lost-and-found-again, creative bent to find the poem and at least read it. Consider the effort Dr. Karim’s last homework assignment.

While his passing is such a loss, as his daughter, Ermine, pointed out, Dr. Karim also taught that regret was pointless and a waste of energy. What is done is done; don’t stay there. Do the task before you better. The bright and kind energy of Dr. Karim’s mind’s eye will always shine through his fine family, work and students.

Donations may be made in his name to The Rockford College Howard Colman Library.

from the March 21-27, 2007, issue

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