Muhammad Ataul Ghani (M. A. G.) Osmani was a descendant of Shah Nizamuddin Osmani of Dayamir, a village under Balaganj thana located 18km south-east of Sylhet city. It is popularly believed that Shah Nizamuddin came to Sylhet with Hazrat Shah Jalal (R) in 1303 as one of the 360 awlia (saints) to aid the Muslim against the oppression of the Hindu leader Raja Gaur Govind. Shah Nizamuddin eventually settled in Dayamir where on 1 September 1918 – aptly at the end of the First World War – Osmani (also spelt Osmany) was born to the parent of Khan Bahadur Mofizur Rahman and Jubaida Khatun. He was the youngest of three children. His eldest brother and sister are Muhammad Nurul Ghani and Sadrunnesa Khatun.
As the youngest child, General Osmani was adored by all. His mother kept his nickname 'Ata' and full name as 'Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani'. 'Muhammad' was kept to pay respect to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) as is common among Muslim families. 'Al Ghani' is a name of Allah which means 'free from all need'. And finally 'Osmani' was added to show honour to their ancestor Shah Nizamuddin Osmani.
General Osmani's dada (paternal grandfather), Abdus Sobhan Choudhury (1850 - 1930), was a Persian scholar, a philosopher and religious man. He founded a school in 1908 for the education of the people of the area, which bears his noble name. He built a 'tavellers home' to provide accommodation, food and water to the people who passed through his village of Dayamir. Abdus Sobhan was married to Begum Qamrunnesa (1855 - 1930) who was a highly respected and loving lady. Sadly, both of them passed away in December 1930 when Osmani was only 12 years old.
Osmani's nana (maternal grandfather) was Akil Chowdhury, a learned person and famous zamindar of Raykeli in Doshgar Union of Biswanath, Sylhet.
Osmani's father Khan Bahadur Mofizur Rahman was an educated person. He graduated in Science from teh Patna University (in present day India) in 1898 and joined Assam Civil Service the same year. He served in various parts of the Assam Bengal Province and had various roles including being the first Muslim Director of Land Records of Assam. Khan Bahadur was also very much like his own father. He was a pious person who was keen to help the needy and received the Kaiser-e-Hind medal in recognition of his social works. He established 'Sadrunnesa Middle English Madrasah' - named after his daughter - with a view to enhancing literacy rate among people. This institution later became the 'Sadrunnesa High School' and is still operating today.
After retirement from government service, Khan Bahadur Mofizur Rahman became member of Assam Assembly and also got elected as Chairman of Sylhet District Board. He was a lifelong member of the Scout Organisation and continued to participate in Scout parade in Sylhet even at the age of 86.
General Osmani's mother Jubaida Khatun was a graceful and traditional lady. Her mother was Abdus Sobhan Choudhary's sister - i.e. General Osmani's mum and dad were cousin. Begum Jubaida studied at Dayamir as a pupil of her mama (maternal uncle) Abdus Sobhan Choudhary and lived in her uncle's house during that time.
Osmani's brother Muhammad Nurul Ghani (1907 - 1973) graduated from M.C. College of Sylhet (1930) and earned the coveted Law Degree from Gouhati. Muhammad Nurul Ghani held various posts in the government and retired as Commissioner of Excise and Taxation, Government of East Pakistan in 1961.
Sadrunnesa, General Osmani's only sister, was eight years older than him. She was a caring sister and good friend of Osmani. Tragically, Sadrunnesa died at the tender age of 18 just after her marriage. The loss of his elder sister had a deep impact on 10-year-old Osmani and he carried this throughout his life.
Such were his achievement in life that following his death on 16 February 1984, Osmani’s family home in Dayamir was converted to a museum – the Osmani Jadughar (Museum) – and the area was renamed to 'Osmaninagar' (Osmani Area) as recognition of the valiant contribution of Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani.
General Osmani came from an aristocratic family but his amiable behaviour enthralled everyone who came near him. His attitude was to earn respect through his performance and actions. The prophetic Osmani always believed that 'our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become'.
Lt. Col. Dewan Mohammad Tasawwar Raja, author of 'O General My General' (2010)
Osmani started his formal education in 1923 at the age of five under the guidance of his mother and house tutor. They continued teaching him for next five years at home. By then he grasped the English and Farsi language. Later in 1929 he was admitted to Cotton's School of Gouhati where he studied for almost three years. However, in 1932 the family came back to their home district of Sylhet and Osmani was admitted to Sylhet Government High School. His education in a Bengali school in Sylhet helped him to remain close contact with his own roots and culture and contributed towards the formation of his identity as a Muslim and a Bengali (including Sylheti identity).
Osmani passed the Matriculation examination from Sylhet Government Pilot School under Calcutta University in 1934, securing 1st division marks - which was a rare feat in those times. He was also awarded the "Pretoria Award" for securing the highest marks in English. This prestigious prize was named after a distinguished professor of Calcutta University who encouraged the students to excel in learning the English language.
Like many Muslim Bengali students of affluent and aristocratic families of the era, Osmani travelled to India and attended the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University, located south-east of New Delhi. Known as 'Oxford of Asia', on other educational institution in the 20th century, arguably, has contributed more to the shaping of the history of the Indian sub-continent than Aligarh. Its environment was open and free. Its main purpose was to produce real patriots and leaders - qualities which were embodied in General Osmani. He quickly became a prominent student leader and was elected as Vice Chairman of Assam Bengal Students' Union.
While studying in Aligarh University, Osmani became a member of University Officers' Training Corps (UOTC). The instructor was Captain Lord Williance. Witnessing the young man's military talent which earned him the prestigious 'Certificate of Proficiency', Captain Williance suggested to Osmani that he should consider a career in the Army instead of joining the civil service like other members of his family. This was to be Osmani's first inspiration in becoming a proud member of the Royal British Army.
Following his graduation in Arts in 1938 Osmani registered for M. A. in Geography in 1939 and successfully completed and passed the examination of Federal Public Service Commission held in Delhi as per his father’s wishes. At the same time, on 3 July 1939, Osmani served in Indian Territorial Force Battalion 4th Urban Infantry as a prospective Indian Army Cadet. He achieved distinctions in various activities such as horse riding efficiency badge, silver spoon for shooting, 100 metres sprint champion medal and boxing champion in Bantam weight.
However, as the world was once again gripped in war, Osmani shelved his civilian career plans for the military much to the annoyance of his father. In July 1940 Osmani left to respond to the call of Second World War.
Osmani had taken UOTC training in Aligarh, raising to the rank of Sergeant, had been elected Vice Chairman of the Assam - Bengal Student Union, and served as a Proctor for two years at the University.
The advent of 'World War II' [1939 – 1945] Osmani making plans for diverting his career civilian to military. This was probably the only time he went against the wishes of his father.
His father, who was a civil servant, wanted him to join the Indian Civil Service, which was the most prestigious, prospective, and sought after career in those days.
Osmani chose instead a martial life. That was possibly the only revolt Osmani staged against a family decision. To appease his father, Khan Bahadur Mofizur Rahman, he appeared in (and qualified with flying colours) the Indian Civil Service examination and was selected for the Indian Political Service. But he spurned the luxurious future and continued with the rigorous life of a soldier. That was Osmani.
Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani never married. He lived as a bachelor throughout his life and had no offspring who exist today.
Osmani led a Spartan life where luxury had no room. He wore simple clothes and had a strict culinary taste. For his iconic whisker, he was familiar among his colleague as "the man with the moustache".
A lifelong bachelor, General Osmani devoted his whole life for the people of his beloved motherland. Till [his] last [breath] General Osmani did not reveal the reasons for remaining single. However, he was very close to his kindred throughout his life. Most trips to Sylhet involved making visits to loved ones, and in Dhaka he would regularly welcome cousin, nephews and nieces to his residence. Within the wider family, he was known for his love and affection, but also for his temper, his enthusiasm, his glaring eyes and his military discipline. Only his pet [Alsatians] dogs were generally disliked, and almost universally feared by visiting folk. He was never alone rather his days would pass with an almost endless stream of visitors, well wishers and acolytes calling on him to wish him well, to ask his guidance, or just to see him.
Lt. Col. Dewan Mohammad Tasawwar Raja
He was a pure Bangladeshi but with mannerism of an English gentleman. He spoke in English most of the time.
He was first and foremost a gentleman. He was particular about everything, starting from his polished shoes upto his trimmed moustache.
He was very conscious about his diet. He had the sensibilities of a Britisher. In my research, he reminded me about Nirad Sri Choudhury, who was known as the last Indian Englishman.
Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka