FROM TEARS TO TRIUMPH
Bangladesh would not have been a reality without Bangabandhu.
In the month of August, the entire nation goes into mourning. Recently, Syed Ashraful Islam, general secretary of AL, called for “observing August 15, the National Mourning Day, in a universal manner.” This is a very significant call in order to bring people from all walks of life, political ideologies, or even opposition parties under one roof and mourn a day which is still unprecedented in the history of mankind. With this call, it is now clear that AL realises that, at the end, Bangabandhu and his deeds were not for any individual political party, but for the people as a whole.
I would like to argue that the time has come to celebrate the life of our Father of the Nation alongside the mourning. To celebrate his life, this young nation must know the leader by heart and know of all his achievements over a very short life. His life was shortened by an evil force to only 55 years of existence, and he was behind bars for 17 years out of those 55, under a quarter century of Pakistani rule of East Bengal.
To know intimately the life and works of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, there are many sources available right now. However, this writer has found The Unfinished Memoirs to be one of the most inspired bits of documents left by Bangabandhu for his people. The document is based on several notebooks Mujib wrote while he was in jail as a state prisoner between 1967 and 1969.
As they say, “behind every successful man there is a woman” — during his struggle, Bangabandhu received neverending support from his wife, Begum Fazilatunnesa, who inspired him to write the memoirs. Bangamata Fazilatunnesa supplied Bangabandhu with several notebooks while he was in Dhaka central jail in 1967. That was the start of his writing the memoires, which were later published as a volume, first by the Dhaka-based UPL, both in Bangla and English, in 2012.
In the past, I remember talking about Singapore’s success stories. Last week, Singapore observed its 50th anniversary of independence. Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of modern Singapore, was successful in making a poor state of the Malaysian peninsula independent in 1965. One of the Asian leaders was not happy with this development, and called Singapore a “little red dot” in the South-east Asian region.
It was hard to make out what exactly he meant with the “little red dot” rhetoric, perhaps he meant Singapore was a tiny and poor new nation. The father of modern Singapore, LKY, showed the world that a poor nation can be re-built equitably within less than 50 years. LKY took the challenge of the “little red dot” rhetoric seriously and made his nation into a modern state in his life time. In August 9, 2004, during the observation of Singapore’s National Day, Prime Minister Lee (son of the late LKY), said: “We may be small, but we have high hopes and big dreams, and so long as we are a little red dot in the middle of South-east Asia, let people know that we are a people who will keep on trying and never say die. And with this spirit, the future is ours to make.”
In a similar tone, in 1971, disregarding Bangabandhu’s dreams of “Sonar Bangla,” Dr Henry Kissinger predicted that Bangladesh, as a nation, will remain a bottomless basket, indeed this was then very scary thought for a new nation. However, the recent achievements of Bangladesh in terms of MDGs suggests that, within South Asia, it is Bangladesh which has brought poverty down by half well before 2015, at least since how bad it was in 1990. It appears that, even though we have yet to match Singapore’s success, Bangladesh, by its 50th year of independence in 2021, is genuinely on course to becoming a middle-income nation.
It is interesting, however, to see how Dr Kissinger has been proven wrong. Forty-four years ago, Dr Kissinger’s words for Bangladesh, as a nation, were “bottomless basket case.” Interestingly, within his life time, Dr Kissinger witnessed that the reality was different from what he expected it would be.
Coming back to Bangabandhu’s memoirs, the document shows the world that, without the personal sacrifice and determination of a leader, it is impossible to make a dream come true. Bangabandhu’s eldest daughter, Sheikh Hasina, wrote the preface to The Unfinished Memoirs. She wrote: “They reveal to us how, for the sake of the country and its people, a man can sacrifice everything, risk his very life, and endure endless torture in prison. We discover a personality who gave up the prospects of happiness, comfort, relaxation, wealth — everything.”
History tells us that statesmen do not come and go in every 100 years, perhaps they are born every 1,000 years. Bangabandhu was here, and in his very short lifespan, left for his people, a nation. And the way he did it was unprecedented. The Unfinished Memoirs tells us all, and is a must read volume for anyone wishing to celebrate the life of our Father of the Nation.
AUGUST 15, 2015