Habibul Haque Khondker
HISTORICAL moments make you introspective. January 28, 2010 is an historical moment when at long last the shame of Bangladesh has partially been removed with the carrying out of the death-sentence meted out to the murderers of Bangabandhu and his family.
Your mind floats back to the bygone days of memory. History is collective memory, remembrance is personal. Yet the personal sometimes gets entangled in history. Memory evokes emotions, brings a smile to your face or tears to your eyes.
Flashback 2008: The independence award ceremony 2008 which was held during the caretaker government with Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed officiating. 2007 Independence Award was shared posthumously by Dr. Mohammad Shamsuzzoha, who was gunned down by Pakistani forces at Rajshahi University in 1969 and Dr. G. C. Dev, the philosophy professor of Dhaka University who was gunned down by the Pakistani soldiers in March 1971.
I recall memories of the ever-smiling philosopher ambling up the corridor of the Arts Faculty of Dhaka University in his trade-mark white dhuti and punjabi. The only surviving recipient was Professor Rehman Sobhan, one of the intellectual architects of Bangladesh, the author of the “two economy” theory.
In his acceptance speech, Professor Rehman Sobhan recalled not only Bangabandhu but also Mrs. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the rest of the family. This is the kind of quality that separates the likes of Rehman Sobhan from the rest — the ability to speak the truth where most remain silent.
There has been a conspiracy of silence in Bangladesh since August 15, 1975. Very few people dared to speak out and mourned the great loss only privately. When gradually we tried to sort out what happened and put things in perspective we began to mourn in public for the founding leader of Bangladesh; yet we did little to remember — let alone mourn — the demise of the members of the Bangabandhu family.
Flashback 1970s: I was privileged to have the friendship of both Sheikh Kamal and Sultana Ahmed, who we knew as Khuki, a girl whose face had a permanent smile. The sociology honours class that we belonged to was a collection of a miniature “who’s who” in Bangladesh.
The most illustrious, of course, was Sabina Yasmin, but we had Shakera Khan (now Ahmed), famed Tagore song artist Sharifa Begum (now Quader), Nazrul song artist Najma Parvin, whose band “Zinga” created quite a splash in those halcyon days. Of sports figures, we had Miraj the long distance runner and pole-vaulter of the national team in Pakistan days.
And we had Sultana Ahmed Khuki, who held national records in long-jump and 100-metres dash. Her sporting accomplishments earned her the nick-name, the “Golden Girl of East Pakistan.”
Khuki was a girl with a heart of gold and her trade-mark was her smile, etched permanently on her face. This was not the forced smile of a politician or the cabin crew of airlines. This was a smile that wafted authenticity and exuded an infectious charm. Khuki’s presence removed gloom and uplifted spirits, which we needed a lot after the war, as our class torn by war returned to the university.
Miraj, the long-distance runner was killed in combat during the liberation war, Lt. Sheikh Kamal who also fought in the war of liberation and served as ADC to Gen. MAG Osmany, the chief of staff during the war, escaped death narrowly as the helicopter he was traveling in with the chief was fired at in Sylhet. Another war hero was Lt. Zulfiqqar Ali (nick-named Bhutto) who on December 16, 1972 told me angrily: “Celebrating Victory Day is foolish when the murderers of the intellectuals remain free and unpunished. ” Khuki lost her brother, Babul, only days before the end of the war. He, too, died gun in hand in a battle near Dhaka where he grew up.
Flashback 1975: Sheikh Kamal broached the subject of his family’s marriage proposal for Khuki during lunch at his Dhanmondi house on Rd. No. 32. I demurred at first since I never thought of this. I asked for some time to think. Khuki’s brother also met me near Sharif Mia’s canteen soon after and asked for my opinion about this matrimonial match. I am a bad consultant when it comes to matrimony. Yet, I felt honoured to be consulted by both parties.
I vividly remember the two weddings in July 1975: first of Kamal and Khuki and then of Jamal and Rosy. For some strange reason I remember how elegant the Navy chief looked in his white uniform at the Gonobhaban reception. I also remember Aziz Mohammad Bhai taking pictures with his instant camera and conferring with Khandker Mushtaque and taking his photos.
August 12, 1975. Kamal and I were waiting outside the room of Professor Nazmul Karim, head of sociology for our MA final viva voce. Khuki could not show up for her viva. The bullets of the murderers stilled her sprightly movement on August 15. I wrote a letter informing of Khuki’s death to Khaleda Apa, Khuki’s elder sister who lives in Syracuse, USA. A letter I only wish I had not to write.
As the curfew was lifted and as I recovered from the state of shock, I visited Khuki’s parents who lived in Baksi Bazar. I could not fathom the bereavement of a father of a young daughter then. Khuki’s father, Mr. Dabiruddin Ahmed who was Dhaka University’s engineer asked me to request Professor Karim to release Khuki’s MA final results which I did. Both Khuki and Sheikh Kamal graduated, but they were not around to celebrate. We, their friends, survived only to mourn.
JANUARY 31, 2010