‘THAT WAS MY LAST DAY WITH MUJIB FAMILY’
The home tutor of Sheikh Russel, the youngest son of Bangabandhu, recounts the love and affection she got at Sheikh Mujib’s family.
Home tutor Gitali Dasgupta never thought that August 14 night would be the last day with Sheikh Russel and others at 32-Dhanmondi residence of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
“Russel had used to call me ‘Apu’ and to me he was ‘Buchu’. On Aug 14 evening, he was not at home when I reached around 7pm. I was told that Russel was at the house of Abdur Rab Serniyabat.
“To find me waiting, Bangabandhu asked me ‘Master, why are you sitting alone, where is your student?’ Then he phoned and asked Russel to come home,” said Gitali.
“‘Master, you won’t get a leave,’ he uttered the last words for me. But we have given him a rest,” she said in an exclusive interview with bdnews24.com.
She was recalling 36-year old memories, which are still so fresh in her mind as if it happened only days ago.
Gitali had been tutor of the youngest child of Sheikh Mujib for over three years. “I left the house around 11:30pm and was supposed to go the next day.”
But within hours, then president Sheikh Mujib, his family, personal staff and guests were killed by a handful of renegade army officials.
Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib, sons Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel, daughters-in-law Sultana Kamal Khuki and Parveen Jamal Rosy, Mujib’s younger brother Sheikh Abu Naser, nephew Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni, Moni’s pregnant wife Begum Arju Moni, Mujib’s brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serniyabat, Serniabat’s daughter, son, nephew and grandson, Mujib’s security chief Col Jamiluddin Ahmed, three guests and four domestic workers were the others to fall to the brutality.
Sheikh Mujib’s daughter prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana were in Europe, and thus escaped the massacre on that fateful night.
Gitali had started teaching the University Laboratory School student in Aug or Sept 1972.
She was a postgraduate student of Bangla at Dhaka University in 1972 and started teaching at Begum Badrunnesa Govt Girls College in 1974.
“Before Russel had returned, Begum Mujib, who I called Kakima (aunt), spoke to me. She talked of several not known and important issues, with a deep trust in me.
“Around 11:30pm, I was escorted back to my house by a security guard.”
“That was my last day with them,” Gitali told bdnews24.com with tearful trickling down her cheeks.
She said whenever they had met, Bangabandhu would ask her, “Master, what about your student, and you?”
“He was very simple.”
She started private tuition in 1969 to bear the expense of her education by tutoring three daughters of Mohammad Mohsin, then treasurer of the Awami League. It was Mohsin who recommended Gitali as the home tutor for the third son of Mujib.
Begum Mujib would be very worried about Russel’s education, as he did not like those coming to teach him. She came to know about Gitali from the family of Mohsin and wished that she came to guide him.
Initially she could not give her consent as she had to teach three others.
“Kakima came and we got introduced to each other. She called Russel a kid of five or six. He came with his aide ‘Roma’, wearing a pyjama and a house-coat with unkempt hair.
“Kakima let Russel sit beside me, apparently making that the first day of my teaching. We studied for some 15 minutes, I guess,” Gitali recounted the moments in a longing way, with her eyes lost into the past.
But as she denied on account of her three other students, Begum Mujib asked “if I could teach for at least 15-20 minutes”.
“When I told her that I would get late in returning to my home, she assured me that I don’t have to bother for that,” said Gitali. “And I was left with no option, so started teaching the kid regularly from the very next day.”
“Despite his disliking for his teachers, he had great fondness for me.”
Once, when Russel was suffering from fever, he did not take any food until Gitali reached there. “Kakima smiled at me and asked me jokingly ‘what have you done to my son?'”
Turning to Rehana, Gitali said the Badrunnesa student was ‘so down to earth’ that none could realise her identity. “She used to see me during tiffin periods.”
“…But Sheikh Hasina was very notorious. She was lively,” said Gitali, adding that all the members of the family were “very passionate to me”.
But the affection of Bangabandhu was different. “There was not a single day he wouldn’t see me.” He also stopped her from standing as a mark of respect to me. “He would always ask me to keep sitting, saying ‘Sit, sit, sit in your seat Master’.”
He used to come to see his son, his studies regularly, she added.
“Russel had such an indescribably big heart.”
“One day, we discussed Gautam Buddha. And the next day Bangabandhu told me that I had done him harm, and cuddled me by telling Kakima that they had got the perfect teacher for their child.
“‘Russel asked me last night why I do not become Gautam Buddha’, Bangabandhu told me.”
The kid had sympathy for the poor. He used to give away gifts as donations. “Whenever he found any poor being cheated, Russel would take him to his father and complain.”
Russel had strong determination of mind. In Gitali’s words: “Once he failed to pass in mathematics in the half-yearly examinations. So Rehana snubbed him. But when I told him that I would take the poison, he promptly told me to wait until next time [final exams].
“And he did it. Showing the result card, Russel told me not to take poison. ‘I’ve succeeded’, he said.”
The association with Russel so complete that “most of the time during Sheikh Kamal’s wedding, I would not go due to fever, but he would keep standing at the entrance…waiting for me, Kakima told me later”.
AUGUST 15, 2011