Syed Badrul Haque
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s 99th birth anniversary on seventeenth March was the date with asterisk mark in the chronicle of our nation’s calendar. Beyond this day’s significance in our national life, I am much drawn to recall my memories as Bangabandhu’s press officer.
Back in 1956, after a stint in journalism behind, my induction into government job as press officer to the high profile minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a benchmark in my service career. In the beginning, to be frank, I was a little nervous. But soon after I felt much reassured and comfortable. Initially I used to show my copies but afterwards it was not needed. He sparkled in extempore speech; his baritone voice was indeed a bonus for his audience.
The room which he occupied as Minister was located on the first floor of the Shahbagh canteen (presently, Secretariat canteen) seemed rather inadequate for ministerial accommodation. It had wooden chairs around the main table and a sofa set. The curtains of his one-door room and the two windows were of moderate variety as was the norm in those days. It exuded a gentleness and a quiet ambience that characterized the secretariat premises at the time.
Number of visitors were few and far between. Regrettably, his room is still unmarked and unrecorded by the secretariat authorities. The period that he had spent in the secretariat as Minister too rarely finds mention in the writings that appear about him or mention about him in electronic and print media, although every stage of his career was significant in shaping his political thought and career in politics. His tenure as Minister had in fact offered him unique opportunity to get a first-hand knowledge about the exploitation of the Bengalis by the Pakistani rulers since Partition. It reinforced his conviction that liberation was the only option left for the Bengalis if they were to live honorably in the comity of nations. Mentionably, this was the only appointment he accepted under the Pakistani regime. But then that was indeed the defining time to chart his next political strategy.
At times, there were moments when he seemed austerely private, a loner, it was rather impossible to recognize his inner turmoil in his faraway look.
In one of his official tours to Faridpur town, Bangabandhu asked me to accompany him on his inspection visit to the district jail. He suddenly stopped in front of a cell and remained standing there for some time. I still vividly remember those unforgettable moments when he seemed lost in nostalgia. Later he told me of his imprisonment in his earlier days in that particular cell for protesting repression by the government.
But only after some months in office, Bangabandhu elected to opt out from the cozy club of ministerial comfort and authority and be with his hapless people to galvanize them to freedom albeit on a graduated scale, — a star role he seemed to be preparing for all his life. The end of the colonial domination of the former East Pakistan was so linked with one year 1971, that we oftentimes tend to forget that it had a pre-history of decades. Since then much time had elapsed, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became Bangabandhu and the Father of the Nation as Bangladesh emerged on the world map from a classic war of liberation in contemporary history.
In the early days of independence we had streams of visitors from all corners of the globe. On one occasion I, then information officer, accompanied a venerated German writer on her visit to Bangabandhu at 32 Dhanmondi. Bangabandhu received the honored guest at the doorstep of his residence and took her to the drawing room.
The writer complimented Bangabandhu for his unique leadership in the liberation movement that won freedom for the Bengali nation. Bangabandhu was also appreciative of the support extended by her country in building our ravaged economy. I was amazed by the epic memory of Bangabandhu when he called me by my first name even after so many years and wanted to know about me. Never to forget, I was deeply touched by his kind words that remained etched in my heart. I recollect, it was rarely though, he accompanied by Wadud bhai was seen reading newspaper at the press club (then housed at old press club building).
Notably, Bangabandhu’s unfinished memoir is the most seminal document for our understanding of the Father of the Nation. Hopefully the country, headed by Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangabandhu is in right track to make Sonar Bangla a reality after the cherished dream of the Father of the Nation.
[The writer is a former Public Relations Officer to the President, People’s Republic of Bangladesh.]
Syed Badrul Haque