Friday, 17 September, 2021

Happy Birthday Dear Friend Sheikh Kamal

M. Shafiqul Karim

Happy Birthday Dear Friend Sheikh Kamal
M. Shafiqul Karim

I never met Sheikh Kamal in person before entering Dhaka College. He was a lanky fellow with long moustache and always used to wear white trouser and white shirt. With a black spectacle, he looked a bit serious but as you open dialogue with him, he was the friendliest person. He was my batch mate at Dhaka College, though we had different groups. He was in arts and I was in science group. He was bold, energetic, courageous, courteous, and friendly and could easily establish friendship with anybody. He was always flanked by his friends, mostly classmates, during his college and university days. It must have been his way of life to move with friends. He had the rare quality of making friends with anybody in no time. As I recall, my first meeting with him was at the Dhaka college hall room, where he was present with other classmates to listen to an army personnel. The army officer came to Dhaka college with a hope to recruit young Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC)- passed students to join the Pakistan Army. As we grew up in an environment where people of East Pakistan were treated as second class citizens by the West Pakistani elite class mostly by the army junta. So, joining army was a far cry for most of us. I did not have any idea about Sheikh Kamal then. After the army officer had made his opening remarks, he invited questions. Kamal was the first person to stand up and wanted to know why disparity remains in the Pakistan Army, why people from eastern wing are not recruited in the Pakistan Army. He finally concluded by saying that the Pakistan Army clique would not recruit Bengalis in the armed forces and what was done at the college that day was an eyewash. We were stunned and there was a pin drop silence in the jam-packed auditorium. The army officer flatly denied Kamal’s allegations and later asked about his identity including the name of his father and where he comes from. There was no microphone available for Kamal, so he had to raise his voice and said that his father’s name was “Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.” Only then, I came to know that Sheikh Kamal was studying in the same college with us. He was fearless in asking the question and I understood that only the son of Sheikh Mujib has the guts to ask this kind of question. I don’t exactly remember what the officer said after hearing Sheikh Mujib’s name. He probably meekly said: a political question can only come from the son of Sheikh Mujib. The meeting was chaired by the then Dhaka College principal Mr. Jalal Uddin Ahmed, father-in-law of veteran Awami League leader and former President Mr. Zillur Rahman. The principal was embarrassed.

The meeting was over, and we went back to our respective classes recalling the incident that happened in the hall room. I was surprised to see the boldness of our classmate. He has asked a pertinent question about the rights of the people of East Pakistan. Kamal brought to limelight the most important issue of disparity between the two wings of Pakistan at a time when freedom of expression was restricted. I admired the courage of Kamal since then. 

But my first encounter with him in person came during the college students’ union election in the second year of my studentship in 1968. He along with some friends came to our class and looked for me. As I went to him, he said: Sabu (my nickname) we have selected you to contest the upcoming student polls as a Chhatra League candidate from your class. I was surprised for two reasons (1) I never talked to him in the past and (2) I never thought of contesting elections in college. I tried to resist and put up arguments to change his decision. I said that I don’t reside in a hall and I am not a brilliant student either. During those days, students living in hostels could pull bigger number of votes compared to non-resident students. I knew that the Chhatra Union candidate was a better student and lived in a hostel and he had won the last election from our class. Sheikh Kamal would not listen and few days after, he came to our class along with some friends and spoke at a projection meeting in my favour. During student union elections, student organizations could hold projection meeting in the classrooms to introduce their respective candidates with class teacher’s approval.

I vividly remember Kamal spoke high about me and my background as a worker of Chhatra League. Finally, the election day approached, and we participated with all fun and gaiety. I was not sure of the outcome, so I did not stay in the college during the time of vote counting. The following day when I went to college my classmates started congratulating me for my victory. The full Chhatra League panel won the elections that year in Dhaka College. I was happy to be a part of the winning team. Nazrul Islam, a devoted worker of the Chhatra League became vice president of the newly elected Students Union. Nazrul was later killed in the War of Liberation.

After passing out from Dhaka College, I got admitted to Dhaka University in 1969 in the Department of Political Science. Kamal enrolled himself in the Sociology Department. Our friendship remained intact, although I did not pursue student’s politics any more in the University days. Whenever we met, we greeted each other. Kamal never ignored his friends. There was another common place we used to meet in - the Dhaka University gymnasium. We used to go there mostly to secure percentage for attendance, but Kamal was always there in the field to play football and cricket with his classmates. His passion was sports and games and music. I remember in one of our departmental functions to welcome the newcomers, Sheikh Kamal played Sitar. I had a picture of the function but lost it while shifting house in 2004.

Sheikh Kamal was a valiant freedom fighter and after country’s independence, he came back to campus. By then his identity changed—he was now the eldest son of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But that never changed his attitude and behaviour towards his friends and classmates. He had no tantrums about his background; he was the same old Kamal whom we saw in Dhaka College and in Dhaka University (before the War of Liberation). He was very jovial and used to cut jokes with his friends. In his company we used to forget that he was Bangabandhu’s son. He never mentioned who his father was. He was just another student in the campus.

Then came the fateful night of 15 August, 1975. I was then working as a sub-editor cum reporter in the national news agency - “The Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). On 14 August, I was working in the night shift along with two of my colleagues—Azizul Islam Bhuiyan and Mohammad Masum. Around 1 a.m. both had left for home. I decided to stay back. But our peon woke me up from deep sleep early morning saying there is an urgent call that I must attend. The call was from Mohammad Masum and he told me the worst news I was not expecting to listen—Bangabandhu and his entire family members (except Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana) have been killed by disgruntled soldiers at his residence. The two sisters had survived as they were abroad. I could not believe my ears. Mr. Masum asked me to vacate the office immediately as the military personnel might attack the national news agency. I left the office in a hurry and headed for home. But before that I informed our General Manager Mr. Jawadul Karim about the gruesome murder. He was dumbfounded.

As I proceeded towards my residence at Asad gate in a rickshaw, I found people waking up from sleeps moving here and there but they had no idea what had happened in the midnight and what the country had lost.          

Today I remember my classmate Sheikh Kamal on his birthday. He was a good soul and touched each and every heart that he had met. Happy birthday Sheikh Kamal!    


The writer is a senior journalist

and former bureau chief of BSS

in New Delhi, India