This is my delight, thus to wait and watch
at the wayside where shadow chases light
Messengers, with tidings from unknown skies,
greet me and speed along the road.
— (Gitanjali, Rabindranath Tagore, Song 97)
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the polestar in the sky of Bangla literature, is the pioneer of the mainstream of universal artistic creation. Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali has catapulted our literary place on the world map. Love, joy and pain are interrelated. Sometimes, the joy that only noble hearts can sense from sacrifice remains beyond our notices; it is truly a divine bliss of those hearts that can merge in nature silently and feel inside. Bangamata Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib lived a life of deep devotion, love, patience and sacrifice as expressed through the above lines written by Rabindranath Tagore. Bangabandhu’s life-long struggle to establish the rights of the Bengalis reached its culmination through the emancipation and complete freedom of the Bengali nation. Under his astute leadership and immense sacrifice, we as a nation accomplished a milestone achievement–which is today’s independent and sovereign Bangladesh. We know that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was incarcerated as many as 20 times and in total spent around 12 years of his life in jail, and when he was frequently thrown into jail not for committing any crime but for protesting against injustice and speaking truth to the power, Bangamata waited for this great leader with patience, dedication and unending love. Addressing ‘Bangamata’ is the proclamation of our endless esteem to her. She remains to be the source of infinite inspiration to any patriotic soul. Through the persisting uncertainties of the political life of her husband, she continued managing the family with all of her heart, devotion and motherly care, as well as sacrifice. History remembers her with gratitude, not only for her contribution towards her own family but for the whole nation. She was beside Bangabandhu quietly and stably but as prominently as light mixes with the air. She had the required generosity and fortitude to materialise the dream of independent Bangladesh. So to say, she was not only Bangabandhu's life partner but was also his closest associate.
‘Bangamata’ became an orphan at the inception of her life. Her father died when she was three years old and her mother died two years later. All she had left in the world was her grandfather. Upon the wish of her grandfather when she was married to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at a very early age, she was not able to comprehend the implications of the act. The same was true for Bangabandhu as expressed through his lines in the book, ‘The Unfinished Memoirs’, “All I could gather about the event was that I had been married off. I was not able to comprehend the implications of the act (page: 06).” Later on, she accompanied Bangabandhu in every bend of his life.
This great mother was born on 8th August 1930 in the village of Tungipara of the district of Gopalganj. Her parents were Sheikh Johurul Haque and Hosne Ara Begum. The short life Bangamata had in between was also shaped by hardship and struggle. In the unfathomably epic journey of the impendence of our country, the major portion of her life passed in hardship and uncertainty. Among all these, she by virtue of her own attributes has placed her name in golden letters of our history. During the liberation war in 1971, Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib was house-arrested by the Pakistani Occupation Force, but due to her intense love for the country, she remained strongly upright, even when she was between life and death, and with grave uncertainty and apprehension.
She always kept quiet and never complained. In the truest spirit, Bangamata had an all enduring loving soul. Such enduring power is rarely seen among people nowadays! She used to shed tears in silence. Her life-affirming love and affection for people, their freedom, and the discovery of the deep patriotic spirit of Bangabandhu acted as inner strength to her. Patience, honesty, dedication, simplicity, generous nature and, above all, patriotic soul are of many commendable virtues Bangamata used to nurture to cross the barriers. She had a generous heart. She was always moved by the pain of the freedom fighters and all the patriotic leaders. The untold sufferings of our Bangamata still move us with deep sad feelings. She used to be brimming with enthusiasm and glowing inside for her love for the country. It is our great misfortune, and in fact, a collective sin that we could not protect Bangamata and Bangabandhu from assassins’ bullets. She, along with most of her family members, was brutally assassinated on 15 August 1975, which was an unprecedented black incident in the history of the country and the world, as well.
Bangamata’s daughter, the popular leader Sheikh Hasina, the Honourable Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is still working incessantly to accomplish the mission for which liberation was attained in exchange for much sacrifice and longing. The noble idea of patience and wisdom to cross all barriers, which Bangamata has left for us, will help us overcome all obstacles of today and tomorrow.
The writer is an Associate Professor and former Director of Institute of Modern Languages of Jagannath University