Having a tall and slender figure with thick moustache, thick frame glasses, immaculately combed hair and a perpetual polite smile, he is, literally, the portrait of energetic, high-spirited and lively youth. I don’t see that lively young man anywhere today. When was the last time I saw him? Sorry, I lost count of the days.
In fact there was no need to think that anyone of our meetings was going to be the last one because we were meeting almost every day, everywhere. With a confident smile, he would pat my back and encourage me to keep working. In the newly independent Bangladesh, when we were feeling like a free bird just let out of the cage and when the whole country was in a state of euphoria, he was seen playing the role of a highly effective organizer.
I am talking about Sheikh Kamal, our beloved Kamal bhai. It seems the other day when I saw him, I can still remember vividly. The office of Chhatra League was at 30 Mirpur Road, just opposite the Teachers’ Training College. A two-storied building used to house Dhaka City Chhatra League office in the ground floor and Central Chhatra League office in the upper floor.
I had a daily commute to that office as a young activist and Assistant secretary of Dhaka City Chhatra League. I was given that responsibility as a representative of Jagannath University College Chhatra League. Even today I remember that the president of Dhaka City Chhatra League was Syed Nurul Islam and the general secretary was Shafiqur Rahman. VP of Jagannath University College was Aminul Islam Jinnah, GS was Fazle Elahi Mohan.
Sheikh Kamal was trying to bring about a new trend in Bangladesh’s politics, especially through qualitative improvement of student politics. Although he was the son of the most powerful and important person of the state, he had no desire for grabbing a higher position in the party. With high spirits and a dominating presence in every field, he used to work as a general activist of the party.
It is, however, an irony that this vibrant young talent has not been properly appreciated. Far from being acknowledged, vicious attempts have been made to assassinate his character after the change of power, whereas Sheikh Kamal was a man of character and extraordinary talent in diverse fields. How many of us know that he had an artistic mind as well? Many may not know that he was an excellent sitar player, a student of Chhayanot and played a significant role behind the rise of pop music in the country’s music world after independence.
At that time, Kamal bhai formed a group named ‘Spandan’ consisting of artists among his friend circle. The group had brought modernity to the country’s music world in the early seventies. Besides, he was the foremost organiser of the country’s theatre movement and was the founder of the drama group Natyachakra. He had also made a name as an actor at the theatre arena of Dhaka University.
A force to be reckoned with in politics, Sheikh Kamal was a dedicated activist of Chhatra League. He was a member of the Central Executive Council of Bangladesh Chhatra League and at the time of his martyrdom was a member of the Central Committee of the National Chhatra League, an organ of the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BaKSAL).
He played a heroic role in the mass uprising of 1969 and the liberation war of 1971. As a freedom fighter he was trained in the first war course of independent Bangladesh. After receiving the commission, he served as the ADC of General Osmani, the commander-in-chief of the Liberation War.
At the time of his martyrdom on 15 August 1975, Kamal bhai had just finished the last part of his MA final examination from the Department of Sociology. He was born in Tungipara on this day in 1949 and had a short lifespan of only 26 years. He was killed along with most of his family members on August 15, 1975. His death was an irreparable loss not only in the field of culture and sports, but also in politics.
Today, when communal forces are trying to rear their ugly heads again and when vested interest seeking groups are trying to distort the history of independence, lack of a skilled organiser like Sheikh Kamal is felt so deeply. A leader like him could be an asset for the country today.
However, he may not be physically present today, but his ideals can guide us to build a non-communal Bangladesh. Moreover, in a time when a section of people has turned politics into money spinner, the ideals of Sheikh Kamal can show us how to do politics for public welfare. In a word, he left behind a glowing example of how not to be touched by the vice of greed in a country where everything is possible.
Today on his birthday, let us remember him with reverence and love, who once taught us the mantra of patriotism and motivated us to be involved in the politics of Bengali nationalism.
However, with a heavy heart I don’t see that spirited young man anywhere today. Whenever I return home from abroad, I look for him in the teeming crowd of Bangladesh. The face of Mirpur Road has changed. Dhanmandi Lake too has adorned a very modern look. Abahani field is still there, but its heartbeat is missing due to absence of the man I am looking for. Had he given me a surprise by putting his hand on my back with a smile!
The author is based in Vienna as President of the All European Awami League. He can be reached at: [email protected]