Bangabandhu's 99th birth anniversary was commemorated on March 17, the date with an asterisk mark in our nation's calendar. Beyond this day's significance in our national life, I cannot resist recalling my memories as Bangabandhu's press officer.
In 1956, after a stint in journalism, my induction into government job as press officer to the then 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 I felt reassured and comfortable. Initially, I used to show Bangabandhu my copies but later 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 Shahbag canteen (presently, Secretariat canteen), which was 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 characterised the secretariat premises at the time.
Visitors were few and far between. Regrettably, his room is still unmarked and unrecorded by the secretariat authorities. Also, the time that he had spent in the secretariat as minister rarely finds mention in the writings that appear about him or in the electronic and print media, although every stage of his career was significant in shaping his political thought and career in politics. His tenure as a minister had, in fact, offered him a unique opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of the exploitation of 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 honourably in the comity of nations. It should be mentioned that this was the only appointment that he had 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 recognise his inner turmoil in his faraway look and the frozen melancholy of his features.
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 then government.
But only after some months in office, Bangabandhu elected to opt out from the cosy club of ministerial comfort and authority and be with his hapless people to galvanise them to fight for freedom albeit on a graduated scale—a role that he seemed to be preparing for all his life. 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 an information officer, accompanied a venerated German writer on her visit to Bangabandhu at Dhanmondi 32. Bangabandhu received the guest at the doorstep of his residence and took her to the drawing room. The writer complimented Bangabandhu on 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 superb 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 into my heart. I recollect, it was rarely though, he accompanied by Wadud bhai was seen reading newspapers 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 great leader. Hopefully, the country, headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangabandhu, is on the right track to make “Shonar Bangla” a reality after the cherished dream of the Father of the Nation.
Syed Badrul Haque, formerly public relations officer to the President, People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a contributor.