In memoriam |
Rose petals for Ishtiaque Chacha
Ihad not seen him board the plane but he was there in the first class. He and his wife National Professor Sufia Ahmed were traveling to Bangkok from Dhaka. They were going to Sri Lanka to observe polls. So was I, but just for a holiday with my (late) husband General Anis Waiz. I was a PhD student in London and Barrister Ishtiaque Ahmed, Chacha, as I addressed him, wasn't very happy to see me getting married before finishing my PhD programme. He looked at me,'Please finish your work, your father and I toiled so hard to study abroad, your struggles are nothing compared to that, we even had to wash dishes in restaurants!'
His humble admonition rang loud bells in my ears, they were a generation who had toiled hard to reach the fine stages of being the pillars of this society. They started their careers from scratch and rose to eminence in the truest sense of the term. Barrister Ishtiaque was the first person,other than my own father, who took me in his arms when I was born in London while they were both studying in the bar. Many years later I discovered my grandfather's letters to his wife. He was visiting his son in London around 1956 when both my parents and the Ishtiaques were studying there. In every letter he mentioned their names, of visiting them, eating at their place and even the menu that was served!
These stories and many more I had heard from my childhood which is also full of memories of Ishtiaque chacha who stood tall not only with his physical presence but also with his love for our family. As he entered the house we were petrified that the routine would start, he would assemble me and my sister Naeela and their own two children Rifat and Raina against the wall of our house. He'd call every one to witness the Laurel and Hardy-like comedy specially with Raina being a huge tall girl and Naeela a small tiny tot still at ten. Many such differences existed between the Ahmed family and ours but their friendship persisted through thick and thin. So much so that Ishtiaque chacha almost died in the arms of his best friend, my father former Chief Justice Mustafa Kamal.
Although we had this long association, I never stopped discovering various aspects of Chacha and the day my father took oath as the Chief Justice, I had a wonderful revelation. The High Court Bar Association gave a reception to my father where Barrister Ishtiaque addressed the audience. I was so impressed to hear his fluent and impeccable Bangla that I was almost in tears with joy. My father had always teased him with the colloquial 'khotta' meaning 'non-Bengali' but the choice of words, diction and congruence of thoughts that emerged from his Bangla speech was just remarkable. My daughter Ashna e-mailed his grandchild Lia in London 'Your grandfather mentioned two generations of bondage between the two families, he left us out'. Grandfather got back a dose from his most loving granddaughter in London and even apologised to Ashna.
In another of his deliberations, he was the chief guest in a programme where an English book titled 'Layman's Heart Disease' (written by Dr Boren Chokroborty) was being launched. His written speech was very long and he described his experiences in obtaining treatment in Singapore and London. Many people thought it was such an irrelevant speech until he came to Bangladesh and took treatment in Bangladesh Medical College (BMC). His final message was that the local doctors at BMC treated him far better than those he mentioned earlier. He had this strong patriotism in him and like a child would be hurt by spike-like stray comments from local newspapers.
In recent years when he became the advisor to the caretaker government for the second time, he was earnestly hopeful that he would be able to see through the separation of the judiciary during his tenure. He narrated the entire chain of events to me and Anis, as he sat in our living room, he sent the driver back home to get all the paper cuttings. He handed them to me, 'Baba please keep them nicely -- I may be gone soon and may not be able to see this through'. Chacha was so kind and loving to everyone that sometimes it was very difficult to distinguish between his real family and us. Even his juniors who worked with him had a touch of his love as he brought in food from home and insisted that they all share the food together.
My sister Naeela started her first job under him and received her first paycheck. But that was not the only first -- throughout my own academic and cultural career, every laurel that I have earned has been cheered by uncle Ishtiaque's first phone call. His own two children Justice Dr Syed Refaat Ahmed and daughter Dr Raina Fateh are the two most wonderful human beings that he and Sufia auntie have gifted to this society. The last time I visited Chacha before he was seriously ill, he was wearing his home lungi and ganji, sitting in a chair and looking at his pot plants and rose garden. He missed his children as they were away, he made me sit next to him and said 'When I will be gone who will look after these flowers?' He complained that I didn't love him enough and never took care of him. He always felt very proud of me and told everyone that he carried me when I was born.
And in death he carried my love and that of the teeming millions, his favourite rose petals were strewn all over his body as he entered the unknown world. Ishtiaque chacha came to this world to make it better for anyone and everyone around him. His right hand did not know what the left hand had given out in charity. May God grant him the beauty of the roses in heaven, the songs that he loved, the peace that he rightfully deserves.
Nashid Kamal is Professor of Demography in the Independent University, Bangladesh.