since the doctors told him, "Mr. Saleh, you have bad cells",
his fate was sealed. A perfectly honest and seemingly healthy
man has been given a death sentence. The doctors gave him three
months time or less. The phone rang at 3:30 a.m. in New York in
mid October. My sister, Lopa, called from North Carolina, crying.
My mother had just called her from Bangkok telling her about this
death sentence. My head started spinning. How can this be possible?
I just saw him off in New York two weeks ago - saw off a perfectly
healthy man, telling him that I would see him again in Dhaka in
two months. How can this be possible? I picked up the phone and
called Bangkok. My mother was calm as steel. "Your father
is crying," she said. The doctor had just told him the news
- "Mr. Saleh, you have bad cells." My mother gave the
phone to him. I tried to be calm and composite and was getting
ready to say "Bapi, don't be afraid, you have fought
so many times before. You will fight again." But letting
a voice out of my choked up throat became the hardest thing to
do. I gave the phone to my wife Eeshita. All she could say was
"Hello". I don't know if she heard the muffled voice
of my father or whether she heard him cry but she could not speak
anymore either. Thus we received the news that our father only
has a few days left as cancer had spread all over his body.
Two days later, we found ourselves in the plane.
I moved up my relocation to London by a couple of weeks. I took
those two weeks off from work to spend time with my father in
Bangladesh. My wife and daughter parted with me in London. I was
going home after five years. My mother really wanted me to visit
home. I could finally come. But the circumstances could have been
so much better.
I came. I came to an airport where there was no one to receive
me other than our driver. I wasn't greeted by the usual smile
of my father. I didn't see his anxious face looking out to find
me among the arriving passengers. I tried to stop thinking about
it. Driver Abdul Bhai was crying. He cried all the way
while driving me home. I was determined to keep a cheerful face.
I called home from my mobile phone. My father picked up the phone
--that ever familiar voice, the voice of love and affection, the
voice of our dependence, that voice of our joy. I was so pleasantly
surprised that he picked up the phone that I exclaimed in joy,
"Bapi , you sound so good! You'll be fine in no
time." I came home and Bapi greeted me. He looked
so normal! It was impossible to tell that things had changed so
much from the last time I saw him only three weeks before. We
talked about his life in Kaptai, his childhood. It was wonderful.
I took some pictures of him. That in the end turned out to be
the best day of my visit. From that day onwards, it was all downhill.
Things changed at an unbelievable pace and his condition worsened
little by little every single day. Eventually, we had to move
him to a hospital.
next few days became the worst days of our lives. My sister, Lopa,
arrived from the US; so did my brother, Imon. We were together
as a family again. Bapi greeted them both with warm hugs
from the bed. Imon and I would swap days to stay at the hospital
at night. It was so painful to see him suffer every night! One
such night Bapi could not sleep. I asked him if he wanted
me to sing. I remembered the days when I returned from my music
school, Bapi would make me sing the new song I learned
that day. I would get annoyed but he would say, "Please baba
tinta line shonao". I would then sing the song half
heartedly in a grudging voice. When once I was singing at the
Shahid Minar with maestro Kalim Sharafi, he was there as proud
as a father can be. Today I was singing for him again. All those
memories came flashing by in front of me. I could not sing in
a choked voice. For the first time, I broke down in front of him.
I hugged him and cried. So did he. It was perhaps the last time
I was singing for him.
bhelay bela obelay, pranero asha, bhola moner srote bhasha paler
haowa bhorsha tomar, korish ne bhoy, pother kori na jodi roy,
shonge ache badhon nasha, bhola moner srote bhasha."
With the help of this wind in its sail, slowly
my father's lifeboat started its journey towards the unknown.
The first few days, he cried. You could tell that he was having
trouble coming to grips with the finality of the whole matter.
After a few days he stopped crying. He accepted his fate. We all
said goodbye one by one. Relatives came, his friends came by the
scores and workers from his factory came in buses - all left with
weeping goodbyes. At the end, he did not want to see anyone. He
just wanted to have his children and his wife to be around him.
He saw the old photographs of his wedding, the early pictures
of his first child. He listened to Rabindra Sangeet by his niece
who came every single day to sing for her dearest Kabu (Kakababu
one day, I had to leave and say goodbye for the final time. I
left for London. I started my new life and new career. I was greeted
by my one year old daughter Anahita who called me Bapi.
As one Bapi was getting ready to leave, another Bapi
had arrived. Two days after my arrival, I woke up unusually early
in the morning seeing a dream. I called Dhaka right away. My sister
was on the phone with a shaking voice, "I think Bapi
is leaving us as we speak". Although I was not there in person,
by some strange coincidence, I was with my family at the exact
time when my Bapi was saying his final goodbye.
Thus the life of Abul Khair Saleh came to an end
on November 11th, 2003. He would have turned 70 on December 3.
He led a simple life -- a life that was not grand in nature, but
a life which was full of love and affection -- a life that was
bound by principle. Being a government officer for a long time,
we were always very proud to say that he never took any bribe
from anyone. Instead, he helped so many people to stand up on
their feet! He always told me that it takes so little to make
a difference, why should one not do it. Unassuming as he was,
he never told anyone about his acts of charity. Only before his
death, I learned that he single-handedly rehabilitated all the
families who were affected by the liberation war of Bangladesh
in Kaptai, where he served as a government officer. He miraculously
survived the bullets of the Pakistani army in 1971 and later,
helped the family of those who were not as lucky as he was. Two
years before his death, he created a school near his factory seeing
the need of his factory workers' childrens' education. That school
now boasts three hundred students with full recognition from the
government. He did not earn a lot of wealth - just about enough
to give his children a good education and good life. He wasn't
a towering success in business. He was not the biggest crowd puller
in a party. Yet his unassuming, modest character left an impression
and became an inspiration to many people's lives. And he didn't
even know it.
Never one to boast about his rich family heritage,
he was, however, really proud of all his three children where
he invested all his energy, love, passion and affection. All of
us, his children, can say without a blink, that he was the greatest
father a child could ever have had. His affection and love for
us was so abundant that we were always fulfilled in our lives.
He would never have any problem expressing his love for us --
whether it was over the phone or whether it was in person.
And that is what makes it so difficult to deal
with this loss. I try to remember his voice everyday so that I
do not ever forget that loving voice that greeted me all the time.
I miss him so very much. A friend who lost his father a few years
ago wrote, "This is a loss, I am afraid, one can never get
over." I hope he is right. I don't want to get over the loss.
There is one little corner in my heart that I want to keep tucked
away for him where I will keep all my sorrows for losing him.
Along with that, I will keep all the wonderful memories that we