a Cherished Friend
One of the
few treasures in life are old friends from the early days of
adolescence. The loss of such a friend leaves an emptiness and
a trail of sadness for the rest of oneís life. Our dear friend
Saiful Islam whom we lovingly called Saif was such a friend.
He left this world one year ago on 23 April, 2003.
acquaintance with Saif dates back to 1947 when we were in Bogra
for a few months. Pakistan had just come into existence amidst
a great upsurge of patriotism and euphoria. I saw Saif first
in a Mukul Fouj gathering and he struck me as a very intelligent
and handsome boy of my age. He was describing an imaginary situation
in the midst of a storm.
for telling stories was superb. Being the first boy of Class
VI in Bogra Zilla School, he was often asked by the teachers
to tell stories. During that time the class forgot to make any
noise and time passed quickly.
talented in many fields. He never stood second in any class.
It did not come as a surprise when he stood 10th in the Matriculation
Examination of 1952 in the whole of East Pakistan. He was an
expert Chess and Bridge player. He was a member of the Bridge
team which participated in Bridge competitions in Mauritius.
seemed to bring us together time and again. We found Saif in
Dhaka college with us. In the early fifties, Pakistan had a
small but growing merchant fleet mostly engaged in interwing
trade and passenger movements. There was no Marine Academy to
train offices and Engineers for this fleet. To overcome this
shortage, the Government of Pakistan selected 12 boys through
competitive examination conducted by the Public Service Commission.
These boys were sent to England for study and practical training
in nautical and engineering disciplines under the Colombo Plan
scholarship. In 1954 five such boys were selected from East
Pakistan and to our great delight Saif was one of them.
leg of our journey left for Karachi on a fine May morning in
1954. At the time there was no PIA or any jet plane. We flew
by a 4-propellor Conveor plane of Orient Airways.
was time for us to move on, we flew to Bombay and checked into
a modest hotel near Marine Drive.
afternoon we boarded the P&O passenger liner S.S. Strathaird
which had sailed from Australia. Saif, Zakaria Rashid and myself
were given one 4 bunk tourist class cabin. Our fare on the ticket
was 75 pounds. Very soon we ran into the turbulent Arabian Sea
under full monsoon weather. Sea sickness drove us to our cabin
and except for mealtimes we remained stretched to our bunks.
when another one of Saif's talents came to our rescue. All through
those days Saif entertained us with his songs: parodies, anecdotes
and jokes. Wise people say that friendship thrives during adversity
and those were the days when our lifelong friendship took itís
root. After four days of rolling and pitching it was a relief
when the passenger liner reached Aden and we were happy to go
sea voyage of 17 days, our ship docked at Tilbury near London.
It was a depressingly soggy day and we came face to face with
had about two months time in hand, the Educational Attache of
Pakistan High Commission dispatched all 12 boys to a residential
school in Yorkshire known as Eshton School. The school building
was right in the heart of the evergreen quiet English countryside
just like they are in picture postcards.
boys and girls were mostly English and a few were Iranians and
East African Indians.
long summer vacation we had the whole school to ourselves; only
three teachers stayed to teach us English, Mathematics and some
rifle shooting. The stay in Eshton School was a very pleasant
memory. Being gentle, soft spoken and cheerful Saif was the
most popular among all the boys. Eight boys were sharing one
dormitory and lights had to out by 9 pm. Till we fell asleep,
it was Saif who used to entertain us with his wonderful songs-filmy,
modern and Rabindra Sangeet. We heard most of the hit songs
of Hindi films of that period. One could always count on Saif
to come out with a song when things were dull.
By mid August
when we reported back to London, we were divided into four groups
and dispatched to respective training establishments. Here we
had to part with Saif as he was sent to Southampton while Zakaria
and myself were dispatched to Plymouth in Devonshire. We started
our academic tenure at R.N. Technical College and for three
days a week we were attending the R.N. Dockyard, Davenport,
for practical training.
and intellectually Saif was way above his peers. While studying
at Southampton Technical College, his teachers used to refer
to him as the "moving encyclopedia". He was a voracious
reader and bought books on all subjects.
his degree in Naval Architecture from Durham University Saif
returned home in 1962 and joined Khulna Shipyard. While in Khulna
he got married and our Rasha Bhabi proved to be the most gracious
host. Soon Saif was promoted and transferred to DEW at Narayanganj.
time Saif started singing in Radio and TV and made quite a name.
He was also a playback singer in a few Bangla films.
and style of singing were very similar to the great Hemanto
Kumar. So, in 1972 when we heard that Hemanto himself was coming
to Saif's house we were swept off our feet in excitement. Initially
in front of his maestro Saif was a bit nervous but soon he was
in his element and sang superbly. Later Hemanto himself rendered
songs making the evening memorable.
In the year
1998, the Impact Foundation of England in collaboration with
their local counterpart was building an ambitious hospital boat
named "Jibon Tori" in a private shipyard on the other
side of the river Buriganga. Being the most experienced Naval
Architect of Bangladesh, Impact Foundation appointed Saif as
the team leader of the supervision.
In Feb 2000,
our old friend Azizul Huq, settled in Japan, came for a visit.
After many years we five friends would be together. We were
arranging a get-together party where Saif was to sing just like
the good old days. Unfortunately that very morning Saif had
his first stroke. It was the biggest shock for all of us.
By May 2000,
Saif had recovered. After a brief convalescence he rejoined
the World Bank as a Consultant for IWT Projects. Though he was
considerably weakened, he did not spare himself from hard work.
He continued to visit the building sites and shipyards. All
through these trials and tribulations, his smile and good cheer
never left him.
the sunshine was tragically smothered out of his life when in
September 2000 the final attack came from which he never recovered.
Half of his body was paralysed and he remained bound to the
wheelchair. The great singing voice and charming personality
were gone. Out of this wreck, only his expressive face and big
eyes remained the same!
great calamity, our Rasha Bhabi remained calm and optimistic.
Saif was blessed with daughters like guardian angels. Day in
day out, they nursed his broken body.
In my long
association with Saif I have never seen him being angry or rude
with any one. He was always gentle to all and sundry. It was
painful to see him suffer so much. The last I saw of our dear
friend Saif was in the ICU of Bangladesh Medical College Hospital.
His eyes were open but it had no light in it. Doctors had given
up all hope.
body came to rest while his soul embarked on an eternal journey
in the early hours of 23 April 2003 when Dhaka city was reeling
from the battering of the storm the night before.
news was delivered by his closest friend Zakaria. A great soul
had departed from this world.