<%-- Page Title--%> Musings <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 153 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 7, 2004

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Remembering a Cherished Friend

Sakhawat Hossain

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.

My 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.

Saif's capacity 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.

Saif was 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.

Destiny 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.

The first 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.

When it was time for us to move on, we flew to Bombay and checked into a modest hotel near Marine Drive.

The next 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.

This was 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 ashore.

After a 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 "English weather."

Since we 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.

The resident boys and girls were mostly English and a few were Iranians and East African Indians.

During the 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.

Academically 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.

After getting 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.

About this time Saif started singing in Radio and TV and made quite a name. He was also a playback singer in a few Bangla films.

Saif's voice 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.

But all 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!

In this 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.

Saif's tortured 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.

The sad news was delivered by his closest friend Zakaria. A great soul had departed from this world.





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