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     Volume 4 Issue 35 | February 25, 2005 |

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To the Loving Memories of my Uncle

Shah AMS Kibria

Sayeema Hasan-Sadeghi

Most people know Shah AMS Kibria as former Finance Minister, a well-noted figure in international relations, one of the most talented and respected bureaucrats that Bangladesh has produced. I am one of the fortunate few to have known him as my Khalu.

I was six when Khalu and I first bonded. My Mejho Khala, Asma Kibria, and Khalu did not live in Dhaka, my Khalu being diplomat. At the time where this recollection begins, Mejho Khalu was serving in Bangkok as the Executive Secretary of ESCAP. My mother visited her sister several times during this period. Khala especially loved her younger sister's company. Papa was too busy to leave his work and accompany us, so it was only an excited six-year old hopping on Thai airways with her mother. And it was always the late afternoon flight. One of the things I really looked forward to on Thai was their exquisite souvenir. I would carefully save the brooch made of a real, solitary orchid that they gave out to greet the passengers. I would save mine for Khala and my Mom's for Khalu.

My Khala was picture perfect at the airport. She would be draped in one of her elegant silk saris, the subtle shades of which reflected off her sweet loving face. When we entered the huge house, with the wall-to-wall slanted mirror hanging off the ceiling of the foyer, I would know exactly where to find my Khalu. If he was already home, he was surely to be found in his room---relaxing in his leaning chair in his plain, white Panjabi and sometimes a black waistcoat over it, listening to Rabindra Shongit. If not, he would come in as we were settling in to catch up. There he was, in his regal dark suit and red tie. Either way, I have not seen him but immaculately dressed. Khalu would beam at the sight of us but it was not the boisterous welcome that a lot of us know of when we go to visit our near and dear ones. There was something so genuine about the warm smile and his mild words that made you feel right at home in that intimidating house. He would never miss to pat me on the head and ask his customary: "Ki Tori?" with a full-face smile.

I have some of my funniest memories with my Khalu at dinnertime. Now that I think about it, I was doing a good job embarrassing myself. Khalu loved to divulge the fact that, as a little girl, I used to speak Dhakaiya. It was his amusing way to unwind at the end of the day. He would insist on hearing me speak a few very strong Dhakaiya words while he laughed his hearty but controlled laugh. But he was also mindful of the smart, little things that came out of my mouth and I tried so hard to impress him. I even made sure that I spoke with an affected accent so that my pronunciation of certain English words would come out 'United Nations-worthy'. My Khalu commanded respect from just about anyone, even in his family life.

On many days, my Mom and Khala would want to hit the shopping malls in Bangkok and Khalu would offer to look after me. I found his company comforting and peaceful. I felt that he did not treat me like a child like others did. We would sit in the same room, he with his newspaper or the latest copy of The Economist, I with my colouring pencils. From time to time, I could feel him looking at me to make sure I was not bored, but if he saw me engrossed in my work, he never bothered to verbally check on me. He gave me a sense of my own space. Khala often left me with one of her old paintings and see how closely I could copy it with my set of crayons and, on his part, Khalu's writing assignments for me included many variations on "My Trip to Bangkok." I tried my hand at both. I managed to be on my best behavior and it surprised me to see that Khalu always noticed the little things. One day, after my Mom and Khala came back, and my Mom started fussing about whether I had been naughty, Khalu said: "Keya, tomar meye ke niye kono chinta korte hobe na." He then proceeded to tell her how after eating cookies, I daintily lifted up the edge of my dress, tiptoed across the room to dust the crumbs off in the bin.

Years had passed, I had got my Dhakaiya under control, and my Khala and Khalu moved back to Bangladesh. Khalu joined Awami League and got increasingly busy. But he cherished every moment of it. Their Dhanmondi house, Malancha was still under construction and I remember the loft apartment that they were temporarily staying in. I can still picture my Khalu at his computer--his desk, shelves and part of the floor strewn with papers, magazines, research reports. He was getting ready to give his country the gift of intelligence, diplomacy and ethics in politics.

He was serving as Finance Minister to the former government headed by Sheikh Hasina, when I felt that we bonded once again in an unspoken way. This time tragedy had struck. When my beloved father passed away, I was not yet 18. Khalu was close to my father, whom he liked for his cheerful disposition and sincerity. I remember Khalu sitting on our couch and although it broke his heart, he exuberated strength. He compassionately stood by my mother, my brothers and I in more ways than one.

He was a father figure in our extended family as long as memories go. My Khala is a remarkable woman in the way she cares for her sisters (like they are still little girls) and together with her supportive husband, she has kept the family together. They were the centre of most family events. Nobody dared or even had the heart to turn down their request or invitation. Khalu lived by the same ethics that he did in his public life: Your duties to your family and to your work are not to be neglected under any circumstances.

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