the Loving Memories of my Uncle
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005