A Man of Vision and Unflinching Patriotism
"You have to express your emotions. If you keep holding them in and pretend that nothing is wrong, you will be an emotional wreck and the pain will never stop.” A somewhat literal English translation of what my grandmother often tells me when the subject of my grandfather's death arises. The late Abu Syed Mahmud. Almost three and a half years since his death and I still have not found a way to cope. He was my mentor, life coach and the person whom I held the closest to my heart within my entire family.
I was pressured by many to write a tribute article and with great reluctance I have done so. My greatest fear is that words, especially my words alone will not even begin or be enough to describe the exceptional human being we have lost. And in being his granddaughter, expectations to write a spectacular piece on him are especially high. I cannot promise anything groundbreaking and if my grandfather's spirit is with me now, Dadu, I will try my best to portray the remarkable man you were and get you the respect and recognition that is long overdue.
Dadu was on the board of directors and a shareholder for Transcom, one of the founders of the Daily Star, and of course the founding father of his beloved Ekushey Television, the first privately owned television station in Bangladesh. Whenever I went to visit Dadu in his office, he always got up from his desk and had me sit in what we called the “big boss' chair.” He used to say “Sarah, one day all this will be yours. You will run everything.”
I was 16 when I came to Dhaka from the States on summer vacation to visit my family. Dadu gave me a job at Ekushey and I was assigned to work in a show known as Mukto Khabor. I was more than a little hesitant at first, but the things I had learned in those few months not only on media and journalism, but about friendship and life in general, has had a great impact on me and a hand at shaping me into who I am today. Mukto Khabor was comprised of young and extremely talented and ambitious people who came from different backgrounds and every walk of life. We had formed unlikely friendships and they are still some of my closest friends to this day. I knew Dadu had a plan for me to learn something and I did. He loved children and said that whenever he was around the younger generation, he became a child himself. It was the reason he created Mukto Khabor. He believed children were not being heard and as a result, Mukto Khabor was born and so were many of the young stars we see on TV today.
SM Mahmud, a mentor and life coach
Dadu never passed up the opportunity to tell me stories about our Liberation struggle and I never passed up the opportunity to listen. I was more than eager to learn of my country's history ever since I could remember. He explained how Pakistani intelligence kept a close watch on him and came to find that he had been coming to the aid of freedom fighters, He was blacklisted and almost shot, but barely escaped assassination by fleeing to London with his family. As soon as news of the war's end had reached him, he immediately left London to return to his precious Bangladesh.
He loved his country with all his heart and truly believed that Bangladesh had so much potential. Dadu always said, “You are a Bangladeshi girl. Don't forget where you come from and don't forget your culture. It is part of who you are.” Dadu was a true nationalist and he was right. Bangladesh is part of my identity. To this day, I have not encountered anyone who loves Bangladesh as much as he had. My love for this country is all thanks to him.
When I was around seven, Dadu took me to visit the museum, which had formerly been Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's house. As I observed every bullet hole, every blood stained piece of clothing, the blood-spattered staircase, I pictured the atrocities that had occurred there and cried. If it were not for the courageous women, children and men who fought for our freedom, I would not be here today. Dadu would not be calling me a “Bangladeshi Meye.”
My grandfather loved me more than life itself. So much so that he constantly spoiled me by buying me anything I wanted totally disregarding the cost. Yet he had also managed to teach me not to take the material things in life too seriously. He always said that it was important to be a good human being by treating everyone with “respect and kindness.” He was always so giving. He donated money to charities and opened orphanages. He had never seen anyone as inferior and urged me to do the same.
Ekushey Television was Dadu's baby. His dream so to speak. After a change in government, it was being forced to shut down. Ekushey was accused of acquiring its license illegally because it had been acquired when the Awami League was in the helm. The case was appealed and had gone all the way to the high court. My grandfather fought hard for its survival, but in the end Ekushey television died an unnatural death.
In the end my family was forced to leave the country and move to London (Sound familiar? History repeating itself maybe?). And consequently, my grandfather's nationalism began to gradually diminish. In November 2003 he suffered a stroke. Every time I was asked to go visit him in the hospital I would always be reluctant and most people saw this reaction as me being apathetic. In reality, I hated having to see him hooked up to wires and monitors. He needed an oxygen mask to help him breathe. This was not my charismatic Dadu bhai. He was full of life and he most certainly never needed the help of these machines just to stay alive. He told everyone that if he died, he did not want to be buried in Bangladesh. He had become so bitter about his country. The country that he had done so much for and loved with all his heart had now turned its back on him. He was never really acclaimed for any of his contributions. Instead he felt as though he had been exiled by his own country.
Maybe my grandfather has finally found peace. Maybe he is happier and in a better place, but neither my family or I have yet found peace of mind or closure. Dadu was the glue that kept the family together and now everyone has gone their own separate ways; my father in Canada, chacha in the U.K, grandmother in Bangladesh and myself in the States.
I know that whatever I write about him will never be good enough let alone anywhere close to perfect in my mind. But I do believe that A.S. Mahmud deserves recognition for his contributions to this country. Dadu bhai may be gone, but he will still be my life coach, my mentor and best friend. He still motivates me to strive to be a better person and be proud of my culture and country. A.S. Mahmud's spirit is still alive in all of us, the ones who admire and love him the most and I truly believe that his shattered dreams will be fulfilled once again. Bangladesh will rise up and be all that my grandfather knew it could be.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006