My Mentor,My Guide
Safwan Bin Shabab
I clearly remember the last time I waved him goodbye as he drove out from my grandparent’s house for Chittagong on a day in late November of 1999. I remember too the last conversation I had with him over the phone on an afternoon in early December…a crisp voice I had become so familiar with. I remember the exact moments I walked back home on December 8 to learn that he had left this world forever. I remember the realisation engulfing me that I would never be able to feel the warmth of his hug ever. My account, which follows, is a remembrance in honour of my father Brig. Shabab Ashfaq – a person who was my Daddy.
Seven years have passed by since that fateful day of 1999. I find it ironic how so much time has elapsed since then and yet it seems just the other day when we laid Daddy to rest at the Military Graveyard. The fresh soil on my hand, which I sprinkled onto his grave, may have been washed away but my tears for him still roll down. I believe that the time has come now for me, his son, to recall his memories and speak out – lest it all fades away in the nuances of times for all the people whose hearts Daddy touched in the 47 years of his life. I was only 11 when he passed away and was too young to grasp the magnitude of his untimely death. But these seven years in passage have given me the time to mature and recapitulate.
I find it heartbreaking every time I reflect upon the very short time of my own life that I managed to spend with Daddy. But at the same time, I tell myself that I was fortunate enough to be in the company of such a person as my father – may it be for a short time. A very jovial and cordial person, Daddy never failed to delight us - his family and friends – with his presence. I remember how ecstatic I became every time when Daddy came back to Dhaka on a leave every few months from his military postings outside the capital. For the brief time that his job allowed him to spend with us, I made sure that I had my father's attention as much as I could. I remember nagging every single morning pulling Daddy out of bed to drive me to school –completely disregarding the fact that he was trying to get some rest during his short leave! I guess I kept on doing this simply because he never failed to keep my requests! I remember an instance from early 1999 when he was posted at Islamabad, Pakistan for the National Defense Course. Eid was just round the corner and I was told that Daddy would not be able to join us at Dhaka this time. The next afternoon I answered the door unsuspectingly as the bell rang – and I could not believe my eyes! Daddy was standing there right in front, witnessing the elation in his son! My joy truly knew no bounds and as I said, Daddy never failed to delight us. As fate would hold, this would be the last Eid that we would be celebrating with him.
I am always impressed by the affection and respect that my father generated from all the people that he interacted with. While my grandparents always tell me how Daddy was a caring son to them, the shopkeeper near our family home in Dhaka reminds me how courteous and affable my father was with him every time they got to meet. Beyond this, I had grown up hearing from his friends about the impeccable integrity and professionalism that my father displayed in his long drawn military career. It became very common for me to come across someone who would tell me how impressive an officer he was, beginning from his cadet days at the Pakistan Military Academy in 1970 to his course completion at the National Defense College 29 years down the lane. Despite all these compliments, I felt somewhat indifferent then – more significant to me than all those praises was the fact, that to me my Daddy was the person who taught me how to do shoelaces, the one who showed me how to fold a trouser and the person who held me from behind and taught me how to swing the golf club innumerable times at the Bhatiary Country Club in Chittagong.
As I reflect on my times with Daddy, I believe my remembrance would be incomplete if I fail to pen in the circumstances of his death and the aftermath. On the fateful day of December 8, Daddy’s body was found in a pool of blood in his military mess room at the Chittagong Cantonment. The authorities quickly concluded it to be a case of suicide following a hasty inquiry. But what we – his friends and family - have witnessed is that there were critical discrepancies in the inquiry report and the manner in which the military dealt with the matter. There are questions, which the military has failed to reply or convincingly account for the death of one of the senior most brigadiers serving in the military. Firstly, why did an officer junior to Brig Shabab Ashfaq lead the inquiry? The family believes that to have done justice and ensured neutrality of the inquiry, the military should have appointed a senior ranking officer from a different command unit to impartially investigate into the incident. For, it is implausible that such an inquiry board comprising of officers of the same division could freely probe and question personnel relevant to the investigation, including the serving general officer commanding the Chittagong Division then. Furthermore, if it were a case of suicide as the military claims, why would Brig. Shabab commit the act at the bustling surroundings of the Chittagong Cantonment instead of the remote military garrison in Bandarban where he was stationed then? And why too at a time when Brig. Shabab had overcome the most difficult periods of his military career, which he battled boldly against all odds? These queries, we believe, are the tip of an iceberg, which the authorities were reluctant to dig into. Perhaps the most damning statement against the conclusion of the inquiry was that of the erstwhile Prime Minister, who while meeting us at her Ganabhaban residence, had explicitly stated that the incident was ‘perpetrated by Brig. Shabab’s foes in the guise of friends’.
To this day, the family believes that the authorities have failed to do justice for an officer who had so gallantly served the Bangladesh Military for 29 years at home and abroad. He breathed his last adorning the same army uniform whose honour he so diligently upheld for nearly three decades. The notes of the military bugle playing as we laid Daddy to rest on that December evening still resonate with me today. Today is his seventh death anniversary. The time has come for all of us to reflect on Daddy’s memories; the time is right to raise the many unanswered questions. We call upon the government to launch a new and impartial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death. I ask his friends and the larger civil society to ask the questions again which the authorities averted. For not only will it serve as a solace for my father’s soul but also do the Bangladesh military good in finding out what caused the death of one their most brilliant officers. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
The author, Safwan Bin Shabab, is currently studying at Colgate University in the US. Any comments are welcome at email@example.com.
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