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     Volume 7 Issue 16 | April 18, 2008 |

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Shaheedul Haque vs Shaheedul Zahir

Shamima Nargis

Secretary Md Shaheedul Haque vs writer Shaheedul Zahir -- a two-faceted identity of the same individual. But one who knows Shaheedul Haque hardly knows the other, and vice versa. Why is it so? Probably because he himself wanted it that way. Yes, he wanted, and maintained that fine line of detachment till the last day of his life but his untimely, premature, tragic death had brought his equally powerful and successful dual identities into light.

I do not know much about writer Shaheedul Zahir (so is the case, I am sure, with most of his professional colleagues) but I do know about Secretary Shaheedul Haque. In the civil service, Shaheedul Haque is known by others not only because he was a secretary but because of his uncompromising ways of doing things from the very start of his career. A stock-taking of his personality, attitude, ways, dealing with people may give a mixed signal to others but that is because of his uncompromising and tough ways. His personality may leave space for debate but his efficiency went unquestioned all the way.

My first professional encounter with him was back in the year 2001 or 2002 when he was

Md Shaheedul Haque

serving as Director in the Prime Minister's office. My second professional encounter was in the year 2005 when I was posted in the Economic Relations Division (ERD) and he was already there in the capacity of Joint Secretary in the Asian Development Bank Wing. But I did not have the opportunity to know much of him on these two occasions. And my last professional encounter with him was during the 18 long months from September 2006 to February 2008 when I directly served under him in the ERD. He was my Additional Secretary in the World Bank wing of the ERD. Working with a tough taskmaster like him was really a challenging, learning and rewarding experience for me. Towards the beginning, each file used to come back to me with a number of queries asking for some vital details. I used to feel small wondering why any of those questions did not cross my mind. But gradually I saw that the number of queries were in decline. Probably because of my cautious steps in subsequent times. This is how he tried to teach his juniors.

There was a common conception about him that he was very rough and rude. Having worked with him for 18 long months, I beg to differ. What contributed most to that misconception was his extremely reserved nature. He hardly used to open any discussion other than official at any level. He had neither any interest in others' personal information nor was he ready to share his own. This is where he was thoroughly misunderstood by many. It seemed to me from my day-to-day work experience with him that he used to reach for perfection as close as possible even in regular routine matters. And when it was a matter of policy decision or negotiation with development partners, his careful stepping for upholding and safeguarding the national interest was simply brilliant. He not only worked hard himself, but also made others to do the same. It is true that he was critical of mistakes but was also ready to forgive provided one was ready to learn.

He used to lose his temper with the repetition of the same mistakes as he used to expect that one would learn from his mistakes. When that was missing, he was tough.

I was reading with curiosity the tribute published in “ Prothom Alo” on 24 March, 2008 written by Syed Monjurul Islam. He was absolutely right in saying that the dual identities of Shaheedul Haque were never in clash. It is true that he drew the fine line of difference between the two but he did justice to both.

Otherwise he could not achieve what he achieved as Shaheedul Zahir with relatively a small number of publications. The only similarity between the two identities was that he was a loner in his journey in both the domains. In the civil service, many including myself did not even know for long that he was a writer. Even those who came to know eventually at different points of time knew it from a second source, not from him. It is very normal that one would like to share his creative product with people around. But it was quite the reverse in his case. He used to feel very uncomfortable if ever Shaheedul Zahir came into discussion in the office and was always in a hurry to change the subject with some official urgent matter.

Myself, along with my colleagues in World Bank wing in ERD, have seen him ignoring his sickness many a times from his sense of responsibility and dedication. But his personality was such that one would think twice to tell him to go home. Today, when he is no more in this world, what bothers me most is that may be he never listened, as we never asked the way we should have. He continued to give and we continued to receive failing to realise that he might also like to be at the receiving end sometimes.

My first reaction at the news of his sudden and untimely death was the regret of why had I worked so close with him as the pain of losing him was too much to bear. But revisiting my working memories with him, I feel privileged that I had the opportunity to work with such a brilliant bureaucrat. My memories with him will continue to be a source of inspiration for me in the years to come showing me, the way to do things right. My other point of regret was much objective in nature rather than subjective. Today when some quarters, rightly or wrongly, are so vocal about the inefficiency of bureaucracy, officers like Shaheedul Haque are badly needed to counter them not with mere words but deeds.

I can still recall his parting words on the day of his departure from ERD for joining the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts. We, in a group, sat with him for the first time with no official agenda. Both had much to say to which we could not bring ourselves. Sensing our silent grief at his departure, he smiled and said softly, “Life is like that, you have to accept”. We accepted his shift from ERD to another Ministry. But his permanent departure from this world within less than two months from that day poses a question to my mind: “What exactly did he mean on that day?” Following your last piece of advice, I want to say, “Ok sir, we accept this too but with how much pain, will you ever know?”

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