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Waiting for my brother to call

M Anwarul Haq

Ashraful Huq (Jami)

Dateline: Washington, DC, Dhaka, February 28, 2008

I keep on calling my brother's office phone but he is not there to reply. He is dead----a victim of pancreatic cancer at the age of 48. But I keep on calling his number from Dhaka and elsewhere whenever emotions overcome me and I cannot accept the untimely death of my brother Ashraful, aka Jami.

I call his number to hear his voice say, “This is Ashraful. Please leave your name and number and I will call you back.”

It is Ashraful's voice alright, and every time I call him, it is his crisp accent. I could not understand why the company for which he worked and which produced and marketed such high quality computer software decided to keep his voice recording for more than a year after he had passed away. Whatever, the reason, at least my other brother in Dallas, another computer engineer and I were happy listening to his voice.

But will the calls be returned? I wait with hope that it will be.

Jami. That was the name by which my parents called Ashraful. He was the second ofamong three brothers, we had no sisters.

For us three brothers, Rumi (myself), Jami and Sadi, the world was sometimes very big; but mostly small as my father, a US educated teacher and also a printer believed and taught us middle class values (Waste Not, Want Not) and together we went to the same school, the church run Holy Cross School at Farm gate.

Then my father had to take us out of the foundation school after class 3, and all three of us got admitted in successive order in the BAF run Shaheen School. From there I left for Faujdarhat Cadet College. After my departure my father changed schools, and both my brothers went to Tejgaon Polytechnic School which was Bengali medium. My youngest brother Sadi was also selected for Momenshahi Cadet College but Jami had to stay back in Dhaka alone although he was selected for Rajshahi Cadet College in a higher class, my parents did not allow him to go.. He was not a bad student, but my father thought Jami was, and we brothers were not prepared to compete in the crazy world and should go abroad and attempt to be teachers. Many father's have a poor opinion of their children in their teens and very wrongly so. Jami, however was the opposite and proud of his two sons.

Ultimately after his BA he was encouraged by our father to go to London during the mid seventies when a variety of Computer courses were being offered as the penultimate success story. However, Jami was bright enough to secure a UK Computer Science course with a British Council scholarship. Later, he had to stay longer and get admitted into other specialized courses. The deshi students were migrating in droves and got admitted from one course to another just to keep their Visas valid, a practice still done by UK governmentto lure in bright foreign students and then keep them rolling.

In 1976, our father passed away and we brothers had to fend for ourselves trying to run our family business. But as Sadi and I who stayed back, and were not the business type, we were giving more time to social and cultural organizations like Leo clubs, Lions and Rotaract clubs and I was publishing the first English magazine “Endeavour”. We were reasonably preoccupied as students and happy. But poor Jami's cash line from Dhaka literally crashed. My father while alive could send cash from his business through non-formal channels , as those days everything was nationalized, even money remittance for education.

Jami, was enduring greater hardships and chose to work part time jobs to pay for his higher studies. The time I was visiting him in London on my way to Dallas as the country representative of the Leos, while in my second year at International Relations, I was received by Jami and a group of cousins at Heathrow. My cousins had almost given up waiting as I was late to come out of the departure gate. But Jami kept waiting, while my cousins had insisted that they leave. But Jami waited patiently. I had to fill in at least 30 customs and migration forms for my fellow Bangladeshis, as they accosted me, and the few travelers who were able to write.

Jami took me to his London restaurant where he was working part time as a service person. It broke my heart. I could not bear to see him serving other people.

He made arrangements for me to stay with him upstairs in a hotel called Rawalpindi and the following day he showed me around London, almost everything from Madame Tussand to the Hyde Park. He delighted me by bringing an entire chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken , and I thought what a delicacy it was! It was my first night's dinner, and I still think of it as the best dinner I have had till now. After two days I was off to New York on my way to Dallas to speak at the Lions and Leo Convention.

Jami saw me off and warned me in a strong language that I should not be out of the hotel at night on the streets of New York. He was a great conformist and believer of strong self-discipline, while I was a bit of an adventurer. I did not listen to Jami and rambled through the streets of New York even declining to have dinner at the Consul General's (then Mr Humayun Kabir) place where my Lions Governor AMA Kabir was staying.

Jami called me at my hotel and was very disturbed about my nocturnal outings, what could he say to an errant elder brother, except issuing mild reprimands. But then I was young man of 19 and was simply overwhelmed by the lights and sights of Times Square and Broadway. That was the mid 70's. When I visited New York later several times, the Big Apple had changed considerably . Gone were the peep shops, and also hip magazines like Playboy and Penthouse and the beat of pop culture that set the cultural scene of US in those days. I thought on my return I would stop by New York again but that was not to happen during that trip, as I flew out of DC with less than a dollar in my pocket.

I created quite a sensation in Dallas where I received a standing ovation for my speech. The local Leos started taking my picture and said, you could make a good Mayor! Americans can be the friendliest people, but diplomats and government men are drab, dour and mean serious business. I was invited to seven other states in the US by the Lions Clubs where they paid my local airfare and handed me “speaking fees” after my lectures on Bangladesh and Leo Clubs. I began with 50 dollars in my pocket, but later earned and spent more than 300 dollars. Then after staying in Arizona with Marshal Townsend my father's friend and later visiting Iowa, where my father studied I was overwhelmed by the affection displayed by my late dad's friends and their families. I also picked up some debt at Tucson from the Townsend (who was a god-sent angel). He at one of the meetings introduced me as “my Friend Anwar …ul”. I was embarrassed. My father was his friend; how could I be too? But later I learnt the American definition of friendship was very broad.

Jami was a deeply thoughtful person. He used to think and care about how everyone was. No wonder, when I landed back at Heathrow on my way back from US, I had around a dollar left. I queued at the bank counter and handed over some dollar coins and perhaps a dollar note; the cashier handed me some British coins. With that I called up the hotel and the manager told me to take a taxi and come, the fare would be paid by the Hotel. Jami had asked the manager to do that. He knew I would be landing with an empty pocket. And I did.

Jami, after some time got a provisional admission for one semester at West Virgina Tech in the US. After crossing the Atlantic he never had to look back. Huge success and fortune smiled upon him. He earned lot of distinctions as a computer software engineer and even did sub-contracting work for the US defence. His life was one that blazed a trail of both richness and happiness. But he was too young to die with one son in the last year of college and the other in class four. He loved them more than he loved himself.

Jami was such a self disciplined person that he never even indulged in over eating, avoiding the occasional Chinese or Italian pasta, junk food or smoking while in US or in Dhaka.. Yet, a deadly disease consumed him, nailing the fallacy that healthy living enhances life.

Whenever he visited Dhaka droves of poor relatives flocked to Jami. He was always generous, never complaining. We never could find out how much he gave to people whom. We did not ask; and he would not tell. My mother became more generous after every visit! As for family members he doled out gifts all through his stay, particularly on those days we were bit despairing or gloomy, just to cheer us upmyself , my kids and his bhabi. There were always more presents coming out of his luggage and we never could see all at once what he had brought. He always carried a laptop, since the laptop arrived in corporate America. He was distinctly careful about what he ate; and walked on the treadmill even a few days before his death.

What hurts me most is that he called us five or six weeks before he died to announce his imminent death. He probed our minds and asked, if we were okay, and then he used to cut the telephone line. This he did for few days before he caught up the courage to break our hearts and announce that the doctors have given him six months to live as he has contracted a deadly disease. He expressed his desire that I visit him or he would visit us. But the night before I was supposed to submit my visa application, the news of his death came. He did not survive even six weeks, after that.

Jami called me several times while on my first trip to the US to find out if I was okay. In fact I had to call him to give my location and he told me to hang up and he would call me back, even if it was a public phone, as there was an identification number And till the day he died, he maintained this practice whether I was in Delhi, Dhaka, Brussels, Tokyo or Rome that he disconnected the line always saying I am calling you back. It was not that he thought he was reasonably richer than us, but his heart was much richer. Later, I learnt he asked all relatives to keep hang up and he would call back.

Deep in my heart I do believe Jami is trying to call us back. But he cannot connect.

The writer is a Media Consultant

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