A Tribute to Catherine
"The land is my land, and thy people mine". Words fail me as I empathise with dear sweet cheerful Catherine, who lost Tareque to a twist of fate. When I met her at their Staten Island New York flat I was amazed at her warmth towards Sayeed and me. We had crossed the sea skirting the statue of liberty, by ferry, and Tareque met us at the docks with his beautiful smile. The way he extended his hand saying "Sayeed bhai, Kaemon achen, Perveen bhabi welcome," his head titled to one side, his voice entered my heart to remain there forever. We walked to their flat. I was struck by this petite, pint-sized girl in her twenties, dressed in a long skirt and blouse, standing near the six foot tall Tareque, who looked at her with, what I recognised, was love and admiration.
We sat down in a room with a couple of chairs, small tables and a TV. It was a newly married couple's apartment with a few pieces of furniture, but I noticed lots of books, cartons and videotapes. We sat down and Catherine offered us tea and snacks as the disarming Tareque began to talk about the rare video footage he had discovered from a Mr Lear Levin, a brave American cameraman who had witnessed Bengalis wage their fight against the might of Pakistan's central government. Catherine switched on the monitor and Tareque showed us extracts of the videotapes he had collected from Levin. Sayeed and I were deeply moved and Sayeed said the footage was a treasure for the new country. We would await the outcome of their work with it till Sayeed returned from his UN assignment.
After a couple of years we met Catherine and Tareque at several film-connected events, at the Central Public Library auditorium, the German Goethe Institute Dhanmondi, and the National Museum. By now Catherine was fluent in Bangla and even if I spoke to her in English, she would reply in Bangla. After many more meetings I started to converse with her in Bangla, only to find that my vocabulary was quite limited in comparison to hers. Being Indian born, I had learnt Bangla in 1972 when we came to settle in Dhaka, following our harrowing escape via Kabul to Delhi, Calcutta and home in Dhaka.
Catherine and Tareque with little Nishad.
Catherine and Tareque came thrice to our Lalmatia flat for tea and dinner and I developed a deep affection for them. With about thirty years of age difference between them and us there was yet a smooth wavelength of thoughts, ideals and beliefs. "Muktir Gaan" was still in the making and what a great day it was for us when Tareque called us to watch the film. At the opening both were so shy, and their body language expressed a humility that was their hallmark.
When I told Catherine at the show that she had worked hard to put this tribute to the people of Bangladesh in the film, she said’ "Amar Kortay khoob bhalo laglo, na koshto hoi nai." Her eyes were smiling and her smile was like sunshine.
Once as I was passing by the Sangsad Bhaban many years ago, I saw Catherine and Tareque near the vendors vans on the edge of the Manik Mia Avenue. I stopped and said "Hello, what are you doing here”? Catherine said they were filming street children."
"Will it become a film?" I asked.
"Akhono teek kora hoi naee. Hotay parey," Catherine smiled in reply. Tareque came forward, camera on shoulder and with a beaming smile and asked, about Sayeed.
Sayeed and I attended "Naroshundar" at the Public Library over two years ago, Tareque having specially rung up Sayeed to come over. Sayeed had been ill and was quite weak from a weak heart and repeated water in the lungs, but we went anyway. Tareque and Sayeed had discussed much about this film on the theme of Beharis during the 1970-71 struggle in which Tareque cast authentic Urdu speaking people, the setting being in Dhaka's old town. In terms of a creative work this movie will always hold a place among the Tareque-Catherine kudos.
Catherine has lost her gem of a husband, Nishad has lost his father whom he must remember through photos and home videos, Tareque's mother will, inconsolably, never forget her baby, his brothers and sisters and other family will cry at the mention of his name, and we, his friends will remain, heartbroken, when we think of him.
Catherine, my greatly admired friend, I can understand your anguish, because you crossed the seven seas to be with the man you loved. You immersed yourself in his country and became one of us, paying the greatest tribute to love by owning his land as yours and his people as yours.