A Personal Tribute
It was December 12, 1981, the day fixed for the formal inauguration of the Ashuganj Fertilizer Factory. As its ex-officio chairman, I had worked relentlessly for four years to ensure that the USD 400 million project would start right on schedule. It was to be a grand occasion. Special trains were arranged to run between Dhaka-Ashuganj-Dhaka to carry the dignitaries, diplomatic corps and other high ups; President Sattar was to perform the inauguration. I prepared my speech for the occasion and started for Kamalapur Railway Station from my residence in Gulshan when I realised that I had forgotten my glasses and had to turn back only to be told by my wife that my mother had suddenly suffered a massive heart attack. Instead of the Railway Station, I rushed immediately to the Governor's House where she was staying with my elder brother Nurul Islam. I realised that she was indeed seriously ill and might not survive the attack. I informed the Minister and the office that the special train should leave and that they should proceed with the inauguration without me. It was destiny which had brought me back to her bedside and my supreme duty was to be with her when she breathed her last.
Born at the turn of the century, my mother did not receive any formal education but was taught to read the Quran which she would recite every morning after morning prayers. She bore 12 children of which one died in the cradle and she brought up the remaining 11 children with great care, love and affection. My father was a strong disciplinarian and would often deal us with a very strong hand and my mother was just the opposite. She was like an island of peace and an oasis of hope and love. At the age of 16, I left home for Calcutta for higher studies but never missed the opportunity to come to Barisal to be with her. The hardship of the journey, the sleepless night in the steamer from Khulna to Barisal, was all forgotten the moment I reached home to my mother.
My father was on a transferable job and every 2-3 years he moved from one place to another. For the sake of our education, most of the time he would leave us behind under the care of our mother. She performed her duty with great patience but under great financial strain since the meagre monthly remittances from my father was hardly sufficient to meet our day to day needs. I remembered her sewing undergarments for us with cotton cut pieces instead of buying readymade ones and save 8 annas per piece. During Ramadan there were no goodies for Iftar. She also mastered the art of satisfying so many mouths with only one chicken or one hilsa fish per meal.
In one of the essays in Arabic that we had to study as a second language in school, “mother” was compared with a “vessel” where things are stored temporarily for safe keeping until the time comes for delivery and that the father was the dominant person from whom you get lineage and heritage. The reference was to the child bearing role of the mother. I detested this piece of essay which seriously undermined the role of the mother who to me was like an angel. It was not until later when I started reading the English translation of Holy Quran that I found solace in the fact that the Holy Quran had given mother the due respect that she fully deserved.
(i) Sura Bani Israel says: Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him and that ye be kind to parents—whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life. Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour and say: My Lord, bestow on them thy mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.
(ii) In Sura Luqman, Allah commands: “Show gratitude to Me and to thy parents”. In Sura Ahquf, Allah says: “We have enjoined on men kindness to his parents. In pain did his mother bear him and in pain did she give him birth. The carrying of the (child) to his weaning is a period of 30 months.”
Throughout my life I followed the dictate of the Holy Quran in letters and in spirit even before I had occasion to read it.
Among her few possessions, was a small and dainty wooden box where in the pigeon holes were stored small vials of all kinds of homeopathic medicines like Arnica, Belladonna, Pulsatilla, Nux Vomica, China etc. which she administered to us for minor ailments such as stomach aches, cough, cold or even bed-wetting. By touching my forehead she would decide whether I had fever or not and that whether I should take a full bath, a body sponge or just wash my head.
Her supreme test on medical matters came when an Ophthalmologist declared that I was suffering from Pterygium, a rare form of eye disease, and would need immediate surgery. With a lot of apprehension, I asked for a cost estimate and was given three different estimates—Rs. 50, if the surgery is performed in the doctor's clinic; Rs. 35, if the surgery is performed in our house with a nurse in attendance; and Rs. 25, without the nursing aid. I discussed all the three options with my mother and finally she came out in favour of the last one. She volunteered to act as a nurse during the surgery. She swooned and almost fainted by the sight of the fresh blood flowing from my eye during surgery. The operation theatre was a dingy, damp room with the plaster coming out of the wall. It was a miracle that I did not catch an infection and that the recovery was uneventful.
After my father's death in 1959 and my youngest sister's marriage in 1963, mother took turns to live with her sons and daughters-in-laws. There were six of us to take care of her in her old age. During the last two years of her life, she was staying with Nurul Islam in the Governor's House in Gulshan where she breathed her last.