A man who could make friends with anyone
When I met with Sheikh Kamal, he was my batchmate at Dhaka College. He was lanky, bold, courageous, courteous, and friendly, and could easily establish friendship with anybody. He was always flanked with his friends, mostly classmates, both during his college and university days.
It must have been his passion to move with friends. He had the rare quality of making friends with anybody in no time. Recalling my first meeting with him was at the Dhaka College hall room, where he was present with other batch-mates to listen to an army personnel.
The army officers came to Dhaka college with a hope to recruit young Higher Secondary Certificate passed boys to join the Pakistan army. We grew up in an environment where people of East Pakistan were treated as second class citizens by the West Pakistani elite groups. So, joining their army was a far cry for most of us.
I did not have any idea about Sheikh Kamal then. After the army officer had spoken and invited questions, Kamal stood up and wanted to know why disparity remained in the Pakistan army, why people from the eastern wing were not recruited in the Pakistan army.
He finally concluded by saying the West Pakistan army clique would not recruit Bengalis in the armed forces and what was done at the college that day was a farce. We were stunned and there was pin drop silence in the jam-packed auditorium.
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The army officer first denied Kamal’s allegations and later asked about his identity including the name of his father and where he comes from. There was no microphone kept for the audience (which is now almost customary) for asking questions so Kamal had to raise his voice and answer that his father’s name was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
I was stunned and knew only the son of Mujib could have had the guts to ask this question. I don’t exactly remember what the officer said after hearing Sheikh Mujib’s name. He probably said: “A political question can only come from the son of Sheikh Mujib.”
The meeting was chaired by the then Dhaka College Principal Jalal Uddin Ahmed, father-in-law of veteran Awami League leader and former President Zillur Rahman.
The meeting was over, and we went back to our respective classes. I was surprised to see the boldness of our classmate. He has asked a pertinent question involving the rights of the people of East Pakistan to join the armed forces.
He had asked a question of that nature-disparity between the two wings of Pakistan -- at a time when freedom of expression was restricted. I admired the courage of Kamal since then.
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But my first encounter with him came one day when the students’ union election was ongoing in the second year of my studentship in 1968. He along with some classmates came to our class and looked for me. As I went to him he said: “Sabu (my nickname) we have selected you to contest the upcoming student polls as a Chhatra League candidate from our class.” I was surprised for two reasons. (1) I never talked to him in the past and (2) I never thought of contesting an election in college.
I tried to resist and put up arguments to change his decision. I said that I don’t reside in a hall and am not a brilliant student either.
During those days students living in hostels could pull a bigger number of votes compared to non-resident students. I knew that the Chhatra Union candidate was a better student and lived in a hostel and he had won the last election from our class.
Sheikh Kamal would not listen and one fine morning, he came to our class along with some other student leaders and spoke at a projection meeting in my favour. There remained a very democratic culture in Dhaka College then. During elections, student organizations could hold projection meetings in the classrooms to introduce their respective candidates with class teacher’s approval, which was never denied.
I vividly remember Kamal spoke highly about me and my background as a worker of Chhatra League. Finally, the election day approached, and we participated with all fun and gaiety. I was not sure of the outcome, so I did not stay in the college during the vote counting.
The following day when I went to college my classmates started congratulating me for my victory. The full Chhatra League panel won the elections that year in Dhaka College. I was happy to be a part of the winning team. Nazrul Islam, a devoted worker of the Chhatra League became vice president of the newly elected Students Union. Nazrul was later killed in the War of Liberation.
After passing out from Dhaka College, I got admitted to Dhaka University in 1969 in the Department of Political Science. Kamal enrolled himself in the Sociology Department. Our friendship remained intact, although I did not pursue student politics any more in the university days. Whenever we met, we greeted each other. Kamal never ignored his friends. There was another common place we used to meet -- the Dhaka University gymnasium.
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We used to go there mostly to secure the percentage for attendance, but Kamal was always there in the field to play football and cricket with his classmates. His passion was sports and games and music. I remember in one of our departmental functions to welcome the newcomers, Sheikh Kamal played Sitar. I had a picture of the function but lost it while shifting house in 2004.
After the country’s independence, Sheikh Kamal joined Dhaka University. But now his identity was changed a bit -- he was the eldest son of the Father of the Nation. But that never changed his attitude and behaviour towards his friends and classmates. He had no tantrums; he was the same old Kamal, whom we saw in Dhaka college and before the War of Liberation in Dhaka University.
He was very jovial and used to cut jokes with his friends. We sometimes forgot that he was the son of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He never mentioned who his father was. He was just another student on the campus.
Then came the fateful night of August 15, 1975. I was then working as a sub-editor and reporter in the national news agency called “The Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). On August 14, I was working in the night shift along with my two colleagues -- Azizul Islam Bhuiya and Late Mohammad Masum. Around 1am both left for home.
I decided to stay back. But our peon woke me up from deep sleep early morning saying there is an urgent call that I must attend. The call was from Mohammad Masum and he told me the worst news I was not prepared to listen -- Bangabandhu and his entire family members (except Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana) had been killed by disgruntled soldiers at his residence.
The two sisters had survived as they were abroad. I could not believe my ears. Masum asked me to vacate the office immediately as the military people might attack the national news agency. I left the office in a hurry and went to inform my General Manager Jawadul Karim about the gruesome murder. Mr Karim (later press secretary to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina) could not believe me.
As I proceeded towards my residence at Asad gate, I found people waking up from sleep moving here and there but they had no idea what had happened and what the country had lost.
Today I fondly remember my classmate Sheikh Kamal, who would have been my age today. Happy birthday to you Kamal and all the best in your new destination. May his soul rest in peace.
M Shafiqul Karim is a senior journalist.
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