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OP-ED: This loss is all of ours

  • Published at 03:05 pm September 10th, 2020
Tariq Ali
From engineer to businessman to cultural and social activist DHAKA TRIBUNE

You cry to me and I don’t know what to say because I have shared him with you my whole life

When I was about six years old, my father caught me crying in the corner of our one-story house in Jakarta, Indonesia. I had just learned from my brother that everyone dies eventually, and the thought of Ma or Baba dying was too much for my little heart to take. 

I ran from the room and cried my heart out. My father found me 10 minutes later. 

Instead of telling me not to worry about death the way most fathers would do with children of that age, he told me that by the time my parents died, I would be older, and that my life would not be so intertwined with my parents, and that my parents’ death would not hurt as much. 

“Ma-go, by the time I die, you will have other things to worry about and keep you occupied. You will get older and go to college, move out, get married, and have children. By then my death will not affect you in the same way. That is the way life works. We all have to die.” 

I said: “I will never leave you, and I will never leave home.”

He had laughed so loudly that I had turned away, hurt and angry that he was making fun of me.

Decades later, two days after his death, I sit in front of my laptop, thinking about that conversation. He was right about so many things. I did go to college, move out, have children. 

And yes, I have so many things to worry about and keep myself occupied with. But the hurt … the hurt is the same. 

I am still that six-year-old sitting in the corner of the house, crying, and wondering what I am going to do without my father.

Many people could not believe that Tariq Ali had children like me and Misha -- two obviously Americanized kids with no apparent connection to Bangladesh. 

It’s true, our Bangla was accented, and our reading and writing remained at the second grade level (perhaps Misha’s was a little more advanced, because he is the smarter one). But that was Baba, you see. 

He didn’t care how well we spoke or read Bengali. He cared that we felt it. He cared about us being it, from the inside. 

He cared about us knowing where we were from, and owning it. And that is something we never forgot, or shied away from.

My earliest memories of my father are full of the contradictions that only deshi children can understand -- two sides of a coin, always trying to find common ground. I remember a stern man with a voice that shook the windows when it boomed in anger; and then, a loving father who would let me sleep cocooned under his covers when I had nightmares. 

I remember his smell of cologne and fresh soap, and the sharp prick of his mustache as he said goodbye to me in the morning, wearing a black suit and tie. Later on, the suit was to be replaced with various fashion fails, of which my brother and I would tease him mercilessly. 

As he left the life of first an engineer and then a businessman, transitioning to a cultural and social activist, he became a different type of person. The father who shielded me from my childhood nightmares became more prominent, and the stern man who would make me sit at the dinner table until I finished every grain of rice faded into the background. 

He came out once in a while, but not often. He was also an unlimited bank of knowledge. Before Wikipedia, for me, there was Baba. No matter what the topic was: Music, science, history, or politics, he had the answer. And if on the rare occasion he didn’t know, he would look it up for me. This everlasting enthusiasm for knowledge, I feel, has been passed on to both me and my brother. 

I guess this is the Tariq Ali whom everyone knows and loves, and is grieving for today. This man, the softer version of his earlier angry young man days, the hero of Muktir Gaan, the man who loved Bangladesh, the eccentric idealist who never wavered in his faith, or lack thereof … this is the man that has caused so many of you to reach out to me and my brother, and tell us how much you loved him. 

And yes, we know you. We know all of you, because he really did love you all. He had enough room in his big heart for all of us. You cry to me and I don’t know what to say because I have shared him with you my whole life. All I can say is that today, the loss is not mine or Misha’s, it is all of ours. 

Rest in Peace, Baba. I will love you forever.

Srabonti Narmeen Ali is a writer and singer. She is the daughter of late Ziauddin Tariq Ali.

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