Major Akhtar was to us, part of the extended family, his mother Mondu khala’s older son. She is my mother’s cousin and the West Bengal part of the family are close. When my grandmother and mother were alive, the family connections were very much alive. They would particularly come to see my nani who is now gone for years and my khalas and cousins, all very advanced in age, are departing too. Soon there won’t be many left who will remember that everyone was once one big family in which two brothers were decorated war heroes.
Akhtar bhai passed away last night after a heart attack. He was only 70 years old and though burdened by a heart condition, renal problems and of course the family curse – diabetes – he was very hale and healthy. The last thing on our mind was his ill health. But now he is gone. Our cousin is dead, and a freedom fighter is no longer with us.
Akhtar bhai is not the only freedom fighter in the family. Bhabi was also one and so was his brother Major Manjur (BP), and the list goes on. Our family has produced a high number of FFs and even our relatives in Shillong, India, where my mother was raised have three members who received Friends of Bangladesh award. I don’t think there are too many such families belonging to different countries, and yet part of a common war and cause. It’s surprising how so few have also spoken about it, preferring dignified silence.
Thank heavens Akhtar bhai wrote about his experiences. His book, “Advance to Contact”, is one such work. It is singularly special because he was a doctor who also led frontal fights in Sector 2 and his life became such an iconic one. My family members perhaps felt that they had done their duty and life had to go on. So they moved on and didn’t just live in the past as some FFs do.
Their brother Mushtaque Ahmed bhai maintains a closed Facebook group called the “Tajpur Family”. It’s a good introduction to how illustrious this family is. Among the cousins, uncles, nephews and nieces are many great achievers including the Ali brothers led by S. Wajed Ali, the pioneer of Bengali Muslim cultural renaissance whose family has gone on to produce many national and international personalities. It’s interesting that late Zebunnissa Hamidullah, a pioneering women journalist of Pakistan is an aunt and Nafisa Ali of India, a famous actress and activist is a cousin.
To Akhtar bhai and his family, what mattered was Bangladesh. They all came to Dhaka in the wake of 1947 and embraced the city as their home. Although he lived in Kolkata for a while due to his father’s posting there, he didn’t yearn for his parental home. Like so many of us who belong to families that were split by 1947, the new home became the real home.
I had interviewed several family members at his DOHS home where several aunts and cousins had gathered for a history project and saw how their attitude was different from that of many Kolkata people who were still mourning for a lost homeland. To these people, home was here. This “motherland” replacement process is stronger amongst the people who came to East Pakistan than it is in those who went to West Bengal. Perhaps because while to one group it was “partition” but to another it was the “birth” of a new homeland.
Our histories can weave strange connections because Akhtar bhai’s son Tanim was my colleague at BDNews 24 and will always be so. He once introduced me as “Afsan bhai, my father’s cousin.”
So to you cousin, brave heart and a healer, keeper of family bonds, farewell till we meet again. Salute and an embrace from our heart.