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.

Afsan Chowdhuryis a columnist.

6 Responses to “Major Akhter: Salute and an embrace from our heart”

  1. Anwar A. Khan

    A valiant freedom fighter. More than that, Major Akhtar is a noble soul. I revere him.

    May God rest his soul in peace in Heaven. And my deepest sympathy to the bereaved members of this great soul who also fought to achieve Bangladesh in 1971.


  2. Khushi Kabir

    Major Akhtar, ‘Doc’ as he was so fondly called by his comrades in arms and close friends, was an iconic figure in the true sense of the term. Not just during the Liberation War, where he played the role he did, not just setting up of the Medical Hospital, but being responsible for having recruited so many of our women friends to be in the front with him, training them as medical assistants, where his wife Khuku had a big big role to play. Many of our best known and best loved women from different fields were part of that group. I am so glad that he did what many do not, leave his book for us to read ‘Advance To Contact’ which I am so lucky to have been given a copy of and which I have avidly read. For the generation who did not know the Liberation War to know what the War was all about, books written by our Heroes and Sheroes are so important, an importance that can never be overstated. Why did so many hundreds and thousands of people from all walks, from all regions, from all ethnicity, all religions, all risk their lives and homes and their families to fight?
    He was also one of the earliest people to have gone to the coastal area immediately after the cyclone of November 1970, to distribute relief, among them those who joined him during the War when the Hospital was being set up. He was a true Hero. He stands strong and tall among many who may have received much accolades, but were not a match to him. To me he is and always will be ‘Khalamma’ Begum Sufia Kamal’s Doc! My deepest respect and my most sincere salute to this incredible citizen of this country, the country that he fought for, the country he helped create, the country he together with all freedom fighters, he liberated.

  3. Prof M Shahabuddin K Choudhuri

    As it was mentioned above……..
    It’s surprising how so few have also spoken about it, preferring dignified silence……..
    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…….

    Most “apolitical” FFs didn’t want anything in return….. I still want to show my respect by shedding JUST FEW DROPS OF HEARTFELT TEARS …. For those Volunteers who performed their duties just as an obligation to their conscience.
    A dignified man is dignified the world over !!!
    I am sorry for being too emtional, those were very tough time of our history… sorry we couldn’t learn a lesson from the History !!
    We won the War, BUT Sorry we couldn’t win peace !!!

  4. Anique A. Newaz

    May Allah bless our beloved family member Akhter bhai. May Allah (swt) bless him in Jannat ul Ferdous. Our heartfelt condolences to his family.

    Thanks to the author, Mr. Afsan Chowdhury for this superb article on Major Akhter. It is courageously written, with a candid and dignified voice.

    • Golam Newaz

      Akhter bhai came to my home in the US with Khuku apa. I fondly remember their visit and I will always miss Akhter bhai who was so warm and lively.

  5. Naj Ansar

    I knew Akhtar Bhai during the war he was a great doctor as well as a great fighter. He respected us and was proud of us who joined the war as students. Whenever, we went for action we had to pass through his small MASH unit, we were always fed by his wife and others before we went into action, he made sure we got a good meal as we were on restricted ration. I always joked that Akhtar Bhai is feeding us our last meal. The whole team would wait for us once we came back. I will miss Akhtar Bhai May God Bless is soul
    Gopi/Qasim/Najmul Ansar

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