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Thursday, July 24, 2008

In memory of Rafiqullah

This great son of Bangladesh, my best friend, was a remarkable man with the qualities which are rare in present day world. May beautiful birds sing on his grave and fresh, clean grass guard it.

The Bangladesh Today

I was 19 when I landed at Dhaka University. It was fall of 1967.East Bengal had always been land of my dreams. Topped in Government College Rawalpindi in graduation with roll of honor, I brushed aside Punjab University's scholarship and jumped over an advertisement floated by the Federal Government announcing Inter-wing exchange Program. I competed and was selected.
Lodged in room 367 of Mohsin Hall (Neel Khet), I overcame initial fits of homesickness, and started enjoying life at Dhaka University. I was one of very few West Pakistani students who felt at home with Bengali dress and food. I used to wear Lungi just like other fellow students. (Even now, after 38 years, I wear it. What is more, my 25 years son who is teaching at one of Islamabad universities also uses it- though both of us cannot get hold of that quality here). My Bengali friends would take me to their homes on Eid and other holidays. The hospitality and cordial regard with which my friends' families treated me is deeply imprinted on my heart. I visited Comilla where my friend Sohail's father was Registrar of Comilla Education Board and Mahmood's father was Circle officer. Kazi Khalil ur Rahman took me to Ghorasal where I had famous Bengali Rasgullas. With Baqir I traveled to hinterland of Mymensingh and went as far as village Jogni Mora. I can never forget those fabulous lakes covered with lilies and ponds with bricked stairs going down into water on all four sides, surrounded by thickly grown mango trees birds chirping on them. The mysterious mystic aura at Baba Jalal's mausoleum ,the glorious landscape of Rangamati ,the magical cruise in Kaptai, the stunningly beautiful tribal women at Cox's Bazaar and the lonely tree in front of Chakma chief's palace under which I stood and got snapped------every thing is unforgettable !.
Two and half years stay at Dhaka University is one of the best periods of my life. Dhaka University's was the only Library in the then Pakistan which would remain open twenty-four hours. I still remember that sweet silence dominating the inside of library, discussions in whispers, lengthening shadows of evening getting darker outside and reflections of leaves of Tamarind and lychee trees floating on window panes!
In the evenings we would wait eagerly, in the hostel, for the cham cham seller .The super quality mangoes were six in one rupee and the modus operandi was that we would throw the rope down from the third floor and the vendor would tie the shopping bag with it and we would pull it up. Enjoying a drink of "daab" at the back of New Market, costing four anas, was a daily ritual. It was commonly believed that one had to consume a certain number of samosas and cups of tea from Madhu's canteen to pass the examination.
It was this angelical atmosphere in which I came across Rafiqullah, my best friend, whom we have lost recently. Hailing from a respectable religious family of Chaumuhani (Noakhali), he was doing his Masters in English Literature. We were residing in the same hostel, Mohsin Hall. He was always dressed in impeccable white shirt and pantaloon of the same color. I do not recall now as to how and by whom we were introduced to each other, but very soon we became inseparable. Somehow a schedule got crystallized. He would come straight to my room after dinner. We would study, have tea, and sing songs till small hours of night. He was rather a heavy smoker. Unfortunately, in spite of his efforts, I could not give him company in consuming tobacco. Many a time it happened that on our way to my room after dinner, we came across some friends and stopped for exchanging niceties.

Soon the conversation would switch over to serious topics like disparity between East and West Pakistanis, Agartala conspiracy and other burning political issues of the time. We would be immersed in arguments to the extent that only azaan at dawn would make us realize that we had been standing in the corridor for the whole night.
Rafiqullah was not studying English Literature just in order to pass the examination. He had deep penchant and commitment for literature and it was a way of life for him. He remembered many lengthy paragraphs of Shakespeare and Sophocles by heart. It was under his influence that I decided to do masters in English Literature as well after attaining the degree in Economics. Unfortunately on returning to Islamabad, Civil Service examination took precedence and my plan to appear in Masters in English Literature fizzled out which I regretted throughout .
Then occurred the inevitable. The final examinations were over. We had to part. I can still see him standing at the barrier, wearing green pullover with stark white pantaloon waving his hand.
He started teaching Literature at Chaumuhani College and I Economics at one of Islamabad Colleges. Correspondence was regular. His letters were marvelous pieces of literature and always source of learning for me. I am still preserving some of them. The titanic 1971 war came with all its miseries and execrations. The arena underwent a metamorphosis. We did inform each other about joining respective civil services but somehow soon we lost contact.
After almost a decade, one day a letter landed on my table. It was from Rafiqullah. He had scolded me for being out of touch and had explained at length as to how he had taken pains in locating me. He was now in United States and was doing some type of business in Omaha (Nebraska). After another few months, a gentleman brought a packet full of shirts, neckties and other gifts for my wife and kids. He had come from Omaha and Rafiqullah had sent all this. It is strange that whenever we lost contact, it was he who undertook the hunt and traced me wherever I was.
In 2004 my daughter got married and joined her husband at Rochester (Minnesota) .The following year I and my wife had to be there to welcome advent of our first grandchild. I rang up Rafiqullah from Rochester and he commanded me to visit him. I tried to convince him that we could not travel with a seven days old baby but he would not listen to any reason. On his unrelenting insistence we finally ventured to undertake the journey. It was seven hours drive. We crossed Iowa and reached Omaha where Rafiqullah; holding hand of his lovely grandson was standing outside his house to greet us. We were seeing each other after thirty five years. We laughed and we cried. He was clad in typical Bengali Kurta and Pajama and was looking divine. He had taken two days off his job especially for us. Owning an impressive house, he and Bhabi were living happily with their sons, daughters in law and grandchildren. After two days when we parted, his grandson Zubair, who called my wife dado, was crying.
Whenever I was in Washington for my official business, he would urge me to visit Omaha but somehow this could never happen. Once when he was on his way to Dhaka, I pleaded to make a stopover at Karachi but he was in hurry to reach his ailing father. In November, 2006, he announced his program for Hajj. I wrote to him that according to an Urdu phrase a cat would go to Hajj only after gobbling nine hundred mice. On his return from hajj, I demanded my share of holy dates and Zamzam.
One more year passed and then came that frightening ,ugly email .It was like a nightmare to me, "I have been diagnosed with cancer cells in the liver". This was his last mail in my inbox. His son Ishrat kept on informing about his condition from stage to stage. Then came Najmu's mail. Rafiqullah had breathed his last on 11th January 2008 in Omaha hospital.
This great son of Bangladesh, my best friend, was a remarkable man with the qualities which are rare in present day world. May beautiful birds sing on his grave and fresh, clean grass guard it.

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