Mahbubul Hoque Shakil --- poet, political activist, writer --- passed away on 6 December 2016
The sun had set a couple of hours earlier. At Ganabhaban the lights were on, in all their brilliance. He was waiting, his face wreathed in smiles, his eyes filled with respect, as he welcomed me. It was my first meeting with him.
We had come into contact through his younger sibling, my wonderful and very capable colleague at the newspaper I was then working for. At Ganabhaban, a hallowed spot resplendent with memories of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Mahbubul Hoque Shakil conducted me to a room where simplicity was all.
I was there because Shakil had called me earlier. And he had called on behalf of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. It had been quite a while since I had had any interaction with the Prime Minister.
I had known her essentially since a monsoon morning in 1987, when a relative of hers had taken me to 32 Dhanmondi for breakfast with her. And after that my links with her became closer, obviously because of the politics she symbolized. And here I was, again, to see her. Shakil had helped reconnect me to her.
Shakil is now gone, claimed by a sudden gust of mortality. He was young. His poetry was modern, and touching. He had a young wife, and a little girl who was his life. He loved his parents. On public occasions, as a former Chhatra League leader, he was a riveting speaker, in the sense that he made his points along the fundamentals of logic. With everyone he met, he was unfailingly polite; and profound respect for others defined his being.
In these past few years, Shakil had become my confidant. I appreciated it when he chose to call me Bhai rather than the 'Sir' that so many others address me as. Once, at a meeting in Ganobhaban where Dr. Shamsuzzaman Khan, DG of the Bangla Academy, and Professor Fakrul Alam, my teacher at the English department of Dhaka University, were present - the meeting had been called by the Prime Minister - Shakil was surprised, very surprised, to find me addressing Professor Alam as Sir. Like so many others, he could not believe that my teacher was, well, my teacher.
After all, how could he? It was my hair which had gone missing, gone grey. Professor Alam, like two of my other teachers (Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam and Professor Kaiser Haq), had remained young. Later, Shakil told me it was incredible that I was the younger person in relation to my teacher. I joked that my premature ageing had much to do with a lack of nutrition (pushthir obhaab). He laughed loudly.
There were all the moments when Shakil called me on a Friday morning, to ask if I could see the Prime Minister in the evening. Sometimes I deferred to his request; on some other Fridays I had to decline because I would be away in my village. He would, in such instances, pass on the message to Sheikh Hasina. Not long ago, he called to ask - and that was a weekday - if I could come over to Ganabhaban, because Sheikh Rehana was in town.
It was sometime after the British election in which Sheikh Rehana's daughter Tulip had been elected a lawmaker. I have known Sheikh Rehana for as long as I have known her elder sibling. I made my way, through the traffic mess of the city, to Ganabhaban. Once again, Shakil was there. When Bangabandhu's younger daughter walked into the room, I told her that while in my life I had come across quite a few members of parliament, it was the first time I was meeting the mother of a member of parliament. Rehana laughed. Shakil did too. He was pretty amused.
Today, all the memories come flooding back, now that time has seized Shakil in its inexorable grip. He was present, along with Finance Minister AMA Muhith, Culture Minister Asaduzzaman Noor and Awami League leader Nuh-ul-Alam Lenin, at the launch of my biography of Bangabandhu in August last year at Pathak Shamabesh.
In my remarks at the launch, I narrated certain episodes from Bangabandhu's life. Shakil, in the audience, knew of those episodes, for I had narrated them to him and to others earlier. As I spoke, he mouthed some episodes he thought I might forget to mention. I got the cue and narrated the stories. The Finance Minister later told me I should have said more, indeed should have gone on. A day later, Shakil was with me, again at Pathak Shamabesh, for a televised discussion of my book.
On a cold winter day in distant London, as I stepped inside Nehru Centre, the cultural wing of the Indian High Commission, for a lecture programme, my friend Sangita, in London, called. She had a message from Sheikh Rehana to convey to me: Shakil had passed away. Yes, I was shocked.
More than that, with death and cemeteries being an endless preoccupation with me, I wondered why the young had to die so suddenly, leaving all of us going through the pain of the loss thus engendered. I texted my sadness to Sheikh Rehana. It was a day spent in memories of the vibrant young man Shakil was.
There are, now that Shakil is gone, thoughts of all the favours he did for me. When a police sergeant rudely and wrongfully snatched vehicular documents from my driver at New Market and persisted in his crude behaviour, it was Shakil who came in with help. Within minutes, the policeman was being extra polite to my driver. When my calls to the phone office went unanswered - my phone was constantly going out of order - Shakil called the relevant department.
Things became normal again. I needed him to pass on a message to the principal of a local college in Dhaka. He obliged and let me know that he had spoken to the principal. I would often ask him to convey a message to the Prime Minister from me. He would happily do it. In August last year, when a young, capable reporter expressed his desire to be part of the Prime Minister's media team to the United Nations the following month, I asked Shakil if something could be done. He sent me an apologetic response: 'Bhai, the selection has already been made.'
Today, it is Shakil's laughter that I hear. It is his sense of humour I recall. He looked people straight in the eye as he spoke to them, but never without respect. His smile was a part of his personality. Never have I heard any report of Shakil treating people with indifference or disdain or arrogance. Not many who find themselves in proximity to the nation's pre-eminent political leader are able to hold on to their humility.
But Shakil was different. He was passionate about politics and had little patience with those who failed to comprehend the history of the War of Liberation. His loyalty to Sheikh Hasina, to the ideals of liberal secularism, was unflinching.
It was with deep sadness, with grief rising to the surface from the depths of the soul, that I bade Shakil, my young friend, a fond and profound and an untimely farewell.When the young die, something of idealism dies with them. So it was with Mahbubul Hoque Shakil.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Asian Age
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