It is with a heavy heart today that I write about the passing of Faruq Ahmed Choudhury - a man whose presence loomed large not just for those of us who that the good fortune of knowing him, but for our entire nation. An esteemed diplomat, he served at home and in capitals around the world, including as the first Chief of Protocol for independent Bangladesh, as our High Commissioner in New Delhi, and as Foreign Secretary. Remarkably, his post-diplomatic career was perhaps even more impressive, whether as a senior advisor at BRAC, or as a renowned author who shared his wisdom and experience through over a dozen books in Bangla.
But for me, for the past 50 years I have known him as “Boro Bhai”, my wife Neena's eldest brother, and someone who was as a brother to me as well. I first met him in the autumn of 1967, when he took me to lunch at Dhaka Club, a few months after my engagement to his youngest sister. He cut an impressive figure - tall, charismatic, with an obvious joie de vivre - he had an easy rapport with everyone around him, regardless of their station of life or how long he had known them. Within minutes, I could feel the warmth, love, and affection which would be a consistent presence in my life for the years thereafter.
With Boro Bhai's various postings, we did not see a great deal of him over the ensuing few years - yet whenever we did, it was as if the time and distance melted away instantly, and we were regaled with his charm and mischievous sense of humour. While I don't need to tell anyone of his accomplishments as a writer of articles and books, I remember most vividly how his sharp wit came out in humorous rhyming couplets that he would create on the spot, incisively cutting to the core on virtually any subject.
In 1974, he took Neena, our son Naveed, and me to visit Bangabandhu - a man who Boro Bhai revered, and for whom his veneration only grew over the years. We travelled from Princeton to meet with them in New York, in order to ask Bangabandhu for an extension to my leave from the civil service, so that I could complete my PhD - an extension which I received, and which then influenced my entire future career. But just as much as such a pivotal moment, I will also remember the many places that he, Boro Bhabi, Neena, and I travelled, around the world - whether in China, Myanmar, England, Bangladesh, or anywhere else. He was a magnificent travel companion - combining his interest in the cultures and histories of places with the habits, especially the cuisine, of its present-day people.
While my memories of Boro Bhai will be dominated by the joy and laughter that were his hallmark, he shared not just the best times but also supported us through the worst. When Neena suddenly lost the vision in her left eye, Boro Bhai and bhabi rushed to be with us in Washington, and his support was immeasurably helpful in that difficult time, especially for Neena, to whom he was particularly close. When we faced the unimaginable with Naveed's passing, he was again a tower of support, not just in the immediate aftermath, but also in the years that followed. Indeed, Boro Bhai was beloved by both of our sons, to whom he was “Bomama Dear” - two quite different boys, far apart in age, but with whom Boro Bhai shared a kinship, and who both admired, loved, and respected him.
Our relationship with Boro Bhai grew even closer, if that is possible, when we returned to Dhaka in 2001 following many years abroad. He immediately took upon himself the task of helping us settle back in Dhaka, and re-introduced Neena and me to the spectrum of society; he was known to a large number of people from different walks of life, whether bureaucrats, diplomats, politicians, writers, artists, or journalists. I have never known anyone who had the capacity to make friends with people from so many different backgrounds, a testament to his character. I also came to further appreciate his deep knowledge, wide-ranging experience, and love of country, as I benefited beyond measure from innumerable conversations with him during the ensuing years, as he thought of multiple angles on even the thorniest issues. Boro Bhai had an unshakeable belief in the value of democracy and the rule of law, and held a very deep sense of patriotism as a Bangladeshi.
And so it is today that I feel a deep sense of personal loss that Boro Bhai is no longer among us - something that seems scarcely conceivable of a man who lived larger than life. Yet, while I miss him dearly, at the same time I must say that I feel an abiding joy in all the memories that bear witness to the impact that he had on my life. I pray that he rests in peace in the care of the Almighty Allah, and in the meantime, I will remember him as he was - a man who lived life to its fullest, who laughed loudly and often, and who was surrounded always by the love of family and friends.
The writer is an economist, and former civil servant, governor of Bangladesh Bank, World Bank official, and former Chief Advisor of a caretaker government, and the brother-in-law of (late) Faruq Ahmed Choudhury.