TO many of us, Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman was simply Shelly Bhai. I first heard about him from my brother, Abdul Momin, who had been his classmate at Presidency College, Kolkata and also at the University of Dhaka. At that time Shelly Bhai was known as a brilliant student. I first met him at my brother's house in Azimpur in 1965. He was then practicing law at the High Court of Dhaka.
I hardly met Shelly Bhai since then until 1991. As we lived around Moghbazar, occasionally we crossed each other while walking in the morning. At that time, he hardly talked to me. He became friendlier to me after his retirement in 1995. Often, we used to walk together in the morning and say jumma prayers together. We continued to do so after both of us had moved to Gulshan. I was beside him during his last jumma prayer at the Gulshan Azad Mosque.
Shelly Bhai told me that while his friends at Presidency College used to be very smartly dressed, he wore very ordinary clothes. He maintained this simplicity all along his life. As the chief justice or chief adviser of the caretaker government, he lived in a simple building at Minto Road with no fancy furniture. Only noticeable items in his house were stacks of books and a writing table with haphazardly placed pieces of papers and reading materials.
I was, however, amazed to see how much time and energy he used to spend in reading and writing. He went into the depth of any topic when he wrote an article or prepared a speech. Even though he had a large collection of books, he ran to different sources for collection of materials. He used to call me if he needed any information on science and technology. He did not hesitate to discuss any topic with anybody. He even talked to ordinary people like day labourers, street vendors and rickshaw pullers to collect information. He could feel the pulse of the nation through conversation with them. Often, he talked to my school going daughters before writing speeches for important occasions. He enjoyed sharing knowledge with the young generation and valued their opinion.
Shelly Bhai struggled hard during his early life but he never grumbled for anything. His needs were very few. He was always satisfied with what he had. He used to say: “I have got more than I ever wished for. I have no reason to complain.” If I enquired to know how he was, he often replied, “Top of the world!” He seemed to be satisfied with his health and used to say: “What else could I expect at my age?”
I cannot resist the temptation of describing an incident that brought Shelly Bhai closer to me. Just a couple of days before he took oath as the chief adviser of the caretaker government in 1996, I was taken by surprise when he suddenly invited me to join his cabinet as an adviser. He was equally surprised when I declined with thanks. He wanted to know the reason. I explained to him that even though I was not involved in politics, there could be questions from some quarters about the neutrality of his cabinet because of my brother's involvement in politics. He fully understood and appreciated my reason. He was kind enough to record this incident in his book, Tattabadhayak Sarkarer Daibhar (Page 13).
After the election was over, Shelly Bhai began to meet me more frequently. He often invited me to watch cinemas, attend cultural or musical functions and other events with him. I used to oblige him as much as I could.
Shelly Bhai was a Bengali at heart and soul. 'Joy Bangla' was his most favourite slogan. Recently, he used to utter this slogan very often, even during normal discussions, while walking or shopping. I often interrupted him while he was about to utter the slogan inadvertently at odd places! He told me that no other slogan inspired him more than 'Joy Bangla'. According to him, the slogan has a living soul.
Volumes will be written on his achievements as a teacher, legal expert, judge, administrator, literary giant, patriot and above all, a guardian of the nation. I have only cited few examples from my personal observations to show how the greatness in him remained hidden in his simplicity.
The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.