The year is 1980 something. I am 10/12 years old. My entire family is sitting in front of the TV on the eve of Eid, bubbling with excitement. Soon, Ananda Mela will come on. Eid was a lot of fun back then. There were three major attractions—new clothes, money received as salami, and Eid Ananado Mela. The programme begins. The anchor appears looking debonair and very handsome in his black suit. A few minutes later, my mother says “eicheley tar uchcharon bhalo” (This boy has good pronunciation)! My mother, who was militant about pronunciation, rarely complimented anyone's Bangla. To pass her test, you had to be really good. This “boy” in the black suit was really that good!
Fast forward 20 some years. I am at the bedside of my dear friend Rumana Manzur (Hema) at Labaid hospital. Her story was all over the news. Her husband's brutal attack on her left her blinded. Many well-known individuals were coming to see her and to share their good wishes and prayers. Most stood at a distance, stayed for a few minutes, then left. On the second day, Annisul Huq came. He walked right up to Hema and placed his hand on her feet. Hema, even in that state, gasped, started to struggle to sit up and reach the hands on her feet. Sensing her embarrassment, Mr Huq said: “You are my daughter. Aren't you? Aren't you?” Neither said much after that. Hema wept in silence. The hand on her feet stayed where it was.
Fast forward another six years. It is now 2017. I am at the new office of Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), waiting for a high up official to meet with me. The official had asked me to come at 11 am. I had been waiting for three hours. I was used to waiting long hours at government offices. At around 2:30 pm, I see the mayor and his PS Mizan bhai walking into his office. A few minutes later, my phone rings. It's Mizan bhai. He asks “Apa, did you have a meeting with sir (the mayor)? I reply “No, Mizan bhai, I am waiting to meet with “Mr X.” Mizan bhai says “ok,” then hangs up. Seconds later, Mr X comes out of his room hurriedly, sees me (for the 17th time that day), and says, “Oh you are here already! I had been waiting for you for a long time!”
The day I met Mr Annisul Huq for the first time was when he became our mayor. I was called into a meeting with the then CEO of DNCC who had been giving us hell with our work with the dogs. The discussion began between me and the CEO. Soon enough, I broke into an argument with him and the volume of my voice crossed the acceptable limit. My inner voice kept saying to me: “Shut up, you fool! You are ruining your first and only opportunity to impress the mayor! He is never going to support you if you speak to his staff this way!" l listened to the voice, quickly composed myself and when I managed to look at the Mayor, I saw him shaking his legs in amusement and thoroughly enjoying the 'drama' with a witty smirk on his face. All he needed was some popcorn.
A few months later, the Mayor inaugurated our Dog population Management Programme in Dhaka's Zone 3. He let us set up a state-of-the-art spay neuter clinic inside the brand new Mohakhali DNCC market, bought us two brand new dog catching vehicles within months, and made sure that our programme ran smoothly. On the day of the inauguration, he asked me before his speech “What would you like me to say”? I said “Only what you mean, Sir.” The ever-eloquent Mayor of ours delivered the most heart-warming speech, referring to his daughter (in-law) Nabila and his son Navid and how their love for dogs transformed him. Fed up by the constant pressure from the VIPs to get rid of dogs, once in a while he would call me with absurd propositions such as hiring a huge truck and hauling all the Dhaka dogs to Neverland. I would chuckle and he would then move on to discussing the status of our work and how else we could be more effective and efficient. The essence of Annisul Huq was just that. If he saw the sense in something, he pursued it no matter what the popular opinion was. He was never impressed, influenced or intimidated by big names. If you wanted to impress him, you better had big ideas!
I always wanted to meet the “boy” with beautiful Bangla, but I was too young. I wanted to say a few words to the deeply compassionate man, who extended his fatherly love to my friend, but it wasn't the right time. But the lucky me got to work under the guidance of an uber cool, super dynamic mayor, which this city had never seen. I was his fan as a kid. I was his fan as a young woman. I became his biggest fan as a Dhaka resident.
Today, I weep for my favourite TV anchor, my favourite mayor, and one of my favourite people. I will miss you looking out for me and for Obhoyaronno. I never got to tell you how much I admired and respected you, but I suppose you know that by now. Rest in peace, Annisul Huq. Dhaka's good fortune was too short-lived.
Rubaiya Ahmad is Founder, Obhoyaronno - Bangladesh Animal Welfare Foundation.