<%-- Page Title--%> Remembrance <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 157 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

June 4, 2004

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A Chant

Iffat Nawaz

I want to jot it down before it all gets lost in piles of words and images. Because nowadays I am having difficulty closing my eyes and picturing him clearly, and shutting my ears to hear his voice once more. His last words were muttered vaguely, eyes gave a clearer message than his culprit lips, the lips through which he desperately wanted to say his last words. Did he know he was dying?

It was January of 1994, my whole family, my parents Ahsan Nawaz Babu and Ismat Nawaz Sheila along with their two kids, Rajon and Nitu boarded a plane for a vacation to USA. It was the 13th, my father had joked about the date, the whole negative connotation with the number 13, and we didn't pay much attention to it, nothing terrible could happen to us, we had a perfect life with only small problems, the luxury of a secure living and the benefits of love and happiness.

After a few days in Singapore we landed in Los Angeles on the 16th of January, the plan was to visit a few friends and family, hit the tourist spots and head over to Washington DC to do the same. That night an earthquake hit LA, causing a kind of rumble and chaos we never experienced, my father (who I mostly called Abbu or Baba) grabbed onto my younger brother who was ten years of age and me (I was fifteen) and headed out to the street where everyone had gathered, his face had the most helpless look, he wanted to protect his family by any means, the vacation had turned into a nightmare.

Somehow it passed. The whole experience felt like we came close to seeing the end of the world and magically was given another chance to live. Our panic phase drifted away with the after-shocks of the earthquake, at that time I didn't know what kind of an after-shock it had left on Abbu's mind. We visited all there is to visit in LA, went to San Francisco, San Jose and even Las Vegas. We almost forgot about our trauma as we prepared to get on the plane towards Washington DC.

It was the 30th of January, the day after my brother's birthday and incidentally the death anniversary for my Nana, Ammu's father. Abbu had woken us up early to catch the 11 a.m. plane to DC, he warned me and my brother to be considerate to Ammu, as she might be feeling depressed and added annoyance from us might make her feel worse. We agreed that we would behave. We reached the airport, Abbu was unusually quiet, he turned to me while we were crossing the security points and told me his chest was hurting. I wasn't sure what to do. My parents had me at an early age, they spoilt and loved me to death, and my obsession towards my father was an extreme. Even when he came down with a fever I cried my heart out so when he mentioned his chest pain my heart dropped. He insisted he was okay and we boarded the plane. We got seated and after drinking a glass of water he said he was feeling better. What we didn't know is that he had just had a mild heart attack. The plane was on the air and half-an-hour passed, we were discussing how we have to take Baba for a physical check-up, about how he used to ignore his health and eat as he pleased and took on way too much stress just to keep everything going.

He said he wanted to get something out of his travel bag, some medication, he stood up and the next few moments are a blur to me, I remember him falling, so abruptly that we couldn't catch him, his eyes looking out to us to convey something he reached out to grab us, but he fell on the floor, everyone surrounded him, trying to perform CPR to save his life, his eyes remained talking while his lips just spelled silent words. I looked at him straight, my mother covered her eyes full of tears and her mouth ready to scream, and my brother was silent from shock. Abbu's eyes still spoke until after a few moments when they no longer saw. He left us, in the middle of the sky, in a place unmarked, between a few clouds and some sunshine, we lost him.

It's been 10 years since; the world has changed in a faster rate than my mind could. I am stuck somewhere between being fifteen and twenty-five, every night I reach inside to touch that corner and test if it still hurts, and it does, just as much as it did 10 years ago. It's a death I will never get over, a wound I will never be able to manage dealing with. And that's not only because he was my father but because he was too unique to be forgotten, his intensity towards life was an inspiration to many and his kindness made prominent marks in peoples' lives.

He was a young Muktijoddha in 1971 and lost two of his brothers during the war. He was among the first members of the Dhaka Theatre, and his teenage face was common in Bangladesh Television from the late 1960s. He turned his passion for photography into a profession and became one of the best photographers of Bangladesh in the 70s and 80s. He later built with his partners his own production company which bloomed with his hard work. Sadly it fell to the ground without him!

It was his qualities as a friend, a father, a brother, a spouse and a mentor that made him different than anyone I know. Baba fell in love with Ma at an early age, apparently they were called Jibanondo Das and Bonolota Shen in Dhaka University marking their sweet love affair. Their wedding was one of the most festive among their friends, rich with jubilation not with wealth unlike weddings of today.

Baba had accumulated every issue of Anondomela magazine, Sondesh, Sukumar Roy and Sattayajit's work since the mid 70s. He started this collection for his to-be born child, and I inherited this upon birth. Unlike most parents my parents never forced us to study or do any other activity we weren't keen on doing. Abbu told us he had no expectation from us, perhaps that's what made me and my brother try harder just to make them proud. Baba smiled in the most genuine of ways, without any pretence or formality.

He befriended people from all ages and from every corner of the society. I remember him trying desperately to help a baby-taxi driver upon hearing his daughter was killed by her husband for dowry, I remember him being their for all his friends and family with their first cry for help. I remember him coming home with sudden exciting gifts, it wasn't what he gave, it was the way he presented everything that bestowed all the more importance to that object. I remember him meeting me after school in Viqarunnisa, with huge packets of food from Swiss Bakery for me and all my friends who stayed after school for extra-curricular activities. I remember him chatting away with all my buddies and spreading his contagious laugh. I remember him winning the hearts of everyone with whom he came in contact with, with his sweet small and big gestures.

At Ammu's house, every wall holds a picture or a memory of Abbu, she has with care kept every paper which holds his hand writing, every book which he bought and every picture he had taken.

I often hear about how much I resemble my father, my eyes, my cheekbones, even the look I carry when I am upset, it's all his. I wish he was here to see, his biggest fans who love him so much that they are walking imitations of him.

I don't believe in his death, I know he is living through our expressions, silences, cries and laughs. And this was not a tale, this is a just as small chant to celebrate his ever-living life.





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