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      Volume 10 |Issue 30 | August 05, 2011 |


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A Coat for Razia

Salahuddin Akbar

Sultana Razia, Photo: courtesy

Here comes the day to fondly recall a memory – a misty water colour memory that lights the corner of my mind on the 1st anniversary of her passing away on July 31.

The first time I saw her she was dressed in white. From the dormitory she was heading for the playground wearing the white uniform for afternoon games. Colour has symbolic interpretations. Lord Jim from Joseph Conrad's novel always dressed in spotless white. Conrad uses white to symbolise purity, goodness, and cleanliness.

It was at Public Administration Training Centre (PATC), Savar back in 1985. We had almost completed our BCS second batch Foundation Training. She had only just begun the same course with the third batch. I can't remember exactly what conversation we had during our first meeting but I can safely say we did strike a decent conversation that we enjoyed in the late afternoon glow of an April summer. Soon afterwards our course concluded and theirs got into full swing. We departed from PATC - drifted to various postings across the country. Some of us resumed serving in the same places where we were stationed before. Like Hardy's The Return of the Native, I returned to my BTV.

Years rolled by. I moved to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Many of my batch mates had started enjoying their DC postings. I heard one of our well-known districts Rajbari came under the good rule of a lady Deputy Commissioner, first of her kind in that district. Well, to me it appeared to be an uncanny similarity of the reign of Razias - Sultana Razia was the first woman to rule India. In our history class I would develop a small enthralment for Sultana Razia. But in case of our Razia, I would feel a part of it as she was one of us. Among other laudatory moves and initiatives for overall development for her the district, the permanent arrangement of a separate Eid congregation for local women continues to be commended by dwellers of Rajbari district. A national Daily also ran a story on it while taking her interview just a year ago.

The first time I met Razia out of PATC – it was in the Home Ministry after 15 years of our first meeting. Her room was located in the sensitive Security Wing. From then onwards my interaction with her went on more or less steadily.

She had an innate tendency of helping people. How many times she spontaneously extended her generous help and assistance whenever I called her - although it was not for me but mostly for people of my close acquaintances! For their passport and immigration help, expediting the process for dual citizenship, obtaining legal work permits, freeing a vehicle from police requisition, easing entanglement in mobile court and car owner on the road. The list could be longer.

Our Foreign Ministry in Segunbagicha is walking distance from the Home Ministry in Topkhana Secretariat. Our meetings and telephone talks turned frequent owing to the nature of our jobs in those two Ministries especially when it came to giving clearance for issuing visas to foreign media persons. Finally there came a time when I took up the assignment as Counsellor in our Embassy in Morocco. It was the second parting after PATC. But this time her memory remained dominant over her features of essential human qualities. Calm disposition and altruism was a common trait in her nature. In her condolence meeting, her husband couldn't help narrating his wonder when a caller dared to call her at midnight. It was none but a staff from her previous station for pursuing his case! She listened with patience and advised him accordingly in the middle of the night! How many of us will respond like her? The persons who seem close to us, we call them friends. But as we go down life's lonesome highway, it seems hardest thing to do is to find a friend or two; when you feel you have lost your way – you have got someone there to say, “I will show you”.

As time went by I returned to my dear motherland. I was placed in the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare & Overseas Employment looking after the mainstream desk of overseas employment. Razia went to attend a one-year National Defense College (NDC) course. We used to meet occasionally whenever she dropped in the Secretariat.

Meanwhile to my sheer surprise one December morning in 2007 a long lost friend of mine Solaiman surprised me with his call from Dhaka. He was in Public Administration in our batch and had befriended me. He later moved to the USA long ago and got settled in Atlanta. He brought me more surprise when he told me our Razia's younger sister's family is close to his family. She was completing her higher studies in San Francisco. Solaiman met me on the following day and I met Razia in the afternoon to share the discovery of our acquaintances. The common connection intensified our contacts.

One of my batch mates one day broke the news that Razia, after completing her NDC course, had been posted in the same wing of Finance Ministry, which deprived me of my right claim. She went through the papers. After a while she told me to submit an application seeking a review.

Referring to the provision for entitlement and citing example of an earlier case provided enough plausibility to justify my case. It took only a shortest possible time to issue an order with the approval. It looked like Razia came to me as a godsend. It was not only in my case; Razia would have acted same in cases of many of us. Yes, she did! And many of us had numerous occasions when she spontaneously did her best to extend assistance to others.

A few months later I joined Economic Relations Division (ERD) as Joint Secretary. Razia had also been shifted to the Education Ministry as Additional Secretary looking after Administration and Finance. Every Tuesday is ECNEC meet day. Tight security prevailed all around my ERD office, which was next to the meeting venue. If the meeting ended early and I was still available in the office, Razia would drop in my office on her way back from the meetings. Shortly afterwards there came a delightful news for us, the regular batch of 1982 BCS. Razia had taken charge of a new Ministry.

My subsequent visits to her new Ministry became less frequent as she was always surrounded by her bodyguards and people, and busy attending meetings and conferences at home and abroad. But during every visit to her office my eyes caught sight of her wearing executive coats as usual. It was evident that she was enjoying her work very much. One early winter she noticed my golden colour coat, which she liked instantly.

She couldn't help appreciating my choice. I told her I had bought it from Morocco and promised to get her one.

“Then it must be exactly the same as you are wearing now – this golden colour," she said

A couple of months later I was able to manage a piece of exact cloth for a coat to be delivered to me. My joy knew no bounds when I was able to give it to her.

It was a weekend. I was returning home from a nearby market early in the morning. A good old friend of mine broke the news. He also broke the sudden demise of another batch mate of ours years ago. I rushed to the living room and switched on the TV. There was a breaking news run by all channels: 'Secretary in Charge of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs Razia Begum died this morning in a road accident near Manikganj on her way to Gopalganj to attend a function where the Hon'ble Prime Minister was the chief guest'. It was not the fault of the driver; but the driver of another vehicle who slammed into Razia's car. The killer driver was apprehended later. He was found without a valid license. Reports show that out of 12 lakh driving licenses over 4 lakhs are fake or probably 40 percent licenses are fake in the country! The reason is well- known – malfunction in the entire system of issuing and obtaining a licence.

I kept on counting the hours until Razia's dead body was brought to the Secretariat mosque. I don't know about the fate of that golden coloured coat. Did she really have time to go to the tailor shop to place the order? Was it finally made for her and remain hanging in the delivery corner of the shop? Or is it hanging still in her wardrobe - I wonder.

She has gone away. But memories don't leave like people do. There is a kind of hush all around us–

You left us so suddenly, your thoughts unknown,

You left us memories, we are proud to own.


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