Khaled Khan went down fighting after a battle of over a decade. A friend, dear friend Khaled fought like a king, and a prince, as his nickname Juboraj suggests. I met him as a classmate in Dhaka College in the mid -'70s. I was looking for some good singers for a college function that I was coordinating. There came Khaled in a white pyjama-panjabi, fresh from his home town in Tangail. Quietly he sat amidst us, and I asked “So... can you sing? Try one for us”... He said he did not know how to play the harmonium and sang in an open beautiful voice Nazrul's “Aj modhuro bashori baje...” We were spellbound, moved, surprised. He was a shy man then and we did not know he would be such an icon in our theatre world with his acting skills, mastery in direction, even a singer- actor in “Raktakarabi”, and in many other plays.
Just two weeks ago, Khaled came in a wheelchair to my flat in Banani along with his wife, singer Mita Haque. I invited him to a farewell party to say goodbye to a friend. I was thrilled when he accepted my invitation, as he was usually reluctant to leave home, except for his workplace at ULAB in Dhanmondi, or consulting our common homeopath in Malibagh. He said in a faltering voice, “Chanchal, ami to jabo, kintu ami to tomader moto golpo korte parbo na...” (I will go but I won't be able to talk).
A clean shaven Khaled came beautifully dressed in a black sleeveless jacket, with the look of a person who must have dyed his hair not too long ago. He looked great, and my home was filled with joy with his presence. I could see in the eyes of Mita, a deep happiness, as with other guests from music and recitation circles.
Back in July 2009, a year after I returned to Dhaka, Khaled and I were invited by Ekushey TV to be guests in “O Bondhu Amar”. Khaled was still in a wheelchair, health gradually failing despite his strong positive mind and will to live. He left his wheelchair to sit on a sofa, as the 'On Air' light turned on. He pretended throughout the recording time that he was perfectly normal as any human being could be and we talked on so many subjects.
Khaled and I would meet at least once a week in his Dhanmondi home, and talk for hours on the phone. I would bring different varieties of tea when I could and talk about tea blending and curing that made black tea different from green or even white. He shared many of his interests and wanted to do collaborate with me on something meaningful. We talked about music, politics, history, media, food, medicine and what not. He refrained from talking about drama and the people who he thought had deserted him after he fell ill and was of 'no use to any one', as he said. He wanted to be associated with GaanBangla TV which I happened to be the initiator with some other mates.
We promised that he would be the adviser whose wisdom and sharp eyes and mind would not escape anything that contradicted our history and heritage. In the eyes of the investors, he was perhaps seen as a not-so-modern man or young and able enough to contribute to the profit agenda of the investors.
Then another dream of his came up in our usual dialogues. This was about his vision to help the weavers of our declining cottage Jamdani industry. He was sad that our farmers, weavers, artisans did not get their due share and even credit for what they did with their sweat, tears and often blood. He asked me if we could apply for some funds from foreign donors, not a huge amount, just enough to help them take control of their own destinies through a collective ownership based undertaking. A proposal was written which never saw the light of the day. He was a man who was neither a fan of the ultra religious bigots, nor a fan of the so-called progressive people who, as he has seen had changed colours many times. Their so called principles were overturned by money, and chase for fame. He said to me, “...You see, no one from my drama circles keeps in touch with me, except for a few... but they will rush to my dead body when I am not there.”
Khaled understood music so well. He was vocal, as much as his fading voice could be against what he called fundamentalism in our music arena. We talked about pollution in the music industry, the so-called 'bandwagon' taking on the healthy music heritage we had. He was so happy with my association with the birth of GaanBangla as he thought with him and me together, along with other mates, we could truly bring about a cultural revolution.
While we both agreed to see each other on a regular basis, at times my work, the Dhaka traffic, and my absence from the country, made this difficult. He would call me, assisted by his aide, and say ..”tumi to miah aila na.”...(you haven't come.. what's wrong ?).
Yes Khaled, I will never come to you again. I have no time for you any more. I do not ask for your forgiveness Khaled for not being able to help you fulfill your dream I only ask for your understanding of why I failed to work with you in carrying forward your dreams. You and I talked about your possible treatment in Australia. I did speak to a few people there in medical circles. That did not work out either. We spent some lovely times in the last few years. Let those memories remain with me, and perhaps with you.
Thanks Khaled for your beautiful recitation of Tagore's “Padma” in my documentary “Bangladeshey Rabindranath”. I will listen to it every now and then and remember you with all fondness.
Goodbye Khaled. See you one day.
Chanchal Khan, noted Tagore singer and development practitioner writes from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.