"And my last ask is: if you're someone's sister, the next time you see your brother, please hug him… as tightly as you can, for as long as you want, because that's all I want to do every time I see those photos. But I will never be able to hug Fahim again."
News on this emotional tribute to the slain technological entrepreneur Fahim Saleh is making the rounds. The quote here is from Ruby Saleh, the 41-year-old sister of the late Gokada founder and chief executive officer, who was murdered last July in his luxury apartment in Manhattan. Fahim was 33 years old when he was brutally killed; the murderer dismembered his body with an electric saw. Fahim's elder sister Ruby recalled the fright she received when Fahim had his first nosebleed as a toddler. She cringed at the thought of encountering the mutilated body of her "beautiful brother". "Thirty years later, I was learning that Fahim's head and limbs had been discarded in a trash bag. Someone had cut my brother's body into pieces and tossed the pieces into a garbage bag, as if his life, his body, his existence had had no meaning or value," she wrote in a blog post for Medium.com.
As the family put Fahim's body for the final rest, the father sobbed, saying, "Fahim Saleh, didn't I tell you not to dye your hair? Didn't I tell you?" and the mother cried, "Don't go!"
I went through the anecdotal snippets to piece together the life of a middle-class family. The father, a graduate of computer science, managed a teaching position in Saudi Arabia in the early eighties. He moved to Louisiana as a doctoral student while his wife was working at a launderette. The family struggled in the new country; their only dining out was on Saturdays at Domino Pizza's USD 3.99 deal. The young Fahim showed his "business" acumen by selling candies at school at 10, or making his first earning by making a web page for teenagers at the age of 13. He paid for his own graduation, and eventually became a successful entrepreneur. All dreams disembodied—hacked to pieces.
Somewhere else, in a country where Fahim originated from, almost at the same time, a 36-year-old retired special force officer was also murdered. Major Sinha Rashed Khan took an early retirement from the army to pursue his dream of becoming a travel journalist. He was making travel documentaries for a YouTube channel called "Just Go." He was on location in Cox's Bazar when he was shot dead by police. There are different versions of the story which are now being investigated by uniformed men, and I have nothing to comment, except for what has already been reported.
The car in which Major Sinha was travelling was stopped at a police checkpoint; the other passenger was dragged to the back while one officer shot Sinha at point-blank range. Four bullets in his chest—reminds one of Camus's The Outsider where the protagonist Meursault shoots an Arab by the sea beach. Meursault knew that his gun "had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I'd been happy." Still he "fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness." The killing of Sinha resonates a remorseless reality.
Major Sinha's sister Sharmin Shahriar Ferdous offered an emotional plea for justice that echoes the same sentiment of Ruby Saleh. Sharmin told the media of the strong bond that existed between a brother and a sister. Losing a loved one is never easy, especially when there is no rational way to explain the death.
"If they were so angry with him, they could have taken him to the police station, shot at legs. But why did they shoot at my brother's chest? Who ordered this? We don't know. We want justice. We won't get him back, however we try. Just Justice." (Prothom Alo English, August 9, 2020).
The lives of two men in the prime of their youth, tinged with dreams and vibrancy, cut short by assailants. Fahim and Sinha are dead. But they are survived by their close relatives as well as friends, neighbours, and co-workers. The number of individuals affected is far greater than the number of two direct homicide victims here. As we read the personal accounts of these "homicide survivors", we also become "co-victims". I know the textbook definition will not include readers and viewers as homicide survivors, but when we form a bond of empathy with the people we are reading about, Sharmin and Ruby become our sisters. Their cry is the cry of a dove that ends peace, and makes us restless.
It is probably easy for me to claim myself as a homicide survivor sitting in my comfortable niche on the other side of the TV or computer screen. Little research has been done to find out the trauma and anxieties of a homicide survivor. We often say, "she or he is lucky to be dead." We say it to reflect on the absurdity that surrounds us. We console ourselves by thinking that death is a less absurd phenomenon. Going through the two sisters' accounts, I was thinking of the stress factors that survivors often have to contend with. These include economic stressors, stigmatisation, fear of recurrence, anxiety when encountering reminders of the event, negative beliefs about themselves and the world, and feelings of guilt and responsibility. Then there are issues of media intrusion especially when the criminal justice systems are involved. There are threats of revenge by the suspected perpetrators. The co-victims of murder are in danger. We are all in danger.
I hope the murderers love their sisters too! I hope the policemen love their sisters too.
Shamsad Mortuza is a professor of English at the University of Dhaka (now on leave). Currently, he is Pro-Vice-Chancellor of ULAB.