The children of Tajuddin Ahmad
CHILDREN are sometimes great chroniclers of the lives of their parents. And into that pattern fall the daughters of Tajuddin Ahmad, the first prime minister of Bangladesh, indeed the architect of the first-ever sovereign Bengali government in history. Where it should have been the state of Bangladesh to remember, every hour of the day, Tajuddin Ahmad and the three compatriots who died with him in prison on a sinister November night years ago, it is Tajuddin's children who have consistently gone out on a limb to uphold and disseminate the legacy of their father to the people of Bangladesh.
The Tajuddins, if you recall, have always been a family to whom the cause of Bangladesh, the heritage it has always been heir too, has been an integral part of life. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it fell upon Zohra Tajuddin to keep the Awami League together, given especially the fissiparous tendencies within it that threatened to drill holes in its centre. Again, there were the rightist forces, encouraged and championed by a military regime, that went out of its way to push the party into the woods. Zohra Tajuddin, consistent and principled and unflagging in determination, kept the secular banner aloft in an increasingly darkening land.
The sidelining of Zohra Tajuddin quite closed the doors to the immense opportunities that might have come the Awami League's way had she remained an active part of the party collective leadership. That she was ignored, in the way Tajuddin Ahmad was ignored in a country that he did so much to liberate from Pakistan, remains one of the sadder stories of Bengali collective life. The Awami League has never been inclined to show these two Tajuddins the honour and gratitude that they have always deserved. The state, for its part, has remained silent. Tajuddin Ahmad is remembered in November, not in his individual capacity but as part of the collective leadership which fought and died for Bangladesh. That is about all.
Which is where his children come in. For these past many years, Simeen Hossain Rimi has been doing a splendid job of keeping Tajuddin Ahmad alive in Bengali memory through bringing forth works testifying to the crucial role he played both in the times leading to the War of Liberation and in the course of it. Additionally, Simeen has presented, for the record, the work and achievements of Tajuddin Ahmad as finance minister in Bangabandhu's government as also the disturbing manner in which he was eventually asked by Bangabandhu to leave the cabinet.
Simeen's works are a broad hint of the high perch Tajuddin Ahmad occupies in Bangladesh's history. Apart from working on Tajuddin's diaries, she has over these years presided over such historically necessary works as Amar Chhoto Bela, 1971 Ebong Baba Tajuddin, Tajuddin Ahmad: Aloker Anantadhara and Tajuddin Ahmad-er Chithi. These works showcase, in clear outline, the factors which went into the rise of Tajuddin Ahmad as national leader. But what does cause scratches in the soul is that the state, even under an Awami League administration, has not found it essential either to publicise Simeen Hossain Rimi's works or produce its own document on Tajuddin Ahmad's leadership of the guerrilla war for freedom in 1971.
Speaking of the responsibility that ought to have been the state's vis-à-vis Tajuddin Ahmad, a functionary of the present ruling dispensation saw, the other day on television, little that was obscene about his denigration of Sharmin Ahmad and her significant recent work on the country's first prime minister, Tajuddin Ahmad: Neta O Pita. He was dismissive of the work and plainly thought that the writer, Tajuddin's eldest daughter, hardly knew what she was writing about in the book. This powerful individual did not quite realize that by trying to undermine the writer, he was fundamentally demeaning Tajuddin Ahmad. There are others like him, in the Awami League as well as in the government, who have not taken kindly to the book. That is understandable. A political biography is always subject to interpretive processes and so it is with Sharmin's work on her father. But what is surely scandalous is the unalloyed vilification Sharmin Ahmad has had to endure because of her book. And note that Neta O Pita has hardly drawn any reviews in leading national newspapers. A conspiracy of silence?
There is a world of intellectual dimensions that the children of Tajuddin Ahmad and Zohra Tajuddin inhabit. Simeen has been instrumental, along with the path-breaking film maker Tanveer Mokammel, in producing a documentary on the nation's wartime leader. Mahjabin Ahmad Mimi, an individual acutely aware of politics and history, has been making inroads into literature. She writes coruscating poetry, evidence of which emerges in the two compilations which have come into the public domain --- Chandranukul and Shunirmito Bonobaash.
The youngest child of the Tajuddins, Sohel Taj, has given this country a tale we will not soon forget. Unable to accept or tolerate humiliation, like any individual of self-esteem, he turned his back on power and walked away. Not many in the corridors of power have demonstrated the sort of courage the young Sohel Taj has.
The degree to which Tajuddin Ahmad is relevant comes through yet again through the work of the Tajuddin Ahmad Memorial Trust. In recent days, two memorial lectures on the late leader were delivered here in the nation's capital. The first, 'Tajuddin Ahmad O Prothom Bangladesh Sarkar', by Professor Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq, explores the prime minister's critical role in 1971. The second, 'Tajuddin Ahmad-er Rajnoitik Jibon', by Emeritus Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury, is a profound study of a man whose sense of destiny, matched with intellectual brilliance, revealed itself early on.
The children of Tajuddin Ahmad do us proud. They enlighten us, through their love for their father and for the country, why historical truth matters, now and always.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
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