Pindi-Islamabad: the initial period
A NEW phase of my life and career began with January 1970. Joining as officer on special duty at the President’s Secretariat meant the end of my days in East Bengal for the time being. The new job in a distant locale not only meant a new office but also a new residence. As described earlier, my transfer from Brahmanbaria to Pindi-Islamabad in unusual haste caused me to leave my small family behind in East Bengal. My wife Sufia and our little sons Nipu and Topu would soon join me. So I was in need of family accommodation.
Islamabad in the early 1970 was still a fledgling capital city and gave a relatively empty look. In the slopes of the Margala Hills, it had wide and spacious roads and a few buildings housing the impressive central secretariat. It also had well-planed sectors meant to accommodate residences of various officials of different strata of political and civil administrative personnel. They ranged from cabinet ministers and secretaries to third and fourth class government employees. The military, mainly the army, had its headquarters in the adjacent city of Rawalpindi where a large cantonment existed from the British colonial days. The army headquarters and the supreme ommander’s office were also situated there.
Rawalpindi, Pindi in short, was an old town with a military flavour. By contrast, Islamabad was young, new and fresh. Apart from quarters meant for various classes and categories of government officials and employees, there were a few large structures such as the spacious government hostel and luxurious hotel Scheherazade. The government hostel meant for temporary accommodation of the higher classes of government officials was full of officers and their families. It provided for single as well as family accommodation. The category consisted of two-room units with bed room and a drawing-cum-dining room and was fitted with a kitchen. The single rooms were bed sitters.
Senior officers such as joint secretaries, deputy secretaries and assistant secretaries or section officers temporarily stayed in the government hostel. Those officers who lived there also could get their snacks and meals in the well provided restaurant. The government hostel was alive with a varied crowd of government servants even in early 1970 when Islamabad was relatively less populated and quiet. By contrast, the impressive Scheherazade hotel stood alone in a forlorn corner looking deserted in its solitary existence. It usually had a small number of occupants who were foreign diplomats yet to find permanent quarters and visiting officers from outlying provinces including East Bengal.
There were two none-too big markets in the growing capital of Pakistan. The first one was called the Abpara market, a relatively larger one with supplies of food items, vegetables, meat, fish and groceries, apart from service shops such as tailoring, hair dressing and restaurants. The second market, a smaller one, was called the covered bazaar. It was literally covered with a roof and provided scope for comfortable shopping during the hot summer, short rains and cold winter.
The first few months of my stay in Islamabad found me and my family residing in the government hostel. It was a kind of community living despite families being in atomised compartments. There was scope to meet and communicate with other officers and their families. Life in government hostel proved lively and enjoyable. In the initial period when I was alone waiting for my family to arrive from Dhaka, I had the company of young Bengali officers who were my contemporaries.
Among them were Masum Ahmed Choudhury, Md Shafiullah and Badiuzzaman of the erstwhile Central Information Service who later became ambassadors of Bangladesh. Ghani, Abu Saleh, Ismail Talukder, Rezaul Karim, Motin, Rezaur Rahman, Rabbi and AMM Mafazzal of the erstwhile Central Secretariat Service were also posted in Islamabad. All of them later in their life served the government of Bangladesh in senior position such as additional and joint secretaries.
My friend from the teenages Naku Rezaur Rahman too was there in Islamabad. He resided with his wife Kohkab in a government apartment in the F-6/4 sector. Kohkab belonged to a Panjab family from Lahore. She was the only daughter of the joint controller of export and import of government of West Pakistan.
There were also friends of West Pakistani origin. Thus, Wahidullah Wein of the Central Secretariat Service who hailed from the Punjab befriended the Bengalis, especially because he had visited East Bengal earlier. Wein used to come down to the government hostel regularly during the cold months of January and February in 1970. He took me out to the bazaars and places of friends and helped relieve my loneliness when I lived alone in the government hostel.
Another friend who was the younger brother of my class friend Shahed Latif, Captain Zahed Latif gave me occasional company during my lonely days. Zahed who was a young captain in the army was studying for bachelor of engineering in the Army Engineering College in Resalpur. Whenever he used to come to Pindi-Islamabad, he visited me and we had wonderful friendly hours together. Zahed Latif later served the Bangladesh army as brigadier general and also worked as chairman of Rural Electrification Board of Bangladesh.
I still vividly remember those winter days when either Wein or Zahed came to my suite in the government hostel. We used to have tea together observing sullen, cloudy sky touching the top of the low hills. It was a lovely sensation watching the cloudy horizon and we ventured out to go places for delightful times.
Re-union with amily
MY LONELY life in the government hostel in Islamabad ended within a few weeks when wife Sufia with our little sons Nipu and Topu joined me in Islamabad. In fact, I myself found an official opportunity to go to Dhaka and bring them with me to Islamabad. Robi, the young boy who was serving our joint family in Dhaka for a fairly long time, came with us to make life easier for us. Actually, it was my mother who advised us to take him along. In 2018, Rabi is still with our extended family in Dhaka as a faithful manager. The presence of the small family made all the difference to my life in Islamabad.
To be continued.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder chairman of the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh and editor of the quarterly Asian Affairs, is a former teacher of political science at Dhaka University (1964-1967), former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (1967-1980) and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister of Bangladesh (1990).
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