Friends in armed forces
WHILE Islamabad was the capital of Pakistan dominated by the civil servants, its twin Rawalpindi was dominated by the military. Mention has been made earlier of exchanges with new friends — Bengalis in the armed forces such as Major Tawhid Uddin Ahmed and Major Zia Uddin Ahmed. Other Bengali officers with whom we became friends at this time were Major Enam and Captain AMSA Amin.
I was introduced to Major Enam by my younger brother Dr Maswoodur Rahman, a captain of the army medical corps in 1970. He was transferred to West Pakistan’s outlined station such as Sarai Alamgir and Sialkot. During early 1971, he was in Rawalpindi with his wife Jahanara Moni. Major Enam became a brigadier in the liberated Bangladesh and died prematurely in the 1980s. Captain AMSA Amin who was introduced to me by Captain Fazlur Rahman was an officer in the army aviation corps. He was articulate and friendly, qualities which still distinguish him. In the liberated Bangladesh, he became a major general and also served as ambassador to Jordan and Russia in the 1990s. General Amin now runs a think-tank dealing with conflict and peace.
Among elder friends in the army was Major Manzoor. I first met him as a student in Dhaka College in 1957–1959. He was our senior and was referred to as the pundit because of his knowledge and wisdom. In 1970, he was major and lived in Rawalpindi. One afternoon, friend Captain Zahed Latif took me to his place. I remember his wife Rana coming to the drawing room and made fast coffee and quickly withdrew into the house.
Zahed later remarked, ‘That was the fastest coffee ever made. She had to hurry to be near the TV set to watch her favourite programme.’ In 1971, Major Manzoor joined the war of liberation of Bangladesh after crossing the Sialkot border into India. He also rose to the rank of major general in Bangladesh and alleged to have planned the assassination of president Ziaur Rahman in 1981. He has thus become a part of our blood-soaked history.
Senior professor of Dhaka University Abdul Matin Chowdhury of physics was also in Rawalpindi in 1970. He was then serving as the chief defence adviser to the president of Pakistan. We often visited his place at 17, Lalazar in Pindi. His wife Professor Razia Matin Chowdhury and he used to shower their affection on us. Their daughter Najma Chowdhury and her son also resided there at Lalazar during 1970 and 1971.
Professor Matin Chowdhury became the vice-chancellor of Dhaka University immediately after the liberation of Bangladesh. Professor Razia Matin Chowdhury was principal of the Federation of Women University College in Dhaka. Najma Chowdhury worked as journalist and communication expert in VOA and various others national and international organisations. She now works as a communications adviser of the BRAC University.
Chaklala PAF Mess
APART from the Army EME and Engineer’s Mess in Rawalpindi, I met Major Tawhid and Major Zia Uddin. We also visited the well appointed Air Force Mess at Chaklala near the Rawalpindi airport. Officers of the army often use to say that this was the best mess in the entire Rawalpindi area. Its attractive surroundings and excellent service made it distinct in ambiance. My virtual ‘passport’ to this charming place was my brother-in-law Sufia’s first cousin Farhad Ahmed Roomy. He and his friend Shamsul Alam were then flight lieutenants in the Pakistan Air Force.
On many an evening, I used to drive down to Pindi and went to the Air Force Mess in Chaklala to enjoy hours of joyful recreation at the PAF Mess dining hall. Farhad also came to our place in Islamabad to spend time with us. Going further into the yet unborn future, the year 1971, it is interesting to note what happened to Farhad Roomy and S Alam. After the brutal military crackdown on unarmed Bengalis on the night between March 25 and 26, 1971 in Dhaka, they were inspired to plan to join the war of liberation, started by the Bengalis of East Bengal. It was in early July that the two of them took leave from the air force and flew to Dhaka from Pindi. They were under surveillance. That became clear when they landed in Dhaka and were picked up by the Pakistan Armed Forces intelligence personnel. They were interrogated especially as they had their flying records with them. Their prosecutors asked them as to why they were carrying these while they were on leave.
It can be assumed that they suffered unspeakable tortures in the hands of the West Pakistani persecutors. They were, however, lucky enough to come out of captivity alive.
Later in the liberated Bangladesh, Farhad Ahmed Roomy became an accomplished officer of the Bangladesh Air Force. He retired in 1988 as group captain. Shamsul Alam took part in the war of liberation and also became group captain of the Bangladesh Air Force. After retirement, he and Farhad are engaged in business.
As mentioned earlier, my immediate younger brother Maswoodur Rahman Prince, whom we call Khokon, was inducted into the army medical corps after graduating from Dhaka Medical College. As captain of the army, he was posted to various stations of West Punjab. Dr Maswood and his wife Moni went to the station where he was posted after meeting us in Islamabad. Later in early 1971, Maswood was transferred to Rawalpindi. At that time and until after the military crackdown in Dhaka, they stayed with other army officers and their families in a facility called, the Kashmir Hotel in Rawalpindi. In actuality, it was not a hotel but a virtual army officers mess with family accommodation. Sufia and I went there to meet Khokon and his wife. It was there that we met a number of Bengali army officers including Dr Siraj Ziannat who later became a major general in the liberated Bangladesh.
Dr Maswood on other side of eternity
DR MASWOOD (Khokon) will appear many times in these chronicles although he is now no more from the March 1, 2018. A competent physician, he often diagnosed difficult diseases with remarkable precision. He was more of a social worker than a medical doctor. After getting voluntary release from the Bangladesh army in 1974, he served as medical officer of Dhaka University; thereafter, he joined the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation and eventually became its chief medical officer. After retirement from the corporation job in the early 21st century, he continued to practise in his chamber on Green Road. He also served effectively as the journal editor of the weekly medical magazine of the Daily Independent, ‘The Stethoscope.’
As a physician, he treated poorer patients free. He organized and participated in numerous health camps all over Bangladesh. These were organised by voluntary social service organisation such as the Mother Teresa Memorial Society, the Diabetic Association branch in Munshiganj-Bikrampur, Cancer Hospital at Kushumpur and other places of the country. A modest and soft-spoken person, he had a large number of friends and fellow social workers. Unfortunately, he suffered a massive cerebral stroke on the January 10, went into coma and breathed his last on March 1, 2018 in a Dhaka hospital. To me, he was more than a brother, a close friend whose fraternal feelings kept me loving company.
Now that he is on the other side of eternity, fond memories continue to permeate the mind of his near ones and friends.
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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