A man with an amazing array of talents
On August 12, 1975, a week after Sheikh Kamal’s 26th birthday, we had our viva voce examination as we were completing our MA final examination in sociology. In our days at Dhaka University, we had an oral examination as the last ritual of academic assessment. We waited outside the room of the chair of the sociology department, somewhat nervous, but with Kamal around, we were still exchanging banter.
The viva voce ended uneventfully. The same evening, we met again at the auditorium of the Dhaka University Teachers-Students Centre, popularly known as TSC. I was part of the SM Hall Bengali debating team along with Selim Jahan, who led our team. Kamal was attached to SM Hall. He was there to cheer us on.
SM Hall clinched the championship by beating the formidable debating team of Mohsin Hall. I became the runner-up for the individual English debate competition. It was a moment of sheer joy and Kamal rejoiced in our victory. His enthusiasm was infectious. Kamal’s most enduring quality was his ability to endear himself to all.
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He had many friends, and he loved and cared for them all. Late that evening, after the awarding of prizes and exchange of pleasantries, Kamal drove me to my family’s house at Tajmahal Road. That was the last time I saw him.
In the morning of August 15, after hearing about the assassination of Bangabandhu on the radio, I called Kamal from our next-door neighbour’s phone. The phone rang (as I could tell from the tone); no one picked up the call. I surmised that Kamal must be too distraught at his father’s fate to take the call.
Little did I know at the morning of that fateful day, that he too, along with the rest of the members of the Bangabandhu family, were brutally gunned down by the plotters of the August 15 coup. That included his 10-year-old brother, Russel, as well as two newlywed brides.
Kamal’s wife, Sultana Ahmed Khuki, was my friend from the same sociology class, a sporting star, the first female Blue of Dhaka University, who was known as the “golden girl of East Pakistan” for her remarkable sporting achievements in Pakistan. Kamal and Sultana got married on July 14, 1975, barely weeks before our final examination for Master’s. I was present at many of the events of that wedding, including being drafted as a member of the delegation, along with Sheikh Rehana, to Khuki’s house.
I was one of Kamal’s many friends who became close to him only towards the last few years of his life. We knew each other as class friends and as fellow cricket players for the Sociology department’s cricket team. Kamal was also a great sports organizer. Abahani Club is a testimony to his love for sports.
Once, I accompanied Kamal and the high-ups of the club on a tour to Faridpur where a branch of Abahani Club was set up. I was mistakenly placed on the stage along with others, and as Kamal was introducing the office bearers, Harun Bhai, Tarique, Badal, and others, he turned to me and in a split second, conscripted me as an adviser to the club. I did not hold any office at the Abahani Club but such ready-witted was Kamal that it didn’t matter! He played volleyball and basketball as well. Kamal was a man with an amazing array of talents.
Kamal was a fine stage actor, too. I was fortunate to see him play the lead role in two phenomenal plays: Roller o Nihot LMG and Ami Mantri Habo at the TSC auditorium. The latter was a political satire, but Kamal was sporting enough to take the role and gave a standout performance in his role of the minister.
Kamal played the sitar superbly and he sang with gusto. He was the patron as well as the cheerleader of Spandan, a pop band in Dhaka, a pioneer in blending Western pop with local folk music in Bangladesh. The stars of Spandan, Firoz Shahi and Ferdous Wahid, would often come to the sociology seminar room and give us spontaneous performances, where we would join in the chorus led by Kamal. His favorite lyric was Ei je dunia, kisher lagiya.
In the months before the final exam, Kamal would often take me to their house at Dhanmondi Road no 32 where we would study together. Kamal confessed to me once that as a son of a politician, he did not have all the time to study, as he had to take up many household chores in the absence of his father, who would often be thrown into jail.
I enjoyed his friendship, the simplest home-cooked meals, and the loving attention of everyone at the Bangabandhu house. Kamal had a sharp mind; he picked up the main theoretical ideas of Karl Marx and Max Weber quickly.
Once after lunch, as Bangabandhu walked in from the adjacent room, Kamal introduced me: “Abba, this is Habib, first-boy in our class, and he will also secure first position in the MA final exam.” Bangabandhu shook my hands warmly and said in his booming voice in English: “I congratulate you in advance.”
When our exam results were published, Kamal and Bangabandhu were no more. Securing first position in the first class did not make me happy as uncontrolled tears rolled down my cheeks. The gaping void in my world would never be filled.
Habibul Haque Khondker is a professor of sociology at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi, UAE.