How are you my Papa? It has been long 49 years that we bade goodbye, literally for the first time, after the Pakistani army arrested you from our Chittagong residence on 17 April 1971. The second time came in 2011 and that was the final.
Remember, as they walked you to the waiting blue coloured navy jeep with guns aimed at you from all sides, you looked back again and again. I followed you outside the door and was running upstairs when I peeped out of the small window to see you. You noticed. You raised your hand and waved. I waved back.
What was in your mind then because I remember the look in your eyes. You knew you will not return. You will not return to hold in your arms and kiss the baby due to be born any day at that time. Your most cherished son, Naweed. Although my thoughts were different. I had never thought you will never return because I could not understand that it was the same army that you served since 1949. Little did I realise, they had turned into ungrateful monsters on a killing spree.
That was supposed to be your last to your loving 10-year-old boy, who since then has never stopped to remember you and at age 60 now, continue to do the same, not any less but even more. People say that the pain of loss lessens gradually because that is how God has made humans to absorb the pain as the human race follows the pattern of life and death. For me, however nothing has changed, the memories, the pain and the longing to hear you narrate another story of Hatem Tai, a folk story character.
Well true life has to go on and it 49 years has gone by without you next to me physically, and over 21 years in the absence of Ammu too. How strange that I am still alive and kicking. It was tough enough without you, but I used to tell Ammu I will not survive without her as then I will be without the shades of my two banyan trees. Well, I guess I am stuck in the cycle that God has destined humans.
I must tell you that I am not good at all, with both of my not a single Banyan tree to give me shade and shelter, but Allah Almighty has kept me going with his miracles.
The dogs outside (2:00am 16 April 20) are barking amid an eerie silence due to lockdown of Mirpur DOHS to stave off COVID-19. But their barking to my ears are just like the one on 17 April 1971. Rusty and Paxy were barking their wits out when the army entered our home.
Yet, few things that I need to share with you Papa.
In 1982, just months after General Ziaur Rahman was killed in a coup, and why not during his term, the Corps of Engineers Centre in Natore called Doyarampur Cantonment was re-named Qadirabad Contonment after you by late President Hussain Muhammad Ershad. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had broken down when he learned that you were martyred and recollected your meeting with him. He praised your “commitment” and wished that you be properly honoured. That materialised, delayed due to his brutal killing, but more interestingly it is which I consider as my home now.
It was God’s greatest gift to me when after 36 years of search, only to prove to Ammu that you are not coming back, that my mission almost, yes almost ended when I found your grave, no not only yours, but seven other unknown men. They remain unidentified.
It was the GOC Chittagong General Md Abdul Mubeen and later became the army chief, and your comrades from Special Works Organisation (SWO) under the Corps of Engineers, who took it up with the then army chief, now retired and settled abroad — General Moin U Ahmed — and retired Lieutenant General Masud Uddin Chowdhury, now a Member of Parliament, not only agreed to protect your grave, but also verify my findings. It was confirmed and protected. But, it was almost gone as a new residential flat was being constructed ignoring the graves. Oh, humanity!
Indeed, God was back again.
I was told by a friend in the government that your grave will be lost unless I approached Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangabandhu’s worthy daughter. I thank him because as soon as I approached the prime minister with an application backed by both her Political Advisor Mr. HT Imam and State Minister for Liberation War Affairs AB Tajul Islam , your reburial process was okayed.
Lt. Gen. Wadud, the Principal Staff Officer to the premier at the Armed Forces Division and the Corps of Engineers a long with all the officers and troops in Chittagong and at the Qadirabad set your reburial date on 22 September 2011. There was a hitch. It was the “Bengali passion” to spoil good things. No, he might have been commanding the cantonment at that time, but Allah overruled.
Papa, you were from that date no more in the unmarked grave in Chittagong, but in the midst of your Corps officers and troops right next to the 1971 Martyrs’ Memorial.
Buried with full state and military honours in the presence of all those who should be there and I was the one who put the first bit of handful of soil to start the final goodbye. The bugles played the last post and the gun salute finally closed a chapter, the most painful chapter of my life. “Now, do you believe me that Papa was martyred,” I told Ammu silently gazing at your grave and receiving the national as well as the army flags from State Minister AB Tajul Islam .
State Minister Tajul Islam in his comments at that solemn ceremony said “Lt. Col. M. A. Qadir contribution to our great Independence War will be written in golden letters. We are proud to have got this opportunity to rebury him with full honours which he deserved.”
“He is now in his home as this (cantonment) is the Home of Sappers,” he added.
Your younger son, Naweed, could not come from New Zealand, but he came later to pay his respects to you and loudly recited verses from the Holy Quran for your eternal peace in the loving hands of Allah.
He says “how can I miss a person I never met” being born 11 days after your martyrdom on 28 April 1971. But, I know the pain that you two have deep in your hearts, and for me, how much I try I cannot do what you would have done for Naweed, the son that you were so eagerly waiting for. I live with that pain.
Naweed and myself wonder why came back to see Ammu, pregnant with Naweed, around 14 April 1971 from the war that was raging. Had you not done so you might have been martyred in the war filed to become “Bir Shreshto” or return home alive to take Naweed on your lap. Destiny is sometimes cruel.
Papa, the Corps of Engineers have proposed your name in 2019 for the Independence Day Padok, the highest civilian state honour. I am still waiting that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the most practical, considerate and a kind person, will give the honour that he deserves so much.
True, what is a Padok compared to his contribution, whether he is decorated or not. Maybe true, may not. But for me he deserves it and he should get not only for what is in the list the army presented after verifications, like supplying explosives used for blowing up bridges (Shubhabpur included) at the very outset of the war, but because he was the first actively serving officer who met Bangabandhu secretly as part of his commitment to an independent Bangladesh and for raising the Bangladesh flag — red, green and yellow map — along with us at his office and home soon after the founding father unfurled it on 02 March 1971.
Dear Papa I am not good. Life has treated me harsh for following the dictates that you and Ammu taught all your children. Naweed says the same. Being good or qualified has no meaning these days.
Being committed to my job to make “every penny halal (right by Islamic law),” respect all your seniors and superiors and make an honest living has only made my life difficult. The world undermines those as useless and out of date as corruption, high-handedness and misuse of power have become the order of the day.
Our premier screams for “upholding the spirit of Liberation War,” but how many do that now in this nation of 160 million people? Honest living has often left me without any money in the bank after losing money to cheats and deprived of the minimum rights being your son, nothing extra but rightfully that your children’s deserve to make their lives comfortable.
Two last things before I end today as you are there in spirit with me along with Ammu every day.
One, I do not refer to you usually and pride over being a journalist. But one day as I entered Dhaka Cantonment I tried the same and when it became necessary. I told the Subedar Sahib from the Military Police Corps that “I am Shaheed Col. M.A. Qadir’s son ….” He coolly gave me a lesson that I will never forget.
He retorted “Ah! That is, it. You should have told me that at the very first. You should be proud that you are the son of Col.Qadir Sir. A father’s name remains ahead of his children always. Next time do not make this mistake.” Yes, Subedar Sahib, since then I have followed your advice or was it an order, but thank you.
Yes, Papa I am proud of you for sacrificing your life for what you believed in since you were a young man and nick named “Bhashani” for your Bengali nationalistic ways.
I am not doing good Papa as I still follow the rules you and Ammu set for us. Just keep on thinking what a very exhausted with life Ammu used to say often “It would have been better if the Pakistani army also killed all of us on the same day to spare me the struggles of a life that I never imagined or is made for.” Maybe, she was right.
“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,” novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald once told his followers.
That is probably the universal truth from great men to one of the many freedom fighters like Lt. Col. M. Abdul Qadir.
Let me quote from a piece dedicated to John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr, who died in a plane crash in 1999.
“Life is terribly beautiful. Life is terrifying. We can’t go on. We must go on. We are not in control of this situation. But we never were,” author Garrison Keillor wrote in TIME magazine (2 August 1999).
May you rest in eternal peace my Papa, my pride, my hero.