It was not until February 1969, when the proceedings of the Agartala Case were still going on in Dhaka, that I had my earliest glimpse of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The times were in ferment and Pakistan’s President Mohammad Ayub Khan, having recently celebrated a decade in power, was under pressure to quit.

He had called a roundtable conference with the political opposition and, to that end, had sent out an invitation to Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. The Nawabzada was expected to invite his colleagues in the anti-regime Opposition to the roundtable conference.

The Pakistan Times, a leading newspaper published from Lahore, carried on its front page pictures of some of the Opposition figures. Bangabandhu, bespectacled, was among the group. That was my first glimpse of the future founder of Bangladesh. There was, about his features, a firmness of purpose that was impressive.


When, a few days later, he arrived in Rawalpindi after his release from the Agartala Case, he was accosted by newsmen who wanted to know how it felt to be free and participate in the roundtable conference. He quipped, “Yesterday a traitor, today a hero.” On the opening day of the conference, a rather depressed-looking Ayub Khan welcomed his former prisoner with a handshake.

For me, a teenager not yet out of school, it was a moment of indescribable satisfaction, for reasons which need not be gone into. And then came the day when, for the first time, I saw Bangabandhu. The day was July 1, 1970, and he was on an election campaign swing through West Pakistan.

A large cutout of Bangladesh's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Dhaka. Photo credit: Munir Uz Zaman / AFP

At the railway station in Quetta, where Bangabandhu and his Awami League team were arriving by Bolan Mail from Karachi, I stood with Rahmat Khan, an employee at my father’s Geological Survey office. My father had sent Rahmat along with me to ensure that I did not get lost in the crowd. And the crowd was huge.

As the train pulled into the station, Bangabandhu emerged at the door of the carriage. The crowd, comprising largely Pathans and Balochis, erupted in cheers with slogans of “Sheikh Saheb Zindabad”.

Suddenly, Rahmat broke away from me, pushed through the crowd and, approaching Bangabandhu, who was yet to alight from the train, grabbed his hand in both of his. A beatific smile played on Rahmat’s features as he returned to me, telling me, “Hum ne un se haath mila liya [I shook hands with him],” a scene I had already witnessed.

Public meeting

In the afternoon, Bangabandhu addressed a public meeting in Quetta. He spoke in Urdu, in an interesting way, with a mixture of Bengali. He referred to the Six Points not as “chhey nukati program”, which was how they appeared in Urdu, but in the very Bengali version of them. “Hum chhoy dofa mangta sab ke liye,” he said to loud cheers.

After some time, he asked Zahiruddin, a party colleague, to speak to the crowd. Zahiruddin explained Bangabandhu’s visions of the future in impeccable Urdu.

Once the public rally was over, I ran home because I had an invitation to a dinner in Bangabandhu’s honour arranged by the Balochistan Awami League later in the evening. The invitation had come from Mir Mohammad Khan Raisani, the president of the Balochistan wing of the party, when I told him I needed Bangabandhu’s autograph.

A fortnight earlier, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was in Quetta on his own electoral campaign, my classmates and I had met him to collect his autograph. Meraj Mohammad Khan, a leading figure in the Pakistan People’s Party and related to a classmate, had arranged the meeting with Bhutto for us at Lourdes Hotel.

When I handed over my autograph book to Bhutto, he turned the pages, his eyes drawn to the page where I had listed all my favourites – flower, writer, book, politician.

Bhutto’s gaze fell on “favourite politician”, where I had mentioned Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bhutto, smiling, noted that. Looking up, he asked me, “you admire him, don’t you?” I responded, smiling: “Yes Sir, I do.” Bhutto then affixed his signature in that autograph book.

In the evening on July 1, 1970, I waited along with other guests – among them were Abdus Samad Achakzai and Yahya Bakhtiar – in the garden at Syed Khair Shah House in Quetta for Bangabandhu to appear from within the residence where he was staying.

The fragrance of roses and sunflowers, which had blossomed aplenty in the garden, filled the air. I was the only schoolboy in that place, very nervous being among all those prominent people. When Bangabandhu emerged, we were all on our feet to be introduced to him.

He did not take my outstretched hand but gave me a rather quizzical look, certainly wondering what a schoolboy was doing there. Raisani explained. Bangabandhu then placed his huge hands on my cheeks, pulled them in great affection, and asked about my parents and my school.

“Deshe jaabi na?” That was his question and seeing me a trifle perplexed, he followed it up with what sounded like an amended query, “Bangladesh-e jaabi na?” It was beautiful hearing him speak of Bangladesh, of Bangladesh being desh, home.

Bangabandhu embraced Achakzai, who laughed and joked about the streaks of grey in the Bengali leader’s hair. Bangabandhu’s response: “Ayub Khan ne tum ko bhi bhudda bana diya, hum ko bhi bhudda bana diya.” Both men broke into loud laughter.

Remembering Bangabandhu

When Yahya Bakhtiar, who, after December 1971 would become Pakistan’s attorney general in the Bhutto government, told Bangabandhu that the Six Points could break Pakistan, Bangabandhu snapped: “For 23 years you have exploited us. Now you must face the music.” Pin-drop silence ensued, for long seconds.

When dinner was announced, Bangabandhu led me by the hand to the table. Once the repast was over, I asked him for his signature on my autograph book. His pipe between his lips, he affixed the words, in English: “Joy Bangla. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”

I then ran and waltzed and skipped all the way home, to relate the story of my experience of the evening, of meeting the great man, to my eager family.

The next day, once school was over, my friends and I heard policemen sounding their whistles. We realised that Bangabandhu’s entourage was approaching. As his car passed by us, I waved at him excitedly. He obviously recognised me from the preceding evening and waved back.

I would meet Bangabandhu again, in April 1972, at the old Gonobhobon. On a late evening in 1973, he would stop his car outside the gates of Gonobhobon and advise me to go home and study rather than wait there to see him every day.

On a monsoon night in August 1996, I sat beside Bangabandhu’s grave in Tungipara. The breeze made the grass on the grave dance. I looked up at the star-dotted heavens, for his soul was up there somewhere.

This article first appeared in Dhaka Tribune.