Of loyalty, honour and affection

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Photo: Brig. General Jamil



Shayan S. Khan talks to the widow of the one Bangladeshi who, from amongst all the tales of deceit and carnage, can have reason to hold his head high for posterity.


The gentle voice betraying a singing background quivers for the first time when she tries to recollect her memories of the man for whom 35 years ago, her gallant husband knowingly left home and walked into the arms of an honourable death. It was shortly after Bangladesh gained independence, she says, that she saw Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for the first time. Oh yes, she had seen his pictures of course, and heard his speeches on the television, but the first time Begum Anjuman Ara Jamil, the wife of the late Brigadier General (posthumous) Jamiluddin Ahmed, actually saw the founding father of Bangladesh in the flesh was during a function at the Bangladesh Military Academy, while it was still located in Comilla.


She didn’t quite get to speak to the man who had inspired the Bengalis to statehood that day. That opportunity would arise a few months later, and in a most unexpected manner. The still young Bangladeshi economy was experiencing its first taste of inflation, and home-making wives are better-versed in the travails of inflation than trained economists. Naturally, as a young home-maker (she also had a budding singing career on BTV on the side), Begum Jamil too was feeling the pinch, and her friends would also grumble to her, hoping something could come out of the close access enjoyed by her husband to the nation’s leader.


When she, like any conscientious home-maker, brought up the issue with the then Colonel Jamil, who acted as military secretary to the president, he instead told her: “Why don’t you tell Bangabandhu himself?”


This to Begum Jamil was quite fantastical, since she couldn’t quite imagine meeting the mythical figure that was Bangabandhu in such a setting where she would be able to broach the topic.


One day though, Brigadier Jamil came home early and asked his wife to get ready, as he was going to take her out. Begum Jamil didn’t quite enquire where exactly they would be going, but put on a saree and got into the passenger seat, her husband at the wheel. After a while, she saw her husband veering the car towards the entrance off Mirpur Road into Dhanmandi Road 32. Everyone knew who lived there. Feeling a bit nervous, Begum Jamil asked her husband if he was sure where he was going.


“Cholo na,” was all Brigadier Jamil said in response, and it was then that she realised she was going to meet Bangabandhu!


Waiting in the sitting room on the first floor of Bangbandhu’s famous residence, Begum Jamil still couldn’t quite believe her luck when in walked the man himself, oozing his usual charisma, the hair brushed back as always, and ubiquitous pipe in hand.


You get a sense of the kind of man he was, of the personal touch he sought to lend to his relationship with all his people, from the fact that he had kept in mind Begum Jamil’s singing, and made conversation with her based on that.


“The singing’s going well I see! Keep it up!” he said, be fore adding, “Shun, I come home around 8. You try and sing after 8, then I can listen more.”


It was a touching thing to say, especially knowing that Begum Jamil could do very little to change the BTV schedule around. What was important was that it showed even amongst all his worries running the nation, Bangabandhu cared.


A little later on in the evening, Brigadier Jamil deliberately got his wife into quite a fix by insisting: “Go on then, ask him what you wanted.”


Sitting there in front of the man every one in the nation wanted to speak to, Begum Jamil froze however, and she never did get to ask Bangabandhu why the prices of essential household items like rice and sugar were going up.


It is apparent from the way she speaks about this, and subsequent encounters (at weddings, the grounds of Ganobhaban where he would come to feed the fishes in the pond, other social events) that all her memories of Bangabandhu are fond ones. She tells how from her husband’s adoration of Bangabandhu, she had already come to regard him as a sort of father figure, but with each meeting, her respect and adulation for the man continued to grow.


“He had such a big heart, such empathy, and that is why he would forgive everyone. This was actually his weakness, he was too great for the scum in our country,” she says, somewhat spitefully.


“My last memory of him is that fateful night, August 15. It must have been around 4.30 in the morning when the phone rang. Jamil was already on the phone to someone else, so I answered. It was Bangabandhu. Hearing my voice, he said ‘O tui. Jamil ke de, shiggir Jamil k de’. I had heard him many times by then, but never heard his voice like that, so full of trepidation.”


Hearing what Bangabandhu had to say, Brigadier Jamil simply said into the phone: “Stay where you are sir, I am coming.”


The urgency with which Brigadier Jamil rushed out to meet his own fate was typical of the love and respect in which he held his leader. Begum was not at all surprised he did not turn down the call of duty when it came, as many others did. There was no sign of even any hesitation. He just went straight out. Given the briefing he had received, he must have known what awaited him, but that was hardly going to stop him.


“He was so loyal. The loyalty, the affection, these things are missing these days.”


Begum Jamil remembers how her brave husband had forbidden her to refer to Bangabandhu as Sheikh Mujib, regarding it as irreverence.  He himself referred to him most often and most affectionately as ‘Bura’.


Frustrated by Bangabandhu’s refusal to believe any of his own people could be out to kill him, Brigadier Jamil would apparently often say, ‘We’ll end up with one bullet in his chest, and one in mine.’


“And that is exactly what happened,” says Begum Jamil, her voice breaking once again.


Brigadier Jamil was gunned down before he could reach the man he revered so faithfully, in front of the Sobhanbagh mosque. His words about the bullets in his chest and Bangabandhu’s had indeed proved prophetic. But it is his deeds which have made his story eternally heroic.

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