The last day in Dhaka was also the most hectic for me. It started with an interview with Munir Hasan, a reporter from Prothom Alo. Mild-mannered, Munir, a BUET alumnus, sat down in the brightly-lit lounge of Long Beach, with his tape recorder and my mouth turned on. I was talking about my life struggles, my tenacity, why I took up marathons and how it helped my creative pursuits as an inventor, a writer, a photographer and a singer. After my mouth paused, Munir's was on, while we were waiting for the photographer. He talked about being associated with Math Olympiad and his coaching of young entrepreneurs in Dhaka. After Munir had left, the hotel restaurant manager Shams and I were busy taking pictures with my Canon SLR and two professional lenses. The photographer, Shahadat Parvez, showed up after an assignment from the Bangladesh National Party leader's residence in Gulshan, a short run away from my hotel. Shahadat and I had the same two lenses. His Canon camera body was sturdier, built for rough outdoors to cover hartals, demonstration, and violence in streets. Mine was for wedding, peaceful events, nature, and good people. He kept on shooting me from all directions and angles and against different backgrounds. After shooting, soft-spoken Shahadat sat down to tell me about his work, his books, and his kid daughter, who inspired his latest photo-story book.
In the late afternoon, Dr Zaman and Salma Bhabi came to the hotel with some gifts for my wife, with whom she had been talking regularly about the conditions in Dhaka and my whereabouts. They looked about 90 per cent relieved that I was OK and did almost everything I was there for. About 90 per cent relieved, because they still would have to worry about my last vehicular trip from Gulshan hotel to Dhaka international airport, in the early hours of Tuesday, on another hartal day.
"Did Sagar tell you anything about his condition?" Aziza Apa asked with immense grief of a mother in her voice. I was in Dr Matin Patwari's flat in Gulshan, only a block away from Long Beach Hotel. Sagar, their eldest son, then living in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA, fell to a sudden heart attack, while working in a hospital as a heart doctor. Aziza Apa wanted to get some solace, talking to someone who had seen her son growing up in Matlab. Sagar, younger brother Babar and their mother were staying in Matlab with grandfather, the late Waliullah Patwari, the Headmaster of Matlab High, while their father Dr Patwari was studying abroad and mother Aziza Apa was teaching at Matlab Girls' High. Sagar, always very polite and extremely bright, was the apple of headmaster's eye. The other Matlab kids, fully aware of Headmaster's hold on the village, lacked the courage to bother Sagar and Babar. I talked to Sagar a few months before his death. He still was very polite and respectful. We talked about our Matlab days, the fate of the palash tree by the school pond, the wall erected along the length of the pond, the resting place, in the south-east corner of the school yard, of his maternal grandparents: my Headmaster and his wife, and the Sagar family's most recent visit to Matlab and his father's village in Shahrastri. We talked about an hour or so. Then he said, "Tapan uncle, I'll have to go!"
Dr Patwari showed me around photos of Sagar and other family members. I then took a picture of the couple, standing on each side of the Kaba mosque in the centre of a wall-hanging in their living room.
"Your mother and my mother were very good friends at Matlab, you know," Aziza Apa said sitting on a sofa chair to my right. "Yes, she used to call my mother Didi (a salutation for an elderly Hindu sister)," I responded. "Your father gave my father advice on many things," she continued. "Yes, I heard that too when I was a kid," I said. My father was older than Headmaster, whom he respected very much. I remember my father's last few moments when he placed our hands on those of the Headmaster and pleaded: "Please look after these two, after I am gone." With eyes overflowing with tears, headmaster said: "My golden pundit is leaving us. Who is going to replace him?"
It did not matter to these two close friends and colleagues that their religions were different. What mattered was humanity, the strong thread of which bonded them for many years as friends and colleagues.
Packing four crests (plaques) and other personal belongings in two suitcases and the orange carry-on, did not leave much time for me to sleep. The wake-up call came at 3am sharp, but by then the person to be awakened was already full awake, walking and getting ready. The van was outside the lobby. Shrouded in a dense February fog!
After a rather long taxing on the tarmac that prolonged my precious few moments with my motherland, the Turkish Airlines plane finally took off around 7:30am. The trees along the fence raised their heads above the fog, as if to have a peek. The morning sun was up, looking like a dull red plate on a grayed canvas.
"Adieu, mon bien-aime pays!" I said silently, letting go of a sigh.r (Concluded)
Tapan Chakrabarty, a seven-continent marathon finisher and an inventor, writes from Calgary, Canada