Space For Rent
Thursday, May 19, 2016, Jaistha 5, 1423 BS, Shaban 11, 1437 Hijri

A resilient run wearing a coronary stent
Tapan Chakrabarty
Published :Thursday, 19 May, 2016,  Time : 12:00 AM  View Count : 366
To dissociate from the run, I was also thinking of all the BUET alumni who were cheering and praying for me from Dhaka and all over the world. I saw the face of the CEO of Energy Resources International, Dhaka, from our time together in his residence in Gulshan and from his office in Dhaka. The faces of the President of Chemical Engineering Alumni Association and the Head of BUET Chemical Engineering Department, from a meeting held in a chemical engineering meeting room to recognize the late Dr Subodh Barua (BUET '68) and his Spouse Leena, and my wife and me for establishing the SBTC Scholarship for the needy BUET ChE students also flashed through.
Two faces from my childhood days at Matlab and the most recent trip to Dhaka surfaced. Those were that of the person who made my alma mater, Matlabgonj JB High School, the envy of the country by placing first from a monkey-tormented village in East Pakistan Board and who was the former VC of three universities in Dhaka, including that of BUET, and of his wife --- both direct students of my father, the former the son-in-law and the latter the daughter of my respected headmaster, the late Waliullah Patwari --- for their kindness and hospitality in their Gulshan residence, when I was in Dhaka in February 2015, and when I was a BUET student and a lecturer in the late sixties and the early seventies.
I also thought of some of my BUET '71 batch mates, some of whom were freedom fighters and active participants in the war for the freedom of Bangladesh from oppression and genocide. They were in my thoughts while running a marathon on the 1st of May for a good reason. Two months earlier, a BUET batch mate, Iqbal, from Dhaka, had written a patriotism-invoking succinct paragraph, capturing the key moments of the month of March in the Bangladesh Liberation year of 1971, as they unravelled before his young eyes. March in 1971 is the month that is as sacred to Bengalis as the month of February in 1952 is, the latter now observed as a UN-proclaimed International Mother Language Day. His write-up stuck with me also for the wrong reason. Someone, rather thoughtlessly, created a new thread using an inconsequential phrase from there that diverted the focus and intent of the original beautifully-expressed-in-Bengali paragraph. I then asked for our batch mates to share their stories in the month of March in 1971.
Our BUET '71 batch was at the forefront of freedom fighting, and was a witness to the birth of a new country. 1971 was the year we were supposed to graduate. But the country needed to be independent that year, delaying our graduation by a year. The cause was so just, so needed and so universally supported, except those who were the perpetrators and their supporters within and outside the country. It was also personal to me. The sacrifices of the BUET '71 batch and millions of Bengalis, through direct and indirect participations, permitted me and my widow mother to come back from India --- where we were two of the ten million refugees --- to independent Bangladesh. That enabled me to finish my coveted BUET degree. Without that degree, I won't be able to become a BUET lecturer; come to Canada to earn my PhD at the University of Waterloo; have a long (more than 35 years) career with one employer; or run marathons all over the world, including the one I was running in Vancouver wearing a stent.
I thought of the account shared by Kohinoor, my batch mate from Titumir Hall (then Quaid-e-Azam Hall), BUET (then EPUET). From his narration, his patriotism and improvisations to fight for freedom shone through. He was among the few who first showed up, abandoning his lunch served in the hall, in Dhaka University campus on 2 March, 1971, to protest the delaying tactics of the Pakistani military ruler to prevent the Awami League to form a government, after it had won the 1970 election fair and square. Kohinoor, wearing a lungi, started chanting slogans, before others joined him at Bottola, where a Bangladesh flag, which had been secretly kept in his room, was hoisted for the first time. Two of my other BUET batch mates: Enamul Haque and Yousuf Salauddin (my Matlab School classmate), and another BUET alumnus Hasanul Haque Inu (BUET '70), now the honourable Information Minister in the Bangladesh Government, were involved in tracing the map of Bangladesh from an atlas. (The map had been removed from the flag later.). Kohinoor also shared that he and a BUET architecture student, Faruq Khan, made the banners for the Ramna Course stage, from which Bangabandhu delivered the history-making 7th March speech in 1971, in which he asked the people to fight with whatever they had. Kohinoor acted on that call by making ammunitions through improvisations in the BUET gym, risking his and others life in an inferno that engulfed part of the gym, and then digging a trench on a main road to thwart the advancement of enemy tanks, immediately after the 25th March crackdown in Dhaka. Patriots like Kohinoor from our batch are the unsung heroes of the Bangladesh Liberation.
Kalyan was another patriot, whose account was even more riveting. He, while at BUET, supported his family and himself through private tutoring. After the army crackdown, he got trained in a reputable camp in India as a freedom fighter (FF) and then took part in guerrilla warfare --- sometimes going days without food, crossing treacherous canals and climbing daunting hills and evading spotting by enemies' watchful eyes, in the hostile terrains of Chittagong Hill Tracts. On 17 December, 1971, one day after the surrender of the Pakistani military in Dhaka, when it was least expected, he was, unfortunately, hit and injured by an enemy bullet, while searching for food in a village, from which he assumed the enemy had left.
The face of FF Ajoy Da (BUET '70), one year senior to me and whom I knew from Ahsanullah Hall as a very bright student, placing second in mechanical engineering, surfaced. He, as an active freedom fighter, helped Kalyan and others on their way to India to get training. I was saddened to recall Kalyan's account of Ajoy Da's father's brutal killing by the junta and their collaborators, after they had set fire to their house and the hut some of the FFs were using as a shelter.
I also thought of batch mate Mustafa for the risks he and 43 other batch mates out of a class of 360 took, by making a bold decision not to appear for the BUET exams held in 1971, in protest of the occupation and the massacre by the Pakistani military.
I also thought of my other BUET batch mates, in particular of Shahab, from Sydney, Australia, Khurshid, and Mahmudur from Bath, England, who had wished me well in the marathon. Two emails from them stood out. One from Alamgir read: 'Your extreme will power will see you through. May you achieve the target completion time.' The other from Masudul read: 'Wish you all the best for your ensuing Vancouver Marathon. We are all waiting for grand success in the marathon next week. Hopefully, it will be a milestone in your life.' One has to be devoid of feelings, not to be moved by such heart-felt wishes, especially from one's batch mates. The tone was inspiring, devoid of any rivalry or jealousy.
I also thought of the behaviour of a jealous and a misguided few who had gotten in my way, here in Canada and there in Bangladesh and elsewhere. I always used their treatments of me as a motivation to work harder. One reason why I still run marathons at this age is to prove to me that I can overcome a hurdle, when I am in control. On a marathon course, I am in control. But in Vancouver, my confidence was somewhat shaken, as I was at the mercy of the coronary stent. The London Marathon death a week earlier did not help.
An ominous email I received the day before the marathon cut into my confidence even more. 'The day before we die', was the subject of that email. The sender, based on other instances, seemed to have a penchant for lifting the subjects or contents of emails from others and changing them in an apparent attempt to divert the discussion or 'hijack' the thread. I also noted, initially with bemusement and later with accumulating annoyance, that many of the subjects of my emails, describing the photos from Victoria and my pre-marathon thoughts and anxieties, were lifted in whole or part. 'The day before we die' was one such lifting of the subject of my email: 'The day b4 [before] the big event', in which 'the big event' was referring to the Vancouver Marathon. My wife, already concerned of my running a marathon with a stent, especially after the warning of the hospital cardiologist, read the inauspicious subject. Although bothered by the timing and the insensitivity of the ominous email, I decided to turn the negative into a positive, as I had done multiple times since childhood. During the run, the email, instead of becoming a distraction, became a source of motivation. It became a blessing in disguise. In a strange way, it was more effective than umpteen other encouraging emails I had received. I was so determined to finish the marathon that I almost forgot I was running with a stent. During that determined run, I also recalled the scene at the back of the school office, in which my headmaster from Matlab School was saying: 'Baba, you've tenacity of purpose,' while he was consoling me over a flagrant maltreatment by two people in position of power. It was 1965.r
(To be continued)
Tapan Chakrabarty, a BUET chemical engineer with a PhD from the University of Waterloo, a seven-continent marathon finisher, an inventor and innovator, and a columnist, writes from Calgary, Canada

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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