October 26 is a date with an asterisk in our national life. On this day, 144 years ago, Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq was born at his grandparents' village home at Saturia in Jhalakathi district. A unique figure in the turbulent political environment of pre-partitioned India, Sher-e-Bangla realised early in public life the urgency of ridding the rural people from the age-old debt-trap of the money lenders, and the all-pervasive curse of illiteracy -- the pre-requisites for an inclusive society. The enactment of the debt settlement bill in 1938 and measures that he initiated to promote education in the country were outstanding achievements of his eventful public life.
What was most spectacular of him was his all-encompassing popularity right across the tillers of the land to the urban gentry -- a rare feat for any politician any where. He always remained unwaveringly focused on his commitment to public welfare. His profound compassion for the hapless humanity is legendary. He would never deny help to anyone who would seek it, even if it entailed a personal risk. One cardinal point that defined him most was that he belonged to his people.
The distinguished bearing of Sher-e-Bangla was rooted to the pedigree of his illustrious family. The polished manners, which are very difficult attainments and so strictly personal, do not come by so easily, and when attained are acclaimed by the society. Sher-e-Bangla, by all counts, was unique with his unmatched accomplishments in a life span of more than eight decades. His life, an open book, does convince us of this beyond any doubt.
In 1935 when Sher-e-Bangla was elected Mayor of Calcutta -- incidentally the first Muslim Mayor -- he was virtually deluged with congratulatory letters. Normally, replies to such letters are couched in usual clichés. Sher-e-Bangla's one of such letters written to his friend, my father, however made a pointed departure from that stiff formality. An image of the letter is given below.
Sher-e-Bangla's hand-written words on the original typed letter to extend courtesies were well beyond formality that lent a human face to the dreary typed letter -- a superb assertion in the realm of inter-personal relationship. It was not an impulsive or chance happening, rather a positive statement to our traditional elite culture. Presently, such niceties are often found marginalised as 'old world' courtesies under the shadowy impact of e-mail culture. One may even perceive a fashionable blather about ignoring the virtues of yesteryears as matrices of culture. Our fascination with the so-called 'old world' culture intertwined with ardent family values are still alive and rooted deep in our social psyche. Sher-e-Bangla's letter to his friend is a fine specimen to connote our cultural heritage.
That Sher-e-Bangla was so humane in his outlook is well exemplified when he visited Bhairab in 1954 on an electoral campaign. Sher-e-Bangla led the United Front along with two other political stalwarts, Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy and Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani in the electoral battle against the powerful Muslim League to victory. In his pre-election campaign to mobilise public opinion in favour of the United Front, he embarked on a tour outside Dhaka. At Bhairab, Sher-e-Bangla along with four student leaders who accompanied him from Dhaka stayed overnight at the local daakbunglow. After dinner, Sher-e-Bangla, before retiring to bed, wanted to know from the caretaker if each of the student leaders was provided with mosquito-net. Apologetically, the caretaker replied he had only one mosquito net which was meant for him (Sher-e-Bangla). Sher-e-Bangla was hugely shocked. He opted to spend the night without mosquito-net and endured night-long mosquito-bites along with his student comrades.
A true son of the soil, Sher-e-Bangla stood tall all his life with the spirit of empathy for his fellow humans, as an individual as well as a leader per excellence.