HowÂ influential is the neighbourhood in which one grows up? AdvocateÂ Sultana Kamal,Â comes from the para I grew up as well.Â Itâ€™s called Tikatuli and she was raised in a sub-para within it called Tarabagh. Â Â It was a neighbourhood of shared lives.Â ItÂ had a common value structure that continues onÂ and perhapsÂ provides unknownÂ strength and bonding with people of my generation and a few before me.
Begum Sufia Kamal, Sultana Kamalâ€™s mother wasÂ the matriarch of the para.Â She was a revered person in those days -1950s- andÂ all relationships were familial. A friend of my Nani,Â she wasÂ Nani toÂ usÂ too.Â My Foku mamaÂ was a closeÂ to herÂ son Shameem mama, the renowned journalist.Â There were other brothers- Shabbir and Shoib- my older brotherâ€™s friendsÂ so bhais too. Lulu apa and Tulu apa were the two sisters andÂ the para was full of them all.
But what made the human landscapeÂ unique wasÂ that in every house lived a mama, chacha, apa etc. And the relationship was not formal.Â They were part of a wider, larger family which in that era was very commonÂ and not any more. And these â€œfamiliesâ€™ were close and held together by common values of the middle-class professionalsÂ – including migrants from 1947 Kolkata-Â which played such a big roleÂ inÂ producing later history.
Cultural activities as a natural way of lifeÂ
What I remember most was thatÂ everyone seemed to live and eat and talk the same way. Too young to understand but on a two-storied houseÂ nearbyÂ lived poet Sikander Abu Zafar the Editor of â€œShamakalâ€ the first seriousÂ literary magazine of Bangladesh. Next door lived, artist,Â Syed Jehangir, his brotherÂ in small/tiny artistsÂ shed fullÂ of paintings,Â paints, brushes and such lovely smells.Â We would pass in and out and his paintings were partÂ of ourÂ growing up providing simplest notions of colours, images, forms.Â The most significant memory I have is thatÂ Sikander Abu ZafarÂ shotÂ a crow with his air gun andÂ hundreds of them descended and cawed and we went down to see the noiseâ€¦ such fun it was â€¦.
Late actor Bulbul Ahmed was anotherÂ neighbour but of course he was just another mama who was fond of me.Â One dayÂ fifty years later, he looked at me and laughed. â€œJust look at him.Â I once walked all over Tikatuli with this guy onÂ my shoulders.Â â€œI rememberedÂ the eventÂ but not him. And honestly, I wasnâ€™t really 6 feet + in those days.Â But as we talked the years melted away and he talked withÂ theÂ affection reservedÂ for the very young.Â Time hadnâ€™t aged the relationship.
OfÂ tolerance andÂ resistance at the neighbourhood levelÂ
Just opposite to our home was QamurunessaÂ High school for girls and I remember the horse carriages coming downÂ to drop the girls.Â When exam time was close, daughters of family friends would stay overnight and it was theÂ simplestÂ pleasure to beÂ showered with affection by these apus.
Yet that school was alsoÂ a pointÂ of resistance in 1952. It was probably from this school that the voices of rebellion grew and activist Nadira Begum escaped police apprehension.Â My nani, the archetypal grandma, took to the streets, protesting that students had been shotÂ in February a few days after my birth.Â Other mothers came outÂ tooÂ and every para became a point of resistance.Â It was not activism but protesting firing at kids.Â These womenÂ gave the shade which allowed the movement to grow.
Sultana apa is now being attacked by Hefazot and other IslamistsÂ for her remarks. She has been threatened with violence but as a person from TikatuliÂ her role isÂ natural. She was born in theÂ vanguardÂ sectionÂ of the middle class which morphed intoÂ the nationalist movement.Â One incident will illustrate.
At an Eid congregation, the maulvi spoke about Hindus being denied entry into heaven because of their faith. I was quite disturbed by such a statementÂ because nobody talked this way in our family. So, I asked my mother about it. Her response was, â€œTo God, there are only good peopleÂ and bad people. Good will go to heaven, bad will go to hell. To Allah, only good deeds matter.â€Â Such a simple explanation has freed me from intolerance all my life.
But it was not a personalÂ statement,Â it was a sentiment shared by all in the para.Â What my mother said, wasÂ what BegumÂ Sufia Kamal also believed, all deeply religious.Â To them religion was a matter of inclusion, faith and good deeds.Â Itâ€™s not an accident that so many Freedom Fighters and 1971 activistsÂ were born in Tikatuli.
ButÂ itâ€™sÂ also true that with 1971, the para died and the values held by the residents disappeared in the windsÂ powered by greed and lust. But for someone like her who grew up in Tarabagh, the values she grew up withÂ is what makeÂ her take a stand.Â She has and shown that the voice of tolerance will not be shouted down. The voice she heard first in a distant neighbourhood of her past.