As sunshine peered through one wintry morning, I found out my grandfather Nirmal Bikash Dasgupta breathed his last in his beloved motherland. He was the sunshine in the lives of many, leaving behind a myriad of memories in our hearts as a patriot, freedom fighter, civil servant, and last but not least, a devoted family man.
My grandfather was a Notre Damian of the 50s and joined Bangladesh Railway in the early 60s. He was already a father of three when the call for the Liberation War came. Without a second thought, he joined as a freedom fighter. Whenever he used to meet his children and grandchildren, he would share his memories of those billowy days.
On one occasion, he had had a head-to-head fight on a boat with the Pakistani military. He barely survived, while the enemy's boat was destroyed by a grenade. Another time, someone informed him that his fourth child was born, but he could not go back home to see her as the war was in full swing. He sent a message home to name her “Joya”, as he believed victory was imminent. Bangladesh was liberated a couple of months later. He always shared with us that an independent Bangladesh was the best gift he had received and suggested we work hard to build this nation.
When I was born, my grandfather was a high-ranking official of Bangladesh Railway. My fondest childhood memory was when at the age of five my father went to China for a year-long training and my mother and I went to stay with my grandfather at his quarters in Chittagong. Travelling on trains with him, going to Dhaka in the salon compartment which seemed like an entire flat on a track, and fighting for the largest fried prawn fry with him—all these are just memories now.
He used to surprise us a lot too. I still remember my 12th birthday. We were living in Chittagong then as my father had been transferred there. My grandfather had taken the golden handshake and joined a World Bank project in Dhaka. I implored him to join my birthday at any cost, but when he could not make it, he saw to it that I got a surprise once I got home from school—a brand-new Avon cycle.
He was the beacon of our gang of cousins, shaping us to become good human beings. He would train my cousin and me for debates on BTV. An avid fan of Rabindranath Tagore, he was a patron of many cultural groups and was the founder of Pallavi Shilpy Gosti, now a 40-year-old organisation.
A lover of the serene Bangladeshi countryside, he decided to start an agro-business in Lalmonirhat, North Bengal. He had fallen in love with this place while in charge of the region as a railway officer. He established a poultry farm named “Gavi Griho” and started a rice brand called “Radhunipagol”. He was a firm believer that agriculture was the secret to a nation's economic growth. Even though his business never quite grew into what he had envisioned, he never gave up.
My grandfather had a thirst for knowledge till the last day of his life. He had always wanted to be a lawyer, but could never get to it earlier in his life. One fine morning, eight years ago, he informed us that it was his dream to earn an LLB degree and that was what he would pursue now. He got his LLB at the age of 69 and attended the convocation with his much-younger batch mates. That was the kind of person he was—ready to overcome all odds and reach his goal. Till his last breath, he practiced law as an independent consultant.
We, the younger generation, can learn from him that age is not a barrier to learning. And my suggestion to the youth is to spend as much time with their grandparents as they can. Grandparents are living, breathing encyclopaedias whose legacies it is our duty to carry forward.
My last moment with my grandfather was on January 5, 2018. As a freedom fighter, he was supposed to get a plot of land which he did not get. So he handwrote a long letter to the authorities about his time in the war and in the civil service. He read out the entire letter to me, maybe because God wanted me to listen to his life story for the last time. Two days later he had a brain stroke and eventually left us on January 14. Here comes the end of the life of a brave warrior, a loving father and grandparent, and a patriot who hoped to breathe his last in his motherland. At his funeral pyre, I was gazing into the fire, my eyes full of tears, and a song by Rabindranath buzzing in my ears:
“Amar mukti aloy aloy, ei akashe,
Amar mukti aloy aloy,
Amar mukti dhulay dhulay, ghashe ghashe.”
Shuvashish Roy is a digital marketing specialist currently working at The Daily Star as Digital Marketing Manager.