Memories of Syed Muazzem Ali | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 30, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:28 AM, December 30, 2020

Memories of Syed Muazzem Ali

At the first death anniversary of Syed Muazzem Ali, former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, on December 30, many of his colleagues remember him as the highly accomplished and charismatic diplomat who helped to turn International Mother Language Day into a reality, and who tirelessly advanced Bangladeshi priorities on the world stage. They remember his warmth, humour and charm.

I too remember his warmth, humour and charm—not as a diplomat, but as Abbu, my father-in-law. Whenever I think about him, I think of mangoes. Abbu loved mangoes, and would always insist on buying and cutting them for his daughters-in-law and then later, for his grandchildren. Every time he visited, he, without fail, made a trip to the deshi grocery store in search of the best mangoes for us. Indeed, though we all loved mangoes, somehow we would only eat them when he cut them specially for us. Every time I now cut mangoes myself, I feel his presence.

He also loved music, and would often break out in Hindi or Bangla songs while relaxing with a newspaper on our recliner. He arranged the musical portion of my Mehendi (wedding event), and surprised me with secretly requesting the musicians to play "Tujhe dehka to ye jana sanam," my favourite Bollywood tune. I still remember Abbu and myself smiling and singing that song to each other along with the musicians.

Abbu was an immaculate dresser with an impeccable sense of fashion. I was not a fan of clothes shopping, and would spend a long time finding one or two outfits that I liked. Abbu would take those to Dhaka and have his tailor make five or six replicas for me in beautiful patterns. He chose the materials himself—I trusted his sense of taste wholeheartedly.

One of Abbu's most precious loves were his grandchildren. Some of my favourite memories are of him holding my daughters or nephew on his shoulders or taking them for walks. Indeed, his love for his grandchildren was the strongest force leading him to retire and return to the United States. He requested the Prime Minister to release him because, as he told us, "The Prime Minister will be able to find another diplomat for my position. But my grandchildren will not be able to find another grandfather." It is our collective sorrow that he passed away before he was able to see us again, to retire and spend the rest of his life with those grandchildren whom he so adored.


Shamim Sinnar, MD, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Pennsylvania State University.

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