“See, I don’t have any money …”

Published : 25 March 2016, 06:00 PM
Updated : 25 March 2016, 06:00 PM


Sounds of cannon shots.

I thought the war was over. But what was going on outside?

I ran out of my room, one that I shared with Bhaia, and straight to my mother.

"What's happening, Amma? Isn't the war over? Where is Abbu?"

"It's a 21-gun salute. For your birthday," she said.

March 26, 1972, My sixth birthday! Nothing could be better.

I ran around the whole house looking for Abbu. He is the most important person in my life and it's his face that I wanted to see first thing in the morning. He was nowhere to be found. Finally Amma told me that he had gone to arrange a parade for me. The things adults say to children to pacify them!

The real story was…

My father, Gen. Safiullah, was the first parade commander of Shadhin Bangladesh. In March 1972 he was Col. Safiullah, Commander of 'S' force, which later became the 46 brigade. He later became the first Army Chief of Staff of Bangladesh April 5, 1972.

But, most importantly, he was about to miss my birthday because he was busy arranging Bangladesh's first Independence Day parade at the old airport in Dhaka.

The whole family went to the parade. I was still under the illusion that all this hoohaa was for me… It was my birthday after all.

Anyway, we went to the parade ground, all decked up and ready for my party and to take my father's salute.

I was with my mother and brother, sitting in the front row, right behind a small stage, and I had no idea what that was for but secretly hoping that it was for me. Don't forget, it was my birthday.

But a funny thing happened just before the parade started. A couple of men went up on stage, pretty sure of themselves as if it was their rightful place and not mine!

The parade started and after a while, my father, the most handsome man I know, in his sharp army uniform, was marching past.

I was so excited I couldn't breathe. This was my day and here comes my father, in all his glory, marching past, belt buckle and medals shining, belting out his parade commands, tilting his head to the right with a sharp salute. ALL FOR ME!

But wait…

Before I could take the salute, someone from the stage did. I couldn't believe it! Someone rained on my parade!

For rest of the event, I sat quietly next to my mother, which was very difficult for me, waiting for my father to come back and explain what had gone wrong.

He did come, and with him came the man who had taken the salute which I thought was meant for me. A tall, powerful man with a booming voice and a laugh that seemed to generate straight from his heart.

He was talking to my mother, throwing back his head and laughing.

I couldn't take it anymore. I had to ask him… So I did.

I walked straight up to the 'big people section' and came right out and said, "I am Reema and it's my birthday today. That salute was meant for me but you took it. And how come your coat doesn't have any sleeves? All of Abbu's suits have sleeves on them!"

He looked at me very seriously, put his hands in his 'Mujib coat' pockets, brought out his empty hands, palms upwards and said, "See, I don't have any money to put sleeves on my coat!"

March 26, 2016 – and it is my 50th birthday!

If I knew then (in 1972) what I know now, I would have cherished, relished, and preserved that moment when I first met Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.