Tribute to my mother Husne Ara Kamal
I saw other children with their mothers, I always wondered why my mother was different from theirs? She did not bother to dress up,she did not like fancy social occassions,nor did she reciprocate in the usual sense. She did not shop during ramadan,she did not make sets of jewelleries contemplating our wedding,she did not spend much time in the kitchen trying to satisfy everyone’s culinary cravings.She sat in one corner of our living room, reading books,writing poems, correcting exam papers and sat completely immersed in doing so. Yet,she was immensely liked by others and today as I look back, I think I can identify the reason,it was because she was a natural person,she was not an actress.She was who she was, there were no pretenses in her,she spoke her mind and she did not conform to many situations which are typical of Bengali women of her time.
My mother Professor Husne Ara Kamal alias Veena, was born ahead of her time. Even as a young child she knew that she was a non-conformist and although the choice of her rhyme was appropriate with those of a six/seven year old child, the total content of the poem,in describing her own self as different from others is a worthy sample of self-assessment by such a young person! This poem was published in a magazine called Mukuler Mehfil (Kolkata, India 1939).
Veena Jay Ischool
Doshtay bus ashe
Veena ghore ashey pashey
Tarahuro nei tar
Ekhono je noytai baje nai
Horn baje kothare?
Bus elo naki re?
Taratari Veena jay chut diye janalay
Koi kotha miche bhoy bus noy
Mon dey kobitay
Jhir jhir bohe bay
Achomka khuje phere
Ek beni ache badha
Ak paye jutati
Hate juta mathe goje
Chiruni o phitati
Boigulo guchate je bhule geche bilkul
Veena jay ischool
Her childhood stories, as narrated by her Mom and her older siblings, only confirms what she tried to portray of herself. That she was forgetful, could not get her act together on time and although very joyous and friendly, could not really understand what other people expected her to be.In her own natural self she would feel deeply for others and go out of her way to reach out.She reached out to slum children,she reached out to paralysed people who had no carers,she reached out to many downtrodden women who were forsaken by their husbands or left in the cold by their families.She was a pillar of strength for her students and other wards who found it difficult to adjust with live’s vagaries. She constantly encouraged them to take up jobs and exist in the society as respected individuals without bowing down to the pressure of others. With her weak physique and constant battles fighting one illness after the other,I often wonder how she found so much strength!
Her special interest was always on women’s education.Very early on in her own career she had seen the need for education of women as their key to independence,autonomy,empowerment and the ability to make the choices in life.Immediately after the independence of Bangladesh,she started a school in Purana Paltan,Dhaka. This school was named after Mr.Yakub who was the Chairman of the local Union Council and was slain by the Razzakars and Al Badr on the night of the 14th of December 1971. After setting up this school, my mother had set up many other schools, later in her life .I have not witnessed intimately the early days of setting up of her other schools as I have witnessed the one named Yakub Memorial.With only a few students she started this school in the house of Mr.Yakub and she toiled hard to get recognition for this school.I note to this day,how she tried to get Mrs.Yakub involved in the school which brought a new meaning to her life as she grieved the barbaric death of her beloved husband. Through her entire life,I found widowed, divorced women seeking shelter in my mother’s extended arms. She had a word of comfort for these women, whether they came from prestigious families or not, had no consequence upon her concern. She was equally sympathetic towards her friends, relatives during their times of duress, as she was to a labourer’s wife who had fallen from the roof and broken her spine. She would offer her car to crippled people so that they could acquire some vocational training.In doing so she would ask us (the daughters) to use public transport as God had given us all the faculties and we should learn to provide others who were not so fortunate. I think what she taught us through these lessons are simply unique and are more precious than sets of rubies or emeralds sold in any shop of the world!
Husne Ara (the beautiful) had a special nyche for children.As she taught her siblings how to sing and dance,she also took her pen and wrote down poems which were published in many magazines.When she got married to my father in 1956,she accompanied him and lived in London for a while.There she took training in Montessori method of teaching and as I was born during that time, my aunts tell me that I was her first sample student to whom she taught in the Montessori style. When we came back to East Pakistan (erstwhile) after my father was called to the Bar (1959), my mother continued her literary pursuit. To this day, many people remember her first book titled `Evu’r jonno chora’ (Evu being my nick name).This book was published by Bangla Academy in 1964 and I remember my mother writing down her poems here and there, stealing time from rearing us (Naeela,my younger sister, was born too).She found great joy in teaching us to sing and recite, write and act and some of our creative activities started with her inspiration and in fact almost in her arms! During holidays she would organise cultural events with her friends and invite their children to be part of the cultural activities. She wrote some of the poems for us to memorize, for others she read out so that they could memorize.These include children’s poetry from Nazrul and Tagore and her initiation to poetry at that early age inspired us to cultivate our literary pursuits. She accompanied us to the DIT (erstwhile TV) building where we performed songs and dances, She took us to Bangla Academy for spontaneous story telling. At age six, she took us to poor children’s home to sing and dance there and to remind ourselves that our gifts were not for us to enjoy alone. They had to be shared with those who were less fortunate.
Many years later as I was raising my own two daughters in London,UK, I was able to appreciate our early consciousness for the underprivileged ones. My daughters (then aged 5 and 6) ,came back from school and offered to wash the dishes for some remuneration. When I enquired after the reason I found out that they were asked to contribute some of their own income for the benefit of poor children. It was suggested by the school teachers that they should do some house chores and earn money, if they didn’t have anything to spare.I looked back upon my own upbringing, that was exactly how our mother taught us during our early years. From the amount earned from our TV and Radio programmes,she would ask us to pay for the education of a slum child.It seemed quite wry at that time, but it didn’t seem anymore. Through her strict morals we learnt to appreciate our own gifts and learnt to share that for the benefit of others.
My mother also practiced what she preached. When we were growing up, I saw her paying the young housemaids much higher salaries compared to what they would get elsewhere. My mother believed in offering adequate compensation for those who worked as personal staff. When other women would pay them a paltry amount and save this money for expensive saris and jewelleries,I saw my Mom paying them extra and refraining from buying expensive clothes or apparels for herself. She really had no value for them. She was naturally so breath-takingly beautiful, no amount of adornment matched her god-gifted beauty. She stood out no matter what she wore.
She worked for mentally challenged people. She was an active member of the `Mental Health Association’ and through her work got actively involved with the wards. She even brought them home to give them protection from abusive husbands or abusive mother-in-laws. In the early 60s there were no `homes’ for destitute and social misfits. She worked to rehabilitate their children and also put them up for adoption.
She was not a diplomatic person and both at work and at home she spoke her mind. She suffered a lot for this nature. To some, she was extremely popular and special, to others, she was not. One thing was for sure that she was not a false person, her praises were genuine and so were her criticism. In an ideal world, she may have liked to give away all her wealth to make this world a better place with less divides between the poor and the rich. She often told us:
keu khabe are keu khabe na
ta hobe na ,ta hobe na.
Another favourite bhajan of hers which I remember from time immemorial was
Raghupati Raghab Raja Ram
Patit Paban Sita Ram
Iswar Allah Tere nam
Sab ko sammati de bhagvan.
She never worried herself about gifts for us or relatives or friends who had invited her to their children’s wedding. She worried about buying another wheelchair for a paralyzed girl, she would spend her efforts to collect donations so that the less privileged people were provided for. She asked her friends to forego elaborate weddings and donate the money for crippled persons in the Centre for Paralysed (CRP).She would often go to CRP and listen to the woes of some of them, specially those who had no relatives visiting them. She would spend her free time reading out poems for the slum children, she was very dedicated to her cause and in spite of having poor health, she has contributed to the betterment of so…many lives. She never craved for name, fame or recognition, she has been happy being a giver.
Dr. Nashid Kamal is an artist, academician, writer and a Professor at BRAC