Childhood of Sheikh Mujib: A boy loved by everyone becomes the Architect of the Nation

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Published on July 31, 2022
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The celebration was in the air in a quiet and remote village of Tungipara 100 years ago. The water of the nearby Madhumoti river was flowing with murmuring tunes, and the birds of the greenery lands added a tune to make the event more melodious. Festivities were in every house of the village as all the villagers were celebrating the event with sweetmeats, distributing clothes among the poor and performing all rituals to make the day eventful. But who knew then the day was going to be the most eventful day in the history of the Bengali nation? Who knew that would be the greatest occasion for the whole nation? An occasion to greet the birth of the nation’s greatest son in its thousands of years of history!

Yes, it was the birth of the greatest Bengali of all time, the Architect and Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. To understand the depth of his political wisdom and bravery, a look into his childhood is a must for all.

Sheikh Mujib came from a renowned family in Tungipara of Gopalganj on 17 March 1920. He was the third child of Sheikh Lutfur Rahman and Saira Khatun whose ancestry is traced back to Baghdad, Iraq. From the family history, it is estimated that around 400 years ago, Sheikh Awal came from Iraq to preach Islam in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent. Part of the family may have settled in Sonargaon near Dhaka, and another part settled in Gopalganj. Mujib was part of the seventh generation in the Sheikh family, the eldest son of Sheikh Lutfur Rahman and Saira Khatun. His parents were paternal cousins. His maternal grandfather Sheikh Abdul Majid was the elder brother of his paternal grandfather, Sheikh Abdul Hamid. His grandfathers also had a young brother, Sheikh Abdul Rashid who was popularly known as ‘Khan Saheb’ by both the locals and the ruling English.

The childhood of Sheikh Mujib becomes clear in the words of Sheikh Hasina, his eldest daughter and Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She said: “My father [Sheikh Mujib] grew up rural - amid rivers, trees, birdsong. He flourished in the free atmosphere inspired by his grandparents. He swam in the river, played in the fields, bathed in the rains, caught fish and watched out for birds' nests. He was lanky, yet played football. He liked to eat plain rice, fish, vegetables, milk, bananas and sweets. His care and concern for classmates, friends and others were well-known. He gave away his tiffin to the hungry, clothes to the naked, books to the needy and other personal belongings to the poor. One day, my grandfather told me, he gave his clothes to a poor boy and came home in his shawl.”

Mujib: An apple of the eye of his large family

His maternal grandfather had no son but four daughters. That is why he married off his youngest daughter Sayera Khatun to the son of his brother Sheikh Lutfur Rahman and gave her all the property. But during that period, the Muslims had very difficult times in getting jobs. Lutfar Rahman left education to earn bread and butter for the wider family. He, however, managed to get a position in Gopalganj civil court where he eventually became a sherestedar (an officer responsible for record-keeping). He himself built the house where Sheikh Mujib grew up.

Sheikh Mujibur had one brother Sheikh Naser and four sisters - Sheikh Fatema Begum, Sheikh Asia Begum, Sheikh Amena Begum and Khadijah Hossain Lily. His parents used to call him ‘Khoka’ out of affection. Born in a large family, young Mujib was raised with love and affection, moving from one lap to the other as the apple of his family's eye. According to his daughter Sheikh Rehana, “He [Sheikh Mujib] was the gem that everyone loved to see. His two elder sisters cuddled him almost around the clock. He grew up little by little and started learning Bangla, English, Persian, and Mathematics. His initiation in education was through my grandfather.”

Sheikh Lutfur Rahman was the most revered person in Mujib’s life and his teacher as well.

However, Sheikh Mujib’s marriage was fixed when he was 13. As his fiancé Begum Fazilatunnesa, also his paternal cousin, lost her father at the age of three, her (and Sheikh Mujib's) paternal grandfather Sheikh Abdul Hamid commanded his son Sheikh Lutfur Rahman to marry his son Sheikh Mujib to her. In 1938, Sheikh Mujib tied the knot with Fazilatunnesa, fondly called Renu by the family with family rituals. The pair subsequently became the happy parents of two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, and three sons, Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel. Renu was the best friend of Sheikh Mujib. There was nothing in this world that these two friends could not share.

Schooling in Gopalganj

He started his schooling at Gimadanga Primary School at the age of seven. Two years later, he got admitted into Grade III at Gopalganj Public School.

In 1931, he entered Grade IV at Madaripur Islamia High School. But the teenager was suffering a severe infection in his eye, so he had to be withdrawn from school in 1934 when he suffered from Beriberi which weakened his heart. He underwent treatment for the following two years. But in 1936, the condition of his eyes deteriorated due to glaucoma. To avoid the risk of being blind, he was admitted to Calcutta Medical College Hospital for an emergency eye operation.

He remembered the incident in his ‘Unfinished Memories’. He wrote: “I was scheduled for surgery at 9 am. I was so scared that I tried to run away but did not succeed. I was taken to the operating theatre for surgery on one eye. Within 10 days there was another surgery on the other eye. I eventually recovered but had to wear glasses from then on. That is why I have had glasses since 1936. I also had to discontinue studies for a while.”

Due to the severity of the surgery and slow recovery, Sheikh Mujib finally returned to school after four years in 1937. He, however, did not go back to his old school because his friends by the time were promoted far ahead of him in their studies. So, he was admitted to Gopalganj Mission School. To cope with his studies, his father hired a private tutor, Kazi Abdul Hamid, for him. The house tutor was provided with a room in the family house also.

The teenage boy with spectacles in his eyes soon became very popular with his friends. As he was older than his peers, they used to call him ‘Miabhai’ or ‘Bhaijan’ (a term used to address elder brother).

A Heart Lent to The Poor

Mujib, from his childhood, had a big heart for the poor and helpless, reaching out to them at hard times and helping them by whatever means possible. Thus, he earned reverence and blessing from the people around him. He even donated food from his own barn to starving people. He even took off his own shirt to donate it to someone else and shared food.

His daughter Sheikh Rehana said: “Once a natural disaster wreaked havoc on the crops in his region. People were about to die of hunger, which little Mujib couldn’t stand. Requesting my grandparents, he started donating rice from our barn. Along with his little friends, he used to collect rice from door to door and donated that to the people in need.”

A short example can help us understand how big a heart Mujib possessed in his childhood. Once Mujib’s father Lutfur Rahman returned from Kolkata with a beautiful shawl for Mujib. Mujib went out with that shawl. But after a while, he was coming back and spotted a weak old man shivering in freezing cold under a tree. Mujib took off his shawl and donated it to him. Then he came back home shivering.

Even his house tutor Kazi Abdul Hamid was a great philanthropist. He established the Muslim Welfare Association, a society to help poor students in Gopalganj. He enlisted young Sheikh Mujib and others to collect alms from all over the Muslim part of the town for helping his needy students. They used to go door-to-door every Friday after Jummah and collect the donated rice and sell it. Then they would help students buy books and meet examinations and other expenses with the money.

Kazi Abdul Hamid also managed houses in the town where these boys could stay and would pay for their lodging by tutoring the children in the families. Mujib also did a lot of work for him. But after Hamid Master died suddenly of tuberculosis, Sheikh Mujib took over and looked after it for a long time.

Regarding his childhood activities, Mujib wrote in his ‘Unfinished Memoirs’: “I was older than most boys in my class because of the four years I had lost due to my illness. I was a very obstinate boy. I had my own gang of boys. I would mercilessly punish anyone who offended me. I would fight a lot. If any member of my band was ever insulted, we would pounce on the offender. At times my father would become fed up with my aggressive manner. Since we lived in a small town where all my deeds would eventually be reported to him, I was quite scared of my father. I was also scared of Mr Abdul Hakim Mia, another gentleman of the town, who was also my father’s close friend as well as his colleague. He would either report our activities to my father or scold us himself. Even if we managed to escape my father’s attention, we failed to escape Hakim Mia’s hawk eyes. We used to live on one side of the town and he on the other... His eldest son, KhondokarMahbubuddin Ahmed, aka Feroz, was my friend. We were very close to each other. Feroz is now an advocate at the high court. We were such great friends that we felt miserable if we failed to meet each other every day.”

However, his father Sheikh Lutfur Rahman had an unwavering faith in his child. He knew of one or two mischievous acts of Mujib and believed strongly that his kid could not do anything unjust. A pure faithful Mujib admitted everything lowering his head before his grandfather if he inquired of any activities.

Involvement in Extra-Curricular Activities

Young Sheikh Mujib’s world was colourful with sports, humanitarian activities, and all these. There was an organization called Brotochari that was vibrant with songs and dances. They used to sing and dance to narrate the plight and sorrow of men and women while playing Dhole (a traditional percussion of this land). Mujib joined this group as well. That helped the youths stay physically fit and the stories of human plight and sufferings were narrated to people as well.

Not only that Sheikh Mujib played sports a lot. He especially enjoyed playing football, volleyball and hockey. Although he was not very good at these, he used to play for the school team.

He wrote: “In school, I was crazy about sports. However, my father tried to discourage me from playing since my heart wasn’t strong. My father himself was a good sportsman. He was secretary of the Officers’ Club. I was captain of the Mission School. When my team played father’s club, people were quite excited. Our school team was quite strong. We used to admit the best players of the region and exempt them from paying tuition fees.”

In that football competition between students and government employees in 1940, Mujib was the captain of the student team against the team of his father. However, Sheikh Lutfur Rahman’s team came out victorious.

Instinctive Leadership & Organizational Skills Impressed All

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was very keen to know about everything and fond of studying a lot. His father used to buy a lot of books and he used to read out history, geography, English, Bangla, religion, science, literature, stories about legends and the repression committed by the British regime against Mujib.

According to his daughter Sheikh Rehana, “Little Mujib was curious about everything, asking one question after another to his father, who also answered all his queries. He used to read out the stories of legends, religion, and science to him. My grandfather and father Mujib were like friends. While they could share everything without any reservation, their relationship didn’t miss out on mutual respect. My grandfather never resisted his child from undertaking any feat.”

So, while teenager Mujib was recovering from his eye operation, he used the period very prudently and instinctively. He used to attend meetings in the evenings. As that was the time of the Swadeshi Movement. It spread to every part of Madaripur and Gopalganj. Purna Das of Madaripur was the name of fear for the British and the teenage Mujib was impressed by him. He, in his ‘Unfinished Memories’, wrote: “Boys who were still in their teens flocked to join it. When some of the party people saw me attending their meetings regularly, they became interested in me. I began to harbour negative ideas about the British in my mind. The English, I felt, had no right to stay in our country. We had to achieve independence. I too became an admirer of Mr (Subhas Chandra) Bose and started to travel back and forth between Gopalganj and Madaripur to attend meetings. I also began to mix with the people in the Swadeshi Movement. That the then SDO (Sub-Divisional Officer) of Gopalganj had cautioned my paternal grandfather, Khan Saheb, is a story I came to know later.”

In 1938, when Sheikh Mujib was a student at Gopalganj missionary school, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, the Chief Minister of Bengal, and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Minister of Commerce, visited Gopalganj for a public meeting. However, local influential Hindu leaders vowed to protest their visit as they formed a coalition government with Muslim League. However, Mujib who was just 20 led a group of students and made the event successful avoiding any clash. To Mujib, there is no communal view about Hinduism or Muslim as he used to play, sing and hang out with everyone irrespective of religion, caste and race. Suhrawardy was so impressed by the leadership and organizational qualities of Mujib that he noted down his name and address and gave him his Kolkata address. Not only that he sent a letter to Mujib thanking him for making the event successful. Then he continued communicating with Suhrawardy, who is famously known as the legend of democracy.

Mujib from his childhood was very committed to his own people. He started serving in jail during his high school life. He remained in custody for seven days as he went to rescue one of his friends who was captured and tortured by some local people, which ended up in a clash.

In 1941, after passing the matriculation exam, Sheikh Mujib became fully active in politics, regularly visiting Suhrawardy in Calcutta, attending and giving speeches at public meetings and rallies, and forming Muslim Student League in Madaripur. He was getting very close to Suhrawardy. Mujib was very much influenced by his ideologies.

There is no doubt that the political consciousness of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was instinctive from an early age. Before he became fully active in politics, he rushed from door to door, gathered experiences and understood the people’s sufferings and exploitation by the British. These eventful experiences helped him develop his leadership from a young age and made him committed to devoting his whole life for the sake of the freedom of the people. And thus, Mujib who was the apple of the eye of his family became the Architect of the Bengali nation.