Sheikh Russel: An Epitome of Unstoppable Spirit

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Published on October 15, 2021
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Rewind the clock to 1964. Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy had passed away. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was reigning in the political landscape, channeling all efforts to rejuvenate Awami League. He was wedged between his schedules to network across the country to carry forward the anti-Ayub-regime movements and chalk out the roadmap for Independent Bangladesh. Amid all these political transformations was laid the foundation stone for another historical establishment, his Dhanmondi-32 residence, the making of which was looked after by Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib. It was the heyday of the Mujib family, vibrant with phenomenal activities when a newborn baby became the center of attention of all its members. Sheikh Russel, the youngest child of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib, was born on October 18, 1964, the first day of the Bengali month Kartik, a time when the ripe yield of the Late Autumn fills the air with fragrance.

When Sheikh Russel was in his mother’s womb, Bangabandhu was busy reorganizing Awami League across the country – two stories developing contemporarily. Fast-forward to post-independence Bangladesh, little Russel used to accompany Bangabandhu in his foreign tours. The poise and personality he emitted at that young age were gripping. His name, inspired by Bertrand William Russel, the great philosopher widely acclaimed for his anti-imperialist and non-violent stance, reflects that Sheikh Mujib and Fazilatunnesa wanted him to grow up as an epitome of humanity. He was raised in the cocoon of love from his two elder sisters – Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana – and two brothers – Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal.

When Russel was supposed to fly in the dreamy world of fairies, the political reality of the country was the opposite. The whole nation was seething with movements advanced by his father. Bangabandhu spelled out his six-point demand in 1966, catalyzing a wave of protests in every corner of the country. It gave a jolt to the military regime of Pakistan that imprisoned Bangabandhu. By that time, Russel had learned how to walk. A few words were rolling off his tongue. He used to wander around his house searching for his father but to no avail. Sometimes his mother wasn’t there either. Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib got occupied dealing with the political cases filed against Bangabandhu and advancing the movement by coordinating Awami League and Chhatra League activists. Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina was also active in college politics. That is why little Russel had to be carried to the jail gate to be picked up by his father. Once he curled up into his father’s lap, it was hard to get him detached, but that little opportunity too slipped out of his hand following the 1968-Agartala Conspiracy Case. Finally, he called his mother his father.

When Bangabandhu and his family members were encountering turmoil for leading the nation’s struggle towards freedom, Russel’s companion was the pigeons they used to pet. That is the reason he was always averse to consuming pigeon meat. A child with endless love and generosity was in the making, but that flower was nipped in the bud. On the fateful night of August 15, 1975, a cackle of hyenas gunned down the entire family of Bangabandhu. Startled, little Russel wanted to reach his mother. The assassins gave him the fake promise of taking him to his mother only to perforate him with bullets too. The world history records no such mindless killing. That silent, unheard tears still linger in the Dhanmondi 32 residence and University Laboratory School’s fourth-grade classroom.

When a school of pigeons fades in the twilight sky, the faint hope for getting Russel back takes over Bengali hearts. Like the birds flying back to the nests, Russel also hails back to our minds.