Begum Fazilatun Nesa: Sheikh Mujib's flame of inspiration

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Published on August 8, 2023
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Begum Fazilatun Nesa was born on 8 August 1930 in Tungipara, Gopalganj, in a noble Muslim family. Her father was Sheikh Zahurul Haque and her mother was Hosne Ara Begum. Fazilatun Nesa was the younger of the couple's two children. Her elder sister Begum Jinnatun Nesa was 3-4 years older than her. Fazilatun Nesa's nickname was Renu.

Sheikh Zahurul Haque used to live in Jashore due to his government job. He wanted both his daughters to obtain bachelor's degrees in education. But, unfortunately, he passed away when she was only three. At that time the communication system in the country was so bad that it was not possible to take the body of the departed father from Jashore to Tungipara. He was buried there. Sheikh Abul Kashem, her grandfather, arranged her marriage to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and also distributed all her father's assets under the names of Fazilatun Nesa and Jinnatun Nesa.

Fazilatun Nesa's mother also died when she was five. Sheikh Sayera Khatun, Sheikh Mujib's noble mother, wiped the tears of orphaned Renu and took her in her arms and nurtured her with motherly love. Little Renu grew up with the children of Sheikh Sayera Khatun. She arranged the education of Renu by keeping a house tutor for her. This was the custom in those days. Renu was taught arithmetic, Bengali and English and she also received religious lessons, including the Quran and Hadith. She received formal education in the local missionary school for a while. Besides, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's father Sheikh Lutfar Rahman used to work in Gopalganj and had a house there. So, Renu also got the opportunity to study at Gopalganj Missionary School. However, she could not receive formal education beyond the 3rd grade as girls were not allowed to go outside the house at the time. Yet she had a keen interest in learning, which appeared as a characteristic feature of her later life.

A passionate reader

She loved to read books. When Bangabandhu was studying in Kolkata, Renu used to visit there, especially during his exams. Renu used to stay updated about her husband's education while staying at his sister's house. They formed a family relationship with poet Sufia Kamal in Kolkata. Renu used to read Sufia Kamal's writings with great interest. Her habit of reading books developed while she was living in Tungipara. She used to read books by many authors, including Bankim, Rabindranath, Sarat Chandra, Prabodh Kumar Sanyal, Satinath Bhaduri, Tarashankar, Ramesh Chandra and Bibhutibhushan. Moreover, Bangabandhu's father always kept a newspaper in his house in Tungipara. Renu used to read newspapers with great attention and news based on social issues attracted her very much.

Later, after moving permanently to Dhaka, various types of newspapers and magazines were also kept in the family home in Dhaka. Among them, Renu loved the writings published in Sachitra Sandhani, Begum and Samakal Sahitya Patrika. Apart from various Bengali magazines, English magazines such as National Geographic, Life and Reader's Digest were kept in their house. Usually, Renu used to sit down to read with a basket of newspapers and letters after having lunch in the afternoon.

She entered matrimony at a tender age through a traditional religious ceremony. The Akhd of Renu and Sheikh Mujib was done in 1938, and their formal marriage was arranged in 1942. She grew up as part of a unified family since childhood. There was no divisive thought or hesitation in her mind. Strong family ties and shared family values were very important to her. She learned from her mother-in-law all aspects of household management, cooking, sewing, and housekeeping. When Sheikh Hasina was born on 28 September 1947, Sheikh Mujib was studying in Kolkata. It was a time when he was completely immersed in politics. Their first child, a son, had died after birth. Everyone in their family was very happy to see a daughter this time. Sheikh Mujib could not come to the family due to his political activities despite getting the news of the birth of the child since at that time communal riots were engulfing Kolkata, Bihar and Noakhali.

The plight of the riot victims deeply distressed the teenage mother Renu. As a result, she sent a bold message to Sheikh Mujib through a letter that it was very important for him to stand by the oppressed people. That is why Sheikh Mujib was inspired to prepare a volunteer force under the command of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and engage in the work of helping refugees in Bihar. After his permanent return to Dhaka, Sheikh Mujib joined the movement to protect the status of Bengali as the national language.

Sheikh Kamal was born in Tungipara on 5 August 1949 when Sheikh Mujib was imprisoned for a long time for his involvement in the language movement. Deprived of their father's presence, the children were brought up by Renu's motherly love.

The child Sheikh Kamal, with a strong desire to be touched by his father, once said to his elder sister Sheikh Hasina, "Hasu bu (sister Hasina), can I call your father 'Abba'?" The same also happened to Sheikh Russell, Mujib's younger son. At the time of Sheikh Russell's birth, Mujib was busy as he was involved in the presidential candidate Fatima Jinnah's election meetings in Chattogram. After Sheikh Mujib was imprisoned during the 6-point movement, baby Russell always used to look for his father. At one point, Begum Mujib told Russell to call her "Abba" (father). When baby Russell called his mother "Abba" while meeting his imprisoned father at the jail gate, Begum Mujib explained the incident to her husband. Hearing this, Sheikh Mujib deeply regretted his inability to allocate more time to his family.

Renu was very conscious of her children's education and cultural practices. Sheikh Hasina, the elder daughter, was first admitted to Nari Shikkha Mandir. After the family moved to the house at 32 Dhanmondi, Sheikh Hasina was admitted to Azimpur Girls School. The two sons, Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal, and younger daughter Shikeh Rehana were admitted to Shaheen School, the country's renowned educational institution.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib had to spend most of his life in prison. Because of this, Begum Mujib had to sell many cherished possessions to provide sustenance for both the family and party members. On several occasions, she was compelled to part with even her most beloved ornaments. But Begum Mujib never let go of her collection of musical instruments, radiograms and music records.

The upbringing of Begum Mujib's children was steeped in Bengali culture, a legacy she cultivated. Within this milieu, Sheikh Hasina honed her skills with the violin, Sheikh Kamal emerged as a distinguished sitar maestro, an ardent aficionado of music, an accomplished sports figure, and a theatre luminary. Sheikh Jamal delved into playing the guitar, while Sheikh Rehana immersed herself in the realms of music and dance.

From one house to another

Sheikh Mujib brought his wife Renu along with their three children to Dhaka in 1954 and started to live in a small room on the ground floor of a two-storey house at 8/3 Rajani Bose Lane. When he became a minister after winning the 1954 elections, he moved to the house provided by the government on Minto Road. Sheikh Mujib lost his ministerial position and was arrested when the Pakistan government imposed the governor's rule under Article 92(a). Begum Mujib had to leave the house with only 14 days' notice. With the help of relatives and party workers, she started staying at Sultan Saheb's House- 79 in Nazira Bazar for a few days. A severe flood that year inundated the Nazira Bazar area. As a result, Begum Mujib had to be shifted to Dhaka City Awami League President Hafez Mohammad Musa Sahib's house in Armanitola.

Sheikh Rehana was born on 13 September 1955 in Mitford Hospital. Elected as a member of the National Assembly in 1955, Sheikh Mujib joined Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy's cabinet in 1956 and moved into a government house at 15 Abdul Gani Road with his family. Sheikh Mujib announced his resignation from the ministry at the Kagmari conference in order to strengthen the party's grassroots base, and his resignation took effect on 8 August 1957. Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy appointed him as the chairman of the Pakistan Tea Board. He used to serve in the position without any salary because he continued to perform duties as the general secretary of the Awami League. At this time, he and his family moved to the official residence designated for the tea board chairman in 115 Segun Bagicha.

President Iskandar Mirza and army commander-in-chief General Ayub Khan imposed martial law in Pakistan on 7 October 1958. After Sheikh Mujib was arrested on 12 October, Begum Mujib had to leave the official residence of the Tea Board chairman on a three-day notice. She and the children stayed in an under-construction house in Siddhesshwari.

There was a narrow path a narrow muddy road to go in and out of the house. Then with great difficulty, she was able to rent a three-room flat at a retired judge's house in 76 Segun Bagicha. Sheikh Mujib spent most of his time in jail during those days. So it was very difficult for his family to rent a house.

But nothing could break Begum Mujib's morale

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was released from jail on December 17, 1959. He took a job at Alfa Insurance Company in March 1960. In the late 1960s, Begum Mujib decided to start building a house on their plot on Road No 32, Dhanmondi, with the money she had saved from the income of her inherited property. The foundation stone of the house was laid in early 1961. To speed up the work, Sheikh Mujib took a house construction loan. Renu's dream of a permanent residence was embedded in every brick of the house. It could also be said that Renu sought solace for her emotional anguish of changing addresses one after another through the very act of constructing a home, brick by brick, cementing it with her own hands.

When only two rooms became suitable for living, on 1 October 1961, Begum Mujib and her family moved to the house at 32 Dhanmondi. She worked tirelessly to reduce construction costs. She even poured water on the bricks and walls with her children. She did not let anyone understand her sufferings. Sheikh Russell was born on 18 October 1964 in that one-storey house. Till then they could not start working on the second floor. Begum Mujib constructed the rooms one by one by saving money little by little. As a result, the work on the second floor was completed in early 1966. Bangamata Fazilatun Nesa's happiness of living in her own house did not last long.

By that time that house became the focus of hope of Bengalis and the only address of the Awami League's central leaders and grassroots activists from all over Bangladesh. However, it happened because of Begum Mujib's maternal qualities. She used to receive the leaders and activists of the party with the utmost kindness. She also made arrangements so that the leaders and activists coming from far away could spend the night in the house. Begum Mujib's second phase of uncertain life began after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was arrested by the Pakistan military junta in the early hours of 26 March 1971. When the Pakistani army attacked the house, Begum Mujib, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel climbed the wall and sought refuge in the neighbouring house of Dr Samad Shahib.

From there, Sheikh Mujib's cousin Mominul Haq Khoka went with Begum Mujib and her children to their relative Morshed Mahmud's residence on Dhanmondi Road No 2. Begum Mujib then became worried about her husband Mujib and son Kamal. Kamal had already gone to war to resist the Pakistan army. When the curfew was slightly relaxed, they went to Captain Rahman Saheb's house on Dhanmondi Road-15. Then Sheikh Hasina and Dr Wazed Mia were with Rehana in a rented house on road number 15.

On the orders of Begum Mujib, Khoka Sahib went to get news of Sheikh Hasina; and Sheikh Rehana came with him. Gathering Begum Mujib's entire family, Khoka Shahib left the house at Dhanmondi Road No 15 and came to the residence of Superintendent Engineer Ali Saheb in Moghbazar. Curfew was imposed during the evening. When the night turned to morning, they all stayed at Mominul Haque Khoka's in-laws' house in Wari for a few days. Begum Mujib hired a house in Malibagh thinking that it would not be safe to stay in one place for a long time. When they arrived at the house in Malibagh, they were surrounded by enthusiastic crowds. They quickly left the place and took shelter on the second floor of an abandoned house in Chowdhurypara.

They met Bangabandhu's niece Polly and her husband Odud Shahib suddenly in that abandoned house. The next day, another house was rented in Chowdhurypara. Begum Mujib had already learned that Wazed Mia had gone to his colleague Mozammel Sahib's house in Chowdhurypara along with Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana. She had to pass the time with intense anxiety about her family members. She used to listen to various programmes of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra and Aakashbani on transistor radio. She also listened regularly to the news of resistance by the guerrilla fighters and the East Bengal Regiment.

The first government of Bangladesh was formed on 10 April with Sheikh Mujib as president and Syed Nazrul Islam as vice president. This government was sworn in on 17 April at Baidyanathala in Mujibnagar. Some close family members of Bangabandhu, in connivance with the Pakistani military junta, their spies and henchmen, were seeking opportunities to hand Begum Mujib and her children over to the Pakistanis.

However, during that time, under the leadership and instructions of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, the people of Bengal took up arms and continued the struggle to defeat the Pakistani army. Begum Mujib and her family started to stay in an empty house belonging to Nuruddin Sahib in Moghbazar. In the second half of April, almost all daily newspapers published pictures of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, under arrest and flanked by security guards at Karachi airport. Everyone was relieved to know that Mujib was alive. Due to the increasingly suspicious movements of the Pakistani soldiers around that house in Moghbazar, the family had to change their house again. This time, they rented a two-storey house in the petrol pump lane of Moghbazar owned by a generous lady who was a devoted supporter of Bangabandhu. A few days later, Begum Mujib was joined by her pregnant daughter Sheikh Hasina and her family. Due to the outbreak of guerilla warfare, they were not feeling safe in their residence in Chowdhurypara. Begum Mujib was extremely happy to have her daughter. Bangabandhu highly respected Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia. He was Bangabandhu's only mentor after the death of Suhrawardy.

But when the wife and children of the late Manik Mia came to know that Begum Mujib's family was staying in that house in Moghbazar, they informed Pakistani intelligence. In such a dramatic situation, General Omar, the head of Pakistan's ISI, sent two jeep loads of Pakistani soldiers, arrested all the members of Bangabandhu's family and imprisoned them in house number 26 of Dhanmondi-18 until the country became independent. Begum Mujib and her family members had to change residence 19 times in a month before their arrest.

From Begum Fazilatun Nesa to Bangamata

Arrest or imprisonment became routine in the life of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He used to ask Begum Mujib to pack his bags every time the Pakistani police came to arrest him. Begum Mujib used to put books, pens, notebooks, and tobacco along with other essentials in the bag. She encouraged Bangabandhu to write his biography. Begum Mujib's grandfather wrote his autobiography. It was from that inspiration that Begum Mujib repeatedly urged Sheikh Mujib to write his autobiography. That is why Bangabandhu began writing his "Unfinished Memoirs" by being inspired by Begum Mujib.

With Begum Mujib's visionary encouragement and inspiration, Sheikh Mujib wrote his memoirs, diaries and travelogues in addition to his autobiography. Whenever Sheikh Mujib was released from jail, Begum Mujib used to welcome him at the jail gate. She used to check whether the notebooks of Bangabandhu were coming back with all the belongings. She did not forget to collect the books back from the jail and kept them very carefully. After 25 March 1971, their Dhanmondi-32 house was occupied by the Pakistanis. They ransacked and looted the entire house. But the notebooks were unharmed as Begum Mujib hid them in her room. Sheikh Hasina was able to recover the notebooks during the war with the advice and guidance of her mother.

Bangabandhu used to donate the books that he took to the jail to the jail library. But on the request of Begum Mujib, he used to bring back some of the books, such as Rabindra Rachnabali, books by Sarat Chandra, Kazi Nazrul Islam, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, P.B. Shelley and John Keats – the books that Begum Mujib used to put in Bangabandhu's bag every time he went to jail. Due to Bangabandhu's repeated imprisonment, many seals of the jail censors were stamped on these books.

Begum Mujib used to buy various books from the bookstores in Dhaka New Market with her children. The habit of buying books and reading books was inculcated in all the family members. Begum Mujib was allowed to meet Bangabandhu at the jail gate for one hour every 15 days. Some of the children strolled along, gripping their mother's hand, while others sat on her lap, eager to catch a glimpse of their father at the entrance to the jail. During such visits, Begum Mujib always took tea in a flask, samosa and biscuit for Bangabandhu. She used to send large quantities of food to the jail gate so that Bangabandhu could share them with other leaders, activists and acquaintances in the prison.

Begum Mujib always worried about the health of the imprisoned Sheikh Mujib. She used to send mangoes and other fruits from the trees in their home and Horlicks to the jail. Sometimes with the permission of the DIG, she would send rice, dal, tea, sugar, oil, ghee, vegetables, chickens, eggs, salt and onions for Bangabandhu to the prison. Before visiting the jail gate, she used to cook Bangabandhu's favourite fish and meat and took them to the jail gate along with betel nuts. Bangabandhu had to spend many days of his life in jail. That is why Begum Mujib and the children had to spend many an Eid without any joy.

Begum Mujib used to start cooking for Bangabandhu in the early morning on the day of Eid and would bring the food herself to the jail gate in the morning. Many of Bangabandhu's birthdays were also spent in jail. His wife Renu used to send gifts to the prison during his birthdays. She used to buy books from Kolkata to gift her husband. Even when the family had to go through tough times, Begum Mujib went to the jail gate with a bunch of flowers or a floral garland instead of other gifts. During his imprisonment, Bangabandhu kept track of his parents and all his family members through Begum Mujib.

During her childhood, orphan Renu was raised by Bangabandhu's parents. That is why her respect, honour and sense of responsibility towards them was immense. Teenage bride Renu served Bangabandhu's parents throughout her life. After her marriage to Sheikh Mujib, his father Sheikh Lutfar Rahman was made guardian of all the properties of Renu that she inherited from her father. Sheikh Lutfar Rahman used to hand over the income from his daughter-in-law's wealth till the last days of his life. Begum Mujib used to rush to Tungipara with the children when she got news of her in-laws' illness through telegrams or from people. She would bring them to Dhaka quickly and arrange for their proper treatment.

Moreover, she used to send her children home one by one during school-college vacations so that they could help their elderly grandparents. During the Liberation War, the Pakistani forces burnt down the ancestral home of Sheikh Mujib's parents in front of their eyes. At that time, Begum Mujib arranged to bring her in-laws to Dhaka and admitted them to the then-PG Hospital.

Sheikh Mujib established the Bangladesh Film Development Corporation in 1956 after becoming a minister for the second term. Begum Mujib had a very important role in it. As she was aware of political and economic matters, she was also very tasteful and artistic. She used to read various books and newspapers to stay updated about social, political and cultural news. At that time, cinema halls in East Bengal used to show films imported from West Pakistan and India. Begum Mujib did not like Pakistani films. Some films were imported from West Bengal in the first half of 1956. The appeal of Bengali film stars Uttam and Suchitra was at its peak among the audience at that time. Under the insistence of Begum Mujib, Sheikh Mujib had to go to the cinema hall and watch the movie "Shap Mochan" starring Uttam-Suchitra. One day during a family discussion, Begum Mujib said, "Indian films are being shown now. After a long time, we are getting some entertainment. But there is no shortage of talent in our country. The film industry can be developed in our country too. But why is it not happening? I don't understand."

Shortly thereafter, Sheikh Mujib appealed to the centre for financial allocation to set up studios in East Bengal. After that, he got an allocation of Tk1 crore for setting up infrastructure, including approval for the establishment of the Film Development Corporation.

Whenever Begum Mujib along with her children went to meet Bangabandhu at the jail gate, the two of them used to discuss various issues of the world. Moreover, she also used to bring political messages from Sheikh Mujib to party activists. She used to communicate with the lawyers as per Bangabandhu's directives and bring the lawyers to the jail gate. She would even go to the court premises and stand there for hours. In this way, she became a loyal comrade of Bangabandhu. As a result, Begum Mujib was always followed by Pakistani intelligence officials. Once, while Bangabandhu was in jail, she fell ill and was admitted to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. The police followed her to the hospital cabin. She often laughed about it.

With the consent of the imprisoned leader Sheikh Mujib, several meetings of Awami League's working committee were held at his Dhanmondi-32 residence on the Six-Point demand of the Awami League and the Eight-Point demand of the PDM. Begum Mujib was present at the meetings. At that time many leaders of the party were also in favour of the Eight Points But the activists were in favour of the Six Points. Bangabandhu considered the PDM's Eight-Point as a sham to divert East Bengal from the Six-Point plan. Before his arrest, he held rallies in districts and created a mass awakening in favour of the six-point movement through the Chhatra League. Begum Mujib stood for Bangabandhu's Six-Point demand with firm determination. She clearly said in the working committee meeting of the Awami League, "Sheikh Mujib is in jail for the Six-Point demand. The activists have given their blood for it. Therefore, not a single comma or semicolon of the Six-Point demand can be changed while Sheikh Mujib is in jail. The Eight-Point cannot be approved at all." After Bangabandhu was arrested in the sedition case, Begum Mujib worked day and night to build a strong mass movement in favour of the Six Points. She gave all kinds of support to the Awami League and Chhatra League.

She was a great guerrilla. In order to make the strike on 7 June successful in favour of the six-point demand, she used to go in disguise and hold regular meetings with the student leaders. In these cases, she first went to Bangabandhu's younger sister's house at Sobhan Bagh. She used to change her clothes there, wear a burqa over it and reach various meeting places in the Dhaka University area including Shahabagh, Neelkhet and Palashi riding on scooters. Moreover, she used to meet leaders and activists at the house of a distant relative in Azimpur Colony. She used to distribute leaflets supporting the six-point demand keeping them hidden inside her burqa. The issue of six-point was discussed so often in their family discussions and family gatherings that the two-and-a-half-year-old Russell used to chant the slogan when he visited his father at Jailgate, "Six points must be fulfilled. Struggle, struggle, will continue."

While Bangabandhu was imprisoned, Begum Mujib began to receive marriage proposals from well-off families for their elder daughter Sheikh Hasina. At one point Motiur Rahman of Rangpur Awami League came up with a proposal. Begum Mujib herself went to the house of a relative of Motiur Saheb in Gulshan to see her daughter's probable groom. He was MA Wazed Mia, who had a doctorate in physics, from a noble family in Rangpur. Begum Mujib liked him and told her imprisoned husband about the matter. Sheikh Mujib gave his consent. Sheikh Mujib always trusted his wife's opinion in making any family decision.

On 17 November 1967, the Akhd of their eldest child was arranged in a domestic environment. Later, following Begum Mujib's request, permission was obtained for Sheikh Hasina and Dr Wazed Mia to meet the imprisoned Sheikh Mujib at the jail gate. Begum Mujib also accompanied them at that time. Before their visit, Bangabandhu had made two garlands of flowers in the jail for the new couple.

In the meeting room of the jail, Sheikh Mujib blessed the newlyweds by putting garlands of flowers around their necks. This is how the marriage of the eldest daughter of the undisputed leader of Bengal, the father of our nation, took place. Usually, a lot of excitement and enthusiasm is natural on such occasions among the parents and relatives of the bride. It is easily understood how difficult it was for the parents to bless their newlywed daughter at the jail gate.

On January 17, 1968, Bangabandhu was arrested in the Agartala conspiracy case from the gate of the Dhaka Central Jail and kept in an undisclosed location in the cantonment, so that the party leaders and activists or family members could not know.

However, the next day, January 18, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was scheduled to meet his family at the jail gate. Accordingly, Begum Mujib waited till evening with her children on the street in front of the jail gate. She did not know that her husband had been captured by the army. Not seeing Bangabandhu, she returned home with a feeling of anxiety and continued to spend the day in great distress. After the hearing of the sedition case started, everyone came to know that Sheikh Mujib was imprisoned in the cantonment. On the first day of the hearing, Begum Mujib was allowed to go to court and was relieved to see her husband.

Sheikh Mujib, the political prisoner, was subjected to mental torture in various ways. He was told that his wife Begum Mujib could also be implicated in this case. On the other hand, the Pakistani intelligence agencies interrogated Begum Mujib several times and threatened her with arrest. Begum Mujib played a significant role in the formation of the Chhatra Sangram Parishad. When the Agartala Conspiracy Case against 35 political prisoners, including Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was being heard, as the intensity of the movement was increasing, at one point Ayub Khan called for talks with all the parties and took the initiative of having Bangabandhu take part in the talks on parole in West Pakistan. But Begum Mujib strongly opposed her husband's temporary release. She demanded the case against all be withdrawn and all be released at the same time.

Sheikh Mujib also remained firm on the same decision. Finally, in the face of the strong movement, Ayub Khan was forced to release all the accused in the Agartala case together on 22 February 1969. On 7 March 1971, Bangabandhu addressed the nation at the Race Course Maidan. Thousands of people gathered there to listen to the leader's directives. On the other hand, his Dhanmondi-32 residence was surrounded by people. There was a huge crowd of activists inside the house as well.

Various people were giving various suggestions about what Sheikh Mujib should say at the rally. Some were writing drafts on small paper, some on large paper. A mountain of advice piled up. As the time was nearing, Bangabandhu came downstairs, had lunch and went to rest in the bedroom on the advice of Begum Mujib. His two daughters then sat beside the worried father and tried to calm him down. Meanwhile, Begum Mujib gave a betel leaf to Bangabandhu's hand and gave some advice. "All the people of Bangladesh have come to listen to you today. You do not need to listen to anyone. You will say what is on your mind. That will be right," Begum Mujib told Bangabandhu. Bangabandhu listened to his wife with great attention and then set off for the rally.

Standing on the open stage of the Race Course Maidan without a draft paper, he began to address the crowd addressing them as "my brothers". He declared, "Build a fort in every house… you cannot suppress seven crore people anymore...this struggle is the struggle of our liberation, this struggle is the struggle of our freedom." From war tactics to running the government, the 18.5-minute speech contained all the directives to achieve freedom. The youth of the country joined the battle to free the country from the enemy after hearing the greatest epic of the ages. With the invaluable advice and inspiration of Begum Fazilatun Nesa, Bangabandhu's historic spontaneous speech became the great mantra of the liberation of Bengalees.

Sheikh Mujib never had to think about any family matter. Renu was very good at family management. She could adapt herself to any problem or complex situation. Begum Mujib never broke down on the news of Bangabandhu's imprisonment or any politically motivated punishment because she knew that Bangabandhu's self-sacrifice was a part of the great struggle for the rights of the people of East Bengal. The interest of the people of the country was the main thing for him. That is why both of them could never think of personal interest and family happiness other than considering the national interest.

Being able to do something for the benefit of people was the motto of the Bangabandhu family. Begum Mujib held that ideal in her heart. If someone from the family had a chance to help people who had helped them earlier, they would consider their life worthwhile. History has witnessed many such incidents.

On 17 December 1971, Major Ashok Tara of the Indian Allied Forces rescued Bangabandhu's family unharmed. After Bangabandhu's return home on 10 January 1972, Begum Mujib asked Bangabandhu for permission to invite Major Tara to breakfast one morning. Bangabandhu immediately agreed. Later, Begum Mujib invited Major Tara and in that meeting, she presented him with a wristwatch and a piece of pearl jewellery for his wife.

After independence, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman devoted himself to rebuilding the war-torn country. There was not a single paisa in the banks. The whole country was reduced to ruin. On top of that one crore refugees returned from India. All bridges, railways, ports everything was destroyed. He started repairing and rebuilding them. Begum Mujib did not sit idle either. She took on her shoulders the responsibility of two lakh mothers and sisters who were oppressed during the war by the hands of Pakistani hyenas. The women were not being received back by their families for fear of public shaming. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib gave them the Birangana title on the advice of Bangamata Fazilatun Nesa. To establish them socially, Bangabandhu implemented the formation of the Women's Rehabilitation Board upon the proposal of Begum Mujib. She arranged the marriages of many of them by giving them her and her elder daughter Sheikh Hasina's ornaments. Whenever there was a complication in writing the names of their parents in the Kabinnama, the Father of the Nation immediately ordered, "Write down – father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and mother Fazilatun Nesa. Address 32 Bangabandhu Bhavan." Those who were sick were treated by Bangamata. They established the Shishu Nibash to nurture war children, starting from the proper delivery of those who were pregnant. Begum Mujib was very religious. She used to perform all religious rituals including regular prayers, fasting and reciting the Quran.

She used to place faith in Allah, the prophet and auliyas, for the safety of the life and property of the family members. After the independence of the country, she went to visit the shrine of Hazrat Shahjalal (RA) in Sylhet. She said she would perform Hajj on the day when the government of Saudi Arabia would recognise Bangladesh. But it did not happen in her lifetime.

Lights go out

The government of Saudi Arabia recognised Bangladesh, but only after Begum Mujib's life lamp was extinguished. On 15 August 1975, domestic and foreign conspirators caused a heartbreaking tragedy in the history of the world by assassinating the great architect of independent Bangladesh, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The murderers first entered the house at Dhanmondi-32 and shot dead the brave freedom fighter Captain Sheikh Kamal, eldest son of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, on the ground-floor veranda.

Sheikh Mujib was killed by brushfire on the stairs. Begum Mujib was then ordered to accompany the murderers. But she was adamant. "I will not go anywhere with you," she told the killers without asking for mercy for herself and anyone in the family. "You shot him, shoot me too. I will not move an inch," she said. Soon after that, when the killers opened fire, she also fell down and met her martyrdom.

Then one by one the murderers shot dead Sultana Khuki Kamal, Parveen Rosy Jamal and the brave freedom fighter Lieutenant Sheikh Jamal. Finally, the assassins took their 10-year-old son Sheikh Russell from the guardroom saying that he would be taken to his parents and killed him mercilessly. Thus 18 members of the family of the Father of the Nation were martyred that day.

Begum Fazilatun Nesa was an ever-generous Bengali mother. All her life she demanded nothing from her husband. She gave her life in the determination to advance the freedom struggle of the country. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman remained true to the words of his most respected father Sheikh Lutfar Rahman in his life of ceaseless struggle, "Sincerity of purpose and honesty of purpose." The philosophy of Bangamata Begum Fazilatun Nesa was, "Simple living and high thinking."

For the future well-being of her children, she chose the confined life of her home rather than the luxurious life of Bangabhaban and Ganabhaban. Begum Mujib, who was like a priceless gift for the Bengali people, chose to die after losing her husband. She was the closest and most intimate companion of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman throughout his political life. Today, on the 93rd birth anniversary of Begum Fazilatun Nesa, we pay our deepest respects to her memory.