The name of Tajuddin Ahmad, the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh, is inseparable from the history of creation of Bangladesh. Like a shadow of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, he participated in all the mass movements prior to our independence. His role in the language movement of 1952, the formulation the 6-point programme of the Awami League in 1966, the general election of 1970, the crucial negotiations during March 1971 and finally the War of Independence leading to the surrender of the Pakistan army on December 16, 1971 can hardly be exaggerated.
Recently, some students of the Fazlul Haq Hall contacted Tajuddin Ahmad's daughter Simeen Hussain Rimi, MP, in order to identify the room where he lived as a student of the University of Dhaka. They wanted to put a plaque or make other arrangements to commemorate his stay in the room. As most of his roommates are no more, I was requested by Rimi to identify the room. It so happened that I stayed in the same room for about a month in March 1953 as a guest of my brother, Abdul Momin, who shared the same room with him. My brother became minister of food in the cabinet of Bangabandhu during 1974-75.
On October 16, I accompanied Rimi to visit the FH Hall. As we came close to the main gate, we were received by some students and the provost of the hall. I remember that Tajuddin Ahmad lived in Room No N-12. He also mentioned it in his diary. Previously, each room in the hall accommodated four students. At present, only two students live in one room as the old rooms were partitioned to create two rooms in one. The numbering system has also changed. So it was difficult to identify the room by the numbers. However, I was able to identify the room by its location. The present number of the room is 122. Dr Safar Ali Akanda, a surviving roommate of Tajuddin Ahmad, later confirmed that I had done it correctly. He further informed that President Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed resided in the adjacent room to the west (formerly Room No N-11) and President M Zillur Rahman, stayed in former Room No E-10. They all stayed around the same time. It is really amazing that two former Presidents and one former prime minister resided in the same dormitory at the same time! The FH Hall has indeed reason to be proud of its past history.
Many old memories came to my mind during our visit. I showed Rimi how the bed of Tajuddin Ahmad was positioned. His table still lies where it was. He was a studious student. I remember to have seen him writing his diaries regularly. He was a regular speaker at all meetings held on the lawn. The meetings were usually presided over by Zillur Rahman who was the Vice-President of the FH Hall Students' Union at that time.
There was a water tap on the lawn in front of the room. Tajuddin Ahmad washed his clothes there and dried them on the lawn. He used to pull his clothes from all sides before drying so that there were no wrinkles. He later pressed them under his pillow. His bed was always very neat and tidy. He used to prepare his own breakfast, usually consisting of chira (puffed rice), gur (Molasses) and a banana. I may mention here that he had regular supplies of his breakfast items from his village home. He did not allow the visitors from his village to enter into the hall as he thought it would disturb other students. They always waited outside the main gate and he used go out and talk to them on a lawn outside the main hall. He always helped the people of his locality in whatever way he could. I was very excited as I was telling the stories. Rimi too became very emotional as she and the students around us were listening to me with deep attention.
We also visited the bank of the pond beside the FH Hall where eleven students including President Zillur Rahman, Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman, Gaziul Huq, Abdul Momin and MR Akhtar Mukul met secretly late at night on February 20, 1952 and decided to violate section 144 on the following day. This decision was later approved by the students at an open meeting, presided over by Gaziul Huq, at Amtala in the morning of February 21. The rest is history that culminated in the independence of Bangladesh. I proposed to the students and the provost of the FH Hall to erect a memorial on the bank of the pond in memory of the 11 students. They appreciated my proposal and agreed to follow it up. Rimi and I spent some memorable moments with the students and left with refreshed memories of the old days.
Before I conclude, I must mention that in spite of all his contributions and sacrifices, we have done very little to commemorate Tajuddin Ahmad. Only an insignificant road, Shaheed Tajuddin Saranee at Tejgaon bears his name in the capital city. He certainly deserves much more than that. A national institution like a university and/or a structure like a major bridge, stadium or an airport should be named after him. Moreover, there should be more research and discussions on his life so that the present and future generations can learn more about the man who led the war of independence in absence of Bangabandhu who was in a Pakistani custody at that time.
The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and author of 'A Passage to Freedom'