Of course I have never known my father, former Chief Justice Mustafa Kamal, in any other capacity other than my father, but I did feel the need to discover him as an individual. During my childhood years, the vision of my father was the same to me as it is to any other child. He was a very busy person, dispensing his professional duties and personal obligations simultaneously. He was the perfect father, from buying us our books and clothes, from teaching us handwriting, Arabic 'suras' from the Quran, Nazrul songs, recitations, playing with us, driving the car to school. He was the role model of a father in my eyes. I thought all fathers were cut from the same cloth. Abba would never be tardy in picking us up from school, he was very serious with our studies, he was a practicing Muslim and encouraged us to be so. He was a very structured person, he was a great provider and we, the three children, did not ever know a day when we didn't have food or electricity or in fact, ever worry for any material thing in this world. This was true as a child and this has been true thereafter.
When Justice Mustafa Kamal retired from his working life, I observed him more closely and learnt more about him as an adult person. My subsequent exposure to the history of pre and post partition India, my own study in detail of the life of my grandfather Abbasuddin Ahmed and Nazrul Islam, gave me a different perspective of looking at my father.
At a very early age Mustafa Kamal became the head of the household. His father, the legendary singer Abbasuddin Ahmed, pursued his musical career in Kolkata, West Bengal. He sometimes brought his family to Kolkata and admitted the children to Kolkata schools. When there was some political pressure, or when he could not afford the cost of Kolkata life, he sent his family to Cooch Bihar, where he had his home. His family consisted of his wife and two sons and a daughter.
From those early pre-adolescent days Mustafa Kamal became a responsible adult. He took the role of the man in the family, coming to his mother's aid and feeling responsible for his younger brother and sister. Whatever income his father sent home, had to be spent judiciously. There were some difficult times during the initial years of Abbasuddin's pursuit of his musical career in Kolkata. This was complicated by the fact that Abbasuddin's father refused to help out the young family. Abbasuddin did not have his father's blessings for becoming a musician! Mustafa Kamal bore the brunt of this ostracization, although after a period of time, his grandfather did make a small contribution for his grandchildren.
Mustafa Kamal had to be street smart. He knew where to shop, when to shop, he knew how to study the market prices, compare prices, how to be economic, to scrimp and scrounge, and how to work hard and face the cheaters. His young life was not a bed of roses. He learnt to be guarded, he learnt to provide leadership, he took on the guardianship of his two younger siblings Mustafa Zaman Abbasi and Ferdausi Rahman, which he has delivered to date (his second brother Mustafa Jamal died untimely from typhoid and he remembers that painfully). Moreover, his uncle Abdul Karim lived with them in the Cooch Bihar house that Abbasuddin had built. Abdul Karim was a great source of love and affection to the three siblings. Mustafa Kamal also felt the need to be the guardian of Abdul Karim's family when he was alive and when he passed away in 1971. Through his personal example he taught us to extend our helpful hands to the other members of the family.
His entire course of life had been designed this way. At the early demise of his father, when Mustafa Kamal had just returned from London, on being called to the Bar, he once again became the captain of the ship (1959). Of course, my mother and I were also on board and over the years, my younger sisters Naeela and Nazeefa joined the list of his wards. Our Dad loved us dearly, like all fathers do, but we could not distinguish between our cousins Samira and Sharmini (Mustafa Zaman Abbasi's daughters) who were always in my father's arms. So were his nephews Rubaiyat and Razin (Ferdausi Rahman's sons); he showered them with profuse love and never let them out of sight when they were visiting. His suitcase was full of gifts for all of us when he travelled abroad and if one of us suffered even an ant bite, he would take it very seriously upon himself to remedy. I have never seen my father disregard any of his duties, be it in an informal manner or on a public occasion. Protocol on his part would always be correct. He would give due respect to his elders and be inclusive of the younger ones. He taught us the family values and he adhered very strictly to them in his personal life.
From a very early age he was inspired by his father and befriended by his mother, in his pursuit to excel in everything. His reading, writing, oratorical skills in both Bangla and English earned him laurels. To complement these, he also sang, acted and was a great organizer, sportsman, debater and most of all was famous for his witty remarks and delightful companionship amongst his friends. When Abbasuddin Ahmed visited him in London (1957), he observed his son's ability to speak/debate/discuss various issues with his friends. Abbasuddin wrote to his wife that he found that none was equivalent to his reasoning skills and he congratulated his wife by saying that some day 'her son' (Abbasuddin gave the compliment to her) would make a great man, making her proud. When Mustafa Kamal became Chief Justice in 1999, my grandmother was feeble and had suffered a stroke. She confided to me, "My son has become a King." Indeed, my grandmother's two eyes were her sons Mustafa Kamal and MZ Abbasi and her soul was her daughter Ferdausi Rahman. She was a lucky mother.
My father had never lived away from his mother, except for the short spell of time he lived in London for his studies. In 1980, after joining the bench, he moved to another house, leaving my grandmother in her husband's home Hiramon Manzil. It was a very sad moment for the family. My uncle Abbasi still lived there. My Dad visited her every Friday for lunch. Then as she grew frail with time, my father sent her cooked food. One time, I visited my grandmother at 7.30 in the morning. It was the day of Eid-ul-Fitr. There was an array of dishes pulao, chicken korma, mutton curry, vegetables, salad on her table. When I enquired about it, I found that my father had them cooked and sent to his mother at seven am, so that his mother could entertain guests. I felt humbled and ashamed that as children we do not do so much for our parents as my father does for his mother. In the next few years, my grandmother suffered a stroke, she was brought to my father's official residence for some months. Every single day, after his work, my father would just stroke my grandmother's back with unparalleled affection. It seemed to me that he tried to reassure his mother with all the love she missed as my grandfather Abbasuddin Ahmed died 44 years back.
The love also trickled downwards. When my father retired as Chief Justice, he was still young and active. My youngest sister Nazeefa had two sons in a row, Zayyan and Nahyan. He babysat for them. When I rushed to visit him, I saw him holding the two kids in his arms while my sister had gone to school with her oldest daughter Zainab. He did the same with my children and those of my sister Naeela. When his colleagues enquired after `Kamal bhai' and what he did after his retirement, I was about to mention that he raised his grandchildren, his hands were full! He would go into details about them, just as he did with us. As he grew older and his grandchildren travelled abroad, he waited for them. Every exam, every feat/defeat had been for him to share. He eagerly waited for their news and felt left out if they did not write. He still cooked for my daughters, saved a piece of the best qurbani meat, or fish that they like. He told me his only thirst to live was to see the faces of his grandchildren.
In 1964, when PTV came into existence, I hosted a children's show on 25 December. Mrs Laila Samad wrote a TV review in a women's magazine titled 'Lolona'. My father, had kept a paper cutting of this event and it brought me so much joy. Every time he saw a news item about me, he cut it out and saved it in a diary. I remained the child, humbled at his feet.
Dr Nashid Kamal is a reputed Nazrul artiste, writer and academic