Sometimes you wait your whole life to meet someone properly.
First time I met Chittagong Armory raid famed Binod Bihari Chowdhury was in 2004. My documentary on persecution of Ahmadiyas was screening at Chittagong Press Club. Everyone was tense. Chittagong was considered less sympathetic to secular forces. They were having difficult time finding a chief guest who would speak. Binod dada agreed, without hesitation. He walked to the stage, I think he was still quite firm, and gave a firm speech. Everyone was relieved, they knew his presence had calmed the situation.
We talked for some time, and I made a mental note to come back one day and interview him. I also knew, this was one man who was not forgotten in Bangladesh. Meeting him was almost a pilgrimage for anyone with left politics, and visiting Chittagong. So I also felt, even if I did not meet him soon, he was being recorded. Each year, his birthday or armory raid was observed in one newspaper or another. Probably not enough, but at least some residue was still there.
These words from another comrade, Udayan Chattopadhyay, are relevant here: “I had a chance to meet him in Bangladesh in 2001. Wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that after an hour-long conversation he re-affirmed my faith in humanity. Erudite yet not patronizing, forceful yet gracious, confident but not arrogant, and unspeakably polite. Despite my probing on some subjects of the day (the elections were about to come up and he had been targeted in a smear campaign by one of the main parties) I didn’t hear a negative word from him about any individual or party. I specifically remember he asked his “kajer chhele” his opinion about something we were discussing as we were being served mishti and that turned into a good 10 minute exchange of thoughts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in any household I’ve visited in India or Bangladesh. Why did we lose these values in our leaders in subsequent generations?”
Last summer, 2012, I was back in Chittagong screening another film. A friend took me to his house. A relative came out, and said, “uni to nei.” (he is not here)
We paused, “mane…” (meaning..?)
“Na mane, he is in Kolkata, he will be back, some back next month.”
A sigh of relief, he was still around. Over 100 years old, and still going.
We could not come back, never got to see him one last time.
But his work lives on. Salute comrade Binod Bihari Chowdhury.
Chittagong armoury raid hero Chowdhury is dead
Binod Bihari flown to Chittagong
Binod Bihari is given state honour
চট্টগ্রামে বিপ্লবী বিনোদ বিহারীকে শ্রদ্ধা