Mahfuz Sadique on the return of a martyr…
A small patch of land in the graveyard for Class IV employees of the Mashrur Airbase in Karachi, has long belonged to Bangladesh.
There lay, uncared for and unmentioned, flight lieutenant Matiur Rahman, Bir Shreshtha. Not anymore.
Matiur came home on Saturday night, almost 35 years after he had taken flight from Pakistan to fly away home. Now, Matiur will be laid to rest in a free land that he had dreamed of.
Matiur’s wife lamented that he had been buried in Karachi where his grave was marked as that of a traitor.
‘I have nothing to ask from the country now. I have had a full life. All I want for my husband is to bring him back. Is he not Bangladesh’s hero?’ asked Matiur’s wife Milly, last year, speaking to New Age. Her wish has finally been fulfilled.
It was August 20, 1971, several months into a ‘no flying’ restriction on all East Pakistani pilots. Matiur decided it was time to break free. He boarded a T-33 aircraft and took off with an apprentice from West Pakistan. A few minutes into the flight, the plane crashed, burying his dream to fight for his country with the one skill he had acquired throughout his professional life—flying a fighter.
His daughter Mahim Matiur Khandakar, who was a little girl when her father left home never to come back, was the only Bangladeshi to visit his grave in 1994.
She had grown up knowing that her father was one of the great heroes who had sacrificed his life for his country. However, it was not until she was 23 that she had the opportunity to visit her father’s grave.
‘On her return Mahim officially applied to the government to relocate Matiur’s grave to Bangladesh,’ said Milly.
Bit it was not till 2003 that the government finally decided to build memorials honouring the seven Bir Sreshthas at their place of martyrdom. As Matiur died on Pakistani soil, the government decided to build a memorial near Bijoy Sarani in the capital.
At the foundation-laying ceremony in 2003, Milly and Matiur’s elder brother Khorshed Alam, a retired civil servant and a former Bangladesh Bank governor, requested the government for the second time to bring Matiur home.
‘It is not unusual. Nations have always had the custom of relocating graves of their statesmen and martyrs whenever and wherever appropriate. I requested the government to do so too,’ says Khorshed.
Matiur’s youngest brother, Alamgir Kabir Samad, has also been pursuing this cause for several years now. General awareness in the matter had also grown with the years.
Paribesh Bachao Andolan, an environmentalist organisation, had also presented a memorandum to both the president and the prime minister to relocate Bir Sreshtha Matiur’s grave in 2005.
Matiur’s memorty has been preserved in writing, at least, through publication of Bir Sreshtha Matiur Rahman Smarak Grantha brought out by Agami Prokashani at the Ekushey Book Fair in 2005.
The book, edited by Milly, attempts to put together a proper documentation of her husband’s life.
The Bangladesh Air Force and the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs were the concerned authorities regarding a move on the relocation issue. ‘I have repeatedly sent letters to both and even to the Prime Minister’s Office. But nothing has happened yet,’ complained Milly, last year.
While Bangladesh may have won independence in 1971, Milly’s personal struggle ended when the government finally decided to bring back Matiur. Our hero would finally fly home.
Earlier this year, after several rounds of talks, Pakistan agreed to return the mortal remains of Matiur Rahman.
A delegation of Liberation War Affairs ministry had gone to Pakistan on June 20 to bring Matiur back.
As Matiur’s grandson, Rashad, visits the war heroes’ museum in Washington DC, he finds his grandfather’s name there. He has long asked Milly of his great ancestor.
Other than a few faded photographs and tales of glory, there was nothing for Rashad.
Now, Rashad will have a patch of soil in his forefather’s land that holds not just his legacy, but a nation’s pride. Milly’s hero will live amongst us.
In Greek mythology, when Icarus flew high towards the sun and his wax wings melted, he had only one dream — to fly. Matiur flew too on that August morning. He dreamt of a liberated motherland. A son of our soil, our martyr, had long lied neglected in some land that is not his own. Like a ghost trapped in eternal twilight, Matiur’s bones were trapped in the soils of a foreign land.
Our Icarus’ soul will fly high, in the blue skies of a free land from now and forever.