Where should I begin? Perhaps at the beginning. Shameem [Latifur Rahman] was my second cousin, elder son of my father’s cousin sister. My father and his siblings had no sister of their own so my Shakera Fuppi, Shameem’s mother, was looked on as his very own sister and very close to my father and chachas. Shameem and his siblings were like his own children. My father was the family patriarch, not only among his own siblings but all cousins.
Shameem and I grew up in an era when families were extremely closely knit. There was practically no distinction between own siblings and cousins. We were all part of one large extended family, even when living in separate houses in the same city. Frequent families get-togethers over shared meals, sharing each other’s joys and woes , seeking each other’s counsel and comfort were the order of the day, the tradition that knit us so closely together. We shared each other’s joys and sorrows in equal measure.
Shameem was born on 6 August 1946, three years younger than I, five month’s older than my younger brother Tauqir with whom he went to school at Holy Cross before they went to boarding school in Shillong. There Shameem met his childhood sweetheart Joyu who also studied in Shillong. They married at a very young age in 1964.
My earliest memories with him go back to our childhood. I remember the happy time our families would spend together. I remember Shameem and I going out quietly to see a Tarzan movie running at Lion cinema. My Fuppu allowed us to go, not so much because his chhoto mama (my chacha who was about 10 years older than I) was accompanying us as chaperone, but more because he was going with his Tariq bhaiya. My mother consented because I was going with Shameem. My brother Tauqir recollects that he has fond memories of his childhood days with Shameem. They used to play with marbles and wrestle with each other. They use to grapple, kick each other, roll on the ground, soil their clothes, but those were fun days.
After he finished schooling from Shillong, his father wanted him to go to England to study. Shameem did not want to go. I recollect one evening Shakera Fuppi, Fuppa and Shameem came to our house. Immediately the three went to my parent’s room, the door was shut to keep us out. Fuppa and Fuppi requested Abba to reason with Shameem and convince him that he should go to England and finish his studies. But Shameem was steadfastly refusing. Abba listened to Shameem and what he wanted to do. He then told Fuppa and Fuppi not to force him and that he should be allowed to start his own business venture and predicted that he would succeed and shine in life. He could go on and do higher studies later if he wanted. Fuppa reconciled.
If you look at Shameem’s track record after that, he started to grow and diversify the family business. Like me, he was fond of music. He liked listening to samba. My wife Naghma recalls that he was a good dancer. He and Joyu visited us in early 1976 when I was posted in Bonn, Germany. My wife recalls how Joyu urged her and Shameem to dance together to the hustle. My sister remembers him as a very kind, caring, affectionate and loving brother. When she lost her husband in 1996, and her own brothers were all abroad, Shameem came to her side and helped her in sorting out things.
Our early days in Dhaka were happy times. But then I too left to be far away from home and the country, living a nomad’s life in distant lands. But the connection between us and our families never snapped, it just became less frequent. We would reconnect whenever I would be back in the country for short periods.
* Former ambassador Tariq Karim paid this tribute on 14 July 2020 at a virtual discussion on Latifur Rahman organised by Prothom Alo and The Daily Star.