On a bright September noon in 2018, Brigadier General Susane Giti was busy doing household chores at her home when suddenly her phone rang. "You have become a major general," her friend on the other end of the line said.
"I didn't believe it at first. Then my colleague insisted that it was true," said Major General Susane Giti, the first female major general of the Bangladesh Army.
Speaking at her office in Dhaka Cantonment, Giti recalled that one of her happiest days was also tinged with sadness. Her parents and mother-in-law were not there to witness this great moment. "You will feel a bit sad, won't you?"
Born and raised in Rajshahi, Giti passed the Secondary School Certificate exam from the Govt PN Girls High School and passed the Higher Secondary Certificate exam from Rajshahi Government College. Later, she did her MBBS from Rajshahi Medical College.
Giti lost her father at the hands of the Pakistani forces in 1971. She was in the sixth grade at the time and remembers the day vividly. The Pakistani forces called her father and afterwards he never returned.
"We could not even see his body," she said. Giti and her siblings, all of whom were students, were raised by their mother and grandmother from that point on.
Giti grew up in a time when parents chalked out only two viable career paths for their children: be a doctor or an engineer. Giti also dreamed of becoming a doctor, but her motivations for it were different.
She was inspired by the tales of patients from her two brothers – Dr Saidur Rahman and Dr Masudur Rahman.
"As my two brothers were doctors, they shared stories about their patients after coming home. I dreamed that one day I would tend to patients. What I like most is the satisfaction [the work gives]," Giti said.
After passing her MBBS exam, she began her internship. Then one day, she, along with her friends, decided to apply for the Bangladesh Army.
This wasn't a spontaneous decision. One of Giti's aunts was Lieutenant Colonel Farida Banu Chowdhury, who served in the Bangladesh Army. Seeing her, Giti, too, decided to join the army.
"The disciplined way of the army was the main thing," she said.
On March 15, 1986, she joined the Bangladesh Army as a captain in the army medical corps. Then she was promoted to major, lieutenant colonel, colonel and then brigadier general. Before becoming the commandant of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, she served as the head of the pathology department at the Armed Forces Medical College.
To reach this point, however, Giti had to cross a number of hurdles.
"There is a saying that life is not a bed of roses. Developing a career is a challenge," she said.
One challenge was maintaining the work-life balance at a time when maternity leave was only limited to six weeks. This was very little time when Giti had her children – two daughters and a son.
"Then I could get maternity leave for around six weeks. Two weeks before the birth of a child and four weeks after that," she said. "I had to join work keeping my small child at home. It was really challenging."
When her first child was born, Giti was posted in Cumilla as a medical officer. Working alongside the Cumilla CMH, every day, she had to visit two CWC, outdoor treatment facilities.
In between work, when there was some spare time, she would visit her child for a short time.
"It was possible only because my commanding officer was so kind," she said.
Her mother and mother-in-law helped look after the children while Giti was away at work.
Giti also continued to pursue her academic studies while in service as higher degrees were needed for promotions. "I also faced challenges during my journey, like all the female members. I had to work very hard to build my career and also to look after my career," she said. "At the end of the day, you will have to take care of your family."
She underwent a two-year-long specialised course (which is a degree) from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. She did an MCPS in clinical pathology and a FCPS in haematology. She also did a master's in medical education.
Giti was also the first to publish a journal during her command-period at the institute.
Her hard work paid off when she became a major general. "It was great news," she said, adding that it was a big step in terms of women empowerment.
She said that during her service life, she has seen Brigadier General Suraya Rahman, who was a gynaecologist, becoming the first female Brigadier General of Bangladesh Army.
She also credited Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as she was the one in power when Giti was promoted.
"I became the first major general. This happened during the tenure of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. She is a leader in women empowerment, which is challenging," Giti said.
"I believe the honourable prime minister will make women empowerment possible," she added.
Giti also said that the Bangladesh Army was very supportive in developing her career.
"The army always supported me. And the present Chief of Army Staff General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed is very, very cooperative," she said.
Giti also pointed out that her colleagues were very supportive and hoped that they, too, would secure further promotions in the future.
"And they will earn it. It is not that those will just be given. No one gives it. One needs to have the capability to achieve it. And I hope they have the capability."
On the homefront, Giti excels in the culinary arts. She gives ample time to her family, while learning new dishes to cook. She learnt baking cakes and biscuits from her colleagues and spends time watching recipes on Youtube which she can cook on her own on special occasions.
"I enjoy cooking different types of dishes. I find it very interesting," she said.
Her family also love her cooking, while they themselves enjoy the culinary arts themselves.
"My husband and my daughters like cooking a lot. They watch all the cooking shows on TV.
"For example, yesterday my husband made plum pickle. And I helped him. My youngest daughter is very good at making cakes and biscuits. I used to bring some of the dishes to the office. But during the pandemic, I did not bring food that much," she said.