She was a power woman, in that broad sense of the meaning. It was power she demonstrated in keeping her family together in all the moments of crises it faced. It was power which shone through in her demonstration of calm early on in the face of the travails she would repeatedly be put through by the state when the machinery of the state went after the young and rising Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the man destined to be Bangabandhu, to be Father of the Bengali nation.
Begum Fazilatunnessa Mujib, today revered as Bangamata, was in every measure an embodiment of courage as the spouse of the nation's pre-eminent political leader, as the mother of her five children who saw little of their father because the state of Pakistan would not let him stay free and pursue politics as it ought to have been pursued.
Begum Mujib, as a power woman, did not succumb to the temptations which have often marred the reputations of many other women, all spouses of men wielding political authority around the world. Her power rested on the middle-class values which have always been a foundation of life for the people of Bangladesh. Observe the old images, those black and white pictures of her in the company of her husband and children.
There she is busy with her betel leaves and nuts, clearly a scene reminiscent of what we in our generation can relate to our mothers and grandmothers. In Begum Mujib, it was traditional Bengali womanhood --- symbolized by quiet dignity, a deliberate self-effacement as it were --- which the nation was privy to.
Beyond that charming aspect to her personality comes the sagacity she demonstrated in all her years as the partner of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Not for a single moment did she convey the impression that through Bangabandhu's repeated spells in prison she was suffering intensely --- and she was indeed suffering. Not ever a time was there when she felt she had to ask her husband to go slow or withdraw from politics altogether.
Indeed, she did the very reverse. At the height of the Agartala Case, as a Mass Upsurge took hold of what would in a few years be a sovereign Bangladesh, she demonstrated the steely mettle she was made of. With the tottering regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan going out of its way to try to persuade Mujib to attend, on parole, the round table conference it had called in Rawalpindi, Begum Mujib could well have seen in that effort an opportunity for her husband's tentative freedom. She abjured that path, taking instead the position that under no circumstances should Bangabandhu join the RTC as a prisoner of the regime.
That was wisdom complementing boldness. And Begum Mujib spent all the years of her adulthood compelled to shape and then reshape her life in the fortitude that would be her crowning glory. The nine months of the War of Liberation were certainly a period which tested her resolve as a woman and as the mother of her children.
After Bangabandhu had been abducted by the Pakistan occupation army and flown to (West) Pakistan, it once again became her tortuous responsibility to ensure that her family remained safe. Her pregnant elder daughter, her teenaged younger daughter and her three sons were hers to protect in all the dignity she could muster. Sheikh Kamal soon went off to join the armed struggle for freedom.
And then, through brilliant stratagem, Sheikh Jamal pulled wool over the Pakistani soldiers' eyes at the gates of the house on Dhanmondi Road 18 (the family had moved out of Road 32, which meanwhile had been ransacked by the army) and made his way to the battlefield. For Begum Mujib, those dark months were also months of hope. Here was a woman whose incarcerated husband was the lighthouse in the nation's struggle for freedom, whose sons were in the fields of battle as soldiers in that war. At home, her daughters and youngest child --- all of them prisoners of the state of Pakistan --- took courage from their mother, held their heads high.
In Begum Mujib, power came from within, from her sense of morality. It came in the simplicity she exuded in her dealings with people --- her relatives, myriad visitors, the citizens always crowding around to have a glimpse of Bangabandhu. She was in the kitchen, for guests needed to be shown the proper hospitality. She was there at the end of the day to bring the family together, over a typical Bengali dinner at home, and engage in happy conversation around the table.
Winnie Mandela engaged in direct politics when Nelson Mandela languished in prison. Kasturba went along with Mahatma Gandhi's mission to change the world. Evita Peron, in a different way, utilized Juan Peron's political power to offer hope to the people of Argentina. Eleanor Roosevelt made sure that the polio-crippled Franklin Roosevelt did not lose hope but would go on to provide defining leadership to America.
In Fazilatunnessa Mujib, perspectives were different. She did not come into politics, for morality was the base of her life. But she lived in and through politics. She was there for Bangabandhu as his struggle intensified toward national salvation. She was there for her family, looking to the children's education, to their upkeep, to ensuring that the terror repeatedly inflicted by the state did not undermine their confidence in themselves.
For Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the truth was simple: Begum Fazilatunnessa Mujib kept the home fire burning.
For the nation, she kept the lamp of courage lit every time the Father of the Nation was cast into the dungeons by his tormentors.