PART CLXIV

The symphony of our times

Published: 01:05, Mar 20,2017

 
 

THE mess havildar has been supplying you with food on credit from the suppliers who are now reluctant to advance any more credit. You have had it. Both of you must collect these dues from your colleagues, or pay these yourselves.’ As I looked at Anwar. He said, ‘You didn’t tell me anything.’ I had no reply. Our colleagues, however, took pity on us and coughed up the cash. The mess started running smoothly and Joy and I heaved our sighs of relief.
There was a good reason why we from the eastern wing could not pay our mess dues in time. The dues were much too heavy. These came to Rs 250 or even Rs 300 per month, almost a half of our monthly salary. Most of the easterners came from middle income families. With half the salary gone for mess dues, they were under great financial strain. With me, it was especially bad as I had to send some money in support of my two toddler sons. I made this up by working for the Concept, burning midnight oil. That work gave me some Rs 250 every month in Dhaka. The conditions of others were not any better save perhaps Mamun Ur Rashid, whose father was central secretary, A Rashid and Shahed Saadullah. We all suffered from financial distress so much so that we could not afford to buy cigarettes, our only luxury. On behalf of the group, Muyeed Chowdhury and Mamun firmed up the decision to go for smoking pipes instead of cigarettes. Waliul Islam, who would not buy his cigarettes on pleas of penury, used to snatch away cigarettes from us. He would not even pay for his pipe. We had to contribute to buy him a pipe. Habits die hard. Wali had the pipe, all right, but continued to rob us of the tobacco.
The other experience which I joyfully remember from my time as the PMC was our visit to Lyallpur. For some reasons, I had again run out of money. When I spoke about this to ASM Rashed Ahmed of the foreign service, he said it was no problem, ‘Tayyeb Siddiqui, our colleague in the foreign service, was a manager of a branch of the bank of Bahwalpur. He will make arrangements from the bank branch here for credit to you.’ In the afternoon Tayyeb said, ‘Mizan, I have made the arrangements. You can now talk to the bank manager in Lyallpur and get credit up to Rs 1,000.’ As I tried to pick up the phone, Rashed stopped me and said this is not the way: ‘Important people need to be introduced before speaking with ordinary bank managers.’ He then called the manager and said, ‘I’m Rashed, private secretary to Mr Mizanur Rahman, CSP about whom Mr Siddiqui spoke with you. When should he send me with the cheque for collecting the cash?’ Rashed’s ploy worked. I did not have to go to the bank. He went and collected the money on my behalf. That was the ease with which banks used to advance credit to members of the elite services at that time.

Academy: external environment
THE Civil Service Academy at Lahore was in a picturesque location. Generously wide roads skirted the impressive complex at the upper mall. All along the roads green shady trees and colourful flowers seemed to decorate the environment with cheerful delight.
As you came out of the gates of the academy and turned right you could go through the well-appointed roads of the Lahore cantonment and through these eventually reach the airport. In the late 1960s, the Lahore airport was somewhat lonely. A few flight to and from Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Karachi kept the airport a little busy. The flight from Dhaka came once a day and returned the same afternoon. There was a special reason to fondly recollect the airport. Class friend and batchmate Ziaus Shams Chowdhury was a person with a sensitive mind. He had earned his Master of Arts degree in the English language and literature from Dhaka University with us in 1963. Classmate and later my wife Syeda Umme Sufia also belonged to the English department and with Zakia and Niaz Ali (later Zaman), they were all close friends. Ziaus Shams Chowdhury took the CSS examinations and successfully competed to become a member of the foreign service of Pakistan. Guardian’s persuasion and pressure made him take the job despite his reluctance. He felt extremely sorry after joining the academy. He pined for the life he had left behind in Dhaka. He was so desperate that he was almost on the verge of tears expressing his resolve to give up the job and return home.
Friend Waliul Islam and I, along with Muyeed Chowdhury and Anwarul Karim Chowdhury Joy, tried to comfort him and patiently pursue the course of the new life and career before him. As a result of our persuasion, he held on to the job with some amount of determination. He however continued to miss ‘home’. He insisted that on every Sunday, the weekly holiday, we accompany him to the airport to see the PIA flight coming from Dhaka with passengers some of whom where known to one or the others of the group from the academy. We then had tea and snacks at the airport cafeteria and seems to have been comforted by this ‘touch of home’. These fond memories appeared resplendent as Zia and I discuss these last year in Dhaka and in 1997 in Jakarta Indonesia, where Zia was the Bangladeshi ambassador during 1997.
To be continued.

Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder chairman of the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh and editor of the quarterly Asian Affairs, is a former teacher of political science at Dhaka University (1964-1967), former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (1967-1980) and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister of Bangladesh (1990).

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