The symphony of our times

Published: 00:00, Feb 11,2019


Suspected illegal immigrants
THE main focus of the writing was not future forecast about our individual selves, it was about what happened to us as we travelled in our slow train to its destination London at the closing hours of the night. As the three of us walked briskly to the outer gate of the railway station, a couple of stocky London policemen approached us, menacingly halting us on the way with waves of their hands. One of them said, ‘Hey guys, where are you going?’ One of us replied, ‘To our homes.’ ‘Do you know’ they asked us ‘where home is?’ The harsh truth descended on us like a ton of bricks. These policemen obviously thought that we were illegal immigrants trying to sneak in to London by back door through the sea port of South Hampton. Immediately, we became alert and introduced ourselves as legal residents of England. Wali Ashraf showed his introduction as a casual broadcaster in the Bangla service of the BBC. Monjur Morshed showed his pay-slip for the latest week from the government department he worked in. I brought out my University of London Union student’s identity card. The policemen were satisfied but only grudgingly. They did not like their praise to escape so lightly. We heaved a sigh of relief and took a black cab to our residences in Balham. This sensitivity to illegal immigration was evidently on the rise in all western countries, especially in Great Britain of the 1970s. In a strange way, it foreshadowed the obsession with immigration in oresident Donald Trump’s USA during 2016–19. Obviously, a comparison with Trump’s America was not on the cards in my writing in the Bangladesh Times in the early 1970s.

More about the past of the future
ONE is tempted to take a step backwards to record what more was said about the future. It was before our 1974 visit to Mrs Lasey near Southampton. It was in the summer of 1973 that I paid a visit to the office-cum-residence of one of the most noted palmists in Britain at that time. He was Mir Bashir, a British citizen of Indian origin. He had distinguished himself as an accurate foreteller of the future through palmistry. He originally hailed from Bombay, now Mumbai in India. His name and fame spread far and wide by the 1970s. He resided in an expensive house in Golders Green in North London. He had a long list of clients and people who had to wait for weeks before getting an appointment with him. I saw the famous cricketer Lane Hutton waiting for his meeting with Mir Bashir in the lounge. There were also a couple of women film stars from Hollywood. Even in 1973, it cost three sterling pounds for a short 15-minute interview with Mir Bashir; a longer interview of half an hour with a recording on a cassette cost nine sterling pounds. I experienced both kinds of interviews. I knew that he had correctly analysed and forecast the character and future of people he had never met before who had appeared on well known TV channels such as the BBC and the ITV. Nevertheless, my first encounter with him could only be described as stunning. He had my palm impressions recorded on a piece of paper and then studied it carefully for a few minutes looking at me with a deep set and intense look. He then asked me in dramatic voice, ‘You are supposed to have married when you were twenty. What happened?’ I was impressed and replied, ‘Yes, I got married.’ Then he took another look at the impression of my palm and said, ‘You have two sons.’ That was true and shook me to the bones for he did not say two children or two daughters but exactly two sons as my offspring. Then Mir Bashir mumbled on, ‘You have recently moved from one continent to another and are now engaged in studies. There has been a great change in your “career and calling’.” This too came as a surprise to me. He had never met me before and we had no common friends or acquaintances. How could he tell about my past with such great accuracy, I wondered!

Mir Bashir’s forecast
THEN he started foretelling my future with what proved to be true in course of two or more decades later. I remember those prophecies as these were recorded on a cassette recorder during our meeting in mid-1973. Mir Bashir said, ‘I see you getting some sort of diploma or degree at the end of your stay in this country. Then you will go back to your homeland and I see you heading a large organisation, probably a branch or section of the government.’ As it happened, I obtained my PhD from the University of London in early 1976 and returned to Bangladesh that year. The government appointed me the head of the Directorate of Social Welfare now Social Service in which position I served up to 1980. I voluntarily resigned from government job at that time to pursue an independent career as a consultant and journalist. Mir Bashir further said that whatever I did for my living or career academic work will always form a part and parcel of my life and career. He also said that I would have a very high rise in the 48th and 49th year of my life. I indeed did become a technocrat non-partisan cabinet minister of Bangladesh in 1990.
Mir Bashir was apparently pleased to study my palm as he found in its lines something different from the lines run-of-the-mill. He said in his commanding voice, ‘I see you having a different kind of life distinct from what impresses the commonality. It is ‘refreshing’, he said, to find a life separate from the common trend featured by attraction for money, wealth and power.’ Mir Bashir’s encouraging words helped me to brave challenging ordeals with strength and hope. When I thought of the lessons I could discern from his forecast of the future I thought of some of the positive advice and guidelines given to amateur foretellers from experienced and seasoned ones. These would encourage people rather than dampen them in tackling the onerous challenges of life. ‘It is better’, said Mir Bashir ‘to say nothing about a future that seems to be dark. Spreading the light should be the motto of the forecaster.’
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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