There are many dates worthy of celebration in Bangladesh including Mother Language Day, Independence Day and Bengali New Year’s Day (among others), but March 17 (encircled in red and highlighted in yellow on most Bengali hearts) is probably the most noteworthy of all.
That is the day, in 1920, the sun rose to a new height to announce the birth of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who went on to become the Father of the Nation and foremost hero of Bangladesh. No brighter star shone over Bangladesh that night or ever since.
The love for Bangabandhu is enormous, nationwide, and superimposed on the hearts, souls and spirits of people in villages, towns and cities throughout the country, almost with saintly admiration.
This, seemingly, applies whether the person is a supporter of Awami League (AL), British National Party (BNP), Jatiya Party (JA) – or some other political party. And that’s how it should be. Current generations in Britain, for example, do not ask (or care) which political party Churchill was leader. His greatness and contribution to peace and society in general, is universally accepted and appreciated by one and all.
Bangladesh hasn’t quite reached that point of maturity that enables all to openly show approval to Bangabandhu. Privately, AL’s opposing party members will tell you what a great man he was and how grateful they are to him for triggering independence in 1971.
To voice such sentiment publicly, however, they fear their honesty may be interpreted as supporting the opposition party and that should never happen in a month of Fridays… even when the opposition party is doing a magnificent job! Politics is politics!
That stance, of course, is not exclusive to Bangladesh, political parties are similar the world over. If they’re not the ones responsible for providing the good for the nation, they feel it’s their duty to ridicule the good that’s been performed! Politics is an interesting game that’s masterly played only by a few. A famous Australian politician once said; “politics is no place for an honest person”. (Ouch!)
March 17 is not only a reason to celebrate the birth of the great man Bangabandhu, but it’s also St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and famed for bringing Christianity to the Emerald Isle.
Why would anyone, who is not a Christian, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day you may be asking yourself? And the answer itself is special. It started out as being a religious celebration, but 99.9% of that has been lost in time.
The celebration is without peers. It’s unique in more ways than one. It’s the festivity of the people for the people from all walks of life irrespective of age, nationality, and creed. There’s no other celebration like it – honestly!
St. Patrick’s Day it is a celebration of life. It embraces all religions, all peoples and all nationalities. It could also be the GREATEST tourism promotion in the history of mankind. At the end of the day, everyone has heard of Ireland and everyone wants to go there, even if only to satisfy their curiosity.
Ireland and Bangladesh share much in common. Ireland, too, was a suppressed nation. The Irish people were once poor, living a hand-to-mouth existence. Many saw more dinnertimes than dinners. The Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Famine, took place in Ireland between 1845 and 1852. It caused countless deaths due to starvation and disease and led to mass emigration from the island, mainly to the USA.
Imagine if a similar blight were to hit rice production in Bangladesh. It would have a similar catastrophic outcome and millions would die.
Ireland also went through its War of Independence to extricate itself from the shackles of English tyranny and suppression and lost many staunch Irishmen and intellectuals in its struggles for freedom. History records that Ireland (the Irish Republican Army) provided much needed ammunitions to Bangladesh in 1971 and for a while, at least, Bangladesh showed its appreciation by giving Ireland passport holders 90-day visas to enter Bangladesh free-of-charge. Sadly, appreciation has superseded its use-by date, it would seem. Now the Irish have to pay like every other visitor.
The most popular and well-known Irishman in Bangladesh today, no doubt, is Sir Frank Peters. Some say he’s now more Bangladeshi than Irish! He even describes himself as “half Bengali”.
Sir Frank is probably the greatest ambassador of tourism this country has ever seen. Whenever he’s interviewed on the BBC (or similar international media), he praises the people of Bangladesh and invites the listeners to visit. “You’re proudly wearing the clothing of distinction they make, now come and say ‘hello’ and shake hands with the friendly makers,” he requests them.
Sir Frank, who is the son of an Irish freedom fighter, has been an ardent supporter of Bangladesh since the 1970’s when he helped raise substantial funds in the UK to help Bangladeshi families of freedom fighters who were struggling to provide food, clothing and medication for their children.
The Freedom Fighters of Bangladesh has acknowledged his tremendous contribution to the nation and issued him with a special Certificate of Appreciation.
Sir Frank designed and created a unique poster that encapsulates the Bangabandhu speech that triggered the birth of Bangladesh that is now seen by many to be the unofficial Proclamation of Bangladesh. It hangs in the Bangabandhu Museum, The Awami League HQ, many foreign offices, and the homes of presidents, prime ministers and other internationally renowned dignitaries throughout the world.
The following year Sir Frank became the first (and up to now) the only ‘foreigner’ invited to speak at a function hosted by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in tribute to her father.
Independent of that, no less than three Muslim families have named their newborn sons ‘Frank Peters’ in his honour. An unparalleled honour and the one he cherishes most.
In books and journals, he’s quoted as having said “genius is perception of the obvious that no one else sees,” and that statement often refers to himself.
In 2016, he wrote a gutsy, thought-provoking, inspiring, patriotic report, crammed with vibrant fresh ideas urging the Government of Bangladesh to begin making preparations to kick-start ‘real’ tourism in 2020. For those who don’t know, 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation.
Sir Frank, an ardent admirer of Bangabandhu, knows to do anything right and on the grand scale he had envisaged, it requires planning, preparation and time similar to the Olympic Games. He’s now practically given up hope in that regard and laments the vast number opportunities Bangladesh has lost.
Sunday, March 17 is indeed a remarkable day and one worthy of celebration. The Irish government has declared all who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day a citizen of Ireland. Although I’m Welsh by birth, it’s an honour to be Irish, even if only for a day, and I plan to join with my Bengali friends and make the best of both celebrations!
(The writer was born in Cardiff, Wales, and is an international financial adviser in the banking industry)