Miscellany

Recalling gone-by days

Engr. S. A. Mansoor
At the fag end of my life now on mid eighties; these lines sketch out various events and stages of my life, that I can recall through the passage of time, across my fairly eventful life! Penned in the following paragraphs, are some images of events that have remained embedded in memory! As the saying goes: ‘Memories are treasures ; no one can steal’! It begins from early 1940s; recalling our times when we lived in in Calcutta; which was once the capital of India, during earlier colonial British era! We lived in the then Waliullah Lane (its name has mow changed). Our house was around twenty five yards from the eastern side of (then) Wellessly Square, which had a swimming club, (no longer there) with a three storied (wooden) diving board, the top of which was about more than thirty feet above the pool’s water level! The members then were mostly Englishmen and women, later to be joined by Anglo Indians and a few enthusiastic local swimmers and divers too! For us children, then between 6 to 10 year old; watching the swimming and various styles of diving; both forward and back dives! It was a way to pass our evenings, as most of us children lived within around hundred yards of the Wellessly Square; that was named after some British governor of then Bengal.
Our extended family, with many of our uncles lived in a number of houses along the then Walliullah Lane; and right opposite our door was the very wide door-less opening of the mosque. Here regular prayers five times daily was offered. My late mother made it a point, that I should offer daily evening (Magrib) prayers there; if it was not raining; since I was very often suffering from cough and cold,and occasionally mild fever too; that was cured after my tonsils were removed, at the then Calcutta Medical College! At the other north-west corner of Wellesly Square; on Welleslly Street; was a huge and magnificent church; a prominent local landmark! Here Christians (Roman Catholics or possibly Protestants) offered their Sunday services! About two hundred yards on the eastern side of our house, on Waliullah Lane; there was a small Methodist church; more of a plain one stories large room, were mostly local converts and South Indian families living nearby; congregated for Sunday Mass!
Another memory that I pleasantly recall; was my habit of daily reading the local English newspapers, next door at 14, Waliullah lane, were our bachelor learned Uncle lived; alone in his small flat! Of the news papers and two magazines he read regularly; I still recall “The Statesman”, and the “Illustrated Weekly of India”, that I too regularly read in his small flat! He was a scholar; and had done his P.Hd in Philosophy from Berlin University in the 1930s! His pastime was playing billiards regularly in his drawing room which was quite a big room. There he had his billiard table, in the middle of the room! As I was curious about the game; he sometimes indulged me to take a few shots; after teaching me how to handle the long cue safely! To sum up; I learned to play billiards; when I was under ten years old! Seeing my habit of going through his newspapers, he encouraged me to read the sports page and also go for the children’s weekly quiz published in the ‘Sunday Statesman’; a top class English daily of then India! From this;
I developed my habit of reading newspapers usually; usually the sports page; in my youth! He and his very close friend Syed Mujtaba Ali(a renowned writer in the then India); who very often visited him, and stayed with him for a few days; both being bachelors! Both married very late in their lives! My uncle had two servants to serve him and Mujtaba uncle (as I called him); when he was there for a few days. They had their breakfast and evening tea only. They kept the house and all furniture in tip-top condition! However my uncle and often both he and Mujtaba uncle (when he visited) and stayed with my uncle for a few days; both however had their lunch and dinner in our house next door at 15, Walliullah Llane. They relished my mother’s tasty dishes over lunch and dinner with us!
My schooling started in early 1946, when i was admitted to St. Xaviers School in Park Street; about a mile from our house. However, once the communal riot started in August 1946; my mother felt it unsafe for me, walking alone to go so far to school; from our house to Park Street! I was then admitted to St. Anthony’s School, located in Market Street off the southern end of the Calcutta New Market; then the largest market in India; as we were told! The school was around ten minutes walk from our house, and in a Muslim locality; so my mother felt safer for me to walk down to school there! Using the riots as a valid excuse for not going to school for safety; I got myself admitted in Class 7 at St. Anthony’s! I continued studying there there, till mid 1947, after partition of India, when more serious communal riots started again! My mother was very scared, and we soon after left for Pakistan in late October of 1947! My mother stayed with my married elder sister in Barisal; where my brother-in-law was working! I was however sent from Barisal to Chittagong where my maternal uncle, late Dr. Md. Ibrahim, was posted as the Civil Surgeon; after creation of East Pakistan!. There I got admitted to the St. Placid’s School around late September 1947. The school was managed and all the teachers except for Bangla; were Canadian missionaries! Using the false excuse about Calcutta riots and my inability to attend school for safety of life; I got myself admitted in Class 10; and appeared for matriculation examination in 1948; though in Calcutta I was reading in class 8 in late1947! The brothers (particularly Bro. Bertine); the then head-master; kindly admitted me to class 10 directly! Further he arranged special coaching for me by some teachers (all catholic priests) who coached me, on one to one basis, by special arrangement, during midday break and an hour again just after school ended at 4pm! This special private teaching during school hours by other Brothers of the school helped me to catch up and updated my knowledge! This was a great help; as that was the last year when matriculation examination in East Pakistan was held under Calcutta University syllabus! I will never forget this help, that I got from Bro. Bertine for his kindness and that enabled me in passing Matriculation!
When the results came out; I heaved a sign of relief, since apart from Urdu, I had done well in all other subjects! However there was a note with my mark sheet, stating that I was given ten grace marks for Urdu the vernacular; and for that my division was reduced from 1st to 2nd division, despite my total average marks; including the actual 25 out of 100 that I got in Urdu, was well over 67%! Next I joined Chittagong College, and was again compelled to take Urdu as vernacular! Luckily the College professor recognized me from my name; and as he was a close friend of my father, and also came from Calcutta, after the partition of India! He volunteered to coach me, free of cost; being my fathers close friend; to help improve my knowledge and skills in Urdu; so that I could pass the final I.Sc examination. He gave me eight questions with their answers; and told me to get the answers totally and faithfully memorized! Imagine my surprise when I found four of the questions were the ones that he gave to me to memorize! Imagine my surprise; and the result was that I passed in first division with overall average of over 68 percent of total marks! I then happily enjoyed the occasion of finally stopping Urdu studies; by burning off all the Urdu text books and the question and answered notes prepared by my Urdu professor! That was a great relief to me; and my final divorce from Urdu language! One of the side effects of that, is my very slow speed in reading the Holy Quran in Arabic, because the Arabic alphabets are very similar to Urdu! However I always read the English phonetic transcript of the Arabic version of the Holy Quran; and given my speed of reading in English; I usually finish reciting the Quran in two or three days; regularly reading it after offering five mandatory prayers daily! This habit was inculcated in me, by my late mother, who read the Quran and offered daily prayers, as long as I remember; throughout her life; till she passed away in December 1949; while I was in Chittagong college; staying with my elder brother who was posted there; after coming to Pakistan on partition of India!
In 1950, I joined the Ahsanullah Engineering College (later BUET); where my maternal uncle, an engineer was an Asst. Professor in Mechanical Engineering. He encouraged me to go for the newly opened Metallurgical Engineering faculty; as he said that he can teach me all that was needed and important in Mechanical Engineering so that i could be as good as any mechanical engineer! My career later confirmed this; as a few years later in Khulna Newsprint Mill (KNM); then under the management of Sandwell Ltd. a Canadian company running the KNM then the highest speed paper machine, running anywhere in Pakistan! Under their management; I was promoted as head of the mechanical maintenance department; responsible for the integrated pulp and paper mill staring from Gewa wood logs from Sunderbans logs, from the forest and finishing as newsprint and mechanical printing paper, that was supplied to both East and West Pakistan! However once the then EPIDC took over management of the mill; influence peddling and contacts with people in power at the government became the criteria for professional advancement, and I resigned from there and joined the then Pakistan Oxygen Company (BOC); that produced oxygen, Acetylene and other gases; both for industrial and also medical uses!
A few years later, when the Chittagong Steel Mill (CSM) was set up in East Pakistan, I joined EPIDC and was sent on training for steel making in to Japan for training in steel industries and I joined the the mill set up in Chittagong! However, the management of the unit was quite corrupt; and many officials of the EPID Dhaka head office practiced influence peddling; and our work became very difficult under these circumstances! I left Chittagong Steel Mill and joined the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce; with financial help from UNDP; were then setting up a team of consultants to help improving productivity in the many industries in and around Chittagong! For this training in consultancy; we were sent to Turkey at the Turkish Management Development Center and later to UK at the Henley Staff College for higher training!
However political matters in East Pakistan came to a head; that led to the Indo-Pakistan war, culminating in the creation of Bangladesh! Later our activities as consultants at the Chittagong Chambers decreased greatly; as most industries were owned by non-Bangalis; and as such were more or less idle; abandoned by the Pakistani owners, after the war of independence! I then joined the Textile Corporation of Bangladesh; where I was given the proud assignment of setting up the first post independence textile factory (Eagle Star Textile Mill) in Bangladesh! The equipment was there; all lying around, in a store shed on bare open land, with hilly slope at the back and one side! Surprisingly, the Spinning Master was a Khoja Muslim, who could not speak Bangla; but I explained to the workers that he was not a Pakistani! He was a very sincere and experienced hand in textile spinning! In a remarkable example of teamwork, we converted the cotton storage shed in that abandoned Fauzdarhat site to set up the first industry established in Bangladesh; with a thousand spindle spinning mill within the record time of three months; from crates of textile machines imported just before Indo-Pakistan war! It was all lying there in the open! I modified the drive of the spinning frames and increased the spinning speed from 1000 to 1200 rpm; without telling the Textile Corporation about it! Imagine the surprise at the textile Corporation HO in Dhaka, when they learn that a textile mill set up by an Engineer with not a day’s experience in textile equipment and yarn spinning; operating a spinning mill at over 95% efficiency! Based on Textile Corporation’s monthly performance report we were the spinning mill with the highest overall yield of yarn; for a long time; thanks to my in-house drive modification; resulting in higher spinning speed!
Suddenly, and order came from the Industries ministry (it was directed by Bongo Bondhu, as I came to know later!), appointing me as General Manager of Chittagong Steel Mills, from where I had earlier resigned in Pakistan days! However once again corruption rose its ugly head there! However I took very positive and strong disciplinary actions to ensure overall discipline in the large factory complex; where we manufactured galvanized sheets; mild steel plates, angles and rods; starting from limestone, pig iron, steel scrap and zinc as raw materials! To ensure discipline; that was very poor; I terminating some officers and many lower level personnel, including some workers who were so-called then Awami League activist and local Awami League leaders close associates; and who felt that were above any work discipline! Those who were involved in unacceptable deeds; including getting regular bribes from local suppliers were all terminated from service; and as per Bongo Bondhu’s instructions the local political leaders of that area, were instructed to keep there hands off factory’s administration and management matters! Hence, there was no resulting labor protests in our factory administration!
Finally to conclude with a few events, that steered me trough the last few decades of love and happiness till the sad demise of my life’s beloved partner! It began in my last year (1953-54) at the Ahsanullah Engineering College, while living in our new college hostel on the then Bokshibazar Roa. Right across our hostel entrance; was the Eden Girls College Hostel! I used to like a tall girl, was living in that hostel. She was over 5ft.7in, having very long hair, literally up to her knees! For me, it was actually love at first sight! Gradually I came to know her elder brother, her local guardian; who some times came to visit her at her hostel. I found out that he was working in Dhaka in a private organization! After passing Engineering and starting to work, I managed to meet him, and proposed to marry his younger sister. He liked me, and agreed to the idea; despite the fact that my then local guardian, who was my maternal uncle and a sort of guardian; as I was an orphan. He opposed it! Despite his opposition; I married her in July 1955. We lived together from that day till end October 2917; a life of love, happiness and togetherness! Unfortunately my wife passed away; on the last day of November his year; leaving me totally lonely and alone! I have o daughter, now married has two sons, who are in Canad; after higher studies there. My two sons are both settled in USA; the elder having his own business there; while the younger son, also an Engineer from BUET. He is now an internationally recognized experts on electrical power transmission and distribution; and is Head of Research, of “Electrical Power Research Institute” in (USA)! He is known in many countries, and provides them expert advice and services, as and when needed; anywhere in the world. He is an international expert in his chosen field; and has done carried out many important work assignments in many countries in Europe including UK; South America, Asia; and of course nearly all across USA; in line with his professional expertise!

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