Julian Bhai, pal of Bangladesh

Julian Bhai, friend of Bangladesh

On this unique, expansive interview, Rezwan Hussain talks to Julian Francis, OBE, about his exceptional life and profession

What first introduced you to this a part of the world? 

I first got here as a volunteer, to Bihar, in 1968. There had been a extreme famine there in  1966/67, and Oxfam had run a giant reduction program. Afterwards, they positioned technically skilled volunteers from Britain in 4 Gandhian ashrams in Bihar, which had been concerned within the reduction work. I used to be despatched to the Samanvaya Ashram in Bodh Gaya, the very place the place Buddha is claimed to have attained Enlightenment. 

I had studied animal husbandry and basic agriculture in school, and the plan was to do some agricultural growth work within the villages. However I additionally had private causes for going to India. My mom had an uncle who labored in Burma, so she had spent a while there, within the Nineteen Thirties, when it was nonetheless below British rule. 

The go to left a long-lasting impression on her. At some point, in 1966, I used to be chatting together with her as she lay in her hospital mattress. She was combating most cancers, and it was fairly superior. She requested me what I deliberate to do after commencement. Had I considered spending a few years in India as a volunteer? That turned out to be the final time I ever spoke with my mom. She handed away the subsequent morning. So going to India grew to become much more significant. 

So that you had ties to India?

Longstanding ties. My nice uncle spent 30 years in Assam and Burma, doing enterprise earlier than the Second World Battle broke out. My mom’s household had a historical past of missionaries and clergymen. My mom’s nice, nice uncle, Henry James Matthew, served as a priest in a collection of army barracks, in Delhi, Allahabad, Calcutta, and Simla, within the 1870s, finally turning into the Bishop of Lahore.

What had been your first impressions of India?

The warmth! Gaya at the moment was thought-about the most popular place in India. I needed to be taught, rapidly, the way to perform in that surroundings. What to put on, what to eat, the rhythm of day by day life, the way to assimilate and work together with locals. 

So, opposite to advise, I lived in a mud hut within the village for the primary few months. They constructed the hut just a little taller to accommodate me and added an connected latrine. I used a hand pump for water, and showered with a bucket and a lungi, identical to everybody else. The villagers taught me the perfect meals and fruit to eat in the course of the warmth, what types of garments to put on. The one luxurious objects I had had been a battery-powered torch and a transistor radio. That will need to have made an impression, nonetheless, as a result of at some point the village headman introduced house a radio, for your complete neighborhood.  

What are your recollections of Bihar?

There are such a lot of! I bear in mind at some point sitting on the major Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya, feeling very despondent. I felt that I used to be having no impression on the lives of the villagers. One of many monks noticed me and walked over. You may have good concepts, he stated, however have you ever ever requested the villagers what they need? I hadn’t. Nobody did. Members of the untouchable castes had been considered uneducated; nobody listened to them. They spent their lives being bullied and shouted at. So I went to the ashram chief, a follower of Vinoba Bhave, and requested him if we may name everybody to a village assembly. On the assembly, we had been instructed that nothing may very well be finished till their native village shrine had been repaired. Nothing would work till it was fastened. The shrine was very small, and so we spent solely 500 rupees to have it repaired. We had just a little ceremony and a blessing. Then hastily, folks began paying extra consideration!

That will need to have been an eye-opening expertise.

Sure, it was. I had no thought this little object on the bottom was a serious impediment to my efforts to enhance animal husbandry. Once you come from one other tradition, you could have no thought how native folks truly assume. 

One other time, we had been digging wells, and our civil engineer had an thought: Wedge formed bricks would match snugly, and also you wouldn’t want to make use of any mortar. The wells may very well be larger. We thought this was a fantastic thought. However a couple of days later, after we got here again to test, the work had stopped. The landowner was accountable for the employees constructing the properly, and he didn’t assume it was a fantastic thought in any respect. We had been puzzled. Why not construct a much bigger properly, if there was a alternative? As a result of, he defined to me, if I’ve an argument with my spouse, it’s going to be simpler for her to throw herself down the properly if it’s larger. I used to be speechless. 

Typically it’s mentality and beliefs; at different instances its simply habits that current obstacles. A cow will make extra milk if water is accessible when they need it. Nevertheless it was a wrestle to get villagers to maintain a bowl of water subsequent to the cows. So far as they had been involved, cows drink water when they’re delivered to the water. Why? As a result of that was the best way it had at all times been!

Had been you in Bihar when the Liberation Battle broke out? 

Sure. Oxfam’s workplace in Ranchi in Bihar, which then lined Jap India and East Pakistan, obtained information of hundreds of refugees coming throughout the border. In April 1971, it was clear there was an enormous refugee disaster in West Bengal, so Oxfam requested me to go to Calcutta and help reduction operations. So I obtained in one of many Oxfam famine reduction jeeps, and drove down from Bihar to Calcutta. 

We arrange an workplace in a lodge on Little Russell Avenue. The lodge had three telephone traces, which was very helpful, and it was minutes away from a  24-hour telegram workplace, a Grindlays Financial institution department, and a Catholic Aid Providers workplace, that had a telex machine we may use. 

Many of the different overseas support organizations had been flying in overseas personnel, however we consulted our Gandhian associates and determined that extra expats weren’t required. This proved to be an excellent choice as, shortly afterwards, the Indian authorities prohibited foreigners from going to the border areas. We employed younger Bengalis as workers. Lots of them had been former pupils of St Placid’s college in Chittagong. That they had realized that their former principal, Raymond Cournoyer, was with Oxfam in Calcutta to assist the refugees. They didn’t have any contact data for him; they simply turned up in Calcutta, to search for him!

Raymond Cournoyer will need to have been a charismatic determine to encourage such loyalty.

Sure, he was. Raymond Bhai, as everybody referred to as him, was a French Canadian, Catholic Brother of the Holy Cross Order. He had taught in numerous faculties in East Pakistan from 1958 to 1965, earlier than becoming a member of Oxfam. By the point the refugee disaster erupted, Raymond was accountable for all Oxfam operations in Jap India and East Pakistan, out of the Bihar regional workplace. It was Raymond who despatched me right down to Calcutta to assist arrange the reduction operations. Oxfam’s head workplace protested that I may be too younger, however Raymond Bhai insisted. 

When Oxfam head workplace wished to fly in additional expats from the UK, the higher to generate publicity and donations, it was Raymond who led the resistance. He instructed them we may handle with out. Personnel who couldn’t communicate the language had been merely not that helpful. One in every of Raymond’s former pupils that we employed was Uday Sankar Das, who went on to have a profitable profession in journalism.

What are a few of your recollections from the refugee camps?

November 1971 stands out in my thoughts. That was when the 2 sides began shelling one another, throughout the border. The refugees had been very near the border, so it grew to become harmful for them. A whole bunch might need been killed within the shelling. Not that the Pakistan army command cared, in fact. 

I bear in mind as soon as I used to be speaking to the officer commanding in an enormous tented compound, close to Hili, in West Dinajpur, when there was an explosion close by. No person batted an eyelid. However after the assembly, I noticed the jeep I used to be sitting in simply a short time in the past had taken a direct hit!

The Indian army determined to maneuver the camps farther away from the border. That was partly for security, and partly as a result of they wished to put landmines alongside the border. So the camps had been moved. 

The official association was that the Indian authorities present shelter and fundamental meals rations. All else was to be offered by support companies. Nonetheless, unofficially, the Indian military medical corps tended to the refugees close to that exact border, and Oxfam generally offered fundamental well being take care of Indian troopers.

And generally, the donations is probably not what is de facto what is required. Did that occur within the refugee camps?

Oh sure! I bear in mind anyone in Britain had donated an experimental amphibious car. Fabricated from fibreglass, with balloon wheels, which doubled as paddles. It had just a little trailer, which floated, and it may carry 250 kilograms, apparently. It was named the “Amphicat.” I don’t bear in mind it lasting very lengthy. 

We might additionally obtain unsolicited donations of clothes that had been merely not helpful. At some point, we took supply of a whole lot of women’ sneakers with lengthy, stiletto heels! Completely ineffective on this a part of the world. Nevertheless it turned out that the heels had been priceless. Fabricated from titanium, or one thing like that. So we broke all of the heels off and bought them! We made fairly a bit of cash from these heels.  

One other time, we obtained a cargo of ladies’s brassieres. Once more, not wished in any respect. I used to be so offended, I snapped one into two items. After I did that, we found that the person cups, which had steel wire frames in these days, made glorious rice scoops! So the bras turned out to be helpful within the kitchen, at the least.

How did folks react to this drawback?

Everybody was conscious of the issue of donations not matching wants, but it surely was troublesome to do something about it. I bear in mind one extraordinary assembly in the course of December, simply earlier than Victory Day, the place Tajuddin and the opposite members of the government-in-exile referred to as the help organizations in and stated there have been going to be adjustments in how the help organizations may function in liberated Bangladesh. 

Nevertheless it’s at all times troublesome to deal with this concern. I bear in mind in January, 1972, the pinnacle of the UN mission in Bangladesh tearing his hair out. They had been inundated with blankets, when what they actually wanted was meals.

How did you get together with Tajuddin?

Very properly. He was a captivating man. I first tried to get a gathering with him after we obtained 50 tons of protein dietary supplements from Canada. Dehydrated mashed potato, fortified with nutritional vitamins, minerals, and milk powder, to be blended with different meals. A good suggestion, but it surely was too subtle for us; we didn’t actually know what to do with it.

Tajuddin’s workplace in Theatre Highway was near our Oxfam workplace. I arrived as organized, however he had been referred to as away to an essential assembly with some officers from the federal government of India. The following day, I obtained a phenomenal handwritten observe from him, apologizing for lacking our assembly. I perceive, he stated, you stroll house fairly late at evening to your condo in Auckland Sq.. Please drop by for a cup of tea when handy. 

Tajuddin had met with among the medical doctors and medical college students within the camps. He had realized that they may tackle the medical points, however that they had been struggling to assist the refugees cope with melancholy. The medical folks had steered that music may assist, and Tajuddin had agreed. So now he had a proposal for us. Might Oxfam assist to obtain musical devices for the camps?

I additionally thought this was a good suggestion. So we purchased harmoniums and tablas, a whole lot of them, and distributed them. Because the camp inhabitants dreamt of returning house, they sang songs about the great thing about their homeland. The songs in flip helped them to visualise going house. It lifted their spirits.

I entered the price of the musical devices into the books as “medical provides.” The Oxfam accountants again in Oxford wished to know what the heck was occurring! So I obtained letters of appreciation from the medical workers within the camps, verifying that music had truly lowered the prices of caring for the refugees, by serving to them higher address the trauma they’d suffered. 

Talking of medical doctors within the camps, Jon Rohde, the American doctor, was working on the Cholera Analysis Laboratory, now often known as icddr, b, on the time. Had been their medical interventions helpful within the refugee camps?

Very a lot so. Orsaline had not too long ago been developed, however not but put to widespread use. So Jon’s colleagues did trials of the answer on the camps. They discovered that 30% of the inhabitants in a single camp had diarrhoea. In one other camp, the place they distributed and prescribed Orsaline, the incidence of diarrhoea dropped to three%. One tenth as a lot. So it was immensely helpful. 

Jon himself was not within the camps initially; he and his spouse Sweet had been evacuated from Bangladesh in early April 1971. I consider they had been on a listing of those who the Pakistan army wished to apprehend. Jon and Sweet had given refuge to some main Bangladeshis of their Gulshan bungalow. Extra importantly, they’d pushed round Dhaka after the army crackdown, taking images of the loss of life and destruction in Previous City and at Dhaka College. The regime wished their palms on these images. 

Did you get guests to the camps?

Oh, sure. We had plenty of visits from British and European MP’s and American Congressmen. One memorable go to was that of Richard Wooden, who was the British Minister for Abroad Improvement on the time. A giant man, most likely in his fifties. He didn’t have a noticeable infirmity, however he did stroll stiffly, and he carried a strolling stick.

As we traipsed by a muddy camp, we seen Wooden wasn’t carrying rubber boots. The Indian authorities officers grew to become more and more involved. Had been the Minister’s toes not uncomfortably moist? Lastly, Wooden laughed and banged his stick towards his leg. A metallic clang rang out. “Don’t fear outdated chap,” he stated, “I don’t really feel a factor.” Throughout army motion within the Center East within the Second World Battle, he had misplaced each his legs. 

One other time, I bear in mind we had been invited for drinks on the American Consulate to fulfill delegates from Washington. It was on Harrington Avenue, close to the British Consulate. In the midst of the reception, one of many Individuals collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital, the place he was identified with malnourishment. Apparently, he was afraid of getting sick from the meals in Calcutta, and had been dwelling on nothing however imported Coca Cola since touchdown in India!

On the time, some puzzled whether or not Bangladesh was headed for a long-drawn out warfare of insurgency, just like Vietnam. What did you assume? 

To many people, it was apparent that the Mukti Bahini was going to triumph, and that it wouldn’t take lengthy to take action. Not more than a 12 months. The Indians had been arming, coaching, and supporting all of the Mukti forces, proper across the border. In the meantime, the Pakistan army provide traces had been a thousand miles away. The entire scenario was a dropping proposition for the Pakistanis.  Even when the Indians had not obtained concerned, I consider Bangladesh would nonetheless have turn into a actuality. It might need taken just a little longer, that’s all. Many thought the identical approach. 

It’s simple to overlook that when the combating ended, a whole lot of hundreds of individuals needed to be repatriated. 

Sure, this was not a trivial job. The return of the refugees to Bangladesh needed to be rigorously organized, as orderly as doable. As a result of when you allowed 100 thousand folks to cross directly, you’ll have harmful bottlenecks. Initially, the Indian military managed the ferry crossings, in a low-key method. 

Oxfam’s companions had been on the Benapole border, handing out blankets and meals. I bear in mind Hindu teams made packets of sweets at hand to Muslims; it was going to be Eid on the finish of January 1972. There have been a couple of Christians within the camps, and at Christmas, the Hindus and Muslims made some extent of bringing one thing for them, additionally. 

A beautiful gesture. How did Muslims and Hindus get alongside within the camps?

Very properly. We by no means heard of any points between them. Muslims had been about thirty to forty % of the camp inhabitants, and so they usually lived in their very own space of the camp, however there was no battle between spiritual teams. Any issues that emerged had been between the native inhabitants and the refugees. Don’t overlook, most native Indians had been poor additionally. They usually watched as one other group of poor folks obtained free meals and medical care, whereas they didn’t. This inevitably created some resentment. 

In the present day, the tables have turned considerably, and it’s Bangladesh that’s internet hosting refugees, from Myanmar. Have you ever seen any fascinating similarities or variations between the 2 refugee crises?  

The variety of expats! I consider there have been as much as 2,000 expats in Cox’s Bazar, working with the Rohingya, earlier than the pandemic intervened in early 2020. A fantastic waste of cash. Within the refugee camps in 1971, Oxfam managed a program for 600,000 refugees with solely two or three foreigners! Once I requested a senior Oxfam staffer not way back why so many expats had been turning up this time round, he stated the donors insisted on it “due to the corruption.” 

This, for my part, was a ridiculous remark. 

After the Liberation Battle ended, did you meet Bangabandhu, Sheikh Mujib?  

Sure, I did. It was within the final week of January, 1972. Tajuddin took me to go to Sheikh Mujib, on a courtesy name. There have been a whole lot of individuals milling round, most there simply to obtain his blessing. I didn’t count on to spend quite a lot of minutes with him, however he had clearly been briefed about Oxfam by Tajuddin.  I requested him what Oxfam may do in regards to the huge issues confronted by Bangladesh. He replied that I knew extra about what wanted to be finished than he did. You drove right here from Calcutta, he stated, so what did you see?

I stated I noticed a whole lot of villages burned out, houses destroyed, bridges and culverts blown up. Boats sunk within the river. I stated we can assist with housing, and that we had already spent 1 / 4 of one million kilos to buy corrugated iron sheeting from Hindustan Metal, for a CARE Bangladesh housing program. Ferries and bridges, I steered, had been higher suited to bilateral, government-to-government support.

Sheikh Mujib shook his head vigorously. Ferries are the lifeline of my nation, he insisted. In case you can’t present new ferries, please attempt to assist restore the prevailing ones. He turned to his secretary and instructed him to ensure I met with the Bangladesh Inland Waterways Authority to comply with up. 

As I rose to go away, he stood up, and put his arm round my shoulders. He had yet another query. What was it like within the refugee camps? I instructed him that the situations, notably for ladies and kids, had been horrible. He nodded, after which thanked me very a lot for what I used to be doing for Bangladesh, and for coming to see him that day. 

What did you do after the Liberation Battle ended?

After my brief go to to Bangladesh, I used to be again in Calcutta to regularly shut down Oxfam’s refugee reduction program. Some individuals who had been operating a 480-bed bamboo hospital to deal with the wounded wanted medical provides, and they also “raided” our medical retailer in Calcutta. In a while the NGO, Gonoshasthaya Kendra, which Oxfam supported for a couple of years, was arrange. It skilled younger girls to be “barefoot midwives,” who rode on bicycles to are likely to anticipating moms in villages. 

This help was, to a big extent, as a result of Raymond, who was appointed Nation Director of the brand new Oxfam workplace in Bangladesh. He was the apparent alternative, and he had accepted the job, however on one situation. Ship reduction provides to Caritas or Mom Teresa’s sisters, he instructed head workplace, to not me. I wish to use Oxfam funds to help younger Bangladeshis with imaginative and prescient, he stated. 

The opposite early beneficiary of this philosophy was a brand new NGO referred to as BRAC. In February 1972, I handed over 300,000 rupees to its younger founder, Fazle Hasan Abed, for village rehabilitation work in Sylhet. 

Cyclone Bhola in 1970 performed a big half within the origins of BRAC, did it not?

Sure, it did. Abed obtained concerned with the cyclone reduction operations began by some American expats and their Bengali associates in Dhaka, and that finally impressed him to create BRAC. The expats that he met in 1970 in the course of the cyclone reduction work had been a really well-informed and devoted group of people, together with Jon and Sweet Rohde, Lincoln and Marty Chen, Richard Money, amongst others. Abed generally turned to this “mind belief” for recommendation and session. They stayed concerned with BRAC for a few years. 

How did Sir Fazle Abed fare in the course of the Battle?

He had a slim escape! Abed had returned from England in 1969, after 15 years in England, to work with Shell Oil. By the point warfare broke out, he had already been promoted twice. However after the army crackdown, he was transferred to Dhaka, the place he was given his new task: Handle the gas provide for the occupying Pakistan military. He realized he needed to get out of there.

He took a flight to Karachi, ostensibly to go to associates. He went on to Islamabad the place the authorities there obtained wind that one thing was up. They raided his lodge room, and took him in for questioning.  Why had a Bengali from Dhaka immediately turned up in West Pakistan? “To see associates,” he instructed them, and pulled out his return ticket. “If I’m ordered to return to Dacca directly, I’ll,” he added. After all, he had no such intention. As quickly as they left, he took a bus throughout the border to Kabul, Afghanistan, and hopped on the subsequent flight to London.

The return ticket was a good suggestion!

Sure, that most likely saved him. That and his British passport, which likely gave the Pakistan safety forces some pause, earlier than taking him in or harming him in any approach.

What, in your opinion, made him so profitable in constructing BRAC?

Abed was a really attentive listener. He truly listened to the those who he wished to assist. Most don’t do this. However he did. He talked immediately with villagers. There are recordings of him within the villages chatting with farmers. 

In these days, few listened to farmers. They’re illiterate, so what do they know? Rather a lot, truly. They’ve indigenous information. They know what grows in every space. They know in regards to the medicinal qualities of vegetation. About 25 years in the past, farmers in Sirajganj had been telling us that the river was rising a few days earlier every year, as a result of the snow within the Himalayas was melting a bit earlier every year. They knew what was taking place with respect to world warming and local weather change lengthy earlier than anybody else. 

The opposite factor about Abed was that he was at all times trying to be taught. He wasn’t desirous about the excellent news; he wished to be taught from errors, issues that had been missed. That was uncommon, on the time. So he would at all times ask me: What can we do higher? So I’d inform him. I don’t see many ladies in this system, I would say, or I don’t see any youngsters with disabilities within the BRAC faculties. And inside every week, BRAC workers can be following up. Now, it’s commonplace for service suppliers to watch and consider the impression of their initiatives. Abed and BRAC had been doing that from the very starting.

And one different sensible factor that Abed did was to maintain BRAC out of politics, as a lot as doable. Plenty of different NGOs didn’t do this, particularly within the Eighties. Even the umbrella group, the Affiliation for Improvement Businesses (ADAB), obtained caught up within the political scenario. By the late Eighties, it had turn into a downright hostile surroundings, with acts of violence, even homicide plots. At one time, Raymond Bhai and I had been engaged in shuttle diplomacy, passing messages between NGO leaders, pleading with them to not resort to violence. 

This state of affairs absolutely didn’t assist the NGO sector?

In no way. It damage the picture of NGOs as a complete on this nation. However by staying out of it, BRAC emerged with its fame intact, and in a fair stronger place. 

You spent many of the 1970’s in Oxfam’s workplace in Delhi. What are some recollections from these years?

One memorable incident was the go to to India, in 1978, by Prince Charles and his great-uncle, Earl Mountbatten, who had been the final Viceroy of India. Indira Gandhi was out of workplace at the moment, however she made some extent to point out up on the reception in Delhi. The British Excessive Fee was anxious she deliberate to confront the prime minister, Morarji Desai, her bitter political rival, and trigger a scene. So that they despatched a primary secretary to ask if I may intercept Gandhi earlier than she may get to him. 

I positioned myself in her path as she entered the reception room, and began chatting. As I talked, she saved trying over my shoulder, presumably to get a bead on Desai. It was solely once I talked about the 1971 Battle and the refugees that she immediately switched her focus again to me. She was very to listen to about that. Anyway, the night went off with out incident, so I suppose I performed my half as a roving political operative!

You returned to Bangladesh in 1985. What was the primary focus of your work at the moment? 

I returned right here full time to run the South Asia operations for Canadian College Service Abroad, CUSO. This was primarily the Canadian model of the American Peace Corps, besides CUSO additionally obtained authorities grants with which to fund initiatives. They had been primarily managing initiatives once I obtained right here. 

A lot of my work concerned flood and cyclone reduction and rehabilitation, extra so after the 1988 floods and the 1991 cyclone. However advocating for the disabled was a selected focus of mine. Donor companies had turned away from initiatives for the disabled within the Seventies to deal with “growth,” and I grew to become more and more involved about it. So by the top of the Eighties, I used to be banging the drum about incapacity each likelihood I obtained. Ten % of the Bangladesh inhabitants had a incapacity, I’d inform donors, so why don’t you allocate funds accordingly? 

I helped write the primary nationwide coverage for incapacity and was concerned in drafting laws relating to the disabled. It was lastly enacted, greater than a decade later, in 2001. I additionally realized that the assorted organizations that had been engaged on totally different incapacity points wanted to coordinate higher, so I assisted within the organising of the Nationwide Discussion board of Organizations Working with the Disabled (NFOWD).

Incapacity has at all times been essential to me, given my very own private circumstances. My older brother was born with Down Syndrome, and our elder son, Neil, who’s now 46, has a extreme studying incapacity. 

My late spouse, Sushmita, whom I married in Calcutta quickly after the Liberation Battle, was a scientific psychologist, and we searched excessive and low for methods to assist with Neil’s growth. Our youthful son, Rohin, is a heart specialist in London. I bear in mind Raymond got here to Calcutta for our marriage ceremony. He warned Sushmita, with a giant smile on his face, that she was not simply marrying me, but additionally Oxfam. In subsequent years, she usually had trigger to recollect these phrases!

Talking of incapacity, was Oxfam concerned with the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed, CRP? 

Sure, from the very starting. CRP started with Valerie Taylor and some Bangladeshi staffers in a small rented constructing in Dhanmondi. Oxfam helped her with the paperwork to finally register CRP as a society and offered her with a assured fastened quantity for operating prices for the primary few years. 

Valerie finally moved to larger premises in Farmgate. Later, CRP obtained a big plot of land in Savar, and the British support program, ODA, paid for the development of hospital buildings and operating prices for some years. Begum Ershad, who had additionally taken an curiosity in Valerie’s work, got here to put the muse stone in 1990. 

What Valerie and CRP have completed right here is exceptional. They’ve been the driving drive in establishing bodily rehabilitation as a part of well being take care of the overall inhabitants in Bangladesh. Had been you in a position to contribute in any approach?

I used to be not concerned with CRP in any formal capability, however I’d help when and the place I may. For example, my group was in a position to help the coaching of plenty of their workers members in Indonesia.

I bear in mind I first visited CRP in 1978. I used to be on the lookout for suppliers of greeting playing cards for Oxfam on the time. I met one remarkably proficient affected person there, Madhab, who painted these great watercolours of rural scenes, from reminiscence. Once I returned to Bangladesh within the Eighties, I’d usually go by within the night and have dinner with Madhab, and one or two others. Valerie would nonetheless be at her desk, working late at evening.

There have been no skilled physiotherapists in Bangladesh when Valerie first arrived right here, in 1969. That, and her experiences treating the warfare wounded, motivated her to start out CRP. 20 years later, there have been nonetheless solely seven skilled physiotherapists within the nation. In the present day, CRP runs diploma applications for specialists for all areas of rehabilitation. Some even come from overseas to coach right here. The distinction that she and CRP have made is astonishing. 

I don’t suppose you had a substantial amount of spare time. However what did you do when not at work?

There was a theater group right here, referred to as Dhaka Stage. I took half in a few of their productions. Often not distinguished elements, as I used to be usually out of city. Two of my favorites had been Oscar Wilde’s The Significance of Being Earnest and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. 

We usually staged the productions on the American College, or on the Worldwide College, ISD. Though the primary evening may be a fundraiser on the Sonargaon Lodge, with the subsequent two nights on the faculties. Sadly, Dhaka Stage folded about 10 years in the past. I additionally loved singing carols open air within the American Membership with our group. That introduced again recollections of my childhood.

You used to sing as a baby?

Sure, music was an essential a part of my upbringing. Each morning in the course of the college time period we’d sing in Westminster Abbey. The Abbey had its personal choir, in fact, together with that of the well-known Westminster Choir College, and for particular occasions my college choir would be part of them. One occasion I bear in mind singing at was Princess Margaret’s marriage ceremony, in 1960. 

That 12 months was additionally the four-hundredth anniversary of the founding of my college, by Queen Elizabeth I. So it was becoming that Queen Elizabeth II got here to commemorate it, accompanied by Prince Phillip. Their procession was making its approach slowly to the varsity corridor, when Prince Phillip, who was a jovial, casual character, noticed me standing on the facet. 

“What are you doing there,” he requested me. “Sir, I’ve to know what to do in case of an emergency, and the place the fireplace extinguishers are,” I replied. “The place are they?” he requested. So I opened the door to a classroom to point out him, and instantly anyone rushed over to drag him away! After the occasion, as they processed out, I used to be on the opposite facet from him. So he shouted out to me: “Thanks for holding us protected!”

I bear in mind a boy referred to as Peter Asher used to take a seat to my left within the choir stalls. He and one other classmate, Gordon Waller, finally shaped a pop-singing duo, referred to as Peter and Gordon. That they had three primary hits songs on the pop charts, with music organized by none apart from Lennon and McCartney! They obtained related by Peter’s sister, the movie actress Jane Asher, whose boyfriend on the time occurred to be Paul McCartney. 

Most individuals right now are most likely not conscious of Peter and Gordon.

Their musical careers didn’t final very lengthy. Peter suffered a bit from polio as a baby, and walked with some problem. So he and Gordon usually carried out sitting on excessive stools. This was round 1964, simply as dwell music was turning into fashionable on TV, and the viewers appreciated performers who may transfer and dance round and work together with the viewers. 

So pop stardom was by no means actually on the playing cards for Peter. However he stayed within the music enterprise, and moved to Los Angeles, the place discovered success managing singers and artists. Gordon tried going solo for some time, earlier than shifting on to different issues. 

However there was one other boy who joined the varsity choir, a couple of years youthful than me, who did go on to have a really lengthy profession in music: Andrew Lloyd–Webber, now Baron Lloyd-Webber. I bear in mind he was extraordinarily self-confident and stuffed with himself, even at that younger age in school!

You distinguished your self in different methods. You’re formally designated a “Good friend of Bangladesh.” Are you able to inform us extra about this honour?

I believe somebody from the Awami League authorities got here up with the concept, within the Nineties, as a technique to acknowledge foreigners who had performed some half within the independence of Bangladesh. The unique thought was to have 4 totally different classes of awards, however then the entire thing was shelved. They revived the concept in 2008, however this time with solely two classes: the Bangladesh Liberation Honour, for presidency leaders, royal members of the family, and such, and the Mates of Liberation Battle Honour, for everybody else.

They began with a listing of about 600 people, after which whittled it right down to 337. Most awards had been made posthumously, and never everybody may come to obtain their awards, in fact. Marshal Tito’s son, as an example, obtained the award on behalf of his late father, and the identical with plenty of sons of former US Senators. A big awardee was the late Archer Ok Blood, who was American Consul in Dhaka in 1971 and who had alerted the US State Division of the genocide occurring at the moment. His daughter, Barbara, obtained the award on his behalf. 

Two members of the crew of Russian naval divers who had cleared mines in Chittagong Harbour had been current; the Russian Ambassador collected the awards on behalf of the opposite divers, together with, clearly, the diver who misplaced his life within the operation. 

I used to be within the first batch to obtain the award, with about 80 others. This was late in March, 2012. After the official ceremony, there was dinner and a reception hosted by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the Sonargaon Lodge. It was very casual. I stated to Sheikh Hasina: I’ve at all times puzzled how you retain your sari in place on high of your head. She smiled and stated she used a silver pin, one that when belonged to her grandmother. 

Then in 2019, you obtained one other honour, this time from the British authorities: the Order of the British Empire. How did that come about?

In a considerably serendipitous method, I believe. At some point, in the summertime of 2018, I used to be invited to go to the PM, at Ganabhaban. I had been really useful for Bangladesh citizenship by somebody who was near the Prime Minister. She occurred to be wrapping up a gathering with the British Excessive Commissioner, Alison Blake, and British MP Rushanara Ali, who’s of Bangladeshi origin, whereas I waited to be ushered in. When Sheikh Hasina realized that I used to be subsequent to see her, she turned to them and stated: Oh, it’s Julian! Then the 2 of you must keep. 

So the excessive commissioner and the member of parliament shaped an impromptu viewers as I obtained the certificates of citizenship from Sheikh Hasina. A couple of months later, I obtained a telephone name from the excessive commissioner. She had a query for me: Would I be prepared to simply accept an OBE, for “providers to growth in Bangladesh?”

 Did you go to Buckingham Palace to obtain the award?

Sure, in June, 2019. Really, you’re given a alternative of dates and areas for the award ceremony, and that was the one I selected. On the Palace, as I used to be ready in line to be obtained, I heard a voice behind me that I acknowledged. It was Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, who was to obtain a knighthood. “And what are you right here for,” he requested. So I instructed him. He stated: “Effectively, at the least one among us deserves to be right here!”

Prince William officiated that day. He requested me how Bangladesh was doing. I replied that the nation is dealing with challenges, such because the Rohingya refugee disaster and local weather change, however that there had been some exceptional growth over time.

You may have been an eye-witness to your complete historical past of Bangladesh up to now.  What are your ideas now, because the nation celebrates 50 years of independence? 

I bear in mind after the preliminary state of euphoria 50 years in the past, actuality set in rapidly. Many seasoned officers weren’t optimistic in regards to the new nation’s future. In March 1972, Oxfam’s abroad support director, Ken Bennett, submitted a report during which he concluded that, until meals provides had been ensured, and infrastructure quickly improved, it was uncertain that Bangladesh may survive as a nation state.

A few years after Bennet’s report, hundreds died of hunger, within the famine of 1974. Then got here the turmoil of 1975. It definitely didn’t look good for Bangladesh within the Seventies. The pessimists gave the impression to be proper. 

However then the nation turned a nook. Agricultural manufacturing went up. Investments in infrastructure picked up. The nation returned to democracy in 1990. After all, Bangladesh would have finished higher with out the confrontational politics, and the corruption that adopted. And there may be now an ever-widening hole between the wealthy and poor, which issues many people. 

However the progress has been exceptional. In the present day, hunger would merely not occur. Native communities, the general public at massive, wouldn’t enable it. And the event continues apace.

So I’m very comfortable that the pessimists of fifty years in the past have been confirmed unsuitable! 

Julian Francis, OBE, Good friend of Bangladesh, what an fascinating life you could have led. To echo the phrases of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib all these years in the past, thanks for what you could have finished for Bangladesh. And thanks for taking the time to inform us about your life and experiences. 

It was my pleasure. As I’ve usually stated, I simply occurred to be in the correct place (India) on the proper time (1971) and my life unfolded after that.

Rezwan Hussain is a author and researcher in Dhaka. 



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