The Life in the Family
This section is intended to give some highlights of living in the family and among friends and relations, but I shall start with a conversation that I had in Japan which perhaps captures the state of where I was in the past and where I am now in my retired age.
As mentioned before, I was once staying at the University of Kobe for some months, when the General Manager (GM) of a major Japanese Regional Health Authority, about 100 miles south of Kobe, came to invite me to visit his paper-less and fully computerised health system, in which all patient records, including X-rays and scans data (in digitised from) were held in a network of fast computers, such that any consultant in that region could access the relevant patient records quickly, as and when necessary. On the appointed day, the GM himself came again, this time to take me personally to his place in his big chauffeur-driven car, even though this journey of 100 miles from Kobe would have taken less than half the time by the Shinkansen (the Japanese Bullet Train). I was sure that my Kobe host had exaggerated my importance to him, such that he felt it would be demeaning to my honour if he himself did not come to take me in his car.
I was given a huge reception, and then they presented their system, followed by some discussions, in which I made some observations. Later in the evening I was chatting with his Chief Executive who was a medical doctor himself, and spoke reasonable English. He started speaking about his own background and how he came to occupy the present position in a very polite Japanese way. I soon realised this was a prelude to the next part of the conversation. He then said to me politely: you are originally from Bangladesh (for me to confirm what he knew already). So, I replied Yes. He continued: You are so famous and we are so honoured that you visited us. You come from Bangladesh and yet you have reached the highest position in your profession in the world. You have nothing more to achieve. So, may I ask you how does it feel like to be in that highest position? I did not have to think much for my answer – I replied almost immediately: “I do not think like this. I do not feel I am important. What I know is that I am in a particular position, and when I look up, I see many many people above me. I stretch my hand up to touch their feet, but I cannot even reach them. So I try hard to reach their feet. When I succeed, I become happy and then I look up again, when I see even more people up, whose feet I cannot reach even by my extended hand. So I start working hard again to touch their feet. Thus I continue – there are always people whose feet are far above me”.
I was surprised myself by my answer, as I did not believe that I was capable of giving a true answer so eloquently [at least I thought my answer was eloquent]. I think this constant effort to move upward had been true in my life in the past, but not any longer. Now in my old age I do not try to reach higher – I am content with whatever I have. A few years ago in 2010 I went to Dhaka and met my old Professor Dr Innas Ali, who was then 95, and seriously ill. Last time I met him was 1967. To my pleasant surprise his daughter, an agricultural research scientist, informed me that he remembered me well. The daughter advised me not to stay more than 10 minutes with him, as he was quite unwell. When I met him he was lying in bed, his body covered with a good-quality bed spread. I found him very alert in his mind, as he carried out a normal conversation with me. He spoke with me for about an hour. In the middle the daughter came into the room and said “my father wants to speak with you for longer, so please stay”. When I narrated to him my conversation with that Japanese doctor, he was very happy and commented: “You gave an excellent answer. You make me so proud of you”. As he was from the same area of Bangladesh as I am, his daughter wanted me to sit with her afterwards for a longer chat, which I did.
Now returning to this section, I have embarked on writing the following two books (tentative titles) for my family and friends:
A Brief History of Bengal for Diaspora Bangladeshis – Ancient time to 1971.
My Autobiography – A Zigzag Journey from One World into Another.
The first book, ending in 1971 the year of Bangladesh Independence, is meant to be a short treatise that can be read quickly by busy people. This book has been completed except for proof-reading and converting it into Google format for publishing it as a Google book, hopefully to be completed by Autumn 2014.
My autobiography is not intended as something people will read – it is meant to be a family history for my family members, particularly covering my childhood and my life in Bangladesh. It has many Appendices, some on the life of my ancestors in Jawar. I shall probably place this autobiography as a Google book, more for the convenience of preservation, rather than for publicity. My progress in this book has been surprisingly slow, but I hope to complete it by the end of this year 2014, after which I could embark on my other planned book on Universal Values Under Islam [UVUI]. These books will be held in archive described in the next section until the Google versions are produced. I describe below some experiences with friends and family, before presenting some family pictures.
I know Dr George Hunter, my friend of forty years from his PhD days. I have changed his identity so that he cannot be recognised. Ever since my first contact, I had many joint research projects with him. Even these days when I cannot drive, he sometimes comes to see me from Plymouth University just for a chat. He is a devout Christian as are his wife and children. Their greatest pleasure, he said to me once, is to go to the Church on Saturday evenings to sing hymns together as a family. Despite some disabilities of many of his children this family had faced, they are content and happy, always thanking God for His blessings. This family is an inspiration to me, and I like them very much, partly for their steadfast belief. His family had a great antecedent, his father was a well-known naval engineer and grandfather a ship designer. After his father died some years ago, his mother was desolate in grief and the life became intolerable for her. Then George wanted to bring his mother to Keele to see me. I said: your mother is my mother, it will be an honour for me to see her. So they came afternoon, when I met George’s mother, a grand gracious lady of love and care. I paid my respect to her as I would pay to my own mother. I took them out for an evening meal and they stayed in a hotel here. George told me that her mother thought meeting me was the best thing that had happened to her after the death of her husband. She became gradually happier, according to George. I met her again in her house in Plymouth when we had a warm and friendly conversation. She has now sadly passed away. Last month (December 2013) George came to see me and again he mentioned how I made her mother happy again. Honestly I do not know what I had said or did to give her comfort. I do not think I am even capable of giving anyone comforts. So what was it that happened? I can only think of God’s grace flowing through me and through us all. I am humbled by this event and I am glad someone has benefitted through me, in which I was just a means for passing God’s grace.
Two years ago I went to see George at Plymouth. I saw in his house a devout Christian man who came to take the family to Church, as George had to go out with me. I saw in the face and conduct of this man (the way he was he was conducting himself and the way he was talking) what I would call God’s grace flowing out. I told him so. After my return to Keele, George telephoned me to say that that gentleman viewed me to be a kind of holy man, full of God’s blessings – a Christian man talking about me, a Muslim! Again I took this complement with humility, and I know I do not deserve it.
Although I had a number of similar experiences in which some people seemed to feel good or even claimed to have been benefitted personally I do not think very highly of myself, as I am too aware of my limitations. And yes, somehow I was a vehicle through which some people were helped. This is why I say: Do good to all, with love and care and with humility – things may not be what they seem, that is, your prejudices may not be true. I am trying to live up to it, but it’s not easy, especially with family members, with whom one has constant interactions, and yet it is most important. But on the other hand I hope that despite transient disharmony, the love, care and compassion will win through them at the end. While most Muslims always talk about fear of God, I seek love of God – the essence of Sufism, my family tradition.
There was a time in my life when I wanted to achieve things. Now I do not want so much to achieve, as to live in peace and happiness, and progress together with others. So I have changed. Remember as Tagore said:
Those whom you leave behind will pull you behindAnd I pray to God to give the ability and strength to do good with love and care and with humility. I believe that the enjoyment of life that we all desire has to be earned and sometimes it can be found in most unexpected places. I am also aware that the life has to be endured, and therefore I say to myself: Fight, Fight and Fight against all the handicaps the nature throws in your way, especially in your increasing old age. You are alive as long as you fight.