have grown up hearing the name of Bhairab, but never had the opportunity to visit the place until recently. It needs to be said that I live in the United States, but I make it a point to visit Bangladesh from time to time, more so lately in connection with my work.
One of my attractions in Bangladesh is my childhood friend Nazmul Hasan Papon, who is a member of parliament, elected from his Bhairab constituency, and who is double-hatting as the President of Bangladesh Cricket Board. Papon and I grew up in Dhanmondi in the 1970s, and, as two cricket buffs, we used to have our own cricket team, practicing in Abahani Club.
Last January, Papon picked me up from my hotel in Dhaka to watch the final tournament between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Our most valuable player, Sakib, got injured, and Bangladesh suffered a dismal defeat.
We felt so down that we needed to do something to cheer us up, which was when Papon asked me and our friend Abu Ali to visit his village home in Bhairab. Ecstatic, the two of us instantly agreed, because it was an opportunity for me to visit Bhairab and finally put the place to the name.
We started for Bhairab from Papon’s house in Dhaka in a motorcade of six cars. I was very impressed to see the highways leading out of Dhaka and all the developments that had taken place since I had left the country some 40 years ago. And the marvel started from the 300-feet road in Purbachal with its width and smoothness. All three childhood friends sat in the same car and reminisced on our childhood days, scooping out many memories from the layers of time.
In Bhairab, our first stop was a local high school, where Papon was the chief guest to distribute sports prizes. As soon as we arrived, hundreds of people greeted us. Papon addressed a huge crowd, and what he said sounded meaningful and relevant to me. He said that Bangladesh had lost in the cricket final the day before, because the players didn’t have their coach or teacher to guide them. Without a coach or a teacher, he continued, it was very hard for a team to win, and kids to shine.
Afterwards, we all walked to Papon’s home, and a huge crowd was waiting alongside the road to take a selfie with him or greet him with a handshake. I was amazed to see that almost everyone living in that area, away from the capital, could afford cell phones. Thanks to the Bangladesh government, it had made these phones affordable for the rural population.
We went straight to the bedroom to relax before sitting down for the big feast. Bhairab, I knew, was always famous for its fish, and the lunch table was cluttered with dishes full of fish preparations.
But poor Papon could not even go to the bathroom to change because visitors streamed into his bedroom every time he made an attempt. We eventually managed to sit down with our host at the lunch table. Weeks after that lunch, the taste of those fish still lingered in my mouth.
Papon contrasted the Bhairab we saw with the Bhairab that was in our childhood days, claiming that at that rate of progress, Bangladesh was going to become a developed country in another 20 years
After lunch, Papon went to a milad mehfil
, then visited a family whose son died, and to Chandiber of Bhairab Upazilla in Kishoreganj district to address a political rally. Hundreds of people waved at their lawmaker from buildings, balconies, shops, and two sides of the narrow road. Some people told us that Papon was the worthy son of his father Zillur Rahman, a former president of the country.
Between the father and the son, Bhairab has made significant progress, its roads and houses bearing the proof of that quantum change. It was evident in Papon’s acceptance amongst people, and his visit to Chandiber proved it all the more.
It was the first time an Awami League lawmaker arrived in an area dominated by BNP. Awami League leaders were less welcome in that area, although the late Zillur Rahman was able to hold several meetings there.
Abu Ali and I were very nervous of Papon meeting any kind of resistance, and even discussed the possibility of a mob attack. We felt a quiet tension inside us, but didn’t express our anxiety to Papon lest he would be worried.
Before arriving at the rally, we stopped by Papon’s maternal grandfather’s house, the paternal house of late Ivy Rahman. Again, we were offered a sumptuous meal of meat and fish, but we could not eat much as we were stuffed already from the lunch at Papon’s house.
At Chandiber, we were seated on the stage. Someone took a picture of all of us and posted it on Facebook, and it became an instant hit amongst our friends in the US. They were commenting on the picture already while we were still at that meeting venue. It was yet another pleasant surprise that technology had made its way into the rural Bangladesh with 3G internet service connecting even faraway Bhairab with rest of the world.
In the evening, we left Bhairab for Dhaka. On the way, Papon’s car was stopped a number of times as people shook hands with him and expressed their gratitude for everything he was doing for them, foremost among which was finding employment for their children.
We talked about Bhairab on the way, and Papon contrasted the Bhairab we saw with the Bhairab that was in our childhood days, claiming that at that rate of progress, the entirety of Bangladesh was going to become a developed country in another 20 years.
I have returned to the US since then, and have been talking about Bhairab with my friends and relatives, and have thanked Papon not only for showing me the place that I cherished to visit for many years, but also for taking me to a window to the modern Bangladesh that makes me feel proud of my country from a distant land.
Erfan Kabir Moyna writes from the US.