News and views of Bangladeshi community in Australia

Our Story (19)

Harnessed From Tapestry Of The Mind
Dr Fazlul Huq

In the Name of Creator of all things large and small to Whom the Sovereignty Belongs

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The Author
This is a part of the story of settlers from Bangladesh: men and women, boys and girls in the Down Under, primarily to Sydney. They came first as a trickle and later in droves for the community to have grown many folds over the last fifty years. This is one other story told through life experiences of some who have come forward to share their own. As the community has grown, among them there are teachers and academic, lawyers and doctors (physicians and specialists), physiotherapists and nurses, dietitians and other clinicians, researchers and writers, businessmen and businesswomen, entrepreneurs and path finders, chefs and owners of eateries, IT professionals and engineers, architects and Islamic scholars, social workers and early childhood educators, builders and bankers, and many more including farmers and actors. While many came through the front doors, some came in boats or through other ways at their disposal. And a few had to spend time in detention centres but at the end they have all mixed and merged to become a homogeneous community as a part of the Australian nation and fabric but at the same time retaining to a great extent their own identities, traits and heritage. And those who were put in detention did no wrong except having the universal aspiration like that of every other man and woman to do their best towards a better life in line with migration of the human race right from the dawn of civilisation or even earlier. So, I too have desired to share experiences of life in the adopted nation and continent Australia.

It has been almost fifty years since we arrived in Australia for the first time during which memory has faded much. Hence what is narrated below is likely to lack in detail or even have truth mixed with falsity although all attempts have been made to recollect as best as I could.

The First time

Our journey to Australia began in September 1971 from London, UK. I had just finished my PhD in Chemical Crystallography from Imperial College London. I was about to work at Cambridge and for some reason came to University of Sydney as a postdoctoral fellow to work on metal-based complexes of biological importance. Perhaps it was partly because of my intention to return to Bangladesh after completing the PhD.

My wife Shirin was expecting our first baby Dipa (now 49 years old who lives along with her husband Brendon and two children Sebastian and Sophia in Atlanta Georgia USA). It is worthwhile noting that Dipa was the first child born in Sydney of Bangladeshi parents. Shirin being in advanced stage of pregnancy could not be vaccinated for the Smallpox, but Australia would not allow anyone entry into the country without the vaccination. Luckily, New Zealand did and if one stayed in New Zealand for two weeks prior to entering Australia, he/she was allowed entry into the country. So, Shirin and I first flew to Wellington New Zealand. As I needed to reach Sydney before 1 October 1971 to meet requirement of the job, I left Shirin in a hotel in Wellington. Fortunately, a brother of my supervisor Professor Donald Roger at Imperial College and his family living in New Zealand did their best to make her stay in Wellington least unpleasant. Although Shirin being an extrovert in nature was able to make contacts with Bangladeshi community living in Wellington and it turned out that some of them were among her distant relations.

After Shirin had arrived in Sydney from New Zealand, we lived in a house in Camperdown shared with Dr Ivan Taylor and his wife Susan Taylor from the USA. Like myself, Ivan too was a post-doctoral fellow in Professor Hans Freeman’s laboratory working on metal complexes.

From our place in Camperdown to the School of Chemistry University of Sydney, the distance was only a gentle walk of no more than twenty minutes. Once I had to take a taxi because of nonstop rain. At that time most of the taxi drivers were white Australian. As I was having a ride in the taxi, the driver engaged in conversation in which he asked numerous questions including where I came from and what type of work I did. Neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh had any relevance in his mind and thought. So, the only place he could connect with, was India or the subcontinent.

When we arrived in Australia, first thing that struck both of was us the carefree lifestyle of Australians as compared to life in England. While doing PhD at Imperial College in South Kensington but living in Archway N19, I remember going to the college before daylight and returning home much after sunset during the winter. Although the converse was true for the summer months.

First Bangladeshis that we met in Sydney

The first Bangladeshi family that we made contact with was Late Nazrul Islam and his wife Yasmeen. Their two children Tabu and Rasna were then less than five years old. The others in close succession were Late Mazedul Karim Chowdhury (commonly known as Alamgir Chowdhury or Captain Cook of Bangladesh heritage) and his wife Minu Chowdhury, Najmul Chowdhury (commonly known as Ajam), Fakhruddin A. Chowdhury, Dr. M.R. Chowdhury, Dr Taufiq Ahmed and his wife Dr Frances Parker, Dr Azizul Hoque from BUET (who returned to Bangladesh soon after completing his doctorate from UNSW), Dr M Shahnawaz and his wife Suraia Shahnawaz and their baby daughter Zarme Shahnawaz, Dr Potol and his wife, Mr. Bose and his wife (originally from West Bengal) along with their two daughters.

After a few months, we had the opportunity to meet Late Dr. Mokhlesur Rahman who was a glowing example of generosity and kindness towards fellow human beings especially those from the land of his birth. His life and thought have been moulded by his desire to walk on the path of Islam based on belief and good deeds as he wanted to develop consciousness of his Lord through love and care, mercy and compassion for the fellow human beings. When you meet him, he would greet you with the purity of smile and a gentle jerk of the body and head that itself would say so much in unspoken words. I would have more things to talk about Fakhir Muhammad Mokhlesur Rahman later on.

Another person that comes to my mind for his honesty and allegiance to the truth and ability to distinguish between truth and falsity, was Late Fazlul Karim who would always be among the first to come forward for good deeds especially charity. After he got married, he was about to rent an apartment in Meadowbank. When the real estate agent said to him that he would be needing to check his references before letting him have the unit. In conversation he said that most of the tenants in the block were very good people although they were one or two who were not that easy to deal with. In response our friend Fazlul Karim said: “In actual fact, goodness of others towards me is much more dependent on my own goodness.” On hearing the words, the real estate agent had said: “I do not need any more reference about you, and I am happy to let you have the property.”

Bangladesh Association of New South Wales

Bangladesh Association of New South Wales Inc. got started with the name Bangladesh Association in Australia under the initiative of Late Nazrul Islam and a few other Bangladeshis. Its first president was Nazrul Islam and first General Secretary after constitution was put in place, was Fakhruddin Chowdhury. After we arrived in Sydney, I was given the responsibility of Publicity Secretary in an ad hoc committee. Soon, we started the task of drafting first constitution of the association. I remember spending many hours on the task towards end of 1972 as we often met at our unit in Annandale.

First Celebration of Independence Day

As victory day came in December 1971, there was display of much cordiality on the part of Australian Government and people of Australia towards Bangladesh. Indeed, Australia was among the first few nations to recognise Bangladesh. The first cultural event marking the independence of Bangladesh was held in March 1972 in the international house in Sydney University. Many academic and other dignitaries including journalists and social workers attended the function. The number of Bangladeshis living in Sydney at that time was only a handful, but their enthusiasm was high. On top of that, there was immense goodwill from the Australian government in both cash and kind. Yes, we provided Bangladeshi dinner for all the invitees. But while we prepared the food, all other needful towards hospitality and service were provided by the agency of the Australian government. I also remember a trip that we had organised in early 1970’s to Katoomba Blue Mountains for which we were provided by the Australian government free of charge bus and the driver.

Annual dinner cum cultural function was a recurring annual event in the life of the Association. Some of the people who had more contributions to make in cultural activities at the initial stage included Henry Gilbert, Monika Monnan, Najmul Chowdhury (Ajam), Sardul Singh and a person from Bangladesh Consulate in Sydney named Ashraf. And as years passed by, cultural events...

organised by the Association continued to get better and bigger in scope. Over the years, the events were held in many places including St. James Hall 169 Philip Street Sydney, Santa Sabina College Strathfield, Auditorium of NSW Institute of Technology (which later became University of Technology Sydney).

Ten months in Bangladesh in 1973-74

After finishing MSc in Chemistry, I joined Dhaka University as a lecturer in Physical-Inorganic Chemistry. Like many other academics I too went overseas for higher studies. But when I went to England, my aim was to return to Bangladesh to serve the nation. But as the war of liberation was going on at the time I completed PhD, I decided to come to Australia to have some postdoctoral experiences. Naturally, we decided to return to Bangladesh in 1973 after two years as a postdoc at Sydney University. We went to Chittagong where I was appointed an associate professor in chemistry. However, the situation in Bangladesh during 1973 to 1974 was dire with the nation trapped in the grip of feminine. We had migration to Australia before so when things got more difficult, we came back to Australia for the second time near the end of 1974.

Teaching in High Schools and TAFE Colleges

When we came back to Australia near the of 1974, job situation in chemistry in the universities in Australia was bad so there began my career in teaching in high schools and TAFE colleges from 1975 to 1986 inclusive. This experience at least to begin with was challenging although it had its own rewards. In particular, the experience made me aware of the absence of good learning tools in chemistry and physics for year 11 and 12, and others for TAFE courses. This inspired me to write a number of text-books and study guides on physics and chemistry in association with Pascal Press and Nelson Australia.

In 1987 I joined Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cumberland College of Health which became three years later a part School of Medical Sciences, University of Sydney where I remained in employment until retirement in 2019. Although my PhD was in x-ray crystallography, in the University of Sydney focus of my research was changed to drug discovery and combination therapy towards synergistic outcomes and overcoming drug resistance in ovarian and colorectal cancers over a period of close to thirty years. During this time, I supervised 27 PhD and five Masters candidates by research towards successful completions. One of key findings of our research was that sequenced combinations of targeted therapy and tumour active phytochemicals such curcumin (found in turmeric), thymoquinone (found in black seed oil), resveratrol (found in grapes) and ECGC (found in green tea) can produce synergistic outcomes towards killing of cancer cells and reducing the side effects. Besides, our research resulted in over 250 publications in peer reviewed journals.

Bangladesh Pathshala

Bangladesh Pathshala was the first Bangladeshi community school established in Sydney by Bangladesh Association in Australia at Randwick Community Centre at Bundock Street in the year 1977 with the aim of providing basic education to children on Bangladeshi culture and heritage including basic foundation on Bengali and Arabic languages, and Islam. I was in charge of running Pathshala for close to fourteen years. During this time the school changed its place of operation to a number of locations including Glebe Public School, Stanmore Community Centre, Parramatta Community Centre on George Street and finally Parramatta Public School on Macquaire Street. The people who taught in Bangladesh Pathshala included Minu Chowdhury, Mrs. Latifa Khanum, Late Khaleda Bhuiyan, Mrs. Jahan Ara, Late Neil Kadoomi, Fazlul Huq, Maulana Shazahan (an academic from the University of Chittagong), Late Wahiduddin Chowdhury, Anisur Rahman and Mrs. Shelly Rahman.

Some of the past students were Dipa Huq, Sharon Bhuiyan, Sony Bhuiyan, Late Faheem Bhuiyan, Dr Tanveer Ahmed, Rabiul Huq, Rakibul Huq, Shushmita, Shuzid, Tonni and her sister, Tania Ahmed, Tomu Ahmed, Shakil Karim, Shazid Karim, Parhana Karim, Pushkin Rahman, Shubra Rahman, Shubra Ahmed, Omar Ahmed, Shahan Ahmed, Rose Bhuiyan, Mun Bhuiyan, Tonuza, Mishu, Tahsin, Mohsin, and a number of children of Late Neil El-Kadoomi.

Students of Bangladesh Pathshala taking part in the celebration of Multicultural Day

Some lighter moments of bygone days

Halvorsen Boat Trip
It was in 1977 or 1978 when few of us went out on a Halvorsen Boat trip through the mighty Hawkesbury river. The team consisted of families of myself, Dr. Shahnwaz’s, Dr. Mirza’s and young Shawkat. Needless to say none of us had any experience of steering any kind of mecanised boats. We were shown how to start the boat and that was all, except that there was a little manual!
We sailed the boat to the Bobin Head in the afternoon and soon realized it needed to be slowed down. Mirza, from his previous knowledge as a Cadet college students suggested to put the reverse gear for slowing down. Myself, the self assumed Captain, by virtue of my age, decided to ignore the advice and do it in my own way. However, when the situation became precarious, Mirza’s advice helped us for the time being as the boat moved on relatively smoothly navigating through bends and tight corners until we went beyond the mouth of the river and landed into the bay! Once into the bay, the boat twisted and turned, rolled and spun, sending into a loud frenzy of prayers for our life. Fortunately it seemed our prayers were answered and with time we gained some experience to bring the boat back into the safe water. My second in command Dr. Shahnwaz (who was also the resident doctor) tried in vain to lead a mutiny against the captain but there was no support.

Stuck in a lift
As I got into the lift to get down to the ground floor for a morning walk in at the Sydney University campus, I found that the lift failed to move up or down nor could I open its door. After a few minutes of failed attempts, I called the emergency number. I was informed that it might take about an hour before someone could arrive at the campus. Later I received another call informing me that the wait could be even longer. I decided to conserve energy; sat on the floor and started reciting verses from the Qur’an. Suddenly the door was opened from outside by the cleaner. I could never comprehend as to why the lift failed to respond from within.

Merry go round
The gentleman was coming from Randwick for lunch in the hills. But every time he attempted to move towards the west, he ended up on the harbour bridge. Indeed, after a few failed attempts he arrived at the entrance of the Taronga Zoo when he rang the host to let him know about his predicament. After which he went back home.

Double trouble
Online payments were not in the order of the day. The gentleman sent two cheques - one to the doctor and the other to the office of the motor registry by mail, unfortunately mixing up the address. After a week or two both the cheques came back in return mail. The gentleman decided to deliver those in person this time. Having deposited the check at the Motor Registry, on return, he discovered another parking fine ticket on the windscreen of his parked car for exceeding the time limit!

Some found it is hard to learn
This gentleman was known to be late everywhere and every time. He missed an international flight and was stranded for a week or two in Sydney when he was meant to be in London. After which, he resolved to be in time everywhere. Next time he arrived at the Airport well ahead time. Decided to call a friend over the phone to pass the time. The time passed, the flight left without him!

Driving on a One-way Street
The gentleman wondered as to why are all the cars heading in the opposite direction as he tried his best to avoid collisions with any of the incoming vehicles! Soon to realise that he was driving on a one-way raod in opposite direction as the police cars with beeping sirens and flashing lights came his way.

One who won the tug of war & the hearts
The tug of war was a common event in the community outings such as picnic, especially for the elders. The side with this big strong and stout gentleman at the anchor and helm was always found to win the race. He turned into a legend in the folklore of the community. But now that the man had completed his term on earth, many would remember him more for his big heart, love and care for one and everyone. Indeed, he was among the first to take part in community activities including the welfare.

Giving lecture to the wrong audience
He went to the lecture theatre wanting to give lecture to first year physiotherapy student at the appointed hour. But he did not know that there was a last-minute change in the room allocation. So, he continued with his lecture only to realise that it was the wrong audience, after more than half way.

(To be continued)

Dr Fazlul Huq, Sydney, Australia

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