Sunday, August 14, 2011

Julian Francis recalls Bangabandhu memory

THE BRITISH-born international aid official Julian Francis, known for being a 1971 signatory of Testimony of Sixties, today said he was still moved by the memories of Bangabandhu as he revisits memory lines.

"I remembered being numbed by shock and burying my head in my hands and weeping, in the same way that tears are rolling down my cheeks today," as he called these memories down, said Francis as approached for his comments on Bangabandhu.

Francis, who is now in his mid sixties, was one of the 60 distinguished people including the then US senator Edward Kennedy, Mother Teresa and a number of reputed international journalists like Alan Hart of BBC and aid workers signed the joint statement on this day in 1971.

The distinguished aid official, who was the coordinator of Oxfam's relief operation in 1971 which assisted
500,000 Bangladeshis as they took refuge at makeshift camps in India, recalled his meeting with Bangabandhu 40 years ago was "unforgettable" event of his life.

"My meeting with him (Bangabandhu) is one I will never forget . . . as I spoke (to him), emotion got the better of me and tears welled up in my eyes," Francis told BSS recalling his meeting with him after his return from Pakistani jail in 1972.

He added: "Sheikh Mujib put his arm around me to comfort me and said, 'Go young man, be strong, and thank you for coming to me and to Bangladesh."

Francis said in January 1972, he decided to come to Dhaka in one of OXFAM's Landrover jeeps, laden with urgently needed medical supplies, from Calcutta and on January 20, "I set off from Calcutta." "We traveled very slowly as there were so many people walking back from West Bengal to their homes in Bangladesh," said the British aid official and recalled that he reached Dhaka at around midnight next day.

Francis said as advised by fellow aid officials he made a courtesy call on Bangabandhu and "I told him that I wanted his advice about what OXFAM might be able to do to assist in the rehabilitation and development of Bangladesh."

"Sheikh Mujib took his pipe out of his mouth and pointed the stem of the pipe at me 'How did you come here, young man?', he asked in a booming voice. I told him that I had driven over land from Calcutta," said Francis recalling the meeting.

Francis, who currently also is in Bangladesh for the past 21 years to work for the vulnerable char people, recalled Bangabandhu telling, "In that case, you have seen more of my country than I have, as I was a prisoner for over 9 months, so please tell me what my country needs. What have you seen?"

"I told Sheikh Mujib that I had seen many villages that had been burnt down, many bridges and culverts blown up and many ferries, large and small, sunk in the rivers," he said. Francis also told him about the OXFAM initiatives for providing succors for the people in need in the newborn country.

"Before I left him, Sheikh Mujib asked me about my experiences working with the people of Bangladesh in the refugee camps. As I spoke, emotion got the better of me and tears welled up in my eyes. Sheikh Mujib put his arm around me to comfort me and said, 'Go young man, be strong, and thank you for coming to me and to Bangladesh'," he quoted Bangabandhu as saying.

As a result of the meeting with Sheikh Mujib, he said, OXFAM was able to procure three truck-carrying ferries and to assist the repair of many others and those continued to ply across the Padma river at Goalondo to this day, some 40 years later.

In 1975, Francis said, he was based in New Delhi and on August 15, together with his family, he was watching India's Independence Day celebrations on the television when "the programme was interrupted with the news of the assassination of Sheikh Mujib and his family".

"I remembered being numbed by shock and burying my head in my hands and weeping, in the same way that tears are rolling down my cheeks today," as he called these memories down.

Syndicated by state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), Dhaka, Bangladesh August 12, 2011