Thursday, March 26, 2015

Independence Day 2015

On the way back to Leiden today, after attending the Independence Day celebrations at Bangladesh House, I was waiting at a nondescript bus stop in Wassenaar. While waiting for the No. 43, I saw an elderly couple emerge from the evening gloom and walk towards me. Under the dim fluorescent streetlights, I could see that one was slightly built, European, with a salt-and-pepper beard and Allen Ginsberg glasses and the other was stouter, warmly dressed and quite evidently from the subcontinent.

Realizing that we had been at the same event and were heading to the same destination, we struck up a conversation. The elderly gentleman began with the usual questions: "what do you study in Leiden", "how do you like the Netherlands" and so on but what was amusing was the seamlessness with which he moved from English to Bangla and back.

He described himself as a lobbyist for certain causes related to Bangladesh in Brussels, before the European Parliament and other EU institutions. Seeing my eyebrows rise, he elaborated: I promote the cause of secularism in Bangladesh.

Over the next half hour, we spoke about Shahbag, Jahanara Imam's "People's Trial", the 1972 Constitution and its subsequent amendments and his several visits to Bangladesh from the 1970s till date. He said, "the original Constitution of Bangladesh was a remarkable document, a truly remarkable document". It was only as we were leaving the bus that he introduced himself as Dr. Peter Custers.

A quick Google search at home reveals that he was recently recognized as a "Friend of Bangladesh" by the Government of Bangladesh for his journalism in Bangladesh in the aftermath of the Liberation War. He seems to have written extensively about secularism, human rights, Bhashani, nuclear proliferation and the adverse consequences of trade liberalization.

What a remarkable person to meet on an ordinary bus journey!


No comments: