Monday, July 15

In love with Bengal

There are many people who come to Bangladesh for some work or study, but like geologist Nigel Hughes they return back leaving a piece of their heart

It would not be completely wrong to say that people come to Bangladesh with a notion of their own but return back to their land leaving behind a piece of their heart right here. That is what exactly happened when geologist Nigel Hughes came here when he was just 18 years old. He recalls, “It was my first visit to Dhaka in the summer of 1982 and it was amazing. The tour happened when I was in high school. A friend having his relatives in Bangladesh involved me with some social work in Dhaka. I became interested and made my first visit which still remains a nostalgic journey. In fact, surprisingly, the airline I flew was Biman Bangladesh Airlines.”

It was his first journey by plane. He says, “I enjoyed flying immensely. The Biman staff were all charming. It was incredibly exciting to leave the UK by air and to arrive in what seemed to be a different world.”

bangladesh travel

Tryst with Bengal

According to Hughes, his experience with Bangladesh has been both wonderful and challenging. He narrates, “Way back then, I was staying on Eskaton Road and I could walk all over Dhaka. The area around the Sonargaon Hotel was almost like a village. People were extremely hospitable, kind, and interested in me. I was able to visit a mosque for the first time and ride on the rocket steamer down to Chandpur. We went down first class but came back in a deck passage, which was much more fun. Of course, being in Bengal, I was soon asked to sing, which I love to do, but this is a very rare request in the west. I learned my first words of Bangla on the Buriganga that evening.”

During the initial part of his trip to this part of the world, he spent two weeks in Dhaka. He fell in love with Rabindra Sangeet once he heard so for the first time. He says, “I became familiar with the names of both Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. The beauty and subtlety of the music made a deep impression on me and I wanted to find out more about it and these extraordinary people.” So four years later, after his undergraduate degree in Geology, he went to Shantiniketan for eight months to study the Bengali foreign casual course. “I again visited Dhaka on the way back to the UK and remember songs I sang with the rickshaw-wallahs as we peddled back to the airport! It took me a long time to adjust back to life in the UK after all the color and texture of Bengal. I never fully recovered,” he shares.

Even now he comes over to give lectures in universities and for science organizations with support from the American Center and the British Council. He says, “I find Bangladesh to be a particularly welcoming place, with its people prepared to go that extra mile to pursue their interests and passions, and so deeply appreciative of any efforts made by visitors.”


Culturally beautiful

Bangladesh has so much natural beauty and this perhaps, I feel, needs to be preserved, Hughes feels. A couple of years ago he went to Mymensingh to sample waters from the local river as part of a worldwide project on the chemistry of chromium in river waters. He informs, We stopped in a small school in Tangail where we did some programs about science and then enjoyed various performances by the children. I was astonished, as always, by the extraordinary talent that is present everywhere in Bangladesh, by the poise and self-confidence of the children, and by their innate sense of comic timing. Bengalis are particularly gifted, thanks to their unique culture. It is so moving to find that this is reaffirmed every time I visit and appears surprisingly fresh each time.

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