The light was not too bright, not too dark. Just right to make me at ease and cherish!
"What is the likelihood of having a reception in which the chief guest (CG) and the award recipient both graduating from the same high school as the top students of their respective classes, placing among the top three in the board exams; the recipient's father being his and the CG's direct teacher; their headmaster becoming the CG's father-in-law; both going to BUET, both becoming faculties there; both doing PhDs in reputable universities abroad; the CG excelling in university management, becoming the VC of not one, but three universities, including that of BUET; and the recipient doing research with Imperial Oil, a major oil company in Canada that is an affiliate of ExxonMobil, the largest oil company in the world, obtaining not one but 30+ patents in US and Canada, and running marathons, not one but 29 of them, in all the continents of the world?" I wondered feeling goose-bumps.
Such an occurrence became a reality, largely due to the resourcefulness of another BUET alumnus, who came in first in his class at BUET; played and did very well in tennis and table tennis; became VC, first of BRAC University, then of UAP, both in Dhaka; made a name for himself as an engineer with integrity and a TV personality; and is respected all over the country, even by the unexpected, like my non-engineer acquaintances in Matlab and Comilla.
Dr Sadiq Bhuiyan, the secretary of ABUETA, started the felicitation. He spoke very well in fluent Bengali. Listening to his speech, I could not help but appreciate how sweeter and richer my mother tongue is than English in expressing and presenting the same material. "If French is the language of love, Bengali is the language of literature," I thought, thinking of Tagore, the Nobel Laureate and other Bengali literary geniuses, like Nazrul and Bankim and Sarat Chatterjee.
Ms Khaleda Ekram, the VC of BUET, in her concise speech, congratulated me for my achievements. Dr MH Khan, a former VC of BUET and the provost of Ahsanullah Hall during my stay there, emphasized the importance of recognizing distinguished alumni.
Of all the speakers, excluding me, Dr JRC knew me the most, more so over the last three years, while I was writing articles and running marathons in seven continents. Being a scholar athlete himself, he could relate to my training, troubles, and triumphs more than others. In his speech, he highlighted some of my life struggles, important events and accomplishments. He mentioned that I wrote: 'Man can work wonder' on the upper panel of my door at Matlab to cheer me up when I was going through a difficult adolescent phase in life. He shared seeing me first as a goal keeper in the playground of BUET and how I practiced diving on a bed at Matlab, about which I wrote in a recent article for the ABUETA Reunion magazine and the Daily Observer, Dhaka. He highlighted my achievements for being the recipient of the best technical paper published in the Journal of Canadian Petroleum Technology, and obtaining 30+ patents in Canada and USA. He also shared a quote from a 2010 Imperial Oil Review Magazine, in which I said: "An invention is akin to a beautiful piece of music or poetry." He mentioned my receiving two most significant innovation awards from my employer and two INCA awards, in one of which Calgary Mayor Nahid Nenshi made the presentation. He concluded by praising my accomplishments in marathons in all seven continents and for being the first Bangladeshi to have done so. He also mentioned that I achieved that at 64. He gave it a personal touch by intimating how anxiously he had been following my progress on Internet from Dhaka, some 9000 km away, when I was running the Sydney Marathon on September 21, 2014, my last continent marathon, which I had dedicated to him.
Dr Matin Patwari started by recollecting his conversation with Dr JRC, in which he recommended that I be recognized by ABUETA and hearing with delight that a decision to that effect had been made already. He reminisced fondly about my father, saying that he was his grammar teacher and that he brought us two kid brothers to the school. He mentioned about my struggle after father's death and was happy to see me succeeding, overcoming many hurdles.
Then he did what might very well be the highest point in my life. He awarded 'The ABUETA Crest'.
All the main guests on the stage table stood up and clapped. The newspaper camera came closer to the table and started shooting multiple frames in one click. A Dhaka TV video camera zoomed in. Guests from the audience, all BUET alumni, clapped and cheered.
I was in seventh heaven, so to speak!
My deceased father and deceased headmaster were there somewhere, nodding in appreciation. My deceased mother was there somewhere too, wearing a shy face under a Bengali village veil to hide the tears of joy in her eyes. She knew what I went through! And there was Haradhan Chakraborty, who just kept on staring, in amazement of this tenacious kid from Matlab, to whom he had extended his helping hand to grab onto, stand up, and keep running, eventually running marathons in all the continents of the world.
The crest was a crystal tetrahedron, looking like a sail flying in the wind --- representing the fearless runner flying through difficult terrains of the world --- from a blue post of support --- representing the moral support he received from BUET alumni --- and resting on a solid circular base --- representing BUET, a solid and strong educational institution.
The crest's design was as thoughtful as the wording of the inscription, the middle part of which reads:
"In recognition of Outstanding Professional Achievements and Completing Seven Continents Marathon the first person of Bangladeshi Origin to achieve the distinction"
Signed by Dr Jamilur Reza Choudhury, President, Association of BUET Alumni
It was my turn to make a short speech. I felt relaxed being among friends, knowing that even if I stumbled, they would pick me up, give me a glass of water and cheer me on. I saw Dr Nooruddin Ahmed, a former BUET VC and my ChE professor, sitting there on a second row isle seat and beaming with pride, seeing one of his students standing there talking about achievements through hard work and tenacity. I saw Dr J Zaman sitting there cheering silently again, after cheering me over the years. I saw faces of Dr Khaliqur Rahman, Dr Nurul Islam, and Dr Quader, all three my colleagues and Masters teachers in BUET ChE. And then there was Akber Hakim, CEO of ERI, a public speaking coach, who gave me a few pointers, a few days earlier.
I started by quoting an email from Dr Fazle Hussain, by referring to him as one of the best students that had gone through the corridors of BUET, in which he congratulated me and praised ABUETA for the recognition. After thanking the main guests and other guests, I shared with them my story. Staring with my mother for her many talents and my father for giving the singing gene that mother did not have. I then talked about our headmaster, the lessons he taught about doing sports with studies and respecting others, regardless of religion or politics or gender. I then described why I run marathons. I also explained how marathon made me think deeper and become a multi-patent inventor: six in every odd years starting in 2009 and ending with 2013. I also urged the BUET teachers to be fair to their students, saying: "If they (students) can't get fairness at BUET, where would they go?" alluding to isolated incidents of infractions committed by individual faculties or a few department heads.
I then showed a 14-min video of the seven-continent marathons, focussing on the Sydney Marathon and dedications of eight marathons to BUET alumni and some of their spouses, and one IIT alumnus and his spouse. The video had four Tagore songs, all sung by me. A young alumnus sitting at the front row started singing along with "Tumi kemon korey gaan koro hey gooni (I am amazed how you sing, Maestro!)", illustrating the festive mood in the Civil Engineering Auditorium.
The new BUET VC expressed she would like to have a copy of the video for the students who were on a break. The very fact that she was thinking of inspiring her students with accomplishment by an alumnus, indicates BUET has a VC who cares about the well-being of the students. The new VC seems to be what my headmaster was and many great teachers were or are or should be --- always thinking about the well-being of the students.
Tapan Chakrabarty, a seven-continent marathon finisher and an inventor, writes from Calgary, Canada