Chapter 29. JUTE – The Golden Fibre of Bangladesh

Anwar Ahmad Kahlon, a very senior business executive was working for Andrew Yule Company in Calcutta, when Ayesha and I met him in March 1948. Earlier, he had spent three years as Private Secretary to Sir Zafarullah Khan, the first Foreign Minister of the Government of Pakistan, and later, a member of the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Anwar Kahlon was a friend and neighbour of Ayesha’s maternal uncle Mr. K.G.Morshed I.C.S., with whom we were staying. Later, Anwar Kahlon moved to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and started an Inland Water Transport Company called The Pakbay Company Limited. He had his offices in Narayanganj, a river port ten miles from Dhaka. I am indebted to him for introducing me to the world of trade and commerce.

It was the month of December 1956. My service with the Pakistan Navy was coming to an end on 31st December. I was given to understand that the file containing Naval Headquarters’ proposal to determine my seniority in the service was with the Ministry of Defence, Government of Pakistan.

Commodore A. Rashid (an Ex-Cadet of the Training Ship Dufferin) the Chief of Staff, under Admiral H.M.S.Choudri the Commander-in-Chief, informed me that Naval Headquarters would consider granting me a Permanent Commission with the rank of Commander and asked if that would be acceptable.

With due respect, I said: “Unless Defence Ministry agrees to the proposal sent by Naval Hearquarters about determining my seniority in the service, it would mean that I would get the basic salary due to a Commander, without any increment till I retire from service. I have already spent five years on the basic salary of a Lieut. Commander.” A few days after this meeting Commodore Rashid suggested that it would be advisable for me to start looking for a job with some commercial organization.

One of the companies whose job application form I filled was General Motors. They asked for two references and I quoted the name of Anwar Ahmad Kahlon as one of them, and wrote him a letter hoping that he would find this in order. Since our first meeting in Calcutta in 1948, we had met several times and he got to know me.

I received a prompt reply briefly stating that he would be glad to be a referee. A few days later I received another letter from him stating: “I am the President of Narayanganj Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and we have a vacancy for a Deputy Secretary. If you are interested, we will pay your passage if you could come to Dhaka for a couple of days.” I took four days casual leave, with permission to leave the station, and flew to Dhaka.

My cousin and brother-in-law, Khwaja Salahuddin Ahmed, lovingly known to relations and friends as “Sally”, drove me to Narayanganj, ten miles from Dhaka, to meet Anwar Bhai at the Narayanganj Club. He asked me various questions about my working experience and then, giving me a detailed account of the kind of work I would be required to do, he asked me if I would be interested to be considered for appointment as Deputy Secretary.

He told me that the Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce was Khadim Mohiuddin, a very efficient and hardworking officer who wrote beautiful English, and I would be working under him. I said that I would like to be considered to fill this vacancy.

He had already told me that, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry was managed by a Managing Committee consisting of nine members including himself. He said I would have to meet each one of them individually. Apart from himself and Sadri Ispahani (my very good friend), he said, all other members were British, representing British companies and Banks.

The first person he wanted me to see was Sadri Ispahani, head of M. M. Ispahani Limited, and called him to expect me in about half an hour. I took leave of Anwar Bhai and Sally drove me back to Dhaka to see Sadri Ispahani, which was a mere formality as he knew me very well.

We chatted about various things and our common friends. He then called one of the members of the Managing Committee and sent me to see him. One by one, I met all members of the Management Committee and, a day later, returned to Karachi.

Akhtar Morshed, my wife’s first cousin and one of the five very close friends I have had, was holidaying in Karachi at the time. On his return from England, Anwar Bhai had taken him on as a Senior Executive in The Pakbay Company, and he eventually rose to the position of Deputy Managing Director.

He came to see me one evening, most excitedly, to give me the good news that he had received a telegram from Anwar Bhai to inform me that, the Managing Committee of Narayanganj Chamber of Commerce & Industry had decided, unanimously, to appoint me Deputy Secretary of the Narayanganj Chamber of Commerce. & Industry. I do not remember how I went about getting my release from the Pakistan Navy, but everything worked out smoothly and I joined the N.C.C.& I on 1st May 1957.

However, before leaving Karachi, Vice Admiral H.M.S. Choudri, Commander in Chief, Pakistan Navy and Begum Rafia Choudri were kind and gracious to invite Ayesha and myself for a Farewell Dinner at the Admiral’s House. It was a very kind gesture which we appreciated very much.

The Narayanganj Chamber of Commerce & Industry were Secretaries to the Pakistan Jute Mills Association (P.J.M.A.), the Pakistan Jute Association (P.J.A.), Employer’s Association of East Pakistan and a few other minor Trade Bodies. Khadim Mohiuddin, the Secretary, was responsible for dealing with matters concerning the two major Jute Associations, while I took care of all other matters, in general.

Khadim Mohiuddin, a graduate of Government College, Lahore, was not very happy about my appointment and wondered what a Naval Officer would know about trade and commerce. I was quite conscious of his attitude and worked hard to get to know my work and even started writing minutes of Managing Committee meetings.

Abdul Jalil, who was Chairman of Pakistan Jute Mills Association (P.J.M.A.), was not very happy working with the Narayanganj Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and decided to break away from it and manage P.J.M.A. independently. He took with him Khadim Mohiuddin as the Secretary of P.J.M.A. Anwar Kahlon sent for me to his office and asked me: “Sayeed, what do you know about Jute?” I said: “Nothing”.

He said: “From this moment you will deal with all matters concerning the PJA. At the same time he took on Mirza Zafar Ahmed and made us both Secretaries of the Chamber, Jointly.

My work started quite early in the morning, before breakfast, when I called all the nine members of the PJA Committee, including the Chairman, Sadri Ispahani, and took their views of the Jute market and whether the prices of various varieties of Jute would go up or down, or remain unchanged.

Based on the views expressed by a majority of members I would call my office and speak to the office assistant concerned and give him the Market Position, prices etc, which he would then issue for information of all PJA members in general. The PJA Managing Committee met on Tuesdays, every fortnight, to consider and take decisions on various matters, after which I prepared the minutes and circulated to the members of the Committee.

I am indebted to my friend M.A. Ali Ispahani, popularly known among family and friends as Alijoon, for refreshing my memory by writing a few lines about the International Jute Conference , as follows:

“In 1957 the Pakistan Jute Association (PJA) hosted the International Jute Conference in Dacca. Sayeed Shahabuddin the Secretary of the PJA and M. M. Ali Ispahani , a Committee member, were responsible to organise the same. The delegates were mostly from East and West Europe, U.K. and USA.. At that time Dacca had one three star hotel, Shahbagh Hotel, and the conference was held in the new Library building designed by the well known architect Mr. Mazharul Islam. The Library was the only suitable place to hold the conference.

“Among the problems we faced was obtaining national flags of delegates who were to attend. At that time there were few Consulates in Dacca. The Foreign Office based in Karachi was approached to provide the flags of the countries from where the delegates were expected. The delegation of the Government of Pakistan was led by Mr. S. M. Yousuf and the PJA nominees included Mr. M. M. Ispahani (Sadri) and Mr Ahsan ul Huque.

“On the first day of the Conference after the opening session the delegates went on to the lawn for the coffee break and to meet the other participants. There was a pleasant breeze and all the national flags were fluttering barring one, the Spanish flag. Count Godo, the head of the Spanish delegation noticed this and had a puzzled expression on his face.

Mr Ali Ispahani observed this and went up to Count Godo and informed him that as we were unable to get a Spanish flag we made one without the crest in the middle. We decided to put pebbles so that the void in the middle would not be exposed. What we overlooked was the possibility of breeze that would cause all the other flags to flutter. Count Godo burst out laughing and appreciated our sincere effort to do the best under the circumstances.

“Most of the jute business was transacted through Agents in London, members of the London Jute Association and Dundee, Dundee Jute Spinner’s Association. The Conference gave the consumers of jute an opportunity to meet the suppliers of jute and appreciate the conditions under which jute was assorted, baled and shipped to the jute mills abroad. The Conference was a great success and this was appreciated by all the delegates.”

Some time in the year 1958, Aziz Kashani joined the Chamber as Assistant Secretary, and helped me with the work of PJA. The following year the Government of Pakistan issued an Ordinance reorganizing the Chambers of Commerce & Industries, and Trade Bodies all over the country, making them independent organizations.

The PJA became an independent organization, and was no longer a part of N.C.C.& I. It came to be known as “THE PAKISTAN JUTE ASSOCIATION”, with Sadri Ispahani as Chairman.. I was appointed full time Secretary of the PJA and Aziz Kashani Assistant Secretary.

As mentioned by Alijoon Ispahani, most of the jute business was transacted through Agents in London, members of the London Jute Association and Dundee, Dundee Jute Spinner’s Association, based on the terms and conditions of the LJA and Dundee Jute Spinners Contracts respectively.

At one of its meeting The PJA committee decided to consider preparing a PJA Contract to sell jute to all the jute-buying countries. A sub-committee was formed – I forget the names of the members on this committee – and the task was completed in a short time. This was possible because the terms and conditions of the London and Dundee Contracts, with suitable amendments, could be used.

The PJA Contract was finally printed and dispatched to all the jute-buying countries. At the same time, it was decided to open a Branch Office of The PJA in London to introduce it to the buyers of Jute. The PJA Committee decided to send me to London to open the Branch Office and start work to introduce The PJA Contract. Aziz Kashani looked after The PJA, and, in due course of time, was appointed Secretary.

On 7th October 1958 the first Marshall Law was declared, and, on 22nd October 1958, General Ayub Khan addressed a Public Meeting at Paltan Maidan in Dhaka. It was also my Birthday. I collected Dadi (Grandmother Nawabzadi Pari Bano Begum) and took her to our home, in Dhanmandi, for tea, and dropped her back late in the evening.

The following morning, dropping Nazli and the children of John Morrison (First Secretary, U. K. Deputy High Commission) to school I went to my office in Narayanganj. I had hardly started work when I received a call from Ayesha with the shocking news that Dadi had passed away.

I left immediately, went straight to Nazli’s school and picked her up and informed the Morrisons who, according to our arrangement, dropped the children home, and went to Dilkusha where members of the family were arriving as soon as they got the news. “Dadi (Grandmother) Nawabzadi Pari Bano Begum”, writes Pai (Dr. K. Ismail Sudderuddin) in his Booklet ‘Dilkusha – the place that made me, me’, “was the matriarch supreme, not only in our household but in the whole of the Dhaka Nawab family. She was the daughter of the much respected Nawab Sir Ahsanullah and she was the senior-most member of the Nawab family then living.” She was buried in the family graveyard Begum Bazaar.

I left for London in June 1961 and opened the London Branch. I could not have achieved, as much as I did, without the help and guidance of some of the members of the London Jute Association, and, in particular, A.W. Khan, the Commercial Secretary at the Pakistan High Commission in London.

I had a Secretary, Mrs. Parera (from Sri Lanka) to help me and after her – she returned to Sri Lanka – an Egyptian lady Mrs. Naudie. I did my best to meet as many members of the London Jute Association as I could, and kept in touch with them from day to day. My effort to introduce The PJA Contract did not bear much fruit.

There were various reasons, including lack of co-operation from members of The PJA themselves. I also visited Belgium, France, Germany and Holland to meet important jute buyers. In those days, the nineteen sixties, a Pakistani did not need visas to visit countries in Europe, so it was so easy to just buy a ticket and board the plane.

In London, as well as in the European countries I visited, I was welcomed and given all the help I needed. By the way, I could not have missed a visit to Dundee, one of the most important Jute buying destinations.

In October 1961, I forget the date, Ayesha and I hosted a Reception at the Regent’s Hotel to announce the opening of the office of The PJA London Branch. About one hundred guests – ladies and gentlemen – comprising of prominent Jute buyers from all over Europe, U.S.A and the U.K., members of the Pakistan High Commission, officials of the British Government connected with Trade and Industry and a few visitors from Pakistan including Ghulam Faruque, known as the King of Jute.

This function was reported extensively in the “Jute & Gunny Review”, the most well known and widely read Magazine by Jute buyers and spinners all over the world. I feel sorry having misplaced the copy I had been keeping so carefully. I might add that one of our guests was L.G. Pinnell, who was at one time in the Nineteen Twenties, Manager of the Dhaka Nawab Estate. Mrs. Pinnell could not come. They had been to see us as soon as I contacted Pinnell on arrival in London, and we were invited to spend a day in their home in Woking.

Our stay in London for a little over a year was most pleasant and enjoyable. We had an apartment in Stockleigh Hall, opposite the Regent’s Park, and Nazli went to a Convent next door. She passed her 11+ examination in May 1962, which was supposed to be an important landmark for students at that time. For some reason the British Board of Education, I think, did away with this examination a few years later.

She also joined a Riding School to learn horse riding. Ayesha and I were regular Theatre goers and also saw many good movies. We took Nazli to see some of the plays and movies, and, in particular, the “Swan Lake” ballet with Margot Fontaine, the best known Ballerina of her time.

Fortunately for me, it was also the English Football season and I spent almost every Saturday afternoon watching football at one of the three London Clubs where I could go by Underground. I went to Highbury (Arsenal), Stamford Bridge (Chelsea) and White Hart Lane (Tottenham Hotspurs). To crown it all, Adams, who was then the Chairman L.J.A. very kindly took me to Wembley to see the F.A. Cup final.

From out of the blue tragedy struck the family. I was in Dundee where I received an urgent call from my Secretary informing me that Ayesha’s first cousin Mairuna (Minta), youngest of Uncle Morshed and aunty Zulikha’s four children, had gassed herself in her brother’s apartment in Belgium.

Her brother, Kaiser Morshed, was with the Embassy in Brussells, and their father, uncle Morshed was staying with them at the time. I returned to London immediately, and arrived in time to receive the family who came with Minta’s body. All members of the family living in London at the time took part in the funeral. Our apartment in Stockleigh Hall was the meeting place, and uncle Morshed stayed on with us for some time.

Then, one day in the month of July, 1962, I received a telephone call from Ken Cornish, a Vice-President of Ludlow Corporation, Needham Heights, Massachussets, one of the most important Jute buyers from the USA.

I remembered meeting him at the International Jute Conference in Dhaka in 1957. He said he was passing through London on a visit to Calcutta and would like to meet me, and we agreed to meet at a place during his visit to London. I was quite surprised when he said that Ludlow Corporation were considering offering me the position of Managing Director in their wholly owned subsidiary, Ludlow Pakistan Company Limited, in Dhaka, and would like to know if I might be interested.

He did add that there were one or two others for consideration as well. This was followed by a visit by John Cracknell, Managing Dirctor of Ludlow Jute Mills in Calcutta, and one more meeting with Ken Cornish when he gave me a firm offer. I said I would get back to them after seeking release of my contract with The PJA.

M. Yawar Ali, who was then the Chairman of The PJA, wrote me a very nice letter congratulating me for receiving offer of employment from such a reputable organization, and agreeing to release me so that I can join Ludlows. We were very sad to leave London in September 1962 and returned to Dhaka via Europe, to take over the position of Managing Director, Ludlow Pakistan Company Limited, from Ron Stewart. He was kind enough to vacate the company house “Kunj-e-Afiat” on 4. New Eskaton Road, and moved in with a friend of his, so that we could move into the house straight away.

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