Dying for a Good Breakfast

It was 2007. I was doing a project in Dhaka for the World Bank on Cleaner Production. Our interest was to “institutionalize” promotion of cleaner production by building capacities at the Chambers of Commerce. We were hoping that the Chambers of Commerce will form Cleaner Production cells and these cells will conduct awareness programs, offer counselling and training programs.

Dhaka Chamber and Chittagong Chamber of Commerce were the obvious choices. Meetings with Dhaka Chamber were always interesting and intellectually very stimulating. These discussions would give us hope but then there was no action after our departure and when followed up, we used to start the discussion once again.

Well, isn’t it the situation around the world? Most Chambers have become as event management bodies, more of show and less of work on the ground.  So, Dhaka Chamber is not to be blamed.  But of course, there are exceptions.

We were advised that we visit the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and give a try. Chittagongians are decision makers by nature and our national consultant Anwarul Islam told us that we must meet this Chamber.

Anwarul proposed that he and I take an early morning flight from Dhaka, meet the Chamber in Chittagong and return by the evening flight.  Anwarul’s father was old and ailing and Anwarul wanted to be home by night. “He gets restless if I am not at home” he explained.

It was month of April. This is a period of air turbulence in Bangladesh. Flights are generally bumpy, especially after 4 pm just around the sunset. I asked Anwarul to check the flight schedules and the weather. I wanted to travel safe.

When we reached early morning at around 6 am at the domestic airport, I saw two aircrafts parked near the tarmac. One was DC10 by Biman Bangladesh Airlines and second was Bombardier Dash 8 300 aircraft by GMG Airlines. Biman’s aircraft looked like a “big brother” to that of the smaller aircraft of GMG.

I was sure that Anwarul booked us on Biman but when asked he said that he had  booked us on GMG. “Dr Modak, GMG serves a great breakfast” He gave me his reasoning. He further added that they serve Cappuccino, the coffee I like. But I couldn’t understand his logic as it was April and I didn’t want the ride to Chittagong to be too bumpy risking our lives. Unfortunately, there was no way to shift to Biman now as the seats were full.

“Inshalla” I said to myself.

The flight took off and we were served the breakfast as soon as we reached the height of some 20000 ft. The breakfast was good as Anwarul had promised. We did face a few bumps during landing at Chittagong, but this was alright.

We were very well received by the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce. The discussions were action oriented as we expected. The members listened to me as I unfolded several innovative options of building capacity of the industries in Cleaner Production.  Apart from straight jacketed ideas like organizing seminars or holding training programs, I spoke about Cleaner Production Clinics (like doctor’s clinics for problem solving), Cleaner Production Clubs (where ideas are shared) and issuing an Eco-Efficiency Calendar etc. The Members heard me patiently, asked questions and made their choices drew an action plan with dates and responsibilities. They were clear on the Bank support needed.

There was no convincing needed on why cleaner production! “Oh, it makes a compelling business sense”, said the President of the Chamber.

We finished the meeting much earlier than expected. Post lunch we were free. I wanted to return to Dhaka before the sunset as I feared the weather could be rough. So Anwarul looked for an earlier flight and we were lucky to get the seats. The departure was now at 4 pm instead of 5 30 pm.  “Why are you so much worried Dr Modak?” Anwarul couldn’t resist asking me. I just smiled.

We were at the boarding gate. Anwarul was praising me how I could excite and convince Chittagong Chamber and make them commit on the follow up actions. I explained to him that this is the magic of an “international consultant”.

I said “We travel across the world and in our various engagements build a toolbox of experiences, that are not generally available in the literature. We repackage, blend and craft these ideas customizing to the local culture, business and socio-political situation. And as we implement, we learn about the new experience and the toolbox gets adapted further”. Anwarul got me a cappuccino. I could see that he wanted to be an international consultant like me.

We took off and reached the height of 20000 ft and started moving towards Dhaka. All was well till we started descending and reached some 10000 ft. I noticed a dark cloud at a distance. Either the cloud was moving towards us or our aircraft was, I wasn’t sure, but in minutes we were close to this monstrous cloud.  The aircraft started vibrating and we could sense that the pilot was doing his best to race the engines and fight against the giant swirls and the strong horizontal wind. The aircraft that looked like a matchbox in that massive black cloud, tilted. The pilot announced for an emergency landing.

There was a chaos among the passengers. Woman next to us started wailing and the children were crying. Some passengers puked. Few men even got up and the airhostess did her best to calm them down. Anwarul had closed his eyes. He held my hand tight. In this situation, I was laughing and saying to myself “Oh, Dr Modak this is how the death it is, finally”. I don’t know how I could insulate my mind from the crash that was almost certain to happen.

But the Pilot was experienced, and God was on our side. The aircraft almost brushed the tall trees while making a sharp descent and it managed to land on the runway. We landed in a high speed.

When the aircraft stopped, the Pilot said something in Bangla. Perhaps he was thanking the almighty. All of us gave a loud clap appreciating his skills. We disembarked.

Anwarul did not speak a word. His face was dazed. We walked on the tarmac towards arrival.

At the gallery of arrival, I saw an old man in a wheelchair. It was Anwarul’ s ailing father. Anwarul hugged him and there was an emotional outburst of conversations in Bangla. His father held my hand and said something that I did not understand.

While dropping me at the car, Anwarul told me that his father had sensed that his son was going to be in some great danger. He insisted that his younger son takes him to Dhaka airport on a wheelchair. On his way, he was praying intensely for Anwarul.

This was so touching. An incidence so strange that science cannot explain.

I patted on Anwarul’ s shoulder “Allah is great to save us Anwarul, But remember, there is no point in dying for a good breakfast!”

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  1. Your lucid pen made me experience the pain you experienced and touched with humane sensibilities beyond cognition. So much known and so many things yet to he known.

  2. Excellent experience. Neighter your friend nor breakfast are reasons , its a milestone in your memory book .

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