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OP-ED: Remembering Shegufta Bakht Chaudhuri

  • Published at 06:31 pm November 12th, 2020
web-bangladesh bank
Dhaka Tribune

He played a prominent role in building up Bangladesh’s post-war economy, but he also shied away from the limelight

One of my fond childhood memories involves my late mother and her dear Dada Bhai, my Boro Mama. The two siblings were sitting on the verandah, having a deep conversation about life and religion. I remember Mama bringing up Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and my Ma responding with an equally stimulating point. I must have been around four or five years old, and though I don’t remember the full conversation, that bit stayed with me.

Years later, raising my children outside of Bangladesh, I occasionally tell them about this childhood memory. Recently I’ve promised them that the next time we go back to Dhaka, they can sit with their Boro Nana and ask him all sorts of questions. I would tell them about my mother and say: “Ask your Boro Nana next time we visit Desh -- he can tell you more.”

My daughter has always had so many questions for him, from how to reconcile religion and science, especially in a third-culture context; or more direct ones: What was it like for her Boro Nana to grow up in Sylhet in the 1940s? As I try to answer her queries, I become very nostalgic about the time when I was just as curious as her. Just as I tell my son and daughter about his accomplishments today, my mother would tell my siblings and me all about my Boro Mama.

Shegufta Bakht Chaudhuri was born in Nabiganj Upazila, Habiganj, Sylhet in 1931. His uncle was the prominent author Syed Mujtaba Ali, his father was Dewan Mamun Choudhury, and his grandfather was Khan Bahadur Wasil Choudhury. He was a brilliant student who studied economics at Dhaka University and went on to complete his Master’s degree at Harvard.

After the War of Liberation in 1971, Boro Mama served as an additional secretary at the Ministry of Finance and Commerce. Then, he served as a secretary at the Internal Revenue Division. Before taking charge as the central bank governor, he was the chairman of the National Board of Revenue from 1983 to 1987. From 1987 to 1992, he completed a six-year tenure as the governor of the Central Bank of Bangladesh. 

In September of 1996, my mother (Boro Mama’s sister) passed away. I went back home to Dhaka, and I remember Boro Mama visiting our Dhanmondi home often. Each time, he’d bring delicious treats for the grieving family. In his quiet, self-assured way, he was a pillar of stability and inspiration for us all. We were all in deep shock, but with his presence, Mama let us know that he was there for us all.

That same year, Boro Mama had become an adviser to the caretaker government. With the caretaker government in 1996, Bangladesh and its people were a nation of renewed optimism. Mama was an honest and humble man who naturally shied away from the limelight, but after the repeated requests for him to take up the offer, he accepted. Despite having this responsibility, Mama kindly declined the government’s offer to move into a more luxurious home and decided he was comfortable enough in his rented apartment.

According to Bangladesh Bank’s current Governor Syed Fazle Kabir, Boro Mama’s “talent, integrity and far-sightedness helped in reforming the post-war economy of Bangladesh.”

When I was a little girl, Mama would travel all over the world to attend to his official duties. In-person, Mama evoked only respect; he was profoundly disciplined and somehow perfectly balanced his religious duties and his career.

Last year, after my father’s passing, we visited Dhaka once again. By this time, Boro Mama had become even more of a recluse. It was as if he had experienced enough of the outside world, and we all knew he was content spending his time with his family in their apartment. During this last visit, he was (as always) so delighted to see us. 

As we were about to leave, he asked me: “Do you have to go already?” I promised myself that our next visit to Dhaka would stay for much longer, but as we stepped out of Mama’s apartment for that final time, tears sprang from my eyes.

We planned on a much longer visit with Boro Mama in the spring of this year, but Covid-19 happened. We had to cancel these tickets. I’ll never forget Mama’s good nature with his grandchildren, and how humbly he lived the rest of his days. He was a kind, gentle, pious patriarch of the family who guided us through many troubling times.

Shegufta Bakht Chaudhuri, Taufiq to his dear friends, and Boro Mama to me, passed away in Dhaka on November 11, 2020. He leaves behind our Mami, his two children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

May he rest in peace.

Sarwat Chowdhury is based in South Korea and is the niece of Shegufta Bakht Chaudhuri. Deya Nurani is her daughter.

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