What a long strange trip it’s been

January 16, 2013 3:01 am 1,492 comments __
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HR photo By Harold Rasheed

The title is a quote from a song, ‘ Trucking ’ by the Grateful Dead written by Jerry Garcia and I think it pertinent to this piece.

My mother died giving birth to me in 1956. I heard she had aspirations for me to be educated in England. I was told by my father that I was booked for Rugby school when I was 2 years old. I was to pass the common entrance examination at the right age to become a Rugby school boy.

The first school I attended was situated in what is now northern Bangladesh, in a town called Sylhet. It was a private school founded by my father and some friends because the government school that existed was ‘not good enough’. I attended this school for three months after which I was packed of to an ‘elite’ school in Lahore, Pakistan called Aitchison College, at the ripe old age of 4 years. The school had undertaken to prepare me for the common entrance examination when I was thirteen years old. At the age of eleven they informed my father that they would not be able to prepare me because they did not have French and Latin as subjects and that the History and Geography being taught there was different to what was required for the examination. At the age of eleven I found myself in a preparatory school in West Sussex, UK. I passed into Rugby in 1970 and was housed in Cotton House, then under Mr. John Inglis as housemaster.

Four things happened in the first three years. I let my hair grow. I was continuously at loggerheads with discipline or put another famous way. I ‘had a fine disregard for the rules’. My grades went down and I started to get better in music and art. The last two had been with me ever since I could remember. Here I found a cultural mecca in the sense that I was exposed, through the radio and television and the Temple Music rooms at Rugby, and various visits to art galleries in London, to a vast new world that I never knew existed. Grades going down don’t seem to matter when your hormones confuse you during your teens. I did reconcile with discipline but only after I had dyed my hair red, which meant that I was banned from attending communal house lunches, and which also started off a hair dying fad around the school. After having successfully hidden the length of my hair for about a couple of years before being  found out and taken down to the barbers, Ross & Hammond, for a haircut, I decided to end the hair affair so no one would bother me. I got a ‘skinhead cut’ not because of the violent  skinhead sub culture growing up at the time, but just to be left alone. It did not go down well with my housemaster, nor the headmaster. I passed out from Rugby, did a foundation course in art and design at Canterbury College of Art and then graduated with honors in Graphic Design from Newport College of Art and Design, which is now the University of Wales.

I freelanced as a musician and an artist in the UK until I decided to return to Bangladesh. In 1981, I packed up everything, except for the ring around the bath tub ( I still have the same stereo HI FI set I had at college,,, and it still works along with my LP collection ).

And for the first time in my life started living full time in the land I was born in.

Born into a tea growing family I inherited two estates which I tried to run but which I eventually had to sell off due to long standing debts.

Marriage and children change people on many levels. I got married to a Bangladeshi who mastered in Indian Classical music. We have two boys.

As the children were growing up, we realized that the government school that existed was ‘not good enough’ ( heard that before ). We did not want our children to go to boarding school either.

On a holiday in London, we decided to start a school in Sylhet, Bangladesh. We raised money for the library books by staging small benefit functions around the UK within the Bangladeshi community.

Finally in February 1990 we started a school with four students, two of whom were our own children,  called Anandaniketan ( house of happiness  after ‘Shantiniketan’, house of peace – a university set up by Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet, educationist, musician, lyricist and philosopher ).

My wife taught Bengali and was the academic and administrative head in the beginning. All teachers were trained by her six months prior to setting up the school. We even painted the furniture and designed the classroom graphics. There were no classroom decorations available in the country then. I was the English teacher, the financer and the general dog’s body. We started with playschool, KG1, KG 2 and a primary school which then became a secondary and high school.

In 1999, the first batch of students sat for GCE O levels from this school with excellent results. A couple of years later the same batch sat for GCE A levels and again passed with flying colors.

I am now the CEO of the company that runs the school and my wife is one of the directors. We do not teach there any more…only sign the monthly salary and utility cheques.

Today there are 750 students and the school is rated as the top school in Sylhet and one of the top ones in Bangladesh offering the IGCSE programme, with consistently high exam grades. It is also classed as an ‘elite’ school which does disturb me sometimes.

During the same period I also started running a rural school which was set up by my grandfather during the British era which now follows the Bangladeshi national curriculum and caters for mass education, for the vast majority of the rural people. I have been the donors’ representative from 1990 to date. The school has over a thousand students.

Being government subsidized the quality is very low.

In Bangladesh 1% of the people get quality education. 29% get lower to mediocre quality and the rest get very low quality.

It was here at the rural level that we started introducing computers under the aegis of the LEARN  Foundation ( Linking Education Afforestation with Remote Network ), an organistaion which I co founded with my cousin and which I funded and of which I am the Chairman.

In 2005 Bill Gates of Microsoft came to Bangladesh and selected the Foundation to be its Unlimited Potential Partner in Asia and funded a small project to train unemployed rural youths in information technology skills.

In 2000 my wife I started the Academy of the Liberal Arts & Sciences in the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka offering art, music ( vocal and instrumental, dance,  corporate English and this March  we hope to add acupressure courses and treatment.)

In 2008, meanwhile, my wife and I started up a preschool in 2008, called Rodela Chottor ( a sunny arbor ) again in Dhaka, and are hoping to expand it into yet another school offering classes from pre school  all the way up to high school under two streams of education – the national curriculum and GCSE O & A/ The idea this time is to set up a school in the 64 districts of Bangladesh that offers quality education to all, irrespective of class and status at an affordable price which also includes catering for children with special needs, the blind, the deaf, and the autistic, with a state of the art university to absorb the students from the schools.

We will need GAP students in the very near future.

Today other than having acted in a Bangladeshi film, Ontorjatra – ‘inner journey ( I really do not know how that happened…the director wanted someone who had long hair, could speak fluent English, Bengali and Sylhetie, who sounded as if he had spent his entire childhood abroad, specifically in the UK, who was a bookish artist and a musician and who could drive – and I ended up being picked out of 150 million Bangladeshis – crazy! ) and a children’s film for Danish television – ‘Prince of Bangladesh’ ( the director wanted someone who had long hair, looked bookish and librarianish who could double as an evil magician .Long hair and looking bookish seem prime qualities in these two films – even crazier.

I freelance as a musician/music director and an artist/ graphic designer.

 

I remember after I graduated  in 1979, the UK was going through a recession…there were few jobs, and I was told not to mention my qualifications at the job centre because apparently I was over qualified for the jobs on offer. I worked in steel mills, glass making and cutting factories, warehouses, the Coca Cola company crating warehouses, in record shops, everywhere almost, including a stint for years as a busker in London, deliberately going the manual labor route. I earned handsomely then, probably more than an in house designer in an advertising company, while all the time finding time to attend various rock festivals around the country which were free then.

I think this experience juxtaposed against my academically ‘elite’ background probably played a large part in making me what I am today.

In retrospect I never felt I took full advantage of what Rugby had to offer. I do find it supremely ironic that I ended up founding educational institutions and I’m sure almost one hundred percent of the people I knew at Rugby would agree.

If we can establish this new school giving quality education to all, with educational insurance up to university level along with scholarships, I guess that’s when you could take the apostrophes off the word elite.

The good Lord does work in mysterious ways. He granted my mother’s dying wish. He shifted me across continents.  Seeing that I had gleaned from the best He felt it natural for me to pour it all into the soil of this my motherland.

I thank two people who I hold as my mentors. My father who introduced me to the academic world and always supported me in everything, thus giving me a panoramic view from a very early age, and my housemaster Mr. John Inglis, who indulged me and guided my troubled spirit, to the cellars of Cotton House where I could make as much noise as I wanted on the electric guitar without disturbing anyone, and directed me to the art faculty at Rugby school.

Along with these two, my academic experiences at the various schools, of which Rugby was the most formative, are the most influential motivations in my life. They taught me that when you dream, always dream quality dreams and always dream in first class…because its free !

It takes the earth one year to rotate around the sun. A solar year is 365 days. Our solar system orbits the Milky Way galaxy in much the same way. A galactic year is 253 million solar years. Man has usually three score and ten years on this planet…unless you are Japanese or Scandinavian, in which case you have more. If one calculates the proportions of these figures, seventy solar years is 2.53 seconds, in real time, of the galactic year. At 54 years old I figure I have only .68 seconds left, assuming I live on naturally. Nothing is free. We should give what we take. I’m a muslim by religion. In Islam, to love and respect  human beings are in themselves prayers to your Creator.

In life, circumstances lead you on to wherever you are going and for me nothing was planned. Maybe if we had been childless,  would the need for us to set up a school have arisen at all? I wonder.

In my case, necessity was really the mother of inventions.

The trip is indeed strange but the strangeness is now normal.

(Harold Rasheed: An artist. An Adviser of Voice Bangladesh. Harold Rasheed’s mastery of the guitar has been one of the biggest and longest kept secrets in Bangladesh’s music scene. He employs an approach developed and honed by decades of appreciating music of all styles, with a special fondness for music from the sixties and the seventies. Though deeply rooted in the blues, he cites Indian classical and traditional Bangla folk music to be one of his deepest influences. This specially shows through his genuinely unique approach to his instrument. A firm believer and practitioner in the sadly diminishing art of improvisation and free jam, the concept of “feel” forms an integral part of his music.)

1,492 Comments

  • When Anandaniketon was to be launched, you and your wife came to London and, we met (I was then the Head of Bilingualism and Bilingual Support in the Directorate of Education of London Borough of Tower Hamlets). Yours is a journey that is as chequered as any academic can dream out of his/her life in the fields of education, art and music.

    Thanks for making this fascinating piece available; to catch up with your works.

    Also, I like when you say : ‘Life is short and we should give what we take and, to love and respect are in themselves prayers to God.’

    I have seen your Anandaniketon and next time in Bangladesh, I would love to see your Academy of the Liberal Arts and science and Rodella chottor.

    Best wishes.

    Dr. Hasanat Husain, London, UK
    (www.voiceforjustice.org).

  • Poignant!

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