Riding the River in Bangladesh

Bangladesh 12

Ever ready Fred

In the month of August monsoon rains over Southern Asia steadily deposit their liquid gold into the great river systems, and much of the resulting flood passes through the country of Bangladesh on its way to the Bay of Bengal. During dry season the country is crisscrossed by hundreds of channels in this delta region, but by August the swelling channels spill over and interlock. At this time the river Padma at the mouth of the great Ganges becomes a vast ocean fifteen miles from bank to bank. It was at this time my first auditing trip to Bangladesh was scheduled.

Fred traveled with me on river boats as we visited various locations. Now Fred was an interesting character who’d been in Bangladesh during their war of independence and it had taken its toll. Records for audit were in short supply and Fred and his family had been under immense pressure and desperately needed a holiday.

The whole population of Bangladesh had been traumatized by war events, prior to the country’s independence. Rivers had been awash with bodies during those unfortunate times, and even now, as we traveled, we were warned frequently by boat captains to be wary when the river boat docked at each port. Lawless elements armed with automatic weapons were known to board these boats, and it was wise to hide anything of value you didn’t want to lose. Travelers were warned by the captain of the craft whenever we approached a river port so we could consider our options in the event we were boarded by criminal elements.

We were on deck with animals and merchandise, and tried to find a comfortable place to bed down for the night on our bed rolls. Fred felt it would be safer there on deck in case the boat capsized. This was a common occurrence it seemed. At least we wouldn’t be drowned in a cabin should that happen though we were frequently rained on that night. It’s hard to sleep under those circumstances.

I’d been dozing fitfully in spite of the inconveniences, but occasionally forced myself to full consciousness to check things out. In the moonlight it appeared to my tired eyes Fred had left a book open as he slept on his side. I reached over to touch it just to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me. There was an instant response. Fred leaped up like an uncoiling spring, seized my arm, and glared into my face at close range. Almost as quickly he sank back to the deck and was soon sleeping peacefully again. My heart rate hit danger level during this event, and it took time for me to calm down and doze off again.

Next morning I laughingly asked Fred why he’d reacted so violently, and how he could return to sleep so quickly after his sudden spurt of energy. Fred couldn’t remember anything unusual happening, and I suspect he thought it was I who’d been dreaming.

Such was the tension everyone lived with during those unsettled times after Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan.

“© Copyright Ian Grice 2013 All rights reserved”

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Eddie & Esther Norton says:

    I’m glad that the many times we visited Bangladesh, it was never during the rainy season!

    Sent from my iPad

    On Aug 28, 2013, at 10:44 PM, ianscyberspace wrote:

    WordPress.com ianscyberspace posted: “Ever ready FredIn the month of August monsoon rains over Southern Asia steadily deposit their liquid gold into the great river systems, and much of the resulting flood passes through the country of Bangladesh on its way to the Bay of Bengal. During dry se”


    1. I’ve been there many times over the period 1970 to 1995 in both dry and monsoon seasons. There is a unique charm about the country. Did you make it to Chittagong during your travels?


  2. Fascinating Ian, both the historical context and human. Those who have seen great violence I think have inbred responses. Fred’s isn’t unusual.


    1. I guess poor Fred was shell shocked from the experience and I view him as a brave man. Later when I had fled from auditing to graduate school teaching I was asked to go back on special assignment and try and sort out the mess that regional accounting had gotten into during their war of independence. It was an impossible assignment but at least we were able to establish a starting point to begin again.


  3. what an interesting travelogue Ian. when we were kids my Grandfather used to tell us stories about the India-Bangladesh Partition and then many years later i got to know more from my Mother-in-law about how my father in laws family travelled from Bangladesh to India during partition.. those were terrible times. Not that anything has changed except faces and year on calendar…this region of south Asia it seems will forever in a war/partition like situation….politicians will never let it go.


    1. The essential differences between west and east Pakistan as it was in those days prior to separation was in language and type. Religions was only a superficial bond. The people of Bengal generally are more quiet, academic and peaceful, and the peoples of the west have a long history of conflict and power seeking. Obviously these peoples were mismatched and so it was only a matter of time before the Bengalis would want to direct their own destiny. My first trip there was in 1970. I viewed the fresh blood on the floor on a school premises near Dhaka where the Principal of the school had been machine gunned by dacoits. The ride back to Dhaka at night was hair raising and is the subject of another story.


  4. jstansfeld says:

    A nice glimpse into a different world – and what hard times so many people have endured! Thank you for sharing! Cheerio, Jane


    1. The country has made a lot of progress since my first visit in 1970, but there is still a lot of violence not always reported by the media.


  5. Mags Corner says:

    This made me think of Noah’s Ark. lol Poor Fred and all the others that lived under such tense times. I enjoyed reading about another of your adventures sweet Ian but felt sorry for Fred and all the other people. Hugs


    1. Interesting you should mention Noah’s Ark. We did have goats on desk as our companions on that particular river trip. I’d forgotten that detail.


  6. Jane Thorne says:

    Ian, what an interesting life you have led. So many rich memories. Thank you for sharing. All the best to you and yours. Jane


    1. Its interesting how you can look back on those memories as if they were the most normal thing in the world to have experienced. It takes someone like you to highlight that I’ve been very fortunate indeed to have those experiences, though there were some I would rather not have had. lol


  7. Eric Alagan says:

    I recall reading of the war in the local Straits Times and watching on local TV. Many sympathised and cheered when the Indian Army crossed the border and routed the Pakistan Army but officially, Singapore was careful to ensure the media did not openly take sides. Althougn Western focus was on East Pakistan, the really major battles took place along the West Pakistan/India border and so did the casualties.

    It is interesting to read of your first-hand experience in the newly minted Bangladesh, and so soon after the cessation of hostilities. In the best of times, most people there faced dire lives – and with the added deprivations of war — must have been horrendous.

    I last visited Bangladesh/Dhaka during 2004 – much remains to be done from infrastructure to basic needs. But the people are hardworking – if only they can get their politicians to —- oh, well —



    1. I know what you mean Eric. Great strides have been made since my first visit just after that war. In those days it was all about river ferries to go most anywhere, but now the Chinese and others have built them some substantial bridges across the waterways and its now possible to go to most of the country by road. Did you notice that their roads are made of a brick base as they only have stone up in the north hill country. The rest of the country sits on the alluvial deposits of the Ganges to hundreds of feet deep. During the monsoons coming in by air it looks like the whole country is under water.


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