A team of five crew members perished on June 18, 2023 on their voyage to explore the wreckage of Titanic. From the news media I also heard each of them paid 250,000 US dollars to pay for the voyage. Although sad, I have no special interest in exploring to what the super rich does with their money and resources. That was until two days later when my mind was drawn to the event hearing that two of the ill-fated people had last names “Dawood”, Pakistani Industrialists.
My curiosity sprang up immediately and I could hardly contain it. So I jumped into action. But why? I am not related to this family, my upbringing is far more run of the mill downtrodden compared to this family, I am not even Pakistani, they don’t even know me! Then why am I so curious to know about the two perished billionaires laying 13,000 feet deep in the North Atlantic?
Two words about them seized my mind: the last name “Dawood” and “industrialist”. In the 60s and 70s I grew up in a remote jungle town of the then East Pakistan established by a sprawling paper mill, called Karnaphuli Paper Mills, which was at that time the largest paper manufacturing facility in Asia. The factory owner also established a school to educate the children of the workers there and that is the school I had studied from nursery to 10th grade. Not surprisingly, name of our school was also: Karnaphuli Paper Mills School(K.P.M. School). This paper mill was owed by Ahmed Dawood, the patriarch of the family. This was the flagship industry among many he owned across Pakistan. My mother used to be employed in this school as a teacher also.
Ahmed Dawood was born in a small town in British colonial India who at his early teenage years had moved to Mumbai to establish his business. An orphan, and a self-learner, having no formal education, he showed his talents in business from very early on. In 1947 with the division of India, he moved with his extended family to West Pakistan, almost empty handed. But talent of entrepreneurship doesn’t stay dormant. He started his business in newly independent Pakistan and soon started several industrial ventures in West Pakistan and eventually extending his industrial empire in both West and East Pakistan. He was reported to be very close industrial advisor of one time military strongman and president of Pakistan, Ayub Khan.
Although not formally educated himself, Ahmed Dawood patronized education and invested heavily in this sector including the school where I got my education. I still remember every few months his factory used to donate papers, reams of it, rulers, geometry boxes, school equipment and other goodies in addition to funding free education and bearing all the expenses of the school. His mill also fully funded our Boy Scout programs, cricket and football games and other extra-curricular programs for children to develop.
Most importantly, as a demonstration of his direct commitment and patronization, to this school, Ahmed Dawood himself would take part in the annual ceremony of students promoted to the next grade and prize distribution. It used to be festive day with a whole day of celebration and entertainment for all the teachers, students, guardians and the whole community at large.
For me such a day came in one summer day of 1967, when I was in Second Grade in my elementary school. All children who secured positions from 1st through 3rd in each class and in other activities were lined up in a separate row. On that day our Headmaster announced the names one by one as each child walked up to the podium, shook hands with Ahmed Dawood, who then handed over the reward to the child in the midst of thunderous claps of the assembled crowd. Eventually when the turn for second graders came my heart was pounding as my name was announced, I was ushered by our homeroom teacher to walk towards the podium to accept the prize from Ahmed Dawood. He was rather a chubby bespectacled man with a constant indefatigable smile on his face. As I approached near him face to face, and our eyes locked on with each other as I looked up to to him, instead of shaking his hand with me, he lifted me up with both of his hands holding me by the sides of my chest and placed my little body rather effortlessly on the table where the prizes were kept. Now I was looking down at him and he was looking up to me; his smile turning into a laughter as he extended his right hand towards my little hand in the midst of laughter of the crowd with their clapping hands. We shook our hands, my little hand totally buried in his adult hand, and then he handed me the prize: a forest green school bag.
I used this forest green bag for several years, its strap across my shoulder was rather long even after adjustment of the buckle, and carefully keeping my books and note books inside it, at times making it even heavier than myself. To me it symbolized my achievements and it was an embodiment of my childhood pride and I loved to show it off. It was a direct reward to my hard work. It was gratifying. But more importantly, I associated it with the most accomplished and the most successful person that I knew directly at that time, a person who touched my heart by his kind gesture of lifting me up on the table before shaking his hand with me. Without even pondering over it I knew that was something special and unusual. That was a great boost to my childhood ego.
So when I heard and read in the news media that the two of the five perished people in Titan, the ill fated submersible on way to Titanic were surnamed Dawood, my mind was ceased by the compulsion of finding their relationship with the generous man Ahmed Dawood who touched my tender heart when I was promoted from 2nd grade to 3rd grade in my grade school. And yes my premonition came out true: I got to learn that Ahmed Dawood had one heir, his son. He had four grandchildren and dead persons are: father & son duo, one of his grandsons and great grandsons respectively.
It turns out time and politics especially as it related to Pakistan were not kind to Ahmed Dawood and his family either. I realize that the turmoil had not only tormented the poor and the middle class but it also tormented the super rich and entrepreneurs like Ahmed Dawood. He lost all his industries and businesses in the then East Pakistan which became Bangladesh just by political change and by the fact that he was settled in West Pakistan after migrating from India where he was born. On top of this, even in the remaining part of Pakistan he was not treated fairly: many of his business were confiscated in Pakistan itself starting in 1972 in a nationalistic sweep the gripped many developing nations in the 60s and 70s. Disheartened and disappointed, his family moved to the West for safe refuge.
Decades later, now with the tragedy of submersible vehicle Titan and the loss of two Dawoods, Shahzada and Suleman who are his grandson and great grandson respectively of the man I had a brief encounter with, my mind reverberated with the surname and my mind went back for a visit to the memory lane of long forgotten path of old days. What this personally means to me is that a good deed by anyone, a kind gesture by anyone is not forgotten.
At the very heart of this personal story of mine is the fact that we humans are connected in an inexplicable way, a celestial web have us all wrapped around; an unbreakable bond has connected humanity by migration, political and economic turmoil, sounds, sights, gestures, kindness, encouragements, discouragements and economic abilities. A 2nd grader in 1967 growing up in the remote dusty corner of Bangladesh still possessing the vivid memory of a man with surname Dawood. 56 years later a tragedy in the deep ocean depth of the North Atlantic unlocked the memory in this 60s child, working in a doctor’s office in Houston, Texas; a memory safe-kept in the secret pages of his childhood memory book while he was a 2nd grader. What could be stranger and deeper? The 13,000 feet depth of Atlantic water, where the exploration vessel Titan tragedy took place or the depth of such human stories that connects us in this unfathomable chain of events from British India to division of India, creation of Pakistan, then break up of Pakistan, emergence of independent Bangladesh with all the political and economic turmoil that people endured through this and the migration of the protagonists to the West and finally the indomitable human instinct of exploration leading to the tragedy which makes people to discover each other? Such is a human story. Simply.