Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Barisal (Barishal) Airport, Bangladesh

The Barisal (Barishal) Airport, Bangladesh

Dr. Sachi G. Dastidar

ISPaD: Partition Documentation Project Report; January 25, 2019

Barisal (Barishal) in the coastal area of Bengal – now in Bangladesh – is located in the world’s largest Ganga-Brahmaputra delta that has been known for millennia as the place to be traveled only by boat, much less by air. It is a place which is flood prone during monsoon months inundating much of the land mass. Even a few years back road travel wasn’t easy as there were numerous river ferries until construction of many bridges over these rivers was completed. I still remember my parents telling me stories as to how my two older brothers went to school by dinghy during monsoon months while walking during dry months. That has been true for the southern districts of Bengal – Bangladesh and Paschim Bangla (West Bengal) State of India for eternity. A 2018 trip to Venice, Italy reminded me of my older brothers again and again as kids there were taking ferries to go to school.

Not far from the airport my ancestors lived for about 500 years ago establishing a village on the land that rose from the riverbed, relocating from Gava where written goes back another half-a-millennia, a few kilometers away but took more than half-a-day by boat in the old days. I guess that is when my ancestors established the village who were honored by calling one “Dastidar” by non-native, non-Bengali-speaking Muslim rulers of Bengal who then depended on Hindus for their day-to-day work, administration and for technical support.

Going to Barisal by air was unthinkable until I vaguely remember my older brother, A. G. Dastidar, a noted Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineer with offices in Calcutta (Kolkata) and elsewhere in India, was invited by one Mr. Islam who had a huge construction company in Bangladesh for feasibility work for many infrastructure and building construction projects in late 1980s through late 1990s, including an airport in Barisal. Our family is one of the indigenous families of Barisal with a written history for almost a millennium. (I guess writing something down was not a big thing before that.) So I thought my ancestors must be very happy as well as perplexed by my travel plan, that was worked by our nephew in Dhaka and a Hindu monk from the neighboring Madaripur district, where my maternal grandparents’ ancestral home is. I was joined by my oldest sister Didi and her close friend NamitaDi. And this was by US-Bangla Airlines that was started by someone I knew from New York City! The flight from Dhaka to Barisal was uneventful except for my oldest sister Didi and me. For no reason we were given a special ride in the airlines' special car from the terminal to the aircraft. At the flight selfie was a must! On this flight there were many important individuals, including the newly elected Member of Parliament of Bangladesh from Barisal, thus there were many slogans of Joi Bangla (Victory to Bangladesh) and Swagatam (Welcome) to the M.P. at the Barisal terminal building. All the travelers were happy to be welcomed. As we walked from the aircraft to the small terminal building, the atmosphere was quite relaxed as the local security didn’t mind deplaning passengers taking pictures of the airport building from the tarmac before entering the structure. (In many countries one is not allowed to do that.) It didn’t take long for Mr. Alam, the cab driver, and monk Jiban Maharaj to spot our party of 3 persons, with two women. “Welcome to Barisal,” said both the waiting hosts. Taxis, especially three-wheeler “auto taxis” were available in plenty. After our picture taking, we all left for our journey that will take us to Sugandha Kali Pith Temple – one of 51 pithas of the Black Mother Goddess Kali, followed by a stop at Mahilara to look at the Nihar Kana Building that we had built in memory of my mother and mother-in-law, finally to the monk’s Pranab Ashram where many Probini-supporters built a boys’ hostel (dorm). As soon as we left the airport parking lot we were deep in the midst of rural Bengal – green, soothing, calming and enchanting.

May we wish the Airport a great prosperity!
Location of Barisal District in the Costal South
View on a Foggy Day 


Selfie from the Tarmac

Before Reaching the Terminal

Flight Schedule to Barisal Welcoming all Travelers

Welcome by Monk Jiban Maharaj to Didi and NamitaDi

Welcoming Visitors


Auto-Taxis at the Airport


Welcome by Mr. Alam and Rev. Maharaj

Bangladesh Countryside outside the Airport

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Rest, Relaxation and Regeneration in Rural Bangladesh

Rest, Relaxation and Regeneration in Rural Bangladesh:

The Chittanju Praasaad (Palace) in Coastal Pirojpur

Dr. Sachi G. Dastidar

ISPaD: Partition Documentation Project Report; January 25, 2019

Whomever thinks of rest and relaxation in the world’s densest country must be really out of mind. Generally, this is true until one visits the palace that my wife and I called Chittanju palace in honor of our Bangladeshi friends Chitta Ranjan and his wife Anju Debi, although they have named the new building after their parents, not Chittanju. It is a brand new modern palace-like building in the midst of southern rural setting. It has all the modern amenities from hot water to Wi-Fi to modern kitchen, and room with balconies. The Hindu couple in a Muslim-majority nation with a long history of Hindu persecution since the days of 1947 Partition of Bengal and India have made sure that both the majority Muslims and minority Hindus are not only welcome here but pushed to prosperity. The couple and their extended family has opened a new liberal arts college or General College, a Krishi or Agriculture College, and a new Shyamali Library, named after Chitta’s sister. These have created dozens of jobs and paths to prosperity in that distant rural hinterland.

Location of Pirojpur in Bangladesh

The building is designed with a large front yard with a Hindu Mandir (temple) dedicated to Lord Mother Sitala, protector of agricultural life, a Memorial Wall dedicated to ancestors and the newly departed, and a tower for Bangladesh Independence. Being close to the ocean – the Bay of Bengal – local rivers, streams and canals enjoy normal tides. Thus the property has a pond connected with local stream receiving high and low tides, and within the property has a manmade foot bridge, a sluicegate controlling the flow of water, and most importantly a wooden country boat that guests can enjoy water ride.

For the pleasure of guests, the couple has arranged for scores of caretakers attending to the pleasures of the guests, as well as baburchis (chefs) catering to guest’s tastes. As three of us stayed at the palace in winter, fresh juice from date palm trees – khejurer rosh – were served in the morning. (Traditionally it has to be consumed early in the morning in winter season before fermentation starts with the rise of temperature. These days it is practically unavailable in the big cities where one gets molasses – khejur gur – made of that juice.) Since it is in the rural area quietness is its main attraction, however, one may walk through the quite countryside. The palace is reachable either via Barishal Airport from Dhaka ($40; 40 minutes), then a car ride ($60; 3 and ½ hour, 100 kilometers), or from Kolkata, India 6 and ½ hours – 3 hours from Kolkata Airport ($35; 3 hours, 90 kilometers) to the Benapole India-Bangladesh border, then 3 and ½ hour by car ($75 dollars.; 130 kilometers).

It is wonderful to see individual decisions have helped create so many opportunities and so many jobs in a remote corner of the world.

Thanks to Mr. Chitta, Mrs. Anju and their extended family for creating such a wonderful place!
The Palace at Night

Memorial Wall

Mother Sitala Mandir (Temple)

The Country Boat

Visitors on the Boat


Sunday, January 27, 2019

OAR: Our Association for Remedy, Kolkata: Educating the Very Poor

OAR: Our Association for Remedy, Kolkata,

Paschim Banga (West Bengal) State, India:

Providing Education to the Poor and the Bypassed

Dr. Sachi G. Dastidar

Probini Foundation Report; January 25, 2019

OAR: Our association for Remedy has been educating pavement-dwelling children, children of slums – often on illegally-occupied land. OAR is providing basic education to dozens of children living on illegal property at Maajher Haat Station in Kolkata. Students are mostly from migrant families from neighboring states. Although basic education is free and compulsory there are always thousands of kids who fall through the cracks either for lack of registration or for lack of seats in state-supported schools. The school at Majher Haat Station is called Mukti (Free) and is taught for a couple of hours by two to three teachers for a nominal remuneration. On the day when a Probini delegation arrived on the back of a motorbike the students showed their prowess by reciting several poems and verses, by drawing a “New Year Card” and receiving gifts of pens and pencils in a box bought by Mr. Bikas Biswas, the Project Director and dreamer of big ideas, bought by donation by this writer given on the day of the Probini Meet on January 6, 2019. OAR is planning to acquite a piece of land in southwest Kolkata suburb for an orphanage and a school. May God bless OAR!

Should anyone be interested in learn about OAR one may write to or check Probini page at Facebook or check for further information.

Open Air Classes

Poetry Lessons



Surrounded by Water Buffalo Shed

Railway Land being Cleared for New Construction

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Elias Meyer School & Talmud Torah of Calcutta, India Teaching Mostly-Muslim Students

Elias Meyer School & Talmud Torah of Kolkata (Calcutta),

Paschim Banga (West Bengal) State, India:

A Jewish School Teaching Mostly-Muslim Students

Dr. Sachi G. Dastidar

ISPaD: Partition Documentation Project Report; January 25, 2019

On a bright 70-degree winter afternoon Mr. Reuben Aaron, Administrator, of the school welcomed this reporter with typical Bengali-style welcome with folded hand saying, Namaskar, or Greetings. The building at Bipin Behari Ganguly Street at Bowbazar neighborhood in the old Central Calcutta with its big arch proclaiming its presence is across the street from Firma KLM Publishers – publisher of many of this writer's books. Mr. Aaron welcomed my colleague, Mr. Tapan Das, a native of Kolkata whose family has been living in the same building for over 300 years as well as celebrating Mother Goddess Durga Puja festival for three centuries, and me, and in minutes arrived hot tea.

Mr. Aaron added that the Kolkata Jewish community runs one more school called Jewish Girls’ School (established in 1881) at Park Street, and used to run another school at Raja Bazar neighborhood, but  that has temporarily closed down. Elias Meyer school was established in 1888 while it was moved to the current site in 1925. “The school has 530 students of which 70% are Muslim and 30% comes from Hindu majority” he said. “I am the last Jew who graduated from Class 12 in this school.”
The school administration has to come up with Rs. 300,000 ($4,200) to Rs. 500,000 ($7,000) rupees deficit after receiving state grants and student tuition. This is substantial for a Jewish community of barely two dozen individuals. Aaron said “we are so small in number that we cannot have minion (minyan) as we need at least 10 adult males for our religious services. We have that when delegations visit us from overseas, as we are expecting a group of 22 to 24 visitors from England next month.” Mr. David Ashkenazy, a Board Member said “Nevertheless, all our Kolkata Boards are fully Jewish.” Ashkenazy is also the Hon. Secretary of Magen David Synagogue, President and Trustee of the Beth-El Synagogue and is a Board Member of all Jewish schools in Kolkata. We were introduced to another of the Board Members, Mr. Elisha Twena, who is also the Honorary Treasurers of Maghen David Synagogue and Beth-El Synagogue, and Board Member of Neveh Shalome Synagogue and Oseh Haised Board. Although our discussion was conducted in Bengali which Reuben speaks like any native Bengali but both Ashkenazy and Twena said “we are not as fluent in Bengali as Reuben is although we are Calcuttans for many generations. We can also speak Hindi, English and Hebrew.” I reminded them of my old friend Dr. Ezra, a, Jew, and a graduate of the Bengal Engineering College of the Calcutta University who later became a Dean at our sister campus of the State University of New York at Farmingdale. Their family name bears a famous street in the BarroBazar business district called Ezra Street. Our meeting ended with a second cup of hot tea, now in the presence of the school’s headmistress, a Hindu, as the students left the school under the gaily decorated colored streamers of Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Should anyone be interested in learn about Elias Meyer school, they may write to for further information.

A Very Normal Entrance to the Old Building

Administrator Reuben Aaron, on left

School Building

Invitation to Join the School

Trustees David Ashkenazy, left and  Elisha Twena, Center

Entrance/Exit through Colored Decorations

Ezra House at Calcutta (Kolkata) Zoo