Number 20 Boxirhat Road, Chittagong
Chittagong, the largest port in Bangladesh, is a commercial city of 3 million
people. I grew up on Boxirhat Road in the heart of Chittagongs old business
district. A busy one-way lane, just wide enough for one truck to pass, Boxirhat
Road connected the river port of Chaktai to the central produce market.
Our section of the road lay in Sonapotti, the jewelers section. We lived at Number 20, a small two-story house with my fathers jewelry shop workshop tucked beneath us on the ground floor. When I was a boy, my world was full of the noise and gasoline fumes of the street. Trucks and carts were forever blocking our road, and all day long I would hear drivers arguing, yelling, and blaring their horns. It was a sort of permanent carnival atmo¬sphere. When toward midnight the calls of passing street vendors, jugglers, and beggars finally subsided, the sounds of hammering, filing, and polishing in my fathers workshop took over.
On the upper floor, we occupied just a kitchen and four rooms: Mothers Room, Radio Room, Big Room, and a dining room where a mat was spread out three times a day for our family meals. Our playground was the flat roof above. And when we got bored, we often idled away our time watching the customers downstairs or the gold artisans at work in the back room, or we would just look out at the endlessly changing street scenes.
Number 20 Boxirhat Road was my fathers second business location in Chittagong. He had abandoned the first when it was damaged by a Japanese bomb. In 1943, the Japanese had invaded neighboring Burma and were threatening all of India. In Chittagong, however, the air battles were never intensive. Instead of bombs, the Japanese planes dropped mostly leaflets, which we loved to watch from the rooftop as they floated like butterflies down over the city. But when a wall of our second house was destroyed by a Japanese bomb, my father promptly shifted us to the safety of his family village, Bathua, where I had been born at the beginning of the war.
Bathua is some seven miles from Chittagong. My grandfather owned land there, and a major part of his income came from farming, but he gravitated toward the jewelry trade. Dula Mia, his eldest son (and my father), also entered the jewelry business and soon became the foremost local manufacturer and seller of jewelry ornaments for Muslim customers. Father was a soft-hearted person. He rarely punished us, but he was strict about our need to study. He had three iron safes, each four feet high, built into the wall at the back of his store behind the counter. When the store was open for business, he left the safes open. With the insides of their heavy doors covered in mirrors and display racks, they appeared to be not safes at all, but part of the decor. Before the fifth prayer of the day, at closing time, father would push the drawers of the safes shut. To this day I would recognize the squeal of those ungreased hinges and the sound of six locks on each safe clicking shut. These sounds gave my older brother Salam and me just enough time to stop whatever we were doing and to leap back to our books. As long as Father saw us seated with our reading, he would be happy and say, Good children, good boys. Then he would make his way to the mosque for prayer.
My father has been a devout Muslim all his life. He made three pilgrimages to Mecca and he usually dressed all in white, with white slippers, white pajama pants, a white tunic, and a white prayer cap. His square tortoiseshell glasses and his gray beard gave him the look of an intellectual, but he was never a bookworm. With his large family and his successful business, he had little time or inclination to look over our lessons. Instead, he divided his life between his work, his prayers, and his family.
Excerpted from Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus Copyright © 1998 by Muhammad Yunus. Excerpted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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