Posted by: Duncan Chowdhury | May 24, 2009

Dr. Atiur Rahman overpowered the Pang of Poverty

Dr. Atiur Rahman, the Governor of Bangladesh Bank had past his boyhood days in severe hardship. He had a childhood life of struggle and spent his days in utmost misery. I had the opportunity to learn about him, through various news sources.

He was born in a remote village in the district of Jamalpur. The only mean of transportation was to ride a bi-cycle 18 kilometers to reach the nearest city from his village. In the village, the highest qualified man was Mahfiz Uddin his paternal uncle. He passed the School Certificate Examinations. His father was a poor landless farmer. They were five brothers and three sisters. They had to spend their days in hunger and misery. Atiur’s grand father was a financially solvent man, unfortunately, his father didn’t get the opportunity to stay with is grandfather. They would stay in a nearby hay hut, all the brothers and sisters together along with their parents. His mother inherited a piece of land which was nearly about an acre, which was cultivated by his father, this land hardly provided food for 5 to 6 months. Atiur had the first hand experience of poverty, as they couldn’t afford their food and clothing properly.

Atiur’s mother was literate in a sense that she had elementary education. She taught her him the elementary education. Then he was admitted to a Primary School in the village, he hardly could reach Class III but, couldn’t proceed any further as his family couldn’t afford his educational expenses. Earlier, his elder brother had also left school, then both the brothers had to devote themselves to earn the bread for the family.

They had a cow and a goat. Atiur’s new responsibility was to take these two animals to the fields for the day for grazing. In the evening he used to sell the milk in the village bazzar. Thus he was adding some money to his family’s income. Then after a few days, with is megre savings of Taka 8, he could start a small stall for selling pan and cigarette. He used to run the stall from morning till evening. At this stage he thought his education had stopped for ever.

One day his elder brother told him about the drama which was supposed to be staged in the evening at the school premises. He still remembers that he had no shirts, putting on his lungi, he and his brother went to see the drama. He was surprised to see the atmosphere of the school, there was a sense of joy everywhere. He also thought whether he could be a part of it. He then decided that he would start schooling again. After the show, while returning he had approached his brother whether he could restart his education. His brother too was sympathetic towards his proposal and told him that he would meet the Headmaster of the school the following day. The next day, both the brothers went to school, then his brother went to the room of the Headmaster while he was waiting outside. To his surprise he had overheard the Headmaster speaking while his brother was requesting the Headmaster to permit Atiur to appear for the Final Exams. The Headmaster said that education is not meant of everyone. Atiur felt insulted very much with this remark of the Headmaster, all his hope to restart his study was going to vain, turning down to ashes. However, his brother could succeed at length to persuade the Headmaster to permit him to appear for the Final Exams.

It was only 3 months left for the Final Exams. Returning home he told his mother to give him leave for three months. He would not stay at home, there was no food, no clothing, no books but still he was determined to appear for the Final Exams and pass. Atiur’s mother wanted to know his intensions. He told her that he knew his class friend Mozzamel’s mother, who was a kindhearted generous women. He will approach to her, asking whether she could give him shelter and food till the time of exams. Then he went to Mozzamel’s home, and Mozzamel’s mother was more than willing to support him, when she heard everything from Atiur. He stayed at her home, his shelter and food was assured. The Heasmaster’s remark had been bugging his all the time and it had become an inspiring source for him to study more and more. A sort of firmness started working in his mind.

The Exams started as scheduled. He was appearing for the exams day by day, the more he sat for the exams, the more he became more enthusiastic to continue his studies. On the day of the declaration of results, the Headmaster came to his class. He was a bit hesitant to spell out the name of the boy was stood first in the class. However, he declared him as the first boy of the class. Tears rolled down the cheek of his brother with this joyous news. However, Atiur was normal, as if the result was not at all unexpected.

While returning home, they lead a procession of a jubilant crowd. The whole village was in a jubilant mood. His illiterate father for whom there wasn’t any difference in the meaning between first and last, was happy too. He understood that his son had made a great achievement. When Atiur’s father heard about the promotion of Atiur to the higher class and he required new books, immediately he went to the bazzar, sold the family goat at Taka 12. Then he took Atiur to Jamalpur, where they bought books from Nabanur Library. Thus Atiur’ lifestyle started changing.

He again started to go to school regularly, still he used to help his parents during his leisure time. In the meantime, the teachers of his school became very fond of Atiur. On of his teachers Faiz Moulobhi took care of him as his own son. Thus Atiur was promoted to Class 5, after he stood first in Class 4. After some many days his Uncle Mafiz Uddin also started to support him. Mafiz Uddin took him to his home where he stayed and continued his studies. After completing his Primary Education, he got admitted at Dighipait Junior High School. His uncle was also a teacher in this school. The Teachers of this school also came to know about Atiur’s struggle in life, he were also supported him in many ways.

When Atiur was about to be promoted to Class 8 from Class 7, only his Uncle brought a paper clipping for him, an advertisement for admission in the Cadet College. Inspired by his Uncle, he filled in the form for submission. It is quite worthwhile to mention that his name was Ataur Rahman, but his Headmaster while filling the form for his admission at the Cadet College, wrote Atiur Rahman. He said that this boy will be someone remarkable one day in future, there are a host of Ataurs in the country so his name needs to be a bit different. Atiur prepared himself for the selection exams for the Cadet College. On the day of selection test, he was quite a bit fish out of water in the examination hall, he was the only boy in pajama and sponge sandals there. He thought that he would never be selected. However to his utmost surprise he received the letter that he was selected after two months. Now for the Final Selection Test he has to go to Dhaka Cantonment. Everybody was happy for him, but he was a bit worried, as he had not trousers of his own. At last he could manage to borrow one from the Kanai Lal, the clerk of the school. Similarly he could borrow a shirt, too. Then he and his Uncle started for Dhaka for the Final Selection Test. He was taught by his Uncle to say “May I come in” while entering the room of the Viva Voce. He could say so, but in such a loud voice that triggered everybody to laugh. While appearing for the Viva Voce, the Principal M. W. Pit, could understand him and his economic situation. Pit immediately became very close to him. Atiur could understand that he was getting the opportunity to study in the Cadet College.

After 3 months the letter had arrived that Atiur had been selected for admission at the Cadet College. The monthly tuition fee was Taka 150. He was sanctioned Taka 100 as stipend and the balance Taka 50 he had to pay per month. Atiur was taken aback, when there as no money for his family to have three square meals per day, he was studying under the mercy of his Uncle, in such a situation how he could afford Taka 50 per month. Atiur was in great dilemma, his monthly tuition fees of the Cadet College could not be arranged. At last he approached to his dear Teacher Faiz Moulobhi, who extended support to him for raising funds for this purpose. Faiz Moulobhi along with to other of his colleagues went to the village bazzar and with a gamcha spread appealed to the shop keepers for help. Most of them supported him with according to their own abilities, some with four anas, some eight anas, some one taka and some two taka. However, he managed to raise a total of Taka 150 and his Uncle gave him an additional Taka 50. Thus he got admitted at Mirzapur Cadet College. He could manage to pay his first 3 months tuition fees and also meet other essential needs.

On the first day of his college, the Principal M. W. Pit came to see him. Atiur told him that he could manage to pay for 3 months tuition fees, then he might have to leave the college if he could manage to arrange the tuition fees for the following months. The Principle being passionate to him discussed his issue in the Board Meeting and finally he was sanctioned stipend of Taka 150 per month. After this he continued his studies and never had to look back. At the Secondary School Certificate Examinations he stood Fifth in Dhaka Board and soon after many other achievements followed this great scholar.

According to him, his life has been blessed with support of mostly common people. Later when he stood up and had managed to secure his position in the society, he had contributed a lot to establish schools and colleges in the vicinity of his home. He never kept any stone unturned to support anyone who was in need. But he says that he couldn’t repay back the Taka 150, collected from the Bazzar for his admission in the Cadet College and this will never be possible in his life time, even by sacrificing his own life.

The reason behind writing this account, is the astonishing real life story of the Governor of Bangladesh Bank, I attempted to prove again that ‘where there is a way there is a will’ and Dr. Atiur Rahman is a burning example of this. If we really want to succeed in our life and if we really strife for that then we shall be rewarded like the luminary personality of Dr. Atiur Rahman. I wonder whether Dr. Atiur Rahman’s bio could be incorporated in our text books of our school children. Just as we had learnt the struggle of Pandit Iswar Chandra Bidyasagar in his childhood days, in our text books, who later become the pioneer of Bangla literature and famous social reformer. My head down salute to Dr. Atiur Rahman.



  1. I could not hold my tears when I read the story of Dr. Atiur Rahman’s early life. I forwarded the article to at least one hundred people. The response of many people to the story was similar to mine.
    Dr. Rahman’s story especially affected me because I also faced severe hardships in my early life. I was a gamsa-clad young person plowing the land with oxen, weeding rice paddy fields, collecting leaves for fuel, collecting grass for the cattle, and catching fish for supper. Most mornings before going to the field with a plow and a yoke on my shoulders, I ate a few morsels of panta bhat with an onion and a couple of hot peppers from a clay-made khora. A miracle happened: I got an education. Allah has showered me with immense blessings. Having studied and taught as a professor in the west for more than forty years, I am now retired and living in Montreal with my wife. Our son Dr. Hamid Rabb, a full professor and the Physician Director of the Kidney Transplant Dept., and Vice-Chairman of the entire medical faculty of Johns Hopkins University, Maryland is one of the best physicians and medical scientists of the world. Many people believe that he will receive a Nobel Prize for his discoveries in the future (for more on him please see my website: Our daughter Shirin and her husband Ali Hossain Khan from Barguna are the most successful Bangladeshi business people in Canada. The Canadian TV, radios and newspapers recently published with fanfare a news report about their latest 90-100 million-dollar business venture in Montreal: a 42-floor skyscraper in downtown Montreal. The La Presse of Montreal said that Ali Khan is transforming Montreal into a Dubai (for more on this please see my website: At 73 I am trying to devote my time, energies and resources to serve the people in need of help, especially those of my home district Barisal. I have a number of charitable projects in Bangladesh: building educational institutions, setting up scholarships and foundations at all levels of secular education, running an adult education program, building houses for the poor, promoting food production, and the like. I visit Bangladesh every year especially to look after these projects. This is my way of paying part of my enormous debt to my motherland that nourished and educated me for 27 years of my early life. I am also working on my book: FROM THE WOODEN PLOWS OF THE RICE FIELDS OF BANGLADESH TO THE PODIUM OF A PROFESSOR IN CANADA.
    I would like to know more about Dr. Atiur Rahman. Next time I come to Dhaka I would like to meet Dr. Rahman.

    Abdur Rabb, Montreal

    • Sir,

      Assalamu alikum. I could not hold my tears either.

      I had been going through frustration. Finally Dr. Atiur Rahman’s and your childhoods energized to uphold my spirit. I am a student here in the USA. I also have bitter experiences. Yes, I had a chance to meet your son, Dr. Hamid Robb after going through your write-up. I am residing in Baltimore, Maryland.

      S. Khan

  2. Mr. Chowdhury:

    May I have your email address?


    Abdur Rabb




    The plan to build a 42-storey skyscraper with 800 units of hotel rooms and condominiums at the heart of downtown Montreal has made big news in the greater Montreal area. In the second week of June, 2009 the Canadian National Television CBC broadcast the owner-developer’s interview along with pictures of the planned tower. The elite French daily newspaper Lapresse published a report on the project on May 12, 2009. This paper said that the owner is going to make Montreal a Dubai which has many tall skyscrapers. Montreal has only a few of those tall buildings; the new project will make the number of those tall buildings larger. On June 19 the only English daily paper of Montreal the Gazette featured a large article on the project with an impressive photograph of the design of the building. The municipality of Montreal distributed leaflets on the project in the Montreal homes and invited the citizens of the city to express their views in two hearings held in the month of June.

    There are many reasons for which this project attracted public attention. We are going through a period of recession. This grand project costing between 80 and 1000 million dollars will create employment for a large number of people, generate a huge amount of tax for the city, result in the construction of a number of residential units for the low-income people elsewhere in the city (one of the conditions of getting the city permit) at a cost of $700,000-, promote tourism, and change the face of the city of Montreal.

    The owner-developer of this magnificent project is Mr. Ali Khan from Barguna, Bangladesh. He came to Montreal in 1982. His father Mr. Abdul Wahed Khan, a prosperous businessman of Barguna, wanted him to get an education in Canada. Mr. Ali Khan enrolled himself in the Sciences program at Concordia University and worked part-time in restaurants. With his business background Mr. Ali Khan, while working in restaurants, kept a sharp eye on how restaurant businesses are run. Once he accumulated some capital and acquired sufficient knowledge of the business, he bought a tiny restaurant in a posh shopping center of Montreal in 1990. That business struck gold. Soon he acquired enough capital and experience to start working for his dream: own and operate the largest and best Indian buffet restaurant of North America. As a first step to the realization of his dream, he rented and renovated a place in the heart of the city and made it into a 150-seat buffet restaurant. His idea was to serve a large variety of best Indian foods at a reasonable price. This business prospered tremendously. Then in 1994 he bought three beautiful stone-façade Victorian buildings in a row in downtown Montreal, carried out magnificent renovations, and fully realized his dream by establishing a restaurant called the Buffet Maharaja. The physical features of the Buffet are extraordinary. Sometimes people come just to see its architectural design, beautiful renovations and superb decoration. At present 500 people can sit comfortably to eat at the same time; yet sometimes dozens of people have to wait in lineups on the sidewalk in front of the building to enter the restaurant for dinner. Sometimes people drive more than 100 miles to eat dinner at this restaurant. The Buffet Maharaja is not only a very successful business; it has now become an important institution of Montreal. I have not met many people of the greater Montreal area who did not know about Buffet Maharaja.

    Since Mr. Ali Khan’s new concept of large buffet of Indian foods worked very well, many people of the Indian subcontinent followed his example and established Indian buffet restaurants in Canada. Buffet Maharaja has also made Indian foods popular among the mainstream Canadian population in Montreal and its surrounding cities.

    Mr. Ali Khan now owns the entire block of stone-façade Victorian buildings. In the same block he also built a residential hotel and named it Hotel A2K after his children’s initials: one A stands for his eldest son, second A for his daughter, and K for his second son. Many visitors from Bangladesh stay in this hotel during their visit to Montreal.

    The restaurant and the hotel have created jobs for many people. Most of the people who work at these jobs are from Bangladesh. Special mention should be made of the chief chef Mr. Nurul Haque from Comilla who has been behind the success of Mr. Ali Khan’s restaurant businesses for the last 19 years.

    Mr. Ali Khan has recently bought a large parking lot behind the restaurant-hotel block. The skyscraper will be built on this parking lot. The other skyscrapers of Montreal are owned by large companies representing many people; but the one we are discussing now will be built by only one individual—Mr. Ali Khan from Bangladesh.

    Mr. Ali Khan also developed a condominium project at a short distance from the restaurant. He recently acquired a mountain in the Laurentian Mountain Range 30 miles north of Montreal where he will build a summer home and a small lake for fish culture and boating.

    Mr. Ali Khan’s wife Shirin Rabb, whose parents originally came from Barisal, has been actively assisting him in all his business ventures.

    Mr. Ali Khan’s extraordinary achievements in Montreal have made Bangladesh and Bangladeshis proud. Asked about the secret of his achievements, he said, “A vision, determination, and hard work.” I should add another ingredient of his success: adoption of the important values of the mainstream Canadian society; he speaks both English and French fluently, knows Canadian laws, and has learned Canadian manners, customs and etiquettes. He knows how to communicate with the people of all walks of life, especially Government officials and business people of Canada, with whom he has to deal. Many young Bangladeshis of Canada are being inspired by his extraordinary achievements; they are now establishing their own businesses, and some of them have prospered tremendously. Mr. Ali Khan also does charitable work to help the poor people of the area of Bangladesh where he came from.

  4. I can not hold back my emotion. i am writing and still crying. This is really inspiring life history. His life story could be included in the secondary school so that our young generations can be inspired and fight back all the obstacles they face in their life. This is true that many students are bound to discontinue their education due to poverty. If people come forward and extend their helping hands many Atiur will come out and help Bangladesh stand out.

  5. interesting on how so many people that do not have means seem to overcome opstacles and people that have it all take it forgranted, great post

  6. I spent my university life with my friend Atiur. I never had all these details except his going to work at night as a journalist then joining tourism as a research officer and maintaining the whole family in Dhaka while he was still a student. He couldn’t attend most of the classes as he was working and depended on Zia Hasan Siddiqi, now Deputy Governor, Bangladesh Bank to coach him and give Atiur class notes.Despite all these Atiur never missed any conference and invariably made presentations. He was always helping friends.Asad suffered nervous breakdown during exam and fell to the ground.Atiur , after finishing his own exam, also wrote for Asad, under special arrangement and permission from the university authority.

  7. Please can you send me a textbook dedicated to Dr. Life’s struggle. I wish to have copy free of charge for our leaders to learn him by good example of a gret leader.
    I am based in Lagos Nigeria and which if a complimentary copy can be sent to me by post. I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you!

  8. Dr. Abdur Rabb’s book A VOICE ACROSS THE OCEAN is available in:

    • I have found this valuable web page when i was visiting the life sketch of our respected central bank governor Dr. Atiur Rahman before writing for The Daily Observer before his Manila visit to receive the prestigious Gusi Award. have just been awarded.

      I am so lucky that I have found a valuable page where some brilliant Bangladeshi persons like Dr. Alli, Dr. Rab also expressed their feelings on Dr. Atiur Rahman, who, I think should be come in the list of Noble Committee. I would be happy if all respected Bangladeshi persons send their views to me to write some thing on their struggle lives to encourage others.

      I am very proude that I got the opportunity to attract the attention of Dr. Atiur Rahman in 1990 when he was in BIDM and I just started journalism career in The Telegraph. After many years, I had another opportunity to cover his Barisal region’s programs as a BSS Reporter immediately after he was assigned as the governor. In Barisal, I requested him to give me some few minutes to take some views, his answer was- less talk, work more. He gave me only a few minutes during the dinner with him. I have found Dr. Rahman as a man who does not work for any appreciation.

      Afte more than six years, I have found a lot of changes in the villages and also got the answers.

  9. it’s now an important stimulation for my life. when I read it again and again feel extra energy.

  10. it’s a story of sorrow and success.

  11. With due heartfelt honor to Dr. Atiur Rahmam, may I state that there are many more like him in our country. But we are not aware. Sometimes we do not even mention knowingly due to our mean conscious.
    For the great human for whom the Creator created everything, please read his biography and would know how hard his life was. One example, in his whole life time never could have three full meals for three consecutive days. So, what are we comparing to him.
    The teaching we get from Dr. Atiur Rahman is never forget past & roots. Whoever forgets, remains no more a human. Dr. Rahman remembers remembers and this made him a great personality.

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