Vol. 5 Num 998 Thu. March 22, 2007  

Remembering MA Ispahani

This month marked the 21st death anniversary of Mirza Ahmed Ispahani, a business magnate and politician of the then Indo-Pak sub continent. His forefathers came to India from the Iranian province of Ispahan, and settled first in Bombay, and then in Kolkata where fortune smiled on him.

MA Ispahani built industries and business houses in Kolkata, in competition with Tata and Birala. But fortune did not last long. After partition of India he was forced to leave Kolkata and, unlike Dawood and Adamjee, he settled in Chittagong. He then gradually built an industrial empire of jute, textiles, tea, dockyard and plywood etc.

He was the founder-chairman of the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation, which contributed to the development of industries in the then Pakistan. The first East Pakistan- West Pakistan air link was established through his Orient Airways.

I had the opportunity be in close contact with him for many years in Chittagong. His business acumen was so sharp that whatever he forecast used to come true. I remember an incident in 1981, when the oil price-hike was going up to $ 36 from $ 16 a barrel, when he said to me: "These king and shaikhs will have to bow down within a year, when the oil price will tumble down," which actually happened within a year. He was a businessman whose farsightedness was incredible. His farsightedness, his determination, and conviction in his own belief are unparalleled.

Immediately after liberation of Bangladesh, when Bangabandhu returned to Bangladesh, Mr Ispahani went to see him. Bangabandhu enquired how he was. Mr Ispahani replied: "How could I be well when you have taken all my properties." Immediately, Bangabandhu called his principal secretary and asked him to arrange the release of Mr Ispahani's property. The principal secretary was taken back and replied, "Sir, to release Mr Ispahani's property the law has to be changed in parliament, as all enemy property was nationalised along with one of Mr Ispahani's."

To the amazement of Mr Ispahani, Bangabandhu said: "Then change the law in parliament to release his property." It was an index of the close relationship between them. However, of all his property, Bangabandhu released the tea gardens in Sylhet and tea factory in Chittagong to rejuvenate tea export, which was at a standstill then.

In the tea auction house the price was very low, because tea export was nil. One day, Mr Ispahani went to the tea auction house, and his presence made the bidders raise the auction price of tea by a few takas. He was the first person to start export of tea from Bangladesh.

When president Ziaur Rahman came to power, he invited Mr MA Ispahani to become chairman of Bangladesh Biman, to make Biman profitable. But Mr Ispahani politely refused his invitation on health grounds. Mr Ziaur Rahman used to telephone him to get his advice on industrial matters.

Mr MA Ispahani was not only an industrialist of the first order, but was also a philanthropist of high stature. His philanthropic activities ranged from Teknaf to Tetulia. He used to donate money to many schools, madrasas and mosques, which had been unknown to many of us.

His charitable institutions, Ispahani Eye Hospital at Dhaka, Ispahani Public School and Colleges in Comilla and Chittagong, and Ispahani Girl's School at Dhaka are testimony of his philanthropic activities in this country. In this month of his death anniversary, I pray to Almighty Allah to rest his soul in peace.

The writer is ex-General Manager of MM Ispahani Ltd.