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     Volume 1 Issue 3 | August 5, 2006 |


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Cover Story

Story of an
Extraordinary Lady

Tanzila Yasmin Rumpa

An educated, enlightened and self-less social worker, Bulu Apa, still at the age of eighty-five is concerned about the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden people of the society. She is still active, making and marketing her unique invention, an economical stove, for cooking in the rural areas where there is no gas. A freedom fighter, Bulu Apa's contribution towards women's emancipation and rehabilitation of those cast out by the society is immense.

The Woods are lovely: dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

When at the age of eighty-five, Bulu Apa says that she just cannot sit idle as she finds a lot of imperfection and disorder in the society, one is immediately reminded of the above lines from Robert Frost, the great American poet. It has been a long time since she took upon herself the mission, as far as she could, of setting the world right. Throughout her life she has striven to the best of her capacity to reform the society, stand by the weak and raise her strong voice against all kinds of injustice and suppression. Her name is Fazilatunnsa Bulu. She is popularly knownas Bulu Apa. The people of Rangpur irrespective of their age address her by that name to express their heart-felt love and respect for her. She is very dear to all. Indeed, she has earned their trust and affection because of her humanism, patriotism and self-sacrifice.

Her dedication to serve people selflessly sets her apart from the usual run of people. Bulu Apa was born in 1921 in a village named Kolmu under Fulchari police station in Gaibandha. Her father was a teacher. Bulu Apa's intelligence and insatiable thirst for knowledge enabled her to successfully complete matriculation level from Jolpigury in an age when dark rooms surrounded by high walls were destined for women. She was the only girl student among 235 studensts at the Intermediate Science class at Rajshahi Govt. College. After the completion of her Intermediate studies, she got married to Mojibor Rahman, a promising young man with a liberal mind and advanced ideas. Inspired by him, Bulu Apa chose teaching profession in Govt. Girls High School, Rangpur. There she served from 1948-1959. She was the first Muslim female teacher in the locality.

While recollecting the happy days of the past, her eyes became radiant. She recollected her memory of a
day when her husband bought her some books. “Giving me the books my husband told me to study for the Bachelor degree. I was very happy. I readily agreed with him.” She took study leave from her job and became a student at Carmichael College. In 1956 after completion of the bachelor degree she went back to her teaching position in Rangpur Government Girls' High School. Because of her efficiency in the job, she was soon promoted to the position of the Headmaster.

Although her primary job was teaching, she used regularly to
render social service to the underprivileged in the society, mainly women regularly. However, she found it very hard to continue both the works simultaneously. Then at last came the opportunity Bulu Apa had been waiting for so long. She got the opportunity to take up social work as her vocation. Mr. S.A Khayer, the then District Magistrate of Rangpur selected her as the Deputy Director of the Social Welfare Department of Rangpur.

Getting the job that suited her character and temperament, Bulu Apa devoted herself completely to social work. Every person in the society became her family member and she felt a strong urge to help them. But, it was affection and intellectual approach combined together that made her great. One of her main contributions towards the betterment of the people of her locality has been her invention of a special kind of 'stove'. This she named “Sheba Chula”.On asking her we came to know that as the Deputy Director of the Social Welfare department she once went to visit an orphanage. There she found that the orphanage needed a huge quantity of wood for cooking food. “The orphanage authority didn't have enough money to buy food stuff, let alone the huge quantity of wood needed for cooking”, she said. “Moreover, burning of huge woods created a negative impact on the environment,” she added.

As a student of science, Bulu Apa realized that the wood the orphanage people were using did not burn properly for lack of oxygen allowed in the system of the existing stoves of theirs. As a result, a huge amount of wood was being wasted and at the same time more and more trees were being cut. She kept thinking about how to save trees and woods from being wasted. “I began to ponder over the subject. I decided to invent such a stove that might reduce the fuel cost and the environment pollution hazard,” she said.

Ultimately, by hard work and some trial and error efforts, she succeeded in making a new kind of stove which required much less wood to cook. She called it “Sheba Chula” (service- oriented stove). Later, this extraordinary invention received an award in the Science Fair and now one piece of Sheba Chula is kept in the National Museum as an important demonstration .

The new stove had several special features.

Describing Sheba Chula, Bulu Apa said, “It will reduce fifty percent of the fuel cost of a family. It is easily portable. It does not produce smoke. Thus it is environment- friendly.”
Fazilatunnessa Bulu loves nature as she loves human beings. She has started raising awareness among people about the importance of trees and advises them to plant more and more trees. Her dream is to spread the advantage of Sheba Chula from door to door in various places in the country. Through her tireless efforts she has gradually made the chula more modern, more scientific and long lasting. Bulu Apa's stove or Sheba Chula looks similar to the old conventional chulas, but is in fact, quite different form the conventional ones in respect of construction.

She supplied several thousands of Sheba Chulas to the people. After retirement, she started motivating the people about the advantage of Sheba Chula.

She said, “I produce it and I myself devote hard labour for its marketing.” Besides production and marketing, Bulu Apa used to give training to women about the production of Sheba Chula. A large number of women of Dhaka, Barisal, Pirojpur, Barguna and Chittagong have been trained to produce Sheba Chula. Although Bulu Apa produces the stoves for marketing, she does not take money from the poor families for it. She said, “The poor cannot even manage money to buy food, how can they buy my stove? I take money from the welloff families for it.”

At present, even at her eighties, she spends most of her time producing and marketing Sheba Chula. She is always busy. We went to her home thrice but could not catch her. On the fourth day we caught her at Dharmadashpur Orphanage where she had gone to enquire about the Sheba Chulas she had supplied.

Bulu apa receives award from former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

She said, “Nothing but work is pleasure to me. I wishI could die while doing my work.” Pointing to the chulas in the outhouse kitchen adjacent to the orphanage building, Bulu Apa with a faint touch of pride in her voice said, “I have supplied these. These save at least 150 kgs of wood a month. With the saved money, the orphanage authority can provide more food to the orphans.”

Bulu Apa has always been thinking of improving her Sheba Chula. After a prolonged experiment, she found that her stove or 'chula' will not be damaged in 50 years if its bottom is set with the kind of steel sheet that is being used by the Power Development Board.
PDB of Rangpur had some time ago rejected a huge quantity of such steel sheets. Bulu Apa wanted to buy them. But PDB would not sell those without auction. She said, “If PDB arranges an auction, I will participate in the bid to buy it.”

The Sheba Chula, although the most significant, is not her only contribution to the welfare of the people. She has contributed a lot to the education of the women of Rangpur. Her contribution for the establishment of Begum Rokeya Govt. College and Samajkallyan Biddya Bithi School will always be remembered by the people here.

Bulu Apa's husband was, in temperament and outlook, a proper match for her. He was a Ward Commissioner of Rangpur municipality for long 15 years. He was a generous social worker. Her daughter Monsura Begum Rounok said, “Both my father and my mother were benevolent volunteers and helped to spread education in the district. Both of them sacrificed a lot for it.” Recollecting her memories Rounok said, “On a fine morning we saw my father with some labourers carrying the roof of one of our tin- shed cottages.” When she asked her father, he told her that he had donated the roof to Mishtripara Primary School which was then under construction . Besides this, Rounok said, their dinning table was being used at the teachers' common room of Mistripara High School.

During the liberation war in 1971 Bulu Apa went to India to serve the people at the refugee camps there. Day and night she moved from shelter to shelter, from hospital
to hospital, to help the war-affected people. After liberation, she came back to the country and devoted herself to rehabilitating the affected freedom fighters.

Narrating the postwar situation, Bulu Apa said, “Everywhere I saw wounded people, distressed womean, and forsaken children.” Fazilatunnessa Bulu Apa served 82 of the 'Birangonas' (women of the country violated and tortured by the Pakistani army) in different ways. She rehabilitated many of them through the Social

Welfare department. “Memories of the black days haunted these women and many of them attempted to commit suicide”, she went on narrating the mental condition of the affected women.“They used to lodge at a centre in Rangpur town. I engaged them in different trades, mainly sewing. Most of these women were divorced or were cast out by their families and the society. Though outcasts, they now lived on their own income.”

Her daughter Rounok said, “During the famine in 1974, my parents sold our land and opened a 'langorkhana' (mass free kitchen) at Jummapara for the hungry people. I myself prepared bread at the langorkhana.” It was Bulu Apa who more than two decades ago worked with the sex workers of Rangpur. She provided them counselling and advised them to leave the profession and lead normal lives for the sake of harmony and peace in the society. She said, “Many of the sex workers went back to their families to lead normal lives while a few had no way to return.” She used to discuss with them the condition of their health to build up awareness about HIV/AIDS virus and other sexual diseases among the sex workers. She said, “I used to monitor if they continued to keep their medical check up regularly.” She told us that she and Mr. Mohammad Afzal formed Chhinnomul Nari Sangstha with the street sex workers for their rehabilitation. Bulu Apa had a lot of contribution towards women emancipation in the district. She has been involved with at least half a dozen women organizations in the district. She said, “I realized that there was no alternative to forming and working in teams through organizations for achieving women empowerment. So, I got involved with the organizations.” Among these organizations, Jummapara Mohila Shislpo
Kutir played an effective role for development of the women folk of Rangpur town. The organization provided training on different trades to women. Several hundreds of women took these trainings. Many of them became self-reliant after getting training from Jummapara Mohila Shilpo Kutir.
Bulu Apa is ever sympathetic towards the poor surrounding her.

Although she was reluctant to talk about personal financial matters, Russel, the grandson of Bulu Apa said that his grandmother gets about 1000 taka as pension. She spends the total amount of money to buy books for the children of the daylabourers, and medicine for the elderly poor. He continued, “Sometimes, she bears the expenses for marriages of the poor girls whose parents are unable to do so.” At present Bulu Apa passes her days at a vested building sanctioned by the government. Her only son who works in the postal department lives with her with his family of four members. The building in which she lives is not in a very good condition. She has no costly furniture at her rooms. She leads a very simple life.

Russel said, “My grandmother could have led a very luxurious life because she was a government high official but she was thoroughly honest and was committed to her social work through out her life.” She has never thought of her own happiness, but always thought about the happiness of others. That's why, she at her 85th year, still moves from house to house to find out how the people surrounding her are leading their lives.

Bulu Apa got as many as twelve awards from different organizations. The former Prime Minister of the country, Sheikh Hasina, rewarded her with a gold medal for her outstanding contribution to social works.

“No reward except the laughter of the helpless and the distressed could please me more. I never do anything for any award”, Bulu Apa said confidently. Her only sorrow is that she does not get the freedom fighter allowance though she is a listed freedom fighter. She tried to bring the matter to notice of the concerned authority but with no result.

But, at heart, Bulu Apa doesn't really care for anything else but the little happiness or comfort that she could bring into the lives of the downtrodden and the underprivileged people around her. A sigh of relief, or a smile in their faces, had been her greater reward and consolation.

(Special Thanks to photographer Pavel Rahman)

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