Afaz Uddin's Healing Plants
The villages of Natore are all known as villages that provide medicine. There are trees, foliage and greenery all over. It looks tranquil. Here in Kholabaria Union, a man by the name of Afaz Uddin has changed the lives of people in the neighboring villages of the region. People call him Afaz Pagla, out of affection. Afaz Uddin has found his livelihood amidst trees and other life forms. He first started the plantation of medicinal plants at the age of 20 in his village. Later on, once he realized the usefulness of such plants, they became his only means of earning a living. He started out by using the plants to treat his own minor illnesses, and once he decided that he truly started to understand medicinal properties of the plants he was growing, he decided to become a professional. Today, when one goes around his villages of Natore, one finds that almost people of all ages are aware about the qualities and uses of the medicinal herbs.
Afaz Uddin's family is originally from Raypura of Norshingdi District. He came to Natore in 1960 along with his parents, four brothers and an adopted sister. Back then, he was in his twenties. Now, along with his wife Helena Begum, he has three daughters; Julekha, Yasmin and Jesmin. But at heart, he is not a family man. He likes to wander. All his time is spent on his plants. Whenever he has the opportunity, regardless of whether it is day or night, he is busy planting maybe a Shotomuli or a Ghritokanchon. This addiction of his is beyond his control. He loves being a good samaritan, and distributes Lauchondal or Tejbol seeds to village dwellers. He roams the neighboring villages spreading his words of wisdom about medicinal plants and about how to grow and maintain them.
At present, many people from all over the village come to Afaz Uddin to buy his herbs and leaves which sell at the lowest possible price. He sits on the footpath with his remarkable array of leaves, vines, herbs and shrubs on display. People belonging to low and middle income groups have utmost faith in Afaz Uddin's products, and trust his prescriptions wholeheartedly.
Afaz Uddin's sharp eyes come out of his face, which is full of character. He has a crazy beard and moustache. He has an intense look on his eyes which say that he really means what he does. He has witnessed his parents and grandfather working with medicinal plants free of charge. Over the years he has learnt a lot. People who benefit from the medication of Afaz Uddin smile with contentment. His ancestral land of 17 acres has become his kingdom of medicinal plants and herbs. He built a small tin shed house at the end of the land using the 10,000 taka prize money he won from “The Channel I Plantation Contest.” With only two rooms and a faulty roof, he endures the biting cold and the rain. How does he survive? Does he ever get frustrated or suffer from doubt? In reply he says, “Eitai bhala, ehontun ami emnei thakmu. Doyaler bhorosha.” (This is good and I will keep living like this, at God's mercy.) Even the interiors of his rooms are filled with plants; root juice of healing herbs in glass jars and medicine-making tools decorate his living room.
Around six to seven thousand people have found employment because of the work done by Afaz Pagla. Almost every household is home to eight or nine kinds of plants. Many village dwellers that used to be helpless now make a living. They used to starve. Now they are independent. They are self-sufficient. Many herbs are being sold just because of the 'brand' name of Afaz Pagla. Through collective effort, the Number 9 Laxmipur-Kholabaria medicine market has been established, where people sell Shotomuli, Tejbol, Daudmuni, Krishnotulshi, Ghritokanchon and many other types of plant leaves, vines and roots. People are not only selling it raw, but have also learnt to make a powdered form by drying the raw material.
People living in Dorbarpur, Khamarpara, Ibrahimpur, Dottopara, Toltoliapara, Borobaria, Shibtola, Nishinogor, Atghoria, Hatagobinpur and other areas all have a great deal of respect for Afaz Pagla. They think of him as a Guru. They respect him so much because he has shown a livelihood for the people living in these villages. People hold him in high regard since it is because of him that poverty in the region has gone down. The dwellers of these villages are now living mostly solvent lives. They are all proud to say that they have never had to think of migrating abroad to find employment. Afaz Uddin, through his own plantation and conservation of medicinal plants, has brought joy and prosperity to the lives of the people of Natore.
Amongst the people that have been inspired to work for the society by Afaz Uddin, is Joynal Abedin. At first it was a hobby to him which later turned into a business on the side. He started a Bashokpata plantation on his land. Even though he was financially solvent all along, he still wanted to spread the knowledge about the usefulness of medicinal herbs. He even treated patients suffering from Diabetes and other diseases for no charge.
People living in the neighboring villages depend on herbal medicine and seldom visit doctors. They believe Afaz Uddin's medicine to be of better quality than commercially produced medicine. He has built a field of Ghritokanchons on 25 acres of land. He has planted Falgunis. He supplies his self-grown herbs and vines to Shahi Unani Pharmaceuticals in Rajshahi; and also supplies raw materials to “Aronnya Herbal Products.” Not all people in the region have started to trade commercially, but once a factory is established in the area, no one's effort will go to waste. Eventually the whole country can be benefited.
Whatever name people call him by, Afaz Uddin or Afaz Pagla, he doesn't really care. The source of his pride lies in the treatment of his patients. Through his initiative, “Kholabaria Bheshoj Udpadon Shomobay Shomiti” was established on a 20-bigha piece of land; 22 different types of medicinal plants are being grown here, amongst which are Nishchina, Boshak, Hostikorno Polash, Michridana, Kalomegh, and Shotomuli. Eighty nature-lovers have invested in this. At the moment, a few of the materials are being powered using tools from granaries and grain mills, but the products cannot be marketed in such a crude and uneven form. Afaz Pagla wishes for electricity and a paved road so that he can get 'Solar Dry' technology and market the products in a presentable form.
Afaz Uddin walks through the villages like a crownless king. People come to him for advice. When asked about how he feels, he modestly replies, “Natore-e aage Ghritokanchon ki? Manushe janto na. Ami prothom ani eida. Etar por ehon manush eta lagay, bhala lage.” (People in Natore had no idea about Ghritokanchons. I brought it here first and now I feel really good seeing people planting it.) More money transactions have been made in the village. In order to finance plantation projects, Afaz Pagla advises people to take loans from banks like Sonali and Jonota.
When Afaz Uddin sees street hawkers getting sick, he feels bad. He says, “these people are poor as it is. It's not good to cause them more suffering.”
In his enormous portfolio of medicinal plant and herb plantation, Afaz Pagla has almost a hundred species which includes the ones already mentioned and Anontomul, Doshmul, Gaitamul, Lauchonjal, Gach Chonchol, Shorpo Gondha, Dhutra, Shimulmul, Thankuni, Kalokeshi, Rajkontok, Talok Mul, Alkuchi etc.
When asked, “Did you ever imagine that your life would revolve around herbs and plants and that people would respect you so much?” He replies, “I don't think of it that way, I just wanted to do something for the people.
Afaz Uddin's mother says, “Afaz is my son, and even though I am not sure about the whole thing, I feel good thinking that he has made a name for himself through his work and has supported himself through his own initiative. I pray for his betterment.” Afaz Uddin's wife and three children are very proud of him as well.
Nine kilometers from Kholabaria Union, a Tree Fair is organized yearly and is centered around Afaz Pagla. It is held on the 21st of Falgun. Tree lovers from around the country come to visit and to listen to Afaz Pagla talk about his love for nature and the usefulness of medicinal herbs. Afaz Uddin dreams about an international recognition for his village; through which many more will find employment.
Afaz Uddin just might be the beginning of a revolution of herbal medicine which has already spread to numerous villages. He wants to spread his dream across the country, to other distant villages, and maybe even to other countries.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008