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     Volume 6 Issue 20 | May 25, 2007 |

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Bags Full of Diamonds
The story of a Bangladeshi taxi driver

Azizul Jalil

Some people would be tempted by a bag full of diamonds. Even more so by three bags left behind in a taxi cab by a passenger whom the driver did not know. Osman Choudhury, the Bangladeshi taxi driver in New York was certainly not one of them. The following is his story, as told to me long distance over the phone when recently I called to congratulate him for his honesty, good name and publicity that he had brought to Bangladesh.

Born in Bogra 41 years ago, Osman's father died when he was only two years old. His mother died when he was ten and he was brought up in his elder sister's house. It was not a happy life. He studied up to the intermediate level and at the age of 20, started working as a contractor for Roads and Highways Department for a few years. In 1992, at the age of 26, he came to to the US. Osman, a bachelor, later got permanent residence status in US. He has been driving yellow taxis for the last ten years in New York.

Osman Chowdhury

On February 5, 2007, Osman picked up two passengers near the Penn Station, New York and took them to the Hilton Hotel at 6th Avenue. The doorman unloaded two suitcases belonging to the women. Another woman boarded Osman's taxi, and he took her to midtown Manhattan. The woman got down, paid the fare but unknown to Osman, did not take her suitcase when the trunk was opened from inside. After a few hours, three passengers with a lot of luggage hired Osman's taxi. When these people got down at about 10 pm and Osman was helping them take out the luggage, he noticed that there was a heavy suitcase lying in his trunk. First, he went back to the Hilton but the suitcase did not belong to those two women passengers he had taken there. He then went to the apartment building where he had dropped the next passenger but did not dare to enter the building as he did not know the number of the apartment of the passenger or her name.

At that moment, Osman did not really know what to do. He wanted to give the suitcase back to its rightful owner and quickly. He also had a fear of being accused of retaining the luggage of his passenger. He called the Executive Director of the New York Taxi Drivers' Association and went to the office. Together they opened the suitcase in the hope that they would find some clue, which would lead them to the owner.

They found to their disbelief, two packets containing 31 diamond rings, a laptop and a third packet of loose diamonds. They also found a telephone number and called. The mother of the owner of the suitcase answered the phone. At about 12 midnight, the woman who owned the suitcase came to the taxi office. She said she could not believe that she would ever get her suitcase back. Osman later learned that the total value of the diamonds was estimated to be $ 300, 000. She was grateful and asked Osman what he wanted as a reward- jewellery or money? She said she would arrange it after checking with her boss. Osman was not interested in what would happen later-he had lost about 2 ½ hours of his work, during which he could have earned $80. That lost income was legitimately due to him then. The woman gave him a check for $100. Meanwhile the Taxi office had informed the media about the incident, partly as a safeguard against any accusations later. The media was already there when the woman arrived but she chose not to talk to them. Interestingly, Osman did not hear from her again. No reward, no appreciation has so far come to him from that source.

Meanwhile the press became very interested with the story of honesty of a Bangladeshi taxi driver. The New York Daily News called and interviewed Osman. The paper printed the story the next day. Ten media cars came to the Taxi office to interview Osman from various TV stations, including the major channels-2, 4, and 7. BBC and CNN prominently carried the story. Osman's honesty was praised in a local council meeting and recorded in its proceedings.

I asked Osman what prompted him to return the valuable diamonds. He told me that he took the matter as an ordinary event happening in life. Many interesting events happen in a New York taxi driver's life each day and it was just one such incident. Osman did not want to become rich with other people's money. He would work hard and may be one day acquire some wealth but with his own hard labour. He was happy to return things, however valuable, which belonged to others. Osman did not have a moment's hesitation about what the right course was. His life has not changed one bit because of the recognition he received from the media and his friends. He admits that he got tremendous satisfaction out of this. It was a great joy to him when in a recent meeting, the chairperson of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission stated that the Bangladeshi taxi drivers were honest and hardworking. By the way, Osman tells me that about 25 percent of the taxi drivers in New York are Bangladeshis, numbering in thousands.

Osman's brothers and sisters back home had not seen him for the last fifteen years. For various reasons, he has not been able to visit them in Bangladesh. When they read about him in Dhaka newspapers and saw him on Bangladeshi TV, they wept with joy and felt very proud of him. They expected as much from Osman as they had no doubt about their brother's honesty and integrity.

Azizul Jalil writes from Washington.


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