Book Launch: Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury

Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury (PhD, 1986) is a Professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University and Founding Dean of BRAC University James P. Grant School of Public Health Member. He is an avid member of the LSHTM Bangladesh Alumni Chapter and has recently released a book named “Corona Tale: A Bangladeshi family’s pen-war against the pandemic”. In this blog, he shares his story of shedding light on the pandemic in Bangladesh and the reasons for his book launch.
Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury book cover

“The first two cases of COVID-19 were detected in Bangladesh on 8 March 2020. Both of them were non-resident Bangladeshis returning from Italy. A week earlier, my wife and I returned from the same country after a weeklong trip, and we started receiving numerous calls from those who wanted to know if we were the two infected!

“Indeed, we spent the last week of February in Rome; I was attending the first meeting of a small group of senior advisers for the Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and my wife accompanied me with a plan to see Italy. The coronavirus was already devastating parts of Northern Italy, but we saw little sign of it when we arrived in Rome. Life was normal as usual. As the days passed we started hearing more about the impending danger, and we cancelled the rest of our trip (including a visit to Venice) and returned home.

“Back home, everything was normal, although there were some news stories in the media about the pandemic in China and parts of Europe. Some were urging the government to prepare for the pending disaster, but there was hardly any serious response. Some high-ups joined the propaganda with the absurd conclusion that the virus would never ever come to Bangladesh, but the virus arrived soon afterwards. The government started to take some precautionary measures, including the formulation of a guideline on how to deal with the pandemic. This included, among others, the advice to the citizens to follow selected etiquettes such as washing hands, wearing a mask and maintaining physical distancing. We were surprised to see how the health advice was ignored. Even some of the most ‘conscious’ citizens were not adhering to the etiquettes and were continuing with their regular lives, including attending parties without any precautionary measures. We tried in vain to change their behaviour. At this stage, I decided to start writing about Bangladesh’s experience of the pandemic in the media hoping that this might raise awareness. My first OpEd, “Enforce social distancing NOW”, was published by the online media outlet after it was rejected by a more popular newspaper. I wasn’t going to stop there. I continued writing on different aspects of the pandemic, and soon I was being invited to write OpEds on different pandemic-related issues in media outlets at home and abroad. Including the newspaper which rejected my first piece! My other family members, including my wife Neelofar, son Wameq and his wife Misha, and daughter Immita and her husband Noman, started writing on the pandemic. My two young granddaughters Iyana and Isaya, aged 7 and 4 years respectively, were moved by the pandemic’s effects and expressed their feelings in sketches and short stories. I also delivered numerous lectures through virtual platforms organised by different think tanks and universities in Bangladesh and abroad, almost all related to the pandemic.

“In September 2020, we started thinking about a compiled volume to bring all the pieces that had been written over the previous few months under one cover. The “Corona Tale: A Bangladeshi family’s pen-war against the pandemic” was finally published in February 2021. It has 39 articles and four lectures (presented in PowerPoint slides). The 256-page volume, plus 40 pages of photographs, is published in Dhaka by the prestigious publisher AnyoProkash. 

“The volume has been well-received globally. In his endorsement, Professor Anthony Zwi of the University of New South Wales in Sydney and a Former Editor of the Social Science & Medicine said: “The volume binds wisdom, humanity and optimism. As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds in Dhaka and beyond, Mushtaque Chowdhury, a leading global health activist-scholar, and his family and colleagues offer glimpses into everyday life alongside in-depth analysis”.

“Professor Patrick Vaughan, my PhD supervisor at LSHTM, in his words: “The COVID-19 devastation is closely and intimately revealed in these personal reflections on life, loss and resilience in one of amazing and intergenerational Bangladeshi family.”

“According to Dr John Clemens, Director of icddrb in Dhaka and Professor of Public Health at UCLA: “It is a treasure trove of first-hand accounts from both children and adults of an exceptional family.

“Professor Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation India endorsed the volume: “Their wit and wisdom lift the human spirit above COVID’s ennui.

“The book is available via the online bookshop and at Aarong craft shops in Dhaka and elsewhere.”

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