Things that make you to Think
Abid Azad talks about a self-made man who has been quietly working for the betterment of his fellow countrymen.
It was a scorching day. I was on an assignment in Panchagarh, a district at the extreme northwest part of Bangladesh, when I came across a man dressed in the traditional Bangalee attire – punjabi, lungi and tupi. He was holding a large file in his right arm, frantically going from one desk to another at the District Administration’s office.
Later, I learnt that this man was a well-known scientist-slash-doctor in Panchagarh town. He was in the District Administration’s office – one of his frequent visits – seeking seeking logistic support and co-operation for his research from the district commissioner, yet to get any attention.
The man’s name is Saiful Islam. He is a registered scientist; he received this acknowledgement after participating in a fellowship programme run by the Patent Department of Bangladesh government on 18 June 1997. He was given the certificate as he presented his invention at the programme – several kinds of compost (organic fertiliser) as a replacement of the harmful Heptachlor insecticide. Heptachlor is a dangerous pesticide and have quite harmful affects on human body. Its residue can even be transferred from nursing mothers to their babies, as experts say.
As an alternative of Heptachlor, Saiful developed a new type of compost for better crop cultivation, which works in three steps: first, it kills all insects on the cultivating land; second, it increases the land’s fertility; third, it increases the production.
Incidentally, the research for the compost was attempted by 139 other scientists, all under the fellowship programme. Only Saiful succeeded in coming up with a solution.
After witnessing his demonstration of his inventions and running experiments and proper examinations, the government honoured and acknowledged him as a scientist.
Other than the compost, Saiful also invented a new type of shital pati – the special kind of floor mat widely used in the rural part of the country – which was made from bark of banana tree in 1988. He also created edible oil from radish seeds in 1993-94, an alternative of shallow dredging machine that does not run on fuel in 1995-96, cheaper spray machine in 1996-97, an alternative of compound fertiliser in 1998-99, a special kind of mosquito repellent that can be used both as a powder and as a spray (dissolving the powder in water) in 2001, etc. In 2010, he formulated a new type solution to be used in photocopiers that is much cheaper than the solutions currently available in the market. “All of these inventions are certified by the Ministry of National Science and Technology, and Ministry of Information and Communication technology,” said Saiful.
Besides these inventions, all of which have been done using only the natural resources, Saiful has a few more inventions waiting to get certified by the concerned authorities. Among them are ligature and starch production for paper manufacturing from okra plant and Sesbania cannabina, a type of fibrous plant, automatic machine for water pumping, alternative of mosaic stone, organic mosquito coil, and compost made from cow dung and banana tree. All of his inventions have secured the first place in several competitions run during the National Science and Information Week over the years.
White is interesting as well as surprising is the fact that Saiful does not have a noticeable academic background, except for the fellowship programme. When he was in Class X at BP Government High School in Panchagarh in 1985, his parents married him off in the middle of the academic year. He could not finish his studies afterwards.
While reminiscing about his life, he said, “I served in Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), now Border Guard of Bangladesh (BGB), for one year. After leaving that job, I took a course in Dhaka to be village doctor. Since then, I have attended many science fairs in and around Dhaka city. Sometimes, I participated in the competitions and won many prizes.
“Despite having no academic qualification whatsoever, I have always been curious about the creations in. I believe that the almighty Allah has not created even a single life that does not have a purpose in nature’s order. Because of this, I’m constantly trying – struggling – to learn the intricate mysteries of nature. Sometimes, I manage to find something in nature and its elements that proved to be beneficial for our people, our agriculture and our country,” he said, cheerfully.
Dr A N M Hamidul Kabir, associate professor at the Department of Applied Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at DhakaUniversity, said, “I know him personally. He is self-motivated man. Although he has no traditional education background like us, he is a researcher in the truest sense of the word. You can find many accomplished people who have had a good educational background and learnt from a discipline, but there are a few like Saiful who learn by themselves, driven by their curious nature, doing extensive research to find out the ‘secrets’, and then end up discovering/inventing simple yet wonderful things that may have entirely skipped our observation.
“He observes everything very closely. He works to make many wonderful elements of nature to be usable and friendlier for people. If he was given proper support by the authorities, I believe he would make some extra-ordinary contributions in the development of this country and its people,” he added.
Unfortunately, though, Saiful has had to face lots of obstacles while conducting his various researches. In his own words, “Some corrupted officials, including those from the police, have been very scornful towards me, as I have been very vocal against any and all kinds of irregularities and corruption. It first happened when I tried to protest against an illegal grabbing of a government-owned land. I even placed an official complaint at the concerned government office to bring the matter to their attention, but the illegal land-grabbing still happened.”
“Since then, they have been trying to create hindrance in my research work consistently,” he claimed.
While speaking with Humayun Kabir, the Officer In-Charge of Panchagrah Sadar, he denied such allegations against police and said, “I’m not aware of any such scientist living in this area. However, once I heard his name when the Police Super was angry with him during an event. I have not seen him since them.
“How can a man be a scientist when he does not have any laboratory or research materials,” he questioned.
On 2 September 2008, one of Saiful’s shallow dredging machines, a 12-hp one, was stolen from his house at night. He filed a case at the Sadar police station on 18 September 2008 against five suspects. Later, Sub-inspector (SI) Mohinul Islam submitted a case at the lower court against Saiful, claiming that he had filed a false case. The court decided against Saiful, putting him in custody in jail for one year.
Later, Saiful submitted a writ petition at the High Court (HC) and was freed, while the HC also instructed the chief judicial magistrate, district magistrate and the superintendent of police at Panchagarh to take appropriate action against SI Mohinul.
General people, on the other hand, are quite the fans of Saiful. While speaking to this reporter, many claimed, without hesitation, that he is a good man who should be respected.
“Saiful shaheb is our best friend who always thinks for the poor and distressed people. This corrupted world is not for him,” said one rickshaw puller who lives near Saiful’s house.
Amanullah Bachchu, the union chairman, said, “As far as I know, Saiful is a polite and well-behaved person. I have seen several of his inventions, which were wonderful, coming from someone with no laboratory and academic background. It’s a shame that some people are trying to create trouble in his work.”
“These people are very powerful. Even police and government officials are quite afraid of them,” several local people commented.
Despite all the trouble coming his way, Saiful is yet to lose his focus and motivation. “I have no laboratory, but I have patience and a lot of natural resources at hand to reach my goals. I believe that, if we can produce something useful by our available assets, then we do not need to import those technologies; rather, we could export them.”
At present Saiful is working on the electric auto-rickshaw, which wastes huge amount of electricity. He expects to create a far more efficient version of the vehicle – one that does not require any form of fuel – only if he is given logistic support form the government.
Saiful is an ordinary man, living far from the light of urbanisation, working heart and soul to create extraordinary things from ordinary materials. He is devoted to the development of our country and its people, with nothing but his belief that everything is possible. We can only hope that his potential is recognised sooner, rather than later.
This article was published at Daily Sun