“We could not have become factory owners if the country was not independent”

Matur Rahman: Where did you find the courage to create factories? It takes courage to initiate such an enterprise.

Fazlur Rahman: To be honest, I didn’t have the courage. Pakistani businessmen spread white sheets, cushions and did their business. They had safes, telephones. I wonder why we can’t do business if they can come here from Karachi. Our expenses were relatively less – we could live on stale rice or on gulgula (a traditional sweet). Rice, dal lentils and milk was the best food for us at home. I already told you that we would go to my maternal grandfather to have a good meal.

Matur Rahman: What was your plan behind so many things?

Fazlur Rahman: My business was actually very small. The bank loan was Tk 70-80 million in 1988. We had some savings. The flood that year flooded our warehouse. I thought some bags of mustard would rot but the remaining bags would remain unharmed. But I was wrong because all the bags were ruined. The putrid smell of rotten mustard spread everywhere as the floodwaters receded. It was extremely painful to clean the warehouse.

We gave fifty thousand taka to the poor in the area so that they could survive after the flood. Our warehouse remained empty after the flood. We bought mustard again. Fortunately, mustard seed husks were in high demand that year. Bangladesh exported betel leaves to Karachi. Betel leaf (paan) plantations require mustard seed husks. The price of the husk exceeded that of the rice. We would keep the oil in drums. The demand for mustard oil increased that year, so we were able to repay the loans and break even.

Mr. Hayatur Rahman was then Managing Director of Janata Bank. He was very affectionate towards me. I asked him what we would do if the flooding happened again. Give us a loan so that we can set up a soybean oil refinery. We got the loan. And our soybean oil refinery was established in 1992.

Matur Rahman: What did you do then?

Fazlur Rahman: We continue with that (laughs).

Matur Rahman: We know you also own a tea garden.

Fazlur Rahman: I was responsible for the sales of a tea garden. The person who was supposed to buy the tea garden informed after making the prepayment that they would not buy it. The seller then asked me to buy it. I paid the money and thus became the owner of the tea garden. Now I own three gardens, three in Sreemangal and one in Chattogram

Matur Rahman: You then create an economic zone. One or two?

Fazlur Rahman: Someone by the name of Abdur Razzaque helped me set up mills and factories. He would work on the investment board. He always wanted Bangalis to establish factories. He suggested that I buy more and more land. He would give me ideas. He always pushed me to develop the business. I created an economic zone in 2015 on land bought at his insistence. Abdur Razzaque was with me for 30 years but he couldn’t see the economic zone.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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