I MET A TRAVELLER FROM A DISTANT LAND — by Donal Kennedy

I

And when I was introduced to him he told me that he had once had lunch with President de Valera in Dublin.

I was tempted to quote Kipling – “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din” but instead remarked that Dev was a controversial figure in Ireland.

He assured me that Dev was respected throughout the civilised world. He had been to Dublin as Press Secretary to the then President of Pakistan,
who had been on a State visit and had been taken out on the town by Noel Lemass, son of the  then Taoiseach. He was visiting his daughter,
a close neighbour and friend of ours in London, having been to Paris for the transfer of the  remains of the late Andre Malraux, author of La Condition Humaine, to THE PANTHEON. He had translated the book, inspired by the “Shanghai Incident” of 1927 when Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang massacred Communists with great savagery, from French into Bengall. Malraux was Minister for Culture under de Gaulle in the Fifth Republic, and a good friend of the translator, Arshad-uz Zaman..

I got to meet Arshad whenever he came to London. If the whole human race was not his friend it was not his fault. but he seems to have friends
throughout the world. He had translated Ottoman poetry into Bengali and been awarded an Unesco Medal. A Moslem, he had been taught by Irish priests in his native Bengal, in the Raj, and both his daughters were convent educated. He had been a journalist with Newsweek, Press Attache to the Aga Khan, and an Ambassador in Egypt and Algiers, When, in 1971 the Awami League, whose main base was in Bengali East Pakistan.the Punjabi based Government unleashed terror on the East. My friend was one of the founders of Bangla Desh.


In manner he was like Nelson Mandela, gentle and witty and he had kept in touch with statesmen, diplomats and journalists from all quarters.

de Valera seems to have been the most blest statesmen he met, though he only met him the once. In his daughter’s house I saw photos
of her father with Mr Bhutto, who was hanged, and Indira Gandhi who was assassinated,and he had once met with the young Senator JFK in the Stork Club in New York. He was not a particularly pious Moslem, and his English son in law said the nearest he had come to doing the HAJ was on his frequent pilgrimages to Mecca, the Turf Accountants. And when he was around I used buy him a bottle of Paddy which he enjoyed in moderation. 

Arshad published his Memoirs, “Privileged Witness – Memoirs of a Diplomat” in 2000,  covering over fifty years from 1947. He died in 2016.

Like Ireland, Bengal has an ancient literature in its own language. Its most widely celebrated Twentieth Century writer, who won the Nobel
Prize for Literature in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore, had its European Premiere in Dublin, in English. It was staged by W.B.Yeats at St Enda’s
School, Rathfarnham, whose Headmaster was Patrick Pearse.

 It was called THE POST OFFICE, but was not the determining factor in the choice of Insurgent HQ in Easter Week.

Meeting that traveller from a far off land helped me appreciate the fact that though Ireland didn’t deploy gunboats, push opium, or impose
famine on other peoples, we were not despised in the world beyond Greenwich, and that de Valera and the people who repeatedly chose
him as a leader stood tall in humanity’s estimation.

Comments are closed.