‘Coup plotter’ travel companion of British comedianAdmin
The man who the army now claims was involved in an attempted coup to oust the Awami League government, was seven years ago the travel companion and ‘fixer’ in Bangladesh to one of Britain’s most famous comedians and travel documentary makers.
In 2004, as part of his BBC televised trip to the Himalayas, Michael Palin, a former member of the British cult 1970s comic group Monty Python, which also included John Cleese, came to Dhaka and according to his diary met up with Ishraq Ahmed.
The diary was published as a book by Weidenfeld and Nicholson in November 2004
Palin starts off his 121st day of his trip by saying. ‘You need help to enjoy Dhaka. You certainly need help to understand Dhaka … I’ve been warned that getting around can be slow and uncomfortable but I have great faith in my companion Ishraq Ahmed, a short, canny man with a trim beard and an immense list of contacts.’
Palin’s arrival in Dhaka in April 2004 coincided with a series of hartals (strikes) organised by the Awami League, which was then in the opposition.
The diary refers a number of times to Ishraq.
After Palin writes that ‘Road sense in Dhaka is knowing how to get to your destination by any means possible’, he quotes Ishraq as saying, ‘It’s the only country in the world where everyone has the right of way.’
Palin states in his diary that he detects in Ishraq’s comment ‘a certain kind of quiet pride.’
As they travel to the Old Town of Dhaka, Palin observes that ‘[t]here are women in black burkhas and women in riotously coloured saris, men in white skull caps and long robes, men in dark glasses with two-piece suits.’ He then goes on to quote Ishraq as being ‘emphatic that Bangladesh is ideologically tolerant and politically diverse.’
In the evening of the same day, after Ishraq has returned from taking the British comedian to a village where ‘Grameen phone women’ operated, the diary states that, referring to the food available in Dhaka, ‘for those able to survive the sound and fury of the capital there is a reward. Ishraq puts it simply: “The best international cooking in South East Asia.” And he is determined to prove it. Last night we ate some fine Chinese, surpassed tonight by a wonderfully authentic Lebanese dinner.’
On Day 123 of the travels, they start a boat journey from Sadarghat to Mongla on the ship the PS Ostrich.
It is here that Ishraq shows Palin another side of him.
Palin in his diary states: ‘sadly, this being a Muslim country, there is no bar on board, but Ishraq ever ingenious, has access to supplies of his own.’
The final reference that Palin makes about Ishraq is on day 125 when they are travelling from Mongla to the Bay of Bengal when they are discussing about the size of the prawn. ‘Ishraq says that these are of such quality that these small fishermen sell them onto bigger trawlers which take them up to freezer plants at Mongla from where they will be sent to the dining tables of the USA and Europe,’ the diary states.
In 2005, Palin was voted by other British comedians among the top 50 best comedians ever.
The Monty Python group became so famous in Britain and in English speaking countries that its surreal comedy created the new word , ‘pythonesque.’