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A Journey from being an Army Officer to a Golf Pioneer

Jibon Kanai Das is a name revered across many spheres in Bangladesh. He has lived a chequered life, which ensured many twists and turns, only taking him to new exciting experiences in life. Not too keen on golf initially, the retired army official became one of the key figures in initiating the professional golf movement in the country through incorporating ball boys and caddies into the game. In this free flowing interview, the army-official-turned-social-activist shares snippets of his experiences and learnings from life and golf.

Tell us about yourself and how you got into golf?
My name is Jibon Kanai Das. I’m a freedom fighter. I served in the Bangladesh Army for 37 years, and I have been doing social work for 16 years. I was a student when the War of Liberation broke out. I joined the ranks of the freedom fighters and eventually got myself into the army. In the formative years, I noticed that only senior officers play golf. So I did not bother to look into the game much. But I used to play many other sports, including sepak takraw when I was posted in Malaysia for a year. I applied for a membership of Kurmitola Golf Club in 1996 when I was already a brigadier. I bought my kits when coming back from Singapore. General Mahbub, the then army chief, approved my membership. That was in December and in March the following year, the army chief made me the vice-captain of the club. Captain Jalal Ahmed was terminally ill at that time, so I had to take many responsibilities. I am not a very good golfer myself, but I enjoy the game and love people who play the game. Besides, golf gives something special, which is very refreshing. That is what makes golf so attractive to golfers.

A Journey from being an Army Officer to a Golf Pioneer

What is your golfing routine?
I am involved with many social activities which is why I can’t afford to play golf everyday. But I try to do physical exercise every other day except for Fridays. When I play, I play a round of 18 holes. Basically I play one day a week, but sometimes I do play two or even three days too.

What, according to you, is the most gratifying thing about golf?
It’s a unique game. Everyday you go out to the golf course thinking you’d play good golf. But once you finish, you see you played some good golf and some average golf. The one or two shots that you played really well drives you back to the course again.
Through this game, you can recharge yourself mentally and physically. And you can take more commanding responsibilities in your life.

To date, what is your proudest golf accomplishment?
I’ve never had a very low handicap, so I’m not a very good golfer. But I scored two holes-in-one and won a tournament or two here and there. You can call me a bogey player. But I’m satisfied with my game, it’s an uncomplicated game. I can’t drive the ball very far but I can keep the ball on the fairway.

Tell us the story of how you were involved in turning ball-boy Siddikur Rahman to a top golfer.
In 1998, there was an Asian Games in Bangkok and they invited a team from Bangladesh. We sent a team there and it finished 14th among 14 teams. Those were the best amateur golfers of the country. General Mustafizur Rahman, the new army chief and president of BGF, told me that we needed a new level of players, not ones from the families of the members. He told me to form a team with ball boys. Master Ataur Rahman formed a team of 24 from the ball boys.

From those 24, we came down to three of the best – Siddikur Rahman, Milon Mia and Mohammad Hossain. Now they were not members of the club, so I had to look into the constitution of the club to see how I could get them membership. There I saw that the president could provide this on special consideration. So I met the president with these three ball boys and he handed them the ID cards that I prepared for them to be inducted into the golf club.

There was a division though regarding the decision. One group opposed the fact that the ball boys and caddies would share the lobby and everything with members but another group welcomed the move. The next hurdle was having their golf kits and dresses made, which I and my vice captain did. But there was another issue that these ball boys were earning money from the game, which rendered them professionals. So we detached them from the work and got them attached to commercial entities for earning money.
We got Siddikur to Square Group where he would earn 5000 taka per month. But some lower level employees at Square told Siddikur that he would have to work there and not leave office to earn his salary. But that couldn’t happen because he needed to play golf. So we brought them back and assisted them in playing while giving him money.
So this was a very challenging journey. Nobody knew what their future would hold. But we put them under instructors and assisted them in every way. They also worked very hard. And then success came in 1999.

Currently you are the president of Baridhara DOHS Parishad. You are engaged with other social activities too. How do you manage your time for golf?
I was a student at the chemistry department at Dhaka University when the war broke out. So I said to myself, I didn’t need studies at that time, instead my country needed me as a freedom fighter. Thereafter I was picked up as an officer from the rank of a freedom fighter by the army. And I served in the army for many years.

After leaving the army, one of my old friends, Dr Rahman Zilani who lives in London, set up an NGO, which provided care service to old people at home. This was a unique idea for our country and a noble one. Over these 16 years, I have found that the number of old people in Bangladesh is on the rise, currently it’s near about 10 percent. By 2050, we will have 21 percent people or about 4.5 core people who will be over 60 years of age. I have had the distinct opportunity to formulate the senior citizen rules in 2013. My organisation undertook a three-year-campaign over Alzheimer’s awareness and dementia awareness. We then expanded our home care service to Sylhet. Over these years we have teamed up with organisations working with old people and motivated others to join this work. We are also sending females to work as caregivers in Japan where there is a huge elderly population. We give them basic training on care-giving and language so that they can earn a decent living.

What is your life lesson?
My life lesson is to learn because I’m still learning. There is no end to learning for any human being. But I must also express a bit of frustration which is the fact that many commercial organisations of our country support different sports but they don’t commit to the game of golf. Our Siddikur Rahman does not get a sponsor. In absence of a sponsor, Siddikur is having to bear all the expenditures for his golfing career. Through your esteemed magazine, I would ask golf lovers and sponsors to come forward and stand by our golf and our golfers so that they can excel while not having to carry the baggage of having to earn the money for their travel and participation fee.

A Journey from being an Army Officer to a Golf Pioneer A Journey from being an Army Officer to a Golf Pioneer

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