What about the land promised to Ali?

Muhammad Ali
The centrefold of an old magazine captures Muhammad Ali's arrival and the massive reception in Dhaka in 1978. Photos: Star/ Reginald Massey

Ever since Muhammad Ali's historic visit to Bangladesh 37 years ago, there has been this occasional speculation in local media as to what happened to the piece of land in Cox's Bazar which was promised to the legendary boxer.

Also READ: Boxing legend Muhammad Ali dies aged 74

The common belief is -- thanks to the lack of proper research and investigation -- that the then government, which had patronised Ali's tour, had made the promise but later failed to make good on that. But The Daily Star's investigation has finally found out the real story and the man behind the promise. And the story is a simple one.

Mohammad Giasuddin
Surrounded by children, Mohammad Giasuddin turns over pages of the magazine to recall his fight with Ali. Photo: Star/ Reginald Massey
Akhtar Newaz Khan Babul was the son of a local landlord and had inherited much of his father's property around the Kolatoli beach and other places in Cox's Bazar. When Ali and his entourage came to the city, Babul was one of those willing to make his presence felt. A public reception was organised by the Cox's Bazar Mohkuma administration where Babul was chosen as one of the speakers. In an act of sheer bravado, the then 25-year-old student leader declared that he would gift Ali with a piece of land at the Kolatoli beach, not mentioning the size of it, on behalf of the people of the city.

Muhammad Ali
During a break from filming, Ali threatens chief cameraman Rory MacLeod. On the right is Reginald Massey, and in front is chief sound recordist Eric Chohan. Photos: Star/Reginald Massey
Ali reacted by saying that he would like to build a dream home there one day. Later, as Ali wrapped up his five-day tour to Bangladesh, he commented that he had a home to come to in case he ever was banished from his native land.

But after that declaration, since it was more of a symbolic nature, no one felt the need to register the piece of land in Ali's name. So like many other verbal promises made in our country, this one too was never realised, giving birth to more of a myth than a reality.

This article was first published on February 20, 2015


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