Edited by: Roushanara Rahman
Publication Date: June 2010
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: August 17, 2010
Chances are if you were born and raised in the United States, you’ve never heard of Khuda Buksh. Buksh is credited with almost single-handedly bringing life insurance to millions of people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. A caring and humble man, who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of others: this is one man you may want to learn more about.
Born in 1912 in a small village in Bangladesh, Khuda Buksh joined the Oriental Government Security Life Assurance Company shortly after finishing his studies. While this may not seem unusual, it should be noted that Bengali Muslims at that time (1935) were unreceptive to life insurance. It was not the usual career choice for a man such as Buksh. Additionally, both he and his parents originally thought he would get a good government job. But Buksh realized that by taking up “…insurance salesmanship” he would “…be able to serve the cause of humanity in my own humble way… ”He [insurance salesman] can bring to the lips of a widow a genuine smile. He can also arrange education for the children who have lost their father…” (pg. 270)
Buksh’s dedication to his work, and to those who would benefit from insurance, quickly propelled him through the ranks at the various companies where he worked. But Buksh was also a man who excelled at interpersonal skills, making him indispensible to his colleagues and employees who repeatedly turned to him for guidance and inspiration. Through a career that spanned more than thirty years, he was able to improve the lives of countless families who had unexpectedly lost their income.
Memoirs of a Life Insurance Icon is a series of articles, interviews, memoirs, and newsletters written by those who knew Buksh. These recollections are filed into several sections that include Bangladesh Insurance Personnel Interviews and Memoirs; Pakistan Insurance Personnel Interviews and Memoirs; Interviews and Memoirs of Friends, Associates, and Family Members and finally Articles and Newsletters by Khuda Buksh. At the back of the book is an appendix with numerous additional insights into the life of Khuda Buksh.
Whether reading an article by a colleague or friend, it quickly becomes apparent that Buksh was greatly respected by all who knew him. “In spite of being a top insurer, he always kept close contact with ordinary insurance workers like us.” (S.R. Khan, pg. 68) and “The greatness of making people happy was an innate characteristic of Khuda Buksh.” (M. Rahman Mahbub, pg. 225). While the articles paint Buksh in a very positive light, it was refreshing to also read of traits the writers found difficult. M.A. Chishti noted that Buksh could be “…very, very, stubborn...with regard to his principles.” (pg. 122) though it must be said, this stubbornness also served Buksh well in his professional career.
After reading what so many recalled of Buksh, I found the section of articles written by Buksh himself particularly interesting. What he thought of his career choice, “One becomes really noble by taking up insurance profession” (pg. 271) to what he saw in the future for life insurance, “…tremendous scopes for growth and expansion,” (pg. 278) the reader will gain great insight into the mind of this insurance icon. In addition, there is a selection of photos, primarily from Buksh’s professional career, spread throughout the book.
For those not familiar with the insurance industry, particularly in the countries where Buksh worked, the frequent references to various insurance companies and organizations (Jiban Bima Corporation, Dhaka Improvement of Pakistan) may require repeated visits to a computer to look them up. Also, the text has been translated and is, in places, clunky and frequently missing particles. “While our insurance workers are standing at the crossroads looking helter-skelter to find out ultimate aim of life, this book will work for them as a bacon light.” (pg. 299) However, I did not find the translation difficulties to be terribly distracting to the reading of the book.
Quill says: A fascinating look at the man who brought life insurance, and a better life, to people in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.