1977 was a turning point in Dr Muhammad Yunus' life in more ways than one. In March 1977 his wife Vera gave birth to their first and only child Monica Yunus. However, by now Vera had become disillusioned and frustrated with her life in Bangladesh. She wanted to go back and resettle in USA. But as a passionate patriot with a high flying career, who was finally implementing his solutions for a brighter future for his fellow countrymen, Dr Yunus was reluctant to leave Bangladesh and openly refused. Unable to convince each other, the couple got divorced when Monica was only four months. In July Vera left the country with their child and brought her back to US to live her parents in Ewing, New Jersey. For the next two decades Dr Yunus would only see his daughter sporadically, and that too always in the United States.
As the first loans were disbursed in Jobra, Vera was in her seventh month of pregnancy. In March 1977 she gave birth to a girl. Yunus and Vera named their daughter Monica, one of the few names that was common for girls in both the United States and Bangladesh. But almost immediately after Monica’s birth, the family became engulfed in a crisis.
Vera had been progressively unhappy after moving to Bangladesh. She felt isolated and bored, as the house the university provided Yunus was in a remote area surrounded by hills on all sides. She became a voracious reader, and tried to get out when she could, but her husband was first and foremost obsessed with his work. Immediately after Monica’s birth, Vera insisted that they return to the United States. Bangladesh, she felt, was the wrong place to raise their child. To his dismay, Yunus discovered that his wife no longer shared his optimism for the country in which they were living.
In July 1977, at Dhaka’s old international airport, Vera and Monica boarded a flight bound for the United States. Yunus, who would never emigrate, as his wife had hoped, was only able to see his daughter sporadically over the next 20 years, and always in the United States.
As destiny would have it, Monica Yunus and Grameen Bank were born within three months of each other. One would have only intermittent contact with Muhammad Yunus over the next two decades, while the other would receive his constant attention. In his quiet moments, Yunus longed to be able to nurture both of his creations.
Looking back on it, I can see that my sister Mumtaz was right – she had advised me not to marry an American girl. But I do not regret it. I respect Vera and cherish my time with her.
And, ever since her departure, I miss my child Monica, terribly.
In April 1980, three years after his marriage collapsed, Dr Yunus remarried. This time it was a fellow Bengali. Afrozi Begum was then a Bengali teacher and researcher in advance physics who was working at University of Manchester in England. Dr Yunus had met her several years earlier when they were introduced by mutual friends.
Their marriage was a lavish affair. It was a big ceremony held in Dhaka attended by many of the ministers whom Dr Yunus knew and bankers with whom he worked with. Following their marriage, Afrozi went back to England to continue her research for few months and then returned. They lived in on the third floor of Dr Yunus' office in Tangail, Savar, near the capital Dhaka.
Six years after their marriage, the couple had the first and only child - and Dr Yunus' second daughter - Deena Afroz Yunus.
She [Afrozi] was as comfortable in the in the Eastern and Western worlds as I was. For a few months Afrozi remained in England finishing her work and I worked in Tangail. Soon she joined me in Tangail and we lived on the third floor of our office building. Since then, we have always lived close to the office, and even today we live within the office complex. The only real difference now is that we have our beloved daughter Deena Afroz Yunus who was born on 24 January 1986.
Sadly in 1982 Dr Yunus' mother Sofia Khatun died. She had been battling mental illness for the last 33 years, when Dr Yunus was only 9 years old.
Since leaving the country in 1977 as a little baby Monica Yunus never came back to Bangladesh at all. However, in 2004 she finally returned. It was very emotional. Monica reconnected with her eight sasas (paternal uncles) and fufu (paternal aunt) and their sons and daughters. She toured her country of birth with her father for the first time and saw first hand the work he was doing.
It was a huge homecoming. I got to see family members — including 25 cousins — that I had never met, and also learned about the part of my heritage that I didn’t know too much about.
It’s one thing to get the [Grameen Bank] loan — and another to turn it into a successful micro business. I got to look inside how their lives work, to travel around the country with my father, and to visit the hospital where I was born.
It was a very overwhelming experience.
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