Houston Author Spotlight: Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin
Asia Society at Home
Asia Society Texas Center's Education and Outreach team is pleased to spotlight a new memoir from Houston author Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin. Dr. Azimuddin is recognized as a leader in the Houston community, both in his roles as an accomplished surgeon and leader of the Islamic Arts Society, a nonprofit aiming to share the rich heritage of the Islamic arts. In his moving new memoir, The Boy Refugee: A Memoir from a Long-Forgotten War, Dr. Azimuddin takes readers on a captivating and emotional journey as he recounts his family's experience as civilian prisoners of war.
The Boy Refugee is the story of a young refugee boy in the aftermath of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The story chronicles his escape from a war-ravaged Bangladesh to the relative safety of a barbed-wire internment camp in the foothills of the Himalayas, his day-to-day life as a civilian prisoner of war, and his thousand-mile, two-year journey back to Pakistan. Told through the perspective of a young boy, the book weaves together history, culture, and family through vivid details.
To learn more about his story, we talked with Dr. Azimuddin about his motivation behind writing his memoir, his connections to Houston, and his passion for advocating on behalf of refugees.
It's been almost 50 years since your experience as a boy refugee. Why did you decide to tell your story now?
The thought of writing about my refugee experience has always been in the back of my mind, but when four years ago my son wrote his thesis on the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, I really started working on it earnestly. There are now 70 million refugees in the world, and the plight of these refugees is a wakeup call for the civilized world. I wanted to make a little contribution to bring awareness of the refugee crisis, so the time was ripe and I started writing my memoir.
Why do you think your story will resonate, particularly with people in Houston?
Houston is home of the largest refugee population in the U.S. There are many refugees in Houston, and many who are involved in assisting and supporting refugees. These people will be interested in learning about my story. It will particularly resonate with those who believe that refugees are good folks just like you and me, who are displaced due to circumstances beyond their control. When given the right opportunities, they will excel. My story is a story of hope and inspiration that, when given the right opportunities, refugees become productive citizens of society. It will reaffirm the faith of Houstonians who have been welcoming those who have become unwelcome in their own homelands.
How have your experiences as both a doctor and an artist been informed by your experiences as a refugee?
During our difficult times in the refugee camps, my mother instilled in us the values of hard work, determination, and perseverance. We were the most downtrodden and in order to compete, we had to do better than most people around us. That value was ingrained in me, and I wanted to get the highest education and excel in every walk of life. So when I obtained fellowships from the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of England and Edinburgh, the American College of Surgeons, and the American Society or Colon and Rectal Surgeons, I wanted to do something else. That is when I took up arts as a hobby and over the years worked hard to make it into my passion. In the process I established the Islamic Arts Society, which shares the rich heritage of Islamic Arts and uses art as a medium to build bridges between communities of different faiths.
"Illuminating! More importantly, like all good stories it captures a specific place and time while speaking to a larger experience. What happened to Azimuddin almost 50 years ago is not very different from what countless other displaced people and refugees are experiencing today." — The Houston Chronicle
"Delightfully clear, factual, and effective, this account brings the author’s experience and the aftermath of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 to light while offering a sobering reflection on the plight of refugees worldwide. The book provides a treasure of information for those looking to learn more about ordinary people’s experiences during this time, and thanks to the author’s diligence in speaking to others who shared his experience, the book comes off as beautifully balanced, factually well-informed, and appropriate for both the casual historian or a more academic reader. " — The Book Review Directory
About the Author
Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin is a gastro-intestinal surgeon in Houston, TX. He specializes in minimally invasive and robotic surgery for colon cancer. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons, and the Royal College of Surgeons of England and Edinburgh. As a child he spent two years in a refugee/ civilian prisoner of war camp. After almost fifty years he is finally telling his story and hopes to bring attention to the current refugee crisis.
Author Interview with Amaanah Refugee Services:
Business and Policy programs are endowed by Huffington Foundation. We give special thanks to Bank of America, Muffet Blake, Anne and Albert Chao, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Nancy Pollok Guinee, and United Airlines, Presenting Sponsors of Business and Policy programs; Nancy C. Allen, Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, and Leslie and Brad Bucher, Presenting Sponsors of Exhibitions; Dr. Ellen R. Gritz and Milton D. Rosenau, Presenting Sponsors of Performing Arts and Culture; Wells Fargo, Presenting Sponsor of Education & Outreach; and Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), Presenting Sponsor of the Japan Series. General support of programs and exhibitions is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Hearst Foundation, Inc., Houston Endowment, Inc., the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, McKinsey & Company, Inc., National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, Vinson & Elkins LLP, and Mary Lawrence Porter, as well as Friends of Asia Society.
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