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Thursday, May 30, 2024

“I was in tears,” Kerala born professor in Leeds University recalls his journey to the top, after being honoured by the King.

On 16 June, Friday, the full list of King’s Honours was revealed and published by the Government. The King’s honours are an attempt at recognising and rewarding the extraordinary contributions made by people across UK towards the society.

Among the 1171 names in the honours list, appeared the name of Paliarkarakadu Assen Muhammed Basheer, as the Commander of the Order of the British Empire or CBE Chair in Structural Engineering at University of Leeds, Prof. Basheer was honoured by the King for his exemplary contributions made to the field of Civil Engineering.

Born in Vennikulam, a village in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, Prof. P.A Muhammed Basheer has been in the field of education and research for civil and structural engineering for over 30 years now as a professor.

His journey in UK, of over forty long years, is nothing short of inspiring.

This journey started in the southern Indian state of Kerala, as far back as 1981.

Prof Muhammed Basheer
Image: Prof Basheer

Speaking to Asian Standard, Prof Basheer recalls vividly: “After graduating from the University of Kerala in 1981, I did some professional work like working for contractors, government departments etc, and after 18 months of doing all the work, I joined the Regional Engineering College, Calicut, for my master’s and then I worked there for five and a half years as a lecturer. In 1987, I went to Queen’s university Belfast for my PhD and after two years of post-doctorate and PhD, I got a job as a lecturer in the same university. In 1999, I became a professor in structural material at Queen’s University and I got a higher degree doctorate in 2014, that is called the Doctor of Science, in addition to the PhD in 1991, I got this higher degree as well. Further in 2014, I moved to University of Leeds, as a chair in structural engineering. From 2015 to 2021, I was the head of Civil Engineering at University of Leeds”.

Prof Basheer will now move on to the Heriot-Watt University as the executive dean for the school of Energy Geoscience Infrastructure and Society (EGIS).

“I was actually blessed with working with so many people and I got tremendous support from professors, industrial leaders, professionals and in fact many of the students who contributed to my work as well, so I do not really think I faced many challenges. It was a smooth run from the PhD until now,” the professor quips.

When asked about the milestones and motivations he had in these 42 years, Prof. Basheer says: “I think the opportunities for achievements always come your way, when you get more involved in activities and you then start contributing to those opportunities over the years, that’s the way I have been working, so I joined professionals institutions right at the time when I was doing my PhD and my supervisor assisted me to join the concrete society, so through these I got involved with people working with the Government and since this I never looked back, because I kept getting opportunities.”

He shared with Asian Standard, an anecdote involving APJ Abdul Kalam, India’s former President and a prominent Indian scientist: “I had the blessing to meet Dr A P J Abdul Kalam sir when he was honoured with an Honorary DSc by Queen’s University Belfast. The Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast invited me to the dinner offered to Dr Kalam Sahib.

“During the drinks reception preceding the dinner, I was able to talk to him individually. I asked him a question – ‘Sir, I was the Programme Officer of National Service Scheme in my previous institution, Regional Engineering College Calicut, and my focus whilst in India was community service and taking student volunteers to work in the Society, in addition to of course teaching the students. Did I betray my country by moving to the UK?’

“He then replied: ‘Well, you said your name is Basheer, right? Well, Basheer, the fact that you asked this question to me is an indication that India is still in your heart. So, I would say, the Basheer in the UK will be more valuable to India than the Basheer who would have been in India.” Yes, I have made his words come true. I am an Indian, proud to receive the CBE for services to Civil Engineering, a profession that is globally relevant.’”

Speaking about his first reactions of winning the King’s honours, the professor says, “First of all I am extremely delighted, that without my knowledge somebody nominated me, and without my knowledge the committee approved my nominations and picked me up for a CBE.

“When I got the letter from the Cabinet office, I did not tell my close friends at that time. I was in tears when I got the letter. I was not expecting anything like this. I never worked for any of these things, I just contributed. So, it was a joy, I could not believe that this came through.”

Prof. Basheer also has a message for the younger generation: “Fact of the matter is if a person who is from a village in India could do this and achieve this, there are so many talented people in India, who can do much better than me. It is an inspiration for them to stay focused on their work and continue to deliver what is needed for each person. Second thing is, it is nice to share the news with young generation so that they can see the value of dedication and hard work. The youngsters can see that people out there are still appreciated.

“There are so many ways in which such an award can inspire the young generation.

“For me personally, it is good for my international activities. I can continue to work with Government departments and industries all over the world, so that is one good thing for me.”

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