Sunday, June 20, 1999

A Public Reprimand: Stop Demonization of the Bangladesh TV

Fraud and falsehood dread's examination. Truth invites it. - Thomas Cooper

I was aghast reading the Star Weekend Magazine's, June 11th 1999 issue. Captioned 'BTV's package crisis: Who calls the shots' -it seemed anybody worth his or her salt including so called 'stars' of the BTV called all the shots in this biased story, and the ones that DID NOT were the 'third and fourth class' employees of the BTV?

In so doing, The Daily Star once again chose to opt, with an emerging 'third class elite' (I promise an introduction later!) in the Bangladesh cultural arena - free flow of 'classist' insinuations and innuendoes notwithstanding. All of this over eight printed pages was an attempt at the demonisation of a national institution called the Bangladesh Television. Ironically it is also an institution despite all its short falling's and rampant corruption, the 'viewers choice' of ninety percent of our population. Run on taxpayer money, its ultimate owners are us - the common citizens of Bangladesh?

The three week old crisis in BTV between dishonest 'patriots' serving a vested coterie interest on one side of the equation, versus 'the people': has caught individuals from dubious shades of interest, on the wrong foot, and the mentality, from that hurt (shall we say SLAP ON THE FACE), has resulted in the kind of arrogance, clear shades of which The Daily Stars perpetrates on its reader in its cover story. It is elitist and 'classist' to a fault. What a shame. What a SHAM.

For instance the description of the Non Gazzetted Employees Association (NEWA) could not be completed in the report without 'rubbing-in' of the racist, classist and derogatory term 'third and fourth class employees'. This was meant to further demean and insinuate a section of hapless Government employees - whose only 'crime' appears to be their poverty at birth and the curse of remaining poor. As if, they are some third and forth class human beings not worthy of our respect or being heard? As if, they are creations of some lesser God. A classic and classist US versus THEM Standoff - Excellent!

Those reading the story will have noticed that there was no attempt by the two journalists writing the story, to talk to anyone in the NEWA, a 'third-class peoples' organization that has been around for quite some times now. This is what I call megalo-facism and Daily Star stands accused of blatant insensitivity as it sought to print only 'notes' provided by the Package Forum (PF hereinafter) and the journalist duo's assignments did not cover the NEWA or any 'third class' employee of BTV to be interviewed? Proofs of demonization signed, sealed and delivered.

The PF on the other hand, is an organization formed as a consequence to this crisis, and only after it became apparent that the 'other' bonafide organization 'authorized' to represent the vested interest of the coterie the so-called Sammilito Sangskritik Jote has lost its credibility to the public in recent times, through its fascist overtures and subtle muscle flexing all in the guise of culture!

The track record of members of the PF and their credentials being well known in the cultural arena, and have been suspect. Clearly, the PF belongs to a fringe coterie interest, and not necessarily 'the people', neither are they the 'patriotic force' that is being regularly forced down our parched throats.Indeed who they are for want of more appropriate expression is the infamous 'cultural Mafia', that no newspaper in Bangladesh talks about, other than 'strictly glowing terms'! This, in fear of being deprived of its livelihood - advertising - and The Daily Star is therefore no exception. The Mafia control on the advertisement industry being well known - the position of The Daily Star is excusable, a 'business decision' and 'innocently fair'?

However for those of us that still wish and aspire for the virtue of truth (this being no crime), have also a right to tell The Daily Star to stop indulging in the hypocrisy of congratulating itself about its 'neutrality', 'objective bravery' and importantly to drop that mask of being a 'national newspaper' forthwith. The newspaper does not serve our national interest and is blatantly unpatriotic period.

The Daily Star in the cover story, to be projected as if they are some 'would be saviors from an impending doom' has blown the vested coterie out of proportion! I for one, don't buy this attempt to gain capital by exploiting on a public 'sense of insecurity', as also this 'experimental excrement' that Daily Star wishes to dish out to an unsuspecting reader group. If this makes me the ONLY citizen of Bangladesh who feels this way - with due apologies Ladies and Gentlemen, I still am a citizen of Bangladesh and am entitled to my say? Now who the hell, am I?

I am a Bangladesh subject and I am proud of it - yet I carry quite a few 'burdens of shame'. One of burden is a 'feel good' obsession called 'Bangladesh', although I sometimes wonder if that word has lost currency, or gone out of fashion? A secondary burden is being a reader of a so-called 'excellent' newspaper the Daily Star in a country where among the English newsreaders - there is no 'second choice'! A secondary burden nonetheless, as what the newspaper does not have is any 'independent view' on any cultural aspect of Bangladesh - and creativity relating to culture is a trait rarely displayed in its reporting. Books reviewed without been read, TV drama critiqued without been seen, and audio tapes reported on basis of hearsay has made culture necessarily notorious in the daily.

Yet what level of 'excellence' or 'creativity' has the newspaper reached in its so many years of existence? It compares nowhere, near the standards of English language newspapers from anywhere in the region. In style, presentation, content or even in the use (abuse!) of the English language - to say the least it falls miles behind the Assam Tribune, Sentinel - small newspapers from Guwahati in Assam, and let's not forget the much better written, and news made by the English speaking Bengalees of West Bengal in Calcutta. The Daily Star is clearly a 'third class' newspaper (which is acceptable - since it is in English!) - that does not unfortunately want to champion the cause of the 'third and fourth class' of Bangladesh. How sad!

The 'revolt' in the BTV started, as The Daily Star would have us believing:

'when actor Abul Hayat's package drama Prottyasha was about to be aired, a few fourth class employees went to the control room, picked out the cassette from the VTR and stopped it.'

Very dramatic, however what has been conveniently forgotten is what the 'fourth class' employees allegedly committed, was a crime - that clearly went unreported even after making news in The Daily Star (credibility!). Assuming that there is truth to the report other than a 'voice in a tape' picked up from many eager ones out to demonize BTV - the 'crime' happened bang in the middle of a national broadcast institution - in breach of national security? These are serious accusations and allegation made by the Daily Star - and since clearly no one knows who the culprits were - neither could the Daily Star come up with some names to support evidence of the crime (mentioned twice in the course of the report), the newspaper is expected to clear its 'name' or stand further accused of inciting a flip rebellion inside a national broadcast institution?

The signal's are however ominous. Through this 'alleged' act, a deliberate and clear signal has been sent to the coterie, as also the Mafia bosses, that the BTV has been taken over by the 'people'. In no small parts the 'fourth class' employees now heading off the PF, constitute elements representing eighty percent of our population. They are the real have not who whether we like it or not have eighty percent of the jobs in the BTV?

Despite all the tall talks of the PF 'joining hands' with foreign satellite TV if 'demands are not met', and ofcourse their loyalties to ATN, or the incumbent Ekushey TV - the truth as it stands: ninety percent of the population of Bangladesh are patriotic enough to watch BTV, regardless of whatever garbage is being fed to them - EVERYDAY! Therefore why a newspaper of Daily Star's stature failed to come up with these vital statistic as to 'viewers preference' for our beleaguered national institution - is a mystery?

Why did the NEWA take recourse to this 'crime' - is anybody's simplistic guess? Answer: I feel it was necessary, as there was no other way they could ever be heard! The so called rules that seeks to ensnare them, where survival means only to co-opt to the whims and caprice of the Mafia - a legacy of some two decades - had to be brought down immidiately. Our 'third class people' know too well - that rules are for fools, and meant for the guidance of wise men.

The guidance that could not be picked up by ears of our 'wise men' is due in part, to their complete failure to develop a 'fair' infrastructure relating to marketing and distribution of package programs. Unthinkable that this could not be achieved despite the PF having laid 'virtual siege' to the national institution for this length of time? There were ofcourse valid reasons and coterie interest linked as to why it could not, or should not be done? It suited the best interest of the cultural Mafia to continue operating in the slipshod manner, where non-was accountable. It meant for no question to be asked as our taxpayers were ripped off by our 'stars' for the BTV telecast of the World Cup Cricket of an estimated five crore takas? The revolt has roots in that Cricket deal - where all class 'made money' and only the 'third class' did not. The deal helped fill pockets of a few - specially those that have abused the BTV by first becoming 'stars' at public expense, then advertisement executives, and now are making attempts as if, we should be taking them in as our new Masters? Never. To fight 'this lot' is justified and fair, is what the 'third class' believes in. The fight goes on.

As if there can be no end or tomorrow to a natok - we are to contend with dinosaurs, the likes of Abul Hayat and Assaduzzaman Noor and Ali Zaker and Ramendu Majumder(aka Nurul Islam) and Hasan Iman etc, basically a bunch of jokers who should be retiring, yet are shamelessly and endlessly vying for positions of 'media moguls', 'conscious voice' and 'national heroes'. Also not to forget our 'national plastic polyvinyl ladies' in the likes of Bipasha's and Shomi's and Mimi's, of Tania's, Tropa's and Mou's - who have been transported to a galactic pedestal - and we are left with the spectacle of paying our fealty and to 'bah bah' them for their alleged 'good looks' and 'talents' every time they take a turn.... Clap, clap, and clap!

As if, we have only been able to produce twenty 'talented' people to be demonstrated on BTV , from a total population of one hundred and twenty million inhabitants ? As if we have that severe a 'talent bankruptcy' if we may?

It is indeed a sorry state of affairs, of a dwindling dynasty of aging actors and actresses of TV natoks unwilling to give up, as also the midget monstrosities called 'heroines' corralled from among their own children, cronies, hanger-on's..... have I left out any !

The only other value added qualification that can be attached to these midgets is their endorsement of some multi national soap or shampoo makers, and 'Cover Stories': day in and day out in vernacular entertainment magazines - all ingredients for a great package drama - tragically gone awry. Unfortunately a spell of Black Magic, and bad luck combined has hit them and taken them by surprise. It indicated clearly that the END is near... 'Pack up' time in package speak!

What has suddenly dawned in the new 'third and fourth class' thinking is yet to be understood by the coterie. The simple fact that the coterie is irritating people to the point of annoyance, and all that is constantly been fed to us about them, by them and for them, courtesy of the national media at tax payers expense, is also getting vulgar by the days explains their horrendous lack of plain decency. Consideration is a human virtue - that does not penetrate those with thick skins.

And what are we being fed ? A constant fare of news, covering unsolicited views of our 'stars'' ranging from fashion to fundamentalism, flab to fitness - of their trials, tribulation of their obesity of their anorexia nervosa, and pretensions of a 'swinging life', Mercedes Benz and all! The truth is - those cars, neither the 'stars' nor their fathers will own in a long, long time to come!! Good luck however is in order.

Because the press do not question - or perhaps are not permitted to on 'pain of death', the alleged 'creativity' or 'excellence' of members of the coterie is grotesquely hilarious. A large part of our 'third and fourth class' population, who stay away from the 'glare of publicity' - are therefore left with 'no choice' than to reject this lot self seekers and their machination - and ask them to quit. No long do the people of Bangladesh have an interest, or have anything to do with wedding pictures of STARS making 'national news' in 'national dailies' of the Daily Star variety. No deification of abject mediocre's is the clear message - enough is enough.

Unknown to the coterie - this rage among the third and forth class employees crossed all limits in recent times and such is the rage - that had it not been the video tape but the face of Mr.Hayat standing - he could have very well have been slapped, with 'hai Allah chotoloker thappor'....being one of the commonest dialogue of our natoks. Is it art imitating life or vice versa is anybody's penny! This very notion of the chotoloke (low life) is a constant reminder that despite our best intention's to appear 'progressive' and 'secular' - we nurture a culture of hate and consider Governments employees to be our 'domestic helps'. A dangerous mindset that promotes deification of a few and demonisation of others - and a culture of carrying a tag of being 'somebody's somebody'. No sane human, no civility in the world at the beginning of this new millennium can tolerate this senile dichotomy - or leave things without a protest. Ironic all of these despite all our rosy talk of globalization. Indeed these are mindset's that have to be marginalised, otherwise the whole definition of culture stands to gets marginalised and wiped out.

The first reaction of the coterie to the crisis sealed their fate. The NEWA was told 'you are bunch of peons, drivers, and riff raffs - we don't talk to you. We will talk with the Government'. Fair enough - Time will tell, however for the moment, the advent of the chotolokes to power in BTV has been attributed to the Ershadian autocracy:

'Auto promotion a system introduced by former president Ershad has been largely blamed for this misplaced power. Under this agreement, any one, even a driver can become the DG through continuos promotion. This has allowed many non-technical unqualified individuals to reach officers level. Since then consecutive governments including the present one has totally ignored the issue'.

while Ershad might have 'introduced' auto promotion - in reality what he did was to endorse the auto promotions consequent to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971! In those first years when we were recovering from pangs of our bloody birth, Cashiers became Managers in banks, Sepoys became Majors, Majors became Generals, Clerks became Managing Directors, and on the same token, within the new BTV, spot boy's became producers, assistant became directors and so on and so forth. So clearly the suggestion by the The Daily Star:

'The system of auto-promotion should be replaced by a culture of employing qualified and deserving individuals'

is not going to work - for what we have inherited is not so simple. Jobs, qualifications and deserving individuals etc. are terms that can raise further questions. What constitutes qualification where the ultimate parameter of judgement is 'creativity' that neither the NEWA nor the PF has? Really, who decides as to who is deserving? Indeed many 'third class' of the post 1971 era - are today sitting smack in the middle of the PF, masquerading as the 'elite first class' that are today, one way or the other connected to the cultural Mafia or are its 'new, important and credible leaders'! This indeed is the composition of the 'third class' elite - that I promised to introduce readers at the start of this essay? Today those very 'third class' employees of 'BTV of yore', are telling The Daily Star,

'There is no decorum. A fourth class employee has the audacity to tell the shift in-charge 'shut up and sit quietly'.

audacity is a cliché word that should be outdated as for someone using it, it pretty much reeks of narrow mindedness and again classist and oppressive. But what about insubordination? Revolts occur when subordinate voices are not heard. We are after all talking about a revolt inside the BTV - are we not?

In recent times, we have woken up to the realization that things have gone through massive upheavals and changes. We have gotten digitized, satellite channels are competing for slots of times in our homes and our lives, and in every sphere of our cultural life things are seemingly 'happening'. With this advent of new and fresher ideas, education and technology being at the backbone, we somehow expect changes to affect only our lives and not the 'third and fourth class' human beings in our society. Having such manic disregards to the changes occurring in the chotoloke mindset is tantamount to committing collective national suicide. The chotoloke does not exist but in the figments of our over heated imagination - an imagination that is gross and more sinister - deadly.

Let me explain by a recent example.

The crisis in the Gono Shahajjo Shangstha (GSS) has roots in the mishandling of the 'third and fourth class' employees in the organization - one of the country's largest NGO. A sexual harassment allegation made against its Managing Director by a widowed 'telephone operator', saw the 'drivers' and other 'third and fourth class' employees revolt and bring it to the state of quagmire it finds itself today.

What was overlooked was among the 'third and fourth class' is today we have educated people - and indeed I recall meeting one driver of that organization - who had a Masters degree, and was very, very eloquent. He could have passed of anywhere as an 'officer' - yet here he was proud of the fact that he is a driver.

Therefore the next time around, before we make a dehumanizing sneer at any 'driver' - we ought to exercise caution! It is only because we choose to remain blind or live in rejection to the realities of these great change sweeping the country, that we reel in shock and horror, reading press accounts of a 'telephone operator' telling the world that she had been sexually molested by the boss man! Those feelings of 'shock' are meaningless for at that point of time - we have no right to retort 'what audacity', for when abuse is the agenda - it no longer remains an US versus THEM matter any more. It becomes a Human Right matter.

That is basically the problem inside the BTV. Human rights are being abused and we the so-called 'elite's' of the so-called 'first class' are the abusers. All this in the way we speak, think or write about the 'third and fourth class'.

'The AL government too is reluctant to create disaffection between itself and these employees'

The AL government's reluctance is justifiable. It knows too well, that in the years it has remained outside power, inside the BTV its 'third and fourth class' employees were the real bastion of its power, and these employees were never found lacking whenever there was a need to flex the muscles of dictators or an autocrat or now 'democrats' with pretensions of demi-Gods. Many a time they have been pivotal to paralyze the national media, and let the forces of the people prevail in past agitations. It is a matter of great pride for all patriotic citizens of this country, that while the like of Golam Azam has been effectively rehabilitated by coterie interest in the name of opposing him, the BTV and its employee have the distinct honor of never allowing this national traitor to set foot in its premises. So much for patriotism.

Finally the Daily Star is accused of not even understanding the differences in the equipments despite use of colorful expressions of the 'linear' and 'non-linear' variety. The cumulative investment of the PF of over one hundred crores takas is made out to be some kind of a 'big deal'. In reality those are 'toys' and cannot or should not, be compared with the sixty-nine crore Taka BTV recently spent to upgrade its 'dated' equipment. For all practical purposes the high tech implements in place are not only the best in the country - but indeed the entire region. There is a difference between a Mercedes Benz and a Toyota car, while both are CARS, is the difference The Daily Star does not know.

It all boils down to our will to protect our national property. Clearly neither side in the crisis are less corrupt than the other, but the package manufacturers stand accused of selling many garbage (at tax payers expense) of a quality lower than the BTV's standards! All package programs are not necessarily brilliant - there are some that can make anybody sick. It is basically trying to decide out what we want to see, and what is being forced on us. With the new equipments in the BTV, the heartburn of the PF is understandable. However the conspiracy that is looming together with these attempts to outright demonize BTV, indicates that the coterie interest wants to take over the institution, now that it is laden with more jewelry than it ever did in its history. A terrestrial TV with state of art equipment's. However, part of that jewelry are the 'third and fourth class' employees, and all patriotic people should applaud them for their timely resistance.

June 20th 1999

Tuesday, June 15, 1999

Letters: Half an Apology - Sabaks for Maulana Udayan Chatterjee

Concluding statements by Mac after Udayon Chatterjee acknowledged defeat in the Kolkata Boi Mela Debate in the Shobak website. The issue of communalism was raised and Islamic value system was defended by Mac in extremely brutal language which was an eye opener to a lot of people in West Bengal - and perhaps their first encounter with the radicals of Bangladesh, which indicated the distance that the 'two Bengals' have moved - and the changing times that Mac's generation represents in Bangladesh today

Translations: Maulana 'knowledgeable', sabaks 'lessons'

My dear Udayan,

However I may have sounded to you over the weeks, I do note with a tinge of satisfaction that portion of yours and Sudipto's brain has since gone through a minor overhaul - I welcome this!

The entire debate and the manner in which I as 'agent provocateur' had steered it right across, down to this half hearted 'instrument of surrender' that you are in the process of drafting, to make peace with the radicals of independent Bangladesh - by way of an article in some obscure newspaper in Calcutta, proves beyond doubt, that I have perhaps unwittingly been able to score a major point and influence a thought process in you, that may come useful for some of you guys living in the 'pits' of West Bengal !

If civility is your avowed intention and if this is no intelligence gathering exercise, and above all, if we can clearly spell-out areas of deep division, I think half your job will perhaps be done...and done well. Here is my penny nonetheless...

Lets start with this sabak or lesson on culture: Bengalee culture as defined by many is merely mouthing couple of poems, or singing a couple of songs or reading a couple of books, or dancing around a harmonium and pretending that this is how we are supposed to go about in our day to day life. Thinking people round the world would take these useless rituals if we may, no more seriously then discovery of a stone age people like the Hagahais in Papua New Guinea which my saxophone player Travis Jenkins and his anthropologist wife Carol, discovered a couple of years back before coming to Dhaka.

The culture would - you guessed right - poetry, singing and dancing - different if at all 'theirs is oral' and 'ours is not'! This would be the standard conjecture of 'pride' among us educated urbane snobs, wouldn't it? So be it. Having said that and hopefully without confusing you too much..Lets proceed on to what culture is as perceived by the 'rest of the civilized world'.

Now those guys have been at it for just over 200 years with the 'barbaric Americans' promoting all kinds of human process and prowess good or evil but thankfully boiling this down to 'essence man's' deliberation on contentious issues in a manner and attitude which you would wish to shrug off as 'PC culture'. You are wrong - and like me you are being unnecessarily arrogant!

These guys with all their shortfalls have created a great culture of debate and their language and tone while expressing themselves clearly: the F word, has only helped - never harmed them.

I support this attitude as I think if we do not continue debating - we are left with only one other alternative - weapons. I say let's debate and have as many gaala gaaliz, than have to shoulder the damaging responsibility of leaving behind for our progenies an intolerant society. Posterity would judge us fairly, in that we atleast tried to discuss issues which have always been shoved to a corner, and we have safely done that by stamping on the file - just one stupid word SENSITIVE.

I say lets have a great sense of humor... as we have also inherited an attitude of taking ourselves far too seriously than necessary and humor even of the 'below the belt' category can only help..Never harm..If this remains amongst people who intentionally, unintentionally or for exigencies call each other 'friends'. Anybody reading this last sentence will however smell a discordant note of distrust that I have for you and Sudipto

Now, where does this distrust come from?

Firstly as I sit to write this, and make a small calculations, I have perhaps 200 Hindu friends, here in Bangladesh and all over the world.

Indeed my first friends in life Joogla, Oomla, Radha and Sribhagwan were Brahmin Marwaris in Narayanganj where I was born. Back in 1963/64 I'd seen the ugly face of 'communalism' upfront when the riots broke out.

My father and his friends stood like a rock to protect the Hindus in our neighborhood from a massacre - and all this happened around me at that impressionable age of SIX.

My greatest fears were the prospect of being 'massacred' together with my Hindu friends. When the mob in thousands encircled our building with slogans of 'Narai Takhbir Allahu Akhbar' ...friend, I shivered and cried as much as my Marwari friends did !

That night Dad, had huge cooking pots up in our rooftops where boiling water was kept ready to spray into the mob in the eventuality of an attack...inside they stored acid bottles... and prayers both of the Muslim and Hindu kind, so that today I know more or less, all that there is that I need to know about Hindus, since my childhood.

Having seen the ugly face of communalism first hand - accounts of which you might have perhaps heard from your parents, I therefore ask, How many Muslims do you or Sudipto know that INTIMATELY - i.e. have you been in a situation where together with a Muslim brother - had DEATH staring straight into your eyes? Have you also stared at face of death like I have done in 1971 with the 'glorious Pakistan Army' encircling our neighborhood and calling us "bastards of Hindus" !

I mean how was I supposed to save my life in the eventuality of a mob attack - by exposing my circumcised penis? As if the killers would have had the time to examine that! Also how was I supposed to save my life from a Pakistani soldier when my circumcised penis did not give me the tag of a "pucca Musalman" ?

Have you been in situations where your life was at risk because you were not considered "pucca Hindus" - or if you were called "bastards of Muslims" ? May Allah and Bhagwan save you from such humiliations - a reminder that somehow has brought me to tears as I type this out.

Break....... Chill out...

[An hours later]

I mean Sudipto on his own admission up until 10 years back did not have the level of 'consciousness'that he has today. Is this to mean he has never had a Muslim friend up until 10 years back - living smack in the middle of that so called 'cultural', 'progressive' and 'secular vulgarity' Calcutta? Could be, he did not..And I really do not blame him for that....but can I also be so wrong, as to assume that Sudipto perhaps came from a sectarian background that made it difficult for him to mingle with the communities and Muslim's in general ?

The possibilities are very much there..and once again I do not blame Sudipto.

But what is of shock to me is, how could you guys even start this whole process of debate with your homework done so badly...or perhaps not at all? Your callousness can be no different than the callousness of the book fair organizer over whom you want to score points - in that you hoped there would be 'no response' by attempts of a senior citizen taking on the role of a murrabi or gurujon to 'bujhao us' - to pass off (tuccho tachillyo byapar!) an issue of MAJOR CONCERN - mainly the calculated humiliation of Bangladesh 'intellectuals' in the soils of Kolkata, when they were your valued 'guest'! The great Hindu sloke of the Maharajah service of Air India that says 'my guest is my GOD' conveniently forgotten? Why did you INVITE them, if your intentions were to HUMILIATE?

So - this article by your retired uncle Bibhuti, was an attempt to simply stroke our hair. 'Matha buliyae bhulia deo' ? At that point of time Bibhuti's farce of a 'matha buliya dewa' article, and you guys as the young Turks later jumping in to save a massive loss of Kolkata face with your 'cyber' or 'bedeshi pass' supremacy or whatever - and expecting to get away with it..... and then having to confront me and lose...only goes to show, you have inherited masochist, supremacist genes in your system that allows your 'power structure' to use or abuse you : to propagate hatred for Muslims. This we call communalism and yours is the progressive and liberal' face of communalism - which is totally unacceptable. Let this go across clearly and in the most unequivocal terms, that our religion Islam has more of 'progress' than seems to have been the notion of various 'anti Islamic bias' of Kolkata or the West.

Please be also reminded that secularism (I prefer the use of term agnosticism) does not mean, an 'absence' of Islam in Bangladesh.

Thanks to your attitude and mentality and the horrible time, when all attempts of your kinds have been to label Bangladesh 'tongue in cheek' a theocracy, simply because of our Islamic value system, we have taken on the responsibility of educating an impressionable generation to be proud of who we are, of our culture, of the sins of communalism, of Bengali culture as in Bangladesh, of the Bauls, of the Sufis, of Hinduism and it various humanist doctrines the Buddha and ofcourse the monotheistic prophets.

Yet we have also decided that we shall stand up for Islam - for no other reason than this being the religion of the majority of our people. Islam is cool and fashionable - and if we are to fall back on the doctrine, that whatever came in recently is cool - and whatever is harped about 'past glory' as boring and bad, then Islam is 1500 years young - younger than all other religions in the sub continent!

Our 'secular' and 'progressive' circle, which Sudipto has had the pleasure of hanging out in Dhaka - do not promote secular beliefs. Clearly in their ignorance and lack of self-respect, the servility starts with the appreciation and aping of 'supremacist Brahmin Hindu' precepts of 'culture', and expounding of atheistic belief system. Neither have been our tradition or culture - for if at all, we have a unique adaptation of an agnostic society - not seen anywhere else in the subcontinent.The revolt of the people of Bangladesh was never against Hinduism - indeed the early conversions was as a reprisal to the castist pronouncement of 'supremacist Bhramins' that assigned 'nomoshudros' to a lesser God.

That lesser God was Allah - and today our revolt is not against Islam, but against the same insane people who would like to assign our belief in Allah to a 'lesser Allah'.

I remember in Calcutta I had said at a concert that 'those that think Allah could be pleased by 'zabah' (slaughtering) of a Hindu, or those that think Bhagwan would be pleased if a Muslim is put to the 'boli' - those are insane mindsets - and we need to put sense into their heads'. Applauses convinced me - that the young in Calcutta were listening - and I have had nothing but love and respect for them. I know that I am destined to be heard.

While our city bred 'intellectuals' and other such non entities have warbled and garbled about the threat from 'fundamentalist' - we have taken on a 'direct attack' strategy - a glaring and glowing attack on Islamic extremism coming out severely and brutally in the song 'Parwardigar' in my 1997 album 'Prapto Boyosheker Nishiddho'.

I demonstrated that it is possible to fight the menace of religious extremism without straying from the confines of Islam or its value system. Clearly one does not have to become a Hindu or an atheist to fight this threat - the verse Al Ankabut in the Koran has this to say:

"Those that say that they are fighting for Allah are actually fighting for themselves. Allah needs no MAN's help"

Down in Tangail at the 'insistence', of that 'controversial character' Farhad Mazhar, I spent better part of two nights listening to the 'lorais' of the Boyati's from the Islamic Sufi tradition - a discourse that made many of us Muslim, Hindus or Christians shit in our pants in fright. The Boyati fighting for the rights of atheism was more atheist than anybody I have ever had the privilege of meeting or hearing - yet here he was in front of 10,000 people ranting away all night against Allah, Muhammad, Rama, Iswar, Bhagwan - and everybody enjoyed it!

All of this mind you, thick in the middle of a village - where we also had 'thick bearded mullahs' who would easily fit into the 'Islamic fundamentalist' stereo type. That is how tolerant the culture of Bangladesh is ... that is something you guys will never learn by hanging out with the 'middle class progressives' and self seekers in Bangladesh.

I welcome you with open arms to come and witness this at an opportune time - but you have to be mentally prepared to listen to things that would not necessarily fit into the defeatist and escapist traps of the Kolkataan 'bhodroloke culture' and it's many exponent in Bangladesh!

Culture is pretty much about human relationship - about our central nervous system, that understands no way to react than the current situation which can oftener than not, reek of survivalist instincts, complacency and therefore can be bull headed and vulgar!

When Sudipto therefore starts 'lecturing' in the Russian Cultural Center here in Dhaka, against 'fundamentalism' and exhorts the expose of such the force's in our midst, he committed the first faux pas, in that fundamentalism or fundamental beliefs (iman) is a prerequisite of Islamic culture and civility. This is where he apes the 'barbaric Americans'! Fundamentalism as I have often argued is a belief in fundamental values and no matter how obscure or cliché it sounds, one is entitled to a belief system. Whether that be a belief on how you perceive your respective polytheistic God and Goddesses in a sculpture or through symbolism, or where my monotheistic God is one that I do not see, but can only perceive in and around my immediate surroundings - or deep inside my hearts - where no man more important than myself is allowed entry.

It's private and confidential - but that does not mean or should not mean that I should be harboring open or closet feelings of discrimination or hatred..

I am not convinced that with all your trappings of being 'progressive' and 'liberal's' you have come out looking any more different than lets say the street mobs that routinely disembowel Muslims in India...chanting Rama Rama..or some such nonsense ! How can there ever be anything 'progressive' in you, when time and again you have been exposed as 'mean minded' Kolkataans with pretensions of being 'on top of the world'?

I say all these things - for we are entering an insane phase here in Bangladesh. No man in the world is a 100% sane. Insanity exist in every man - it is only a matter of degree! Whence that happens we are left again with no choice but to start at the very bottom - not at all an envious place in the first place my friend!

Our exercise in debating could not have been thought of say in Bibhuti's times..or our father's and grandfathers time. Therefore lets take time out for a little prayer to Allah, Iswar, Rama and God - and that this indeed is an opportune blessing - one that none of us should miss out on.

ameen. (amen)

To close this monologue - we don't have time for ordinary thinking anymore - as they pretty much harbor communal feelings without the need for debating or discussing this in 'uncomfortable terms'. When confronted with a mob - decency is the last thing that one can fall back upon. We therefore need to 'home-in' on our priorities, and to do that I believe you have to fall back upon radical thinkers in Bangladesh - a minority who are going to call the shots - when things go completely out of hand 'Inshallah'.

I hope I have not consumed too much of your time during this Sabak.

June 15th 1999

Friday, June 04, 1999

The Cricketisation of Racism!

We Bengalees have dangerous blemishes in our character, which are peculiar to our race. Superstition, hyper patriotism and ungratefulness being the more important ones as also, we are a mischievous lot, never learning, always forgetting and in the process reducing history and civility to a big time charade. It therefore came as no surprise that we chose to display all of the above traits and did so unashamedly, in public - as a consequence of the Bangladesh teams 'historic' victory over the Pakistan cricketers in Northampton. Had it been anywhere else in the world, this achievement would have been dismissed as an 'exhibition game' - but there was no shade of doubt that the manner in which Bangladesh won was a 'win in a fair game' with the 'whole world' watching - in the pompously dubbed Crickets World Cup!

Congratulations in order but I do have a comment to add. Bangladesh won on 'home grounds' - meaning not only did they have thousand of their own kind cheering them and rushing their adrenaline which created a 'homely atmosphere', the pitch was indeed a converted soccer field - a phenomenon we thought only existed in Bangladesh, in our 'home grounds'?

However the 'World' as we know of it, has a huge populace, who have absolutely no clue as to what this cricket game is all about - neither are they interested - and quite rightly so. This cricketing hoopla called the World Cup is indeed the Commonwealth Cricket Games of countries that still pay obeisance to their British colonial masters. In two hundred plus years the game of cricket has been used to keep the colonial spirit of exploitation alive and kicking amongst 'old natives' - who have in the meantime managed to produce among their offspring's respectable cricketers of considerable prowess! The previous masters ironically are no longer the Lords of the game. An invention purely of a white supremacist institution, cricket has remained racist - and newer racism's have been cultivated and promoted by the 'enlightened natives' of the game in the old colonies, so that, we now have to contend with Hindu-Muslim racism, Christian-Muslim racism,Christian-Hindu racism, Tamil-Indian racism, Buddhist-Hindu Racism and so on and so forth - and allow me if you will to introduce, the newest addition to it all - the Bengalee-Punjabi racism - the object of this essay.

For the hyper patriotic, this 'Bengalee victory' was subliminally equated to taking revenge for the carnage carried out by the brutal Pakistani Army of occupation in 1971, as were startling reports of the revival of that esoteric term ' the spirit of 1971'. All of this was savored with strains of racism and what was promptly forgotten during the excitable first hours was that these parallels could indeed do us more harm than good, and lest a new generation forget - let me remind them that the War of Independence was no game of chance, the dead unlike 'runs' were not numbers, and the comparisons are vulgar and disrespectful and disgraceful to the memories of all the martyrs that laid down their lives in that glorious period of our history.

In 1971 our heroes returned to lives without parents, of sisters raped, of properties destroyed. The trauma saw them without jobs, hungry and pauper, and in desperate need to get a grip on the great gloom that enveloped the entire nation. Our 'brave cricketing heroes' on the other hand have returned, to their families, with money and a lot more. They certainly don't fit the profile of the Muktijoddha's that fought the war and one could not help overlook the mercenary like glee in Aminul Islam's face when he mentioned the Prime Minister's (Honourable !) assurance of cash gift's and that other goodies that awaited them back home ! Least he could have done to make us proud was to speak proper English - or speak only in Bengalee rather then wrestling with a language he is not accustomed to or comfortable with. He fared much better than the man of the match Khaled Mahmud - who was atrocious! Nonetheless we surely gained a lot 'cricketwise' in a game of chance that we have now realize has to be traversed with lot of grit and determination - and that results like this 'historic win' not easily available on a platter.

However what happens when we lose (as we must) - the next time around to the Pakistani's is not been even considered during such hysterical times? How do we mince words when we lose? Will that loss mean a loss of the 'spirit of 1971'? Are we to equate the next defeat as a defeat of our war of Independence/Liberation? While every cricket loving Bengali rejoiced - those that prefer to identify with the renegade fringe, such as me, found things not quite in order. Above all the most important question is - are we not carrying this victory a bit too far?

Racially whom we call Pakistanis today - were indeed the Punjabis and Pathans in the years before 1971 - when we were East Pakistan. We also had a favourite derogatory term called 'mauraz' for them! We Bengalees had to contend and compete with the Punjabis as they determined the fate of the civil and military bureaucracy of undivided Pakistan - a competition that never saw the Bengalee winning. For unknown reasons the Pathans and maybe even the Baluch on the other hand, we never considered our equals. Indeed in some dumb way, we considered them dumb and foolish and the only thing we commended about this racial type were their brute strength. So there we were - the Pakistanis were basically the Punjabis who could outsmart the Bengalis while the Pathans and Baluch could not. Very Good! Now for the Punjabis intelligentsia the Bengalis were a lowly race of converted Hindus, who spoke a language whose alphabets were more Sanskrit (read Hindu) and Islamically incorrect. This as opposed to the more Arabic like Urdu (read Muslim) alphabets preferred by the Punjabis. The Bengali was considered a 'servant class' and so was his language.

In the good old days a mans pedigree was questioned if he spoke Bangla or showed a preference to this strange language. Urdu was ofcourse the connoisseur language of an aristocracy. Ironically that aristocracy included many Bengalees who refuse to speak Bangla even to this day - and if they do so it comes on with a thick Urdu accent - bahut accha! The demeaning racism of the Bengalees and Punjabis and vice versa fragmented the fragile Pakistan which was somehow cemented together in a geographical nightmare, with Hindu India forming a one thousand mile gulf between borders of the two wings. This was possible by the use of an 'Islamic balm' that held it together for twenty-four years or so.

Language therefore became the most important component for an end to this Quixotic absurdity among nations of the world. Bangladesh's entry into 'international cricket' has been recent and not necessarily one of leaps and bound or of great glory as is made out to be. In 1997 when we won the ICC Cup, it was merely an upgradation of our cricket and an entrance from an 'international' Third division league games status to second! While it gave a shot in the arm, we raved and ranted as if there was no tomorrow, as if the whole world had together with us stopped to watch what we were doing to rejoice. As if the World has all the time we have?

And what did we do?

For more than a week we slapped our own backs as well of others in congratulations, eve teased in the street, sexually harassed the female population by attacking them with colored water and on an 'off chance' probed our lecherous hands on various parts of their bodies. We distributed mishtis, we performed prayers of gratefulness to the Almighty, we read every day for months on end about our cricketers, their wives, their girl friends, their weddings, their cell phones, their cars, their accidents, their patriotism - and then surviving the inertia and letharism brought about by the 'national holidays' that followed? The 'rejoicing' this time around was no different. While newspapers in Bangladesh, make detailed studies as to how many 'precious days' does the national hostage taking culture of hartals lose. I have not yet read anywhere about how much precious time is lost by this racist game of chance? While the so called World Cup goes on - more and more people stop dead on their track - and just about do NOTHING, than watch cricket on TV or carrying a little transistor - listening to commentaries ball by ball, day in and out, for weeks.... .... For months !

My estimate in terms of time and resources lost in this useless pursuit, the cumulative 'national loss' (if there is such a term) is no less than one we incur following a HARTAL.

Then the superstitious and ungrateful factor! Gordon Greenidge the controversial Caribbean coach who was instrumental for the teams rapid success and attaining international stature was sacked? This happened hours before the match with Pakistan in Northhampton - and then Bangladesh won, and won BIG. In six previous encounters (battles!) with the Pakistani we had lost - the newest victory was indeed numerologically and superstitiously: lucky seven. Whenever Bengalees go on a losing spree or have a constant spell of bad lucks, we go looking for a bad omen in our midst. We affectionately call the omen 'kufa' which is indeed a derogatory term and in bad taste. For the uninitiated to Bengalee culture the 'kufa' is the opposite of a mascot, and must be weeded out. So Greenidge proved not only to be an embarrassment for Bangladesh for speaking the truth against our cricketing establishment, his sacking hours before the 'historic' game with Pakistan - also proved that he could have well been the 'kufa' we did not discover earlier!

The Bangladesh cricket establishment is plagued by political, business and the media mafia interest, and therefore does not, or cannot take in any criticism. In the 'grand reception' to our cricketers - this was evident. Any criticism of the Bangladesh team amounted to being dubbed a traitor a 'rajakar'. This is fascism pure and simple - so lets take this a step further, lets undemocratise the game of cricket - bring it to the level of hooligans and 'mastaans', not the gentlemen's game it is allegedly supposed to be - was the mentality that reeked strongly over the BTV telecast. No word of gratefulness or even a simple 'thank you', was uttered by any of the cricketers and officials - Greenidge the sportsman and gentleman - spirited quietly away from the worlds most 'heroic nation' - the Bengalees, proving very clearly that sportsman spirit is yet to be kindled in the Bengalee psyche?

That Greenidge himself was a honorary citizen of Bangladesh and the honor bestowed on him emotionally and sentimentally after our win in Kualalumpur was quickly forgotten. For the excitable Bengalees the man or men being considered to replace Greenidge are Pakistanis. They are not rajakars are they?

Defeating Pakistan in a stupid game of chance is equated to a win in a war - the 'patriotic spirit' driving us to inebriation and innate jingoism. Fair enough. On the same token and parameter of judgment, coaching of the Bangladesh team by Pakistanis (Punjabis) - should also be equated to our 'patriotic soldiers' being trained by our enemies!

When we go looking for a distasteful Pakistani conspiracy and 'plots by defeated forces of 1971' - in every sphere of our national lives - I wonder why this hyper patriotism blinds us into believing that the incumbent Pakistani coach will be merciful and teach us the tricks of the trade - to keep winning? Or shall it be that in the eventuality of an ultimate World Cup victory with a Pakistani coach in the helms of affair - we shall have headlines screaming 'patriots and rajakars collaborated to create history'!

The Punjabi racism towards Bengalis was evident in Wasim Akram's statement that 'we are happy we lost to our brother'. Surely it was not meant to be a loss against our 'East Pakistani' brothers but importantly a loss to brothers in the Islamic ummah - Bangladesh and Pakistan being the only Muslim nations playing this game of chance. Among the internationalist Muslim's therefore, a win or loss to another Muslim brother is no big deal. But Wasim should be reminded, that our 'brotherly feelings' evaporated the day we kicked out more than ninety thousand of his kind from independent Bangladesh - and in twenty eight years - the Pakistanis perhaps grudgingly qualify as our FRIENDS, not our brothers.

Happily there have been no reports of posters of 'cute boys' of the Pakistani team - those that hang in bedrooms of cricket enthusiast in Bangladesh being taken down, defaced or destroyed. For many Bengalees the loss of the Pakistani cricketers who have attained sex symbol status - was a shock. Also shocking for many were the photographs of girls in the Dhaka University orgasmically clutching posters of Mehrab. Bangladesh finally has a 'cute sex symbol' among its players - but for how long - is anybody's guess!

First Published 4th June 1999