Letters: Half an Apology - Sabaks for Maulana Udayan Chatterjee
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.
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