Thursday, June 08, 2000

The News from Bangladesh Interview - To Jail and Back

Interviewed by Ahsanul Akbar

Maqsoodul Haque, popularly known as Mac, went through a plethora of controversy last summer following his jazz-rock-fused rendition of a Tagore number.

The worst was yet to haunt him: Mac was arrested on charge of beating up his wife, according to a 03/11/99 press release. After being granted a bail, on 5/11/99, the artist hibernated switching off all connections.

Working on his forthcoming solo album, Mac has a very busy schedule. Music seems to be his sole raison d'être for now. Nonetheless the 'Bad Boy' of Band Music (as BBC interprets) spared some 'good' time for this layabout!

1. Is the Bad Boy that nefarious to abuse his marital life?
I have never ever claimed any monopoly on virtues. I have faults just like every other human being, but certainly there is none in the world who can claim that I have a capacity for violence, whether that be towards man, woman, child or animal. By nature I am a pacifist and the 'wife beating' allegation was planted as part of a sinister conspiracy by the police, press and the 'powers that be' of the fascist country called Bangladesh to circumvent responsibility for breaking into my house - an innocent citizen in broad daylight and arresting me without a warrant or any specific charge.

A 'Bad Boy' image is something, which most rock musicians have to live with, but I am considered 'bad' for quite other reasons. I guess I am the only musician in Bangladesh that has a unique political and social commitment. Being a thinking human being I have lived my life as an apolitical cliché free, non conformist, anti establishment, kick ass radical (as opposed to radical chic!) which is certainly not everybody's pinch of salt. I have humiliated and embarrassed a lot people in the hypocritical 'bhodroloke' society with my poison pen and my acid tongue and have made 'powerful enemies' whether that be through my writings or my songs - or perhaps the way I choose to live my life. At 42 it is impossible for me to change, and guess I will have continue to pay a price for my beliefs. So be it.

2. We'd like to hear what DID happen for real on that epoch-making 2nd November 1999.
I returned at about 3.30 am on the morning of 2nd November from the sleepy village of Bagra in Bikrampur where I had gone to collect music materials from a Kirtan festival as also to scout location for an upcoming video shoot.

My friend Faisal Haque Shahin, a postgraduate student who also hails from Bagra, accompanied me there. For three days I was the guest of Dr. Sukanto Ghosh. Shahin also returned with me to Dhaka and I asked him to stay back till day break - in my house in Pallabi to which he consented. It was the first time in three nights that I had caught any sleep. By the time I went to bed after breakfast it was about 5 am. In the morning at about 8 am. I was awakened by a constant ringing of the calling bell. When I peered out from my first floor studio, I was surprised to see three uniformed cops and two plain clothes man in front of my gate. When I enquired what the problem was, I was brusquely told that I had to accompany them to the police station where I was to be 'questioned' by the Officer in Charge (OC). When I wanted to know if there was any specific allegation or any warrant for my arrest, I was asked to 'shut up and cooperate' otherwise the consequences would be serious. I flatly refused to their 'order' and the cops left.

Twenty minutes later about two dozen cops arrived, this time in a van. They encircled my house and had rifles and shot guns pointed towards me. This lot had the same things to say, and I kept repeating that without a warrant I was not willing to accompany them to the station. For fifteen minutes the altercation continued after which the OC personally arrived in the scene. In the filthiest language possible, I was told that I had to 'give myself up' in five minutes otherwise they would break all the gates and doors of my house to 'grab' me. I decided to play on silence - a harrowing ten minutes, after which I heard the breaking of the locks in my portico gate. I wrote a polite note in Bangla to the effect that 'breaking locks of a house in the absence of a magistrate was illegal' and dropped it from my window. This restrained the raiding party for a while - and Niboo and me took this opportunity to appear in our veranda to request the police to go away if they did not have a warrant. A crowd close to hundred had already assembled in our gates and our neighbors joined in pleading with the police that I was a law abiding citizen - to no avail.

In the meantime I decided to barricade the main door and the steel gate together with it. Living in Pallabi, Mirpur the worst 'crime zone' in Dhaka, security in my house has always been good. In another fifteen minutes the cops rammed themselves into my drawing rooms. They reached my bedroom where I, Shahin and Niboo had besieged ourselves. Seeing no other alternatives Niboo asked me to give up and opened the door. The cops stormed in with rifles and pistols drawn. As I was being handcuffed I again wanted to know what my crime was. I was told was a 'dacoit'!

I was thereafter dragged into the van and hauled up to the Pallabi Police station. Shahin too was forced to accompany me to the Police Station and although he was never arrested, he was confined to the OC's room and subject to abuse worse than me. He was released past midnight.
3. What happened thereafter and what were the charges that were finally made against you in the court?
The first fifteen minutes in the Police Station was harrowing. Claiming direct descent to the ruling family, the OC, a haughty man from Gopalganj slapped me resoundingly and used the filthiest language that I will probably ever hear! This abuse was carried out not as a mean of extracting a confession or interrogation but mainly to express his irate feeling to my 'audacity' for resisting arrest and sitting like a 'gentlemen' cross-legged inside a police station! By 11.30 am I was inside the hajat lock up and my ordeal I had just begun.

Until after afternoon of the following day I was denied water and food, and since the 'hajat' had other criminal's mainly heroin addicts on the threshold of withdrawal symptoms, I feared for my security and could not sleep a wink all night. All the while my wife Niboo and my family and friends who had flocked to the Police Station as well as many of my neighbors were kept in the dark when they wanted to know the exact reason for my arrest and the charges against me. It was not until 4 pm on the 3rd of November 1999 when I was finally taken to court and had access to a lawyer in the Magistrate court that the charges were made known to me.

The police case (State versus Maqsoodul Haque - I like the ring to that!) stated in black and white that I have been arrested ostensibly for being a 'mohanayok' or super hero of a highly organized terrorist gang; that I have access to illegal weapons and ammunition and in order to recover those and as also to arrest my accomplices a remand for five days was prayed for. The Honorable Magistrate was not satisfied with the charges and I was granted bail. Interestingly my wife Niboo who I was accused of beating up by the press stood as a guarantor for my bail.

4. Where did the press pick up this story of wife beating?
Minutes before I was being taken to the court, a crime reporter (a breed of journalist I never had the privilege of any earlier acquaintance) and a camera person from a local tabloid appeared in front of the hajat. They wanted to know why I have been arrested. I said I still do not know and it is better that they enquire with the OC.

The wife beating story I learnt later was planted by the police as they clearly had no other option to protect themselves of their wrong doings. If the true charges against me were narrated to the reporter, the press would have had quite a different headline that would have read 'Mac arrested on terrorist charges'. That would have made things more difficult for them.

Clearly the establishment would have lost their credibility for this illegal arrest. The arrest of Lucky Akhand on falsified on case of murder during the BNP era when his drummer went missing perhaps provided a reminder. Therefore the wife beiatng story was planted to destroy my public image, and for the police to appear koochie koochie innocent - simple as that.

I would also like to remind you that had I, in the unlikely event beaten up my wife, the case would have been most surely be lodged by my wife or her relatives - not the police, neither would I have been granted the luxury of a bail (the case of the Dhaka University teacher who is still behind bars in perspective). Ironically there were no pressmen at the court on that eventful day - so the truth was never revealed until before this.

5. What do you think was the real motive for your arrest?
My perception being in the receiving end, is that the entire police operation was fine tuned with orders from high up to discreetly arrest me under Section 54, the dreaded block Special Powers Act. If I had stepped out of my house at the first instance the small police party arrived, I am more than pretty sure that I would have been picked up under the SPA. Because I refused to court arrest and the eventual high profile involvement of the OC to finally nab me - indicates clearly that it was an attempt at a Section 54 arrest that went awry.

With so many people standing witness in a broad daylight operation the terrorist allegation was all that seemed credible for the police to place me in remand which as you know are basically 'dholai khana' (bash up stations) to 'straighten me out', I learnt later that the police have a right to break into premise only when they have specific information that arms and ammunition are present. Nothing of the kind was found in the search of my house.

6. A public statement/disclaimer was crucial to allow us to have an insight into this gratuitous police act. Why did you not contact the press or make use of the Net?
You are quite correct - but things were pretty fluid even after I was granted bail by the court. The Detective Branch of Police (DB) had me under surveillance, my house in Pallabi was under 'watch' friends and relatives who have moved my bail application were picked up and harassed. I was hiding in the houses of my friends and relative for better part of two weeks staying completely incommunicado. There were also rumors that I would be picked up again. I came to know later that many friends from the press came to my house in Pallabi to find it deserted.

Importantly I owed a lot to my wife Niboo ( a juniour school teacher) to maintain a low profile as she was being asked embarrassing question by parents of her students. For my family, it meant a serious has loss of face - as in my seven generation there is no record of anyone who has ever been arrested of has seen the inside of a jail!

I was reminded again and again during my ordeal that I came from a long succession of law makers - not law breakers. My great grandfather was an OC, no mean achievement in the colonial Raj, my own grandfather father a serving judge of Calcutta High Court at the time of his death at the end of an eventful career. I therefore thought the best option for me was to wait till the storm had cleared out in order to pick up the pieces of my shattered life.

When you fall that hard no one else can come around to help you pick up your pieces and since very personal innuendoes had been circulated I could trust no one else other than my own judgment to put forward my side of the story at an opportune time. After all behind every dark cloud lies a silver lining. I told myself - every dog has his day, someday!

7. This is 'policified-thuggery'. Do you think this sordid affair has a connotation to the Tagore controversy that erupted in July last year?
The answer to that is a 'definite maybe'!

Clearly those that launched the savage attack through the press in July, 1999 for my alleged blasphemy of rendering a jazz rock fusion version of a Tagore song, were none other than cultural activist, admen and pressmen combines, combined cultural nexus combines so called intellectuals living in the age of dinosaurs and aligning themselves to the political sycophancy and self appeasing chicanery that is our ruling 'pro Independence' Awami League. There were public calls to ban me to from the state media and performances as also demand that I be given 'exemplary punishment'.

At the end of the day, with the support of more 'enlightened involvement' from the real world and thanks to intensity of the debate on the Net - I had at the end, virtually what may be termed a 'win win' situation. No individual with conscience could take this stand of abject stupidity of our cultural elite to deny me my right to expression.

If you will remember one columnist even mentioned that the Prime Minister herself was informed about my audacity moments after the telecast - and that the 'high priestess' (the columnist ex wife) of Tagore music in Bangladesh claimed that the BTV producer had begged forgiveness. I guess my real crime was to remain defiant and to remind the columnist through rejoinder that the Prime Minister herself was an 'off key' singer of Tagore songs in public functions despite the many years his ex wife trained her in the rigors of the music. I learnt later that many in the establishment were not entirely amused by my rebuttal. Also my refusal to answer to the 'quixotic show cause' served on me by the General Manager of BTV on behalf of the Government irked a lot of people. Could be it all started there?

Additionally, a friend informed me that a visiting delegation from Biswa Bharati, Shantinekatan, West Bengal, India had demanded that I meet them. I was to ordered to pay my fealty and in an indirect way 'atone for my sins'. I refused and countered that by asking them to come over to my house instead, if they thought I was really so important. I guess I burnt my boat badly!

Nonetheless I was convinced that the article by the Justice Habibur Rahman on the entire debate very conclusively ended the controversy - but two weeks after that, I found to my horror that yet another intellectual had brutalized me and the Poet Farhad Mazhar (who wrote one of the most brilliant article on the controversy) in Protham Alo.

Terming me a 'sycophant' blessed by Mazhar, my singing and Mazhar's endorsing of my sacrilege proved that we are the descendent and have the genes of Sultan Mahmood from history - and what we have done amounted to desecration i.e. converting Hindu temples to Muslim mosques?

This came as a shock to me as all through the debate I wanted to steer clear off any communal overtones. But here we were - I was told tongue in cheek - that as a Muslim I had no right to distort something held in religious reverence by the Hindus. I thought as a Biswa Kobi (world poet) Tagore was the property of the world - not a particular community. Ironically the intellectual himself was a Muslim! When I enquired with Protham Alo as why the malicious article was printed when the debate was truly over - I was told that they had to print it under duress from a leading cultural activistwho also happens to be head of one of he leading ad agencies of Bangladesh. The so called freedom of press is at the mercy, whims and caprice of admen - people who provide revenue - the life blood of newspapers! The press has no other choice other that to co-opt?

My reaction to that was to completely cut myself off and by early August I took the plug off my Internet connection in disgust - and a decided never to even think about the debate. When one stops into that kind of meanness in a debate - the health of culture and responsibility is truly suspect.

8. And how about the press/media they seemed to have taken an anti-Mac stand....
In some round about way - I guess we have the freest press in the world. I am convinced that our press can just about write anything and everything and never be accused of lying to the public.

If you remember something last year following the attack on a 'pro Government poet' mullahs were resoundingly picked up from various madrasas all over Bangladesh and jailed as Harkatul Jihad terrorist - yet couple of months later when it went to court all were freed. No terrorist was ever found. Likewise, most newspaper will go on and on, for days especially when it concerns character assassination - I believe there is a huge market for perverted news relishes! In my case the hatred of the press towards me stems from my refusal to speak to a majority of newspaper during the Tagore controversy as again their dependence for sustenance on the admen cultural activist - vicious nexus. There were attempts by the BNP and Jamaat to give a political colour to the Tagore controversy which I found reprehensible and therefore refused to speak to to its mouthpiece Dinkaal. Inquilab wrote "Drunken Mac beats up wife - lands in Police custody"; people that know me closely were amused for I had given up booze some two years ago!

9. Your close friends/acquaintances had no doubts/qualms over the 'news' and never posted any sort of rebuttal. Would you comment on this?
I guess most of them were truly embarrassed.

As I sit on talk you today - most of my friends have abandoned me. Loyal as I am to all my friends, in the last five months none have contacted me and I have decided to live my life as a recluse as far as possible. I am sure many of them believe printed words in newspaper and tabloids as they would the words of the Koran! With friends and acquaintances such as these - do I really need enemies?
10. How long did you spend convalescing in Darjeeling and are you fully recovered?
About four weeks. Niboo and Dio accompanied me so it was great pleasure. We also made a trip to Sikkim. The traumatic experience affected me physically and mentally. I still suffer from flashbacks and wake up at night in sweat. I lost about 6 kgs of weight. I have recovered sufficiently to get back at the normal rigor of my life.
11. Do you see your musical career being affected as a result of this mess?
No way. In the musician fraternity there was hardly anybody that believed the bullshit being circulated - I had strong support and understanding. Channel I put several of my videos and on my videos and an old interview just a week after my arrest. They interviewed me today on what 'really happened' on 2nd November 1999. Some small but popular teen music weeklies have already put my side of story. I have made concert trips to Cox's Bazar, Chittagong and Rangamati on my return from Darjeeling.
12. The fans, of course, holds an utterly tarnished image of Mac (kudos to our press). Do you foresee the media co-opting with you now that you are speaking in public for the first time?
Yes. Now that I have clearance from my lawyers to speak on the matter several newspapers have contacted me. I will be speaking selectively to a few of them. As far as my fans are concerned - I have had a deluge of mails and telephone calls after concert trip. Unlike my friends and acquaintances most of my fans have the common sense and intelligence to understand that I have been a victim of a vicious conspiracy, and I guess that way I am blessed.
13. You are the 'chauvinist-Mac' now! Did you face any charge /protest brought by women's rights activists (e.g. Shommilito Nari Shomaj) in the aftermath of this hullabaloo?
Is that so? I thought all along that I was more of a male feminist! Despite my acquaintance with many 'leaders' of the Shommilito Nari Shomaj none got in touch - but then Nasreen Huq a friend from Naripokkho was among the first one to get in touch with Niboo to find out the realities of the press report. I met her on Eid-day and I don't think she believes I am a women abuser!
14. You were a contributor (ir/regular) magazines (Bhorer Kagoj, Choltipotro, The Daily Star) and also took part in occasional e-debates. Will the radical pen flow once again?
I have been some kind of a restricted writer so to speak. The Daily Star prints only 'harmless' articles that I pen, and Protham Alo being a sister publication also probably maintains the same status quo. The core group of Choltipotro who were instrumental in seeing my articles published have resigned and joined a new magazine, which is yet to begin circulation. The new management thinks of me as a nuisance! That only leaves me with the Internet and Naeem Mohaiemen's Shobak Onelist. I am grateful to him for he has circulated pieces without censoring them although we have disagreed. Because of my current pressure with music, I don't see myself getting back on the Net soon - but I will surely get back one day perhaps as early as June/July 2000.
15. Any plans/projects bubbling at the moment and any message for the music enthusiasts?
I am right now busy finishing off my first solo album (Boishakhee Jhorer Ratreetay) which should be available in Bangladesh by end May. I will be sending over a CD master to Naeem for my website so that it can also be available on the net, I have to hand over a second solo album to my distributor by November. In the meantime (thanks to all the indirect publicity following my arrest) I have been featured in two singles in mixed album -including the honour of singing the title for 'Shondhi', which received positive reviews, this Eid. I have recorded three new singles and have been contracted for many more. So I have my hands quite full. I have started working with some young independent music producers - where my involvement is no more than selling my voice - i.e. composition and marketing are not in my control.

dHAKA's activities are currently suspended thanks to the unofficial ban on my public performance - but the band is still together with the exception of Picklu who is tied up with his office. We still have not found a suitable replacement. The band has contributed three tracks to my new album. We will start rehearsals in June/July in a new practice pad in Moghbazar. We are negotiating a concert tour of West Bengal come September. Lets see.

Seven of my videos have yet to be telecast - and producers are in touch with Ekushey TV. Channel I have recorded two songs from my new album as a studio version and they should be telecasted in the next two weeks or so.
16. Finally what is the status of the case against you in Court and are what are you doing about it?
In the last five months the Police have neither charge sheeted me nor have submitted any final report which they are obliged to submit within three months.

There have been suggestions by many to patch up the matter with the police - but I am not interested. Every month there is a day in court, which mercifully I do not have to attend. However in the last hearing on March 9th the Magistrate in disgust sent a summon across to the Police - which they still have not bothered to respond to. I look forward to this matter being resolved in Court - no matter how long it takes - and guess a laid back approach would suit me best.

Till then I remain a 'Bad Boy' to the press in Bangladesh and a 'terrorist super hero' to the Government of Bangladesh. What remains unresolved is that I am innocent human being and a terrible victim of circumstances. I call myself an ultimate survivor - and God willing I will survive this. I don't need anybody's sympathies but even a dog deserves our empathy. If I have been reduced to a dog - I could do well with a whole dosage of that in the intervening.

Thank you Ahsan for taking time out to locate and talking to me.

Published in the News From Bangladesh (NFB) site on June 08, 2000.

Footonote: The Judges Court hearing the case in Dhaka, Bangladesh, exonerated Mac of all charges made against him in October 2001.

Police torture (that Mac doesn't talk about in public) ruptured his spinal column, and led to three months of recuperation with physiotherapists of the British aided NGO Center for the Rehabiltaion of the Paralysed in Savar, Bangladesh. His wife Nazreen Haque Niboo passed away on the 19th March 2004.


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