Monday, February 19, 2001

Bangladesh 2001: The Myth of Bengalee Culture - Part 8

32. Subversive or Counter Culture - Bangladesh Rock turns Thirty

The concert for Bangladesh at the Madison Square Garden in New York to raise funds for the refugees in 1971 was the penultimate moment of triumph for the recognition of our Liberation struggle against Pakistan. The publicity generated by the rock establishment of the seventies for the first time saw the American people rise in protest against their own Government that was an ally of Pakistan - against the aspiration of freedom of the people of the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Although the majority of the participants were British rockers - the effort transcended all cultural divide and made music an important weapon for the promotion of human rights - a phenomenon unknown in the seventies.

Unknown to the world was the effect it was having on the young of Bangladesh still fighting its war of Liberation. Bengalee rock music's birth was in the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) camp at Melaghar in India, where Azam Khan who would later distinguish himself as a ferocious guerrilla commander, teamed up a group of young men to sing songs and inspire his force to battle. Lyrics and tunes were composed by him - and while guitars and amplification were not available in the camps, he made do with whatever 'instruments' he could lay his hand on - they could be bayonets and machine-gun bullets magazines for percussion, tables for rhythm thumping accompaniment and the harmonium as a keyboard.

From those humble roots rock began in the liberated zones of Bangladesh, and immediately after the war Azam Khan tuned an iconoclast with the young, singing about the frustration and the let down the new Bangladesh has brought them. The revolt against the establishment that was compromising the future of the young was ever so powerfully evoked by his message and saw a great spectre of protest through music - a Western form of music in the Bengalee language, with guitars, bass, drums and keyboards and loud - very loud amplification, which the Bengalee had not witnessed ever in its cultural history and was in for a rude shock.

Shunned by the mainstream media and the establishment of the day as a passing phase and no effort at its promotion made other than use at student political rallies and concert auditoriums, rock steadily progressed to become an alternative force - a new phenomenon to be reckoned upon. It was Sheikh Kamal the rocker son of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the Bengalee revolutionary leader and the first Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh, who pleaded with his father to import equipment's and instruments that saw the first real effort for rock to spread its wings, and in a round about way receive the patronage to carry the movement forward.

However those were the days when audio cassettes were unheard of, and recordings were limited to a few 45 rpm records that not everyone could afford. Bengalee Rock therefore was a LIVE phenomenon and wherever the early rockers like Feroze Sai, Ferdous Wahid, Fakir Alamgir and Azam Khan went,, they were received with incredulous fan adulation - almost like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones in the UK.

By 1974-75, the Government controlled Bangladesh Television, started to include rock bands in many of its program to circumvent the lacklustre Rabindra sangeet that the traditionalist were trying to promote - without luck and boring the young to death! However it was in one such LIVE program that Azam Khan caught an unsuspecting nation by surprise by singing his famous song, Bangladesh - a protest tune that the establishment of the day could not swallow and resulted in a huge outcry and suspension of some television producers. This episode saw the end of rock bands performance on television and clearly rock music was set for a decline by the time Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his entire family - except for two daughters - were assassinated in a military coup on the 15th of August 1975.

33. 1975 to 1985 - The Lost Years of Bengalee Rock

The subsequent military dictatorship that ruled Bangladesh, decided to take the 'fire' off rock music by promoting local pop artist as an alternate form of music that was considered 'civilised' entertainment - the television its only medium of promotion. The advent of 'Bangladeshi nationalism' was yet another spoke to rock as the dictatorship let loose oppression on the rock community and its fan following by a systematic campaign of cutting long hair in public and brutal punishments. Rockers were tagged as 'drug addicts', hijackers and the display of attitude was considered subversive.

From 1985 onward the first big shot in the arm for rock was a audio cassette production company called Sargam, whose owner was a Bengalee expatriate from West Germany. He chose to promote Bengalee rock bands and pop artist only, and within a year a great change had made its appearance in the Bangladesh cultural scenario. By 1987 Bengalee rock had a renaissance of sort and this turned out to be a big business and multi track recording studios started popping up all over Dhaka. Most successful albums saw sales of over hundred thousand in weeks and the demands were sometimes overwhelming. The Indian dominated 'adhunik Bangla gaan' or modern Bengalee music from West Bengal saw a steady decline and eventually disappeared - such was the strength of Bengalee rock!

The first band with an audio album was Shocking Blues from Dhaka, followed close on heel by Souls from Chittagong. By 1987 bands like Feedback brought in newer elements in Bengalee rock by fusing rock, reggae, funk and fusion to its repertoire and a vast change was also noticed in the way Bengalee songs were rendered with Western intonations. A new language of expression had evolved through rock that was unheard of in Bengalee culture in its known history - again indicators of the power of adaptability of the Bengalee and a new wave of thinking started evolving among the young - such was the strength of the new lyrics by the intelligent and inspired to rock.

The media still had not woken up to the power of rock, although jingles in television advertisement saw a fresh new approach by using the talents of rockers like Foad Nasser Babu of Feedback and Ayub Baccchu then in Souls. The great artistry that the theatre personality Azfal Hossain advanced in telefilms making for consumer brand advertisements, was catered to the taste of the new young referred to as 'aajker projonmo' or 'today's new generation', complete with all the necessary package of fashion, consumerism, get up and move on attitude - that announced the arrival of liberated young Bengalee's serious in their efforts to right the wrongs done to a generation for years - to kick ass hard - in the rockers lingo. The young had begun to assert and like Dylan had sung in the seventies 'times they are a changing'. Tee shirt, jeans, sneakers and the base ball cap - quickly spread in our culture - but more was to come.

34. 1987 to 1990 the Formative Years - Rock becomes a national phenomenon
The devastating flood of 1987 was another shot in the arm for rock in Bangladesh. The three day long Flood Aid Concert at the Sheraton Hotel for the first time since the mid seventies saw a festival of rock bands with hundreds of screaming young and enthusiastic audience willing to pay a price for entrance to watch the show. More than eleven bands participated, showing the immense power of rock to deal with ravage - yet not a word was written in the local press.

Organised by Rebecca Hossain an expatriate Bengalee who had come in from London on vacation at the time- it showed that an organised platform was all that is required to make that one great move for rock to move - FORWARD. Rebecca not only organised the concert she also convinced the management of the Hotel Sheraton to donate its ballroom free for the concert. As if that was not enough, she also made arrangements for the rockers to hand over a cheque to the President of Bangladesh for Flood Relief an amount of close to Takas three hundred thousand.

It was first time that rockers came forward to help its own citizens in a calamity - and that ensured two things - assurance that concerts can bring in money if organized correctly as also one of the best avenues for rockers to showcase their unique talent.

By end of 1987 rockers formed the Bangladesh Musical Bands association (BAMBA) - a loosely organized platform were rockers pledged to perform free for any noble cause - to advance the purpose of the 'movement' - the new coinage. Between 1987 and 1999 - many more concerts were organized and to the urban Dhaka young, rock and BAMBA became synonymous for a good time and great music.

In 1990 after the fall of the dictator Hossain Mohammed Ershad following a bloody students uprising - rock exploded on to the national stage. On the 16th of December 1990, BAMBA organised for the first time in the history of Bangladesh an open-air concert in the Dhaka University - that was free for the general public. Starting at dawn and ending after dusk more than a dozen bands performed to a capacity and peaceful audience of over fifty thousand.

The stage was set for stadium rock to begin. Clearly the auditoriums and halls could not accommodate the new breed of Bangladesh young - hooked to rock. Rock had to move to bigger venues - there being non that could accommodate more than two thousand people at most - it moved to parks, open play fields and by 1992 to stadium, where again the young were willing to pay premium price to watch their rock heroes LIVE.

35. Rock for the Mass - Is this part of a new evolving Bengalee Culture?

From 1990 till today rock has not looked back. With state of art digital recording studios, to thousands of watts of amplification and laser lighting technologies, rock concerts in Bangladesh are a treat. Thanks to corporate sponsorship and the development of the audio industry together with music videos and liberal air time on rock radios and television channels, rock is a happening thing - no different in character than anywhere else in the world. Bangladesh is firmly placed in the rock map of the world, with dozens of international acts making Dhaka and Chittagong important venues for performance and all of this has happened without state patronage - very much a public sector entrepreneurs enterprise.

On an average fifty albums of rock acts are released in Bangladesh yearly, and some of them have already reached the million marks in sales. Whilst an absence of the rock press is still felt, rockers today have more media coverage then ever before and large concerts have seen attendance of fifty thousand or more audience even in far flung moffusils and district towns on to the University campus all over Bangladesh.

In 1992 Feedback, was the first band from Bangladesh to be ever recorded by an international label, the HMV/EMI in Calcutta, West Bengal. Concerts of Feedback in Calcutta, followed closely on heel by Souls, MILES and later Love Runs Blind (LRB) saw the rock phenomenon spread like a wildfire to West Bengal which today has more than a dozen of its own acts and a growing audience hooked to Bangladesh and West Bengal brand of Bengalee Band Music. In recent times bands like MILES, LRB and Ark have gone to the US and Britain for concert tours - and truly it is an international phenomenon, with most bands having their website on the Internet with their music on MP3 and videos as also a large presence in Napster!

Artistry has become so rigorous and well defined, that Bangladesh also has heavy metal rock acts that have a sizeable fan following and an underground rock scene that caters to new emerging bands with power and great talent. Every neighborhood in any major city in Bangladesh has a rock band, and competition is very steep with national level contest organized through corporate sponsorship.

36. The Future of Bengalee Culture - Destined to be heard

Given the tongue-lashing I have reserved for the old, I'd like to saw only this - that I have been privileged to be part of the rock fraternity in Bangladesh as an activist since 1977. I have seen its growth, its struggle and now its fruit, and all I can say is: there is no way one can deny the destiny of the young of Bangladesh between the age group of fifteen to thirty - who arguably constitute sixty percent of the population of Bangladesh. They have been shouting loud for years for their voices to be heard and indeed they are destined to be heard sooner than not.

In the new millennium Bangladesh sees immense possibilities in its young. Had we started early like we did with Music, the face of Bangladesh would have been transformed long ago. That unfortunately did not happen and it is all because of a failure our establishment to see the force and talent of our youth.

The child born on the 25th of March 1971 is thirty this year. A child that has only seen Bangladesh - and no other country he can love. To deny him an opportunity to love his country they way he sees best - is denying ourselves an opportunity to see ourselves firmly in the global world. We grapple with our priorities and the shameless political culture of doom. It will not be before long that a revolution - hopefully a peaceful one - will change things in Bangladesh, and make it free for its own citizens to sit back and enjoy the fruits of Liberation - its INDEPENCE. The next revolution will be led by the young - no different in thinking or attitude than any other in the world as we see it today. I wish them luck.

I dream to see the next revolution - and I dream, because I do not have to spend money dreaming. I dream for the best - for the best has been deprived off Bangladesh for far too long. I dream of clouds to clear before the rain. I hope everybody who has shared this long piece on culture with me - will also share the dream - and help shape a dream for a new future - which millions laid down their lives, without question, for the Bengalee language, for freedom and - BANGLADESH.


Thanks and gratitude:

Abdus Sabur Khan, senior broadcaster and cultural personality for not allowing me to go overboard by checking details of my comments, Fazlous Satter, Journalist, environmental activist, Adilur Rahman Khan Shuvo, lawyer and human right activist and member of Odhikar who first requested me to write on culture, Tanveer Chowdhury, friend and fellow free thinker, the Editor of News From Bangladesh, who agreed to serialise this in his on-line daily on the Internet, Naeem Mohaiemen, at HBO in New York who will also be serialising this piece in his onelist, Mr.Enayetullah Khan, Editor of the prestigious weekly Holiday in Dhaka who will also be serialising this piece despite my harsh opinions, Ahsanul Akbar, friend and Economics student at the University of Exeter in the UK who played the role of a puritanist cultural antagonist to keep me angry and excited and later conceded defeat, as also continued to egg me on to write after my period of 'creative slumber' in 2000, friend and fellow agnostic Joi Gautam Saha, Systems Analyst, Rosewell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York, who made sure that non of my remarks on his community were politically incorrect, as also the little bits and pieces of 'apostrophe' that my spell check okayed and I later could not edit out, to Saeed Haque Dio my sixteen year old son, who let me sit in and work at his PC inside his rehearsal pad, sacrificing his daily drum practise - and last if not least my dear buddy Emran Mahmud, Managing Director of Radio Metrowave who has been a constant source of support and understanding during all my trials and tribulations.

To my foes - life would be so dull without you!

This eight part 30th Birthday Tribute to Bangladesh was written by Mac between January and February 2001

First Published 19th February 2001

Monday, February 12, 2001

Bangladesh 2001: The Myth of Bengalee Culture - Part 7

26. What ails Bangladesh - The Diagnosis

Whatever has happened in Bangladesh in the last thirty years were things we could not predict, and whatever will happen in the next thirty is something we cant predict. In March of 1971 for instance, nobody was able to predict that by December of the same year, Bangladesh would emerge as an independent country. We are an unpredictable people because we have still not been able to control the events and situations around our lives, and nothing is more painful that the realization that so much was expected of Bangladesh when a generation rose in revolt against the Pakistani's and that revolt had much to do with what Bengalee's considered among others - their cultural differences with their then rulers.

We have failed to control events and situations around our lives, because we have been unable in the last thirty years to champion the cause of peace, freedom, and the right of the individual citizen - instead we have left our destiny in the hands of evil politicians, and chosen to demean ourselves with contrite cultural efforts, so that today we are oblivious to the threat a society - a people at large face, when it stands exposed with no 'great culture' to solicit the respect of the world.

While we talk ceaselessly about democracy, autocratic dictators have wrought havoc on our lives for more than half of those thirty years, and whatever democracy we have achieved, is merely a 'rubber stamp' version that allows Bangladesh to be recognized as a 'civilized country' in the family of the world - with foreign aid and World Bank packages meant to foster a semblance of civility. The truth is, to this day Bangladesh continues to receive the euphemistic recognition of a 'developing' country - meaning 'poor country'. We have built a new class of tyrants with Western patronage, who prefer to call themselves the 'civil society' - while in reality, it means the recognition of a fallacy, that the rest of the citizens of Bangladesh, other than those self proclaimed ones - are 'uncivil' or worthy of living only in a jungles. Again this is a new breed of the implied 'oshadhoron jonogon' or extraordinary people, a 'gentlemen' or 'bhodroloke' club, mainly 'intellectuals' and corrupt NGO coalitions. It is indeed a travesty of fate that the supposedly neutral President of Bangladesh could be a participant to one such 'civil society' hoopla, some years back only subscribing to a clear divide and manipulations of the coterie interest. Our 'democratic' Governments therefore are in no way been better or different than out brutal autocrats that came and went - and may yet come again? The difference if at all is cosmetic.

When Henry Kissinger sometimes in 1972 called Bangladesh an 'International basket case', the leaders of our country thanks to their cultural inadequacies quickly turned those words around to mean tola heen jhuree or a 'bottomless basket'! Thankfully we have managed to sew in the torn bottom, but our problems did not end there. The divide between the rich and poor continued to magnify in snow balling proportions, so that today Bangladesh is in no different a state than it was just after the war.

Every 'democratic' Government that came and went, made it a point to complain to 'donor countries' the sheer brutality and corruption of one or the other while in Opposition. However when it moved to power no political party carried any mandate to restore confidence in its people - by assurances of dignity in life, economic development, restoration of peace an and end to mindless violence while the most fundamental absence remains: Liberty.

27. Western Largesse - The New East India Company find roots

Western largesse and aid meant for poor, found way to the pockets of the new rich, who were in one way or the other part of the 'system' I have explained in an earlier chapter. Unmonitored 'foreign aid' more than solving the basic problems of Bangladesh only fostered the growth of a ruling class no different in character and composition, than the exploiters and sycophants created by the British East India Company more than two hundred years ago. Nepotism and corruption has gotten institutionalized, and the West has unwillingly played a major role in the sheer misery of the people of Bangladesh.

While aids and donations came with many strings attached, one of the strings that inadvertently stuck was the continuos down gradation of life of the common people of Bangladesh. It became important for our leaders to play up on our miseries and abject poverty to donors, without any commendable effort at self reliance and development, that could have easily been achieved if the West only understood our culture and took measures suitably to counter the threats that their money could bring.

While the West continued to fund, the money spent did not buy them the 'influence' to create opportunities for poverty alleviation of our people on its 'own terms'. Western money was indeed used and continues to be used as a bonus, for the usurpation of Indian interest in Bangladesh, and no Western donor or aid giving country has ever challenged any Government of the day - to this one specific point.

Components of culture routinely played about saw them somewhat at a loss to identify any 'natural gains' - and while moral lessons specifically in gender related issues, birth control, health and hygiene are 'thrust' area - the ratio in money spent and causes advanced with success is paltry.

28. The Grim Scenario - All Set for Mutual Destruction

We continue to have among the highest infant mortality rates in the world as also the highest births. Basic medical support to our citizens are pathetically lacking, and doctors in Bangladesh with negligible exceptions, are amongst the most insensitive people in any communities that they operate. The rich and middle class in Bangladesh traditionally rely on 'advanced' medical help available in India and the consequent burden on our resources is appalling. One in five women in Bangladesh have child births through caesarean sections, and the reason for that is the promise of more money for doctors through surgery. The medical profession in Bangladesh is by and large a business with profits more important than prognosis.

While the Bangladesh Government denies any great number of HIV AIDS patient in its population, more than ten thousand people travel to Kolkata daily, where a large number of them visit brothels that have a history of active HIV carriers. The case is also the same for the number of people visiting Bangkok in Thailand.

AIDS awareness programs revolve around useless 'cultural exercises' - such as rallies with children wearing paper caps and display of festoons about the ravages of AIDS, releasing of gas balloons and pigeons into the air, as also fish fries into ponds and lakes!

The discussion in public of homosexuality or promiscuity is still taboo - and most hoarding will appeal to citizen's to stick to 'religious edicts and preaching' in the prevention of AIDS, not even suggesting which particular edict to follow. In one of the most bizarre AIDS campaign that I have seen, millions of dollars were spent on AIDS prevention messages on the back of tickets of the national airline - Biman. The idea was after reading the message, passengers will not engage in 'illicit sex' while visiting a foreign country - the danger of contracting AIDS apparently does not exist in Bangladesh! Are we being naïve or plain stupid?

29. The Drug Epidemic - A Campaign to Wipe out the Young

Unknown to the West is the epidemic of codeine addiction in the large and clandestine export of the cough syrup PHENSYDYL from India, which it is banned in Bangladesh. Heroin is the next big kick to codeine users and the increasing and alarming cases of hold-ups and snatching in all major cities and towns of Bangladesh is attributed to drug addiction. Drug rehabilitation center's are very few and restricted to only urban areas and major hospitals do not have the infrastructure to handle substance abuse emergencies, neither are treatments available for free. The absence of psychiatric help and long term counseling results in a large number of cases of repeat drug addicts.

Clearly the young of Bangladesh with a potential future is being targeted for destruction by India, and to this date there has been no effort by any Government to take the matter up with any sincerity with India. Large criminal nexus operating in Dhaka are armed to the teeth and are used recklessly to promote political violence, their funding by the Indian intelligence agency RAW coming in form of 'open license' i.e. state patronage to indulge in narcotic, and gold trafficking. Bangladesh is the gateway to the world for much of the drugs that is produced in the Golden Triangle - and many drug Mafia dons are Members of Parliament.

Bangladesh should declare an emergency on drug addiction in its 'highest priority' and seek Western help to eliminate the menace on an urgent basis. A narcotic ban agreement with India is the demand of the hour. The more delay that we encounter - will see us in the thick of social and political problems that we do not have the experience to easily handle. We do not have the resource or the patience to deal with addicts with empathy.

Drugs see no class division in Bangladesh. Its spread is all encompassing. The next victims could well be our own children - this is no nightmare, this is for real. This is the tip of an iceberg. The crash - will mean the crash of the young, the future of Bangladesh that we have made a habit of talking in very high terms without meaning a damn thing.

30. The Bengalee Language and its Usage - Our Death knell

After the Independence of Bangladesh in 1971, great emphasis was placed on the proliferation of Bengalee in all affairs of the state. Although this effort saw widespread use (even abuse) of the language, what became apparently a major setback was the total and absolute rejection of English. While English was then, and still is compulsory in school and college level examinations, its standard specially in the written and oral tradition dwindled to an extent of it being reduced to a language of only the 'elite'.

Somehow English became unfashionable in the new culture of Bangladesh, and anybody who could speak or write the language was an object of suspicion. The popular culture made every effort to reduce the language to a farce, and today the biggest problem that we face is the inability of Bengalee's to make intelligent conversations or decipher much of the English scripts that goes around, even with those having a Bachelors or Masters degree from our many reputed Universities.

On to the mid nineties when the IT revolution made its first appearance in Bangladesh, the first hurdle that we had to encounter was the English language. Many spoken English course schools opened up in the cities and here was this great race to catch up. Programming schools mushroomed overnight as also folded operations, only because they offered courses in English, which had no takers. Consequently Bangladesh today ranks much behind, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal in spoken and written English.

As the Internet came in the absence of people with basic English knowledge skills saw us many years behind the Indians, who made good use of English - even fine tuning a pidgin version called 'Hinglish'.

However much of the real talent in the IT industry in Bangladesh today, are students who had an education in English medium schools with a GCE - O or A Level, but all over Bangladesh the normal English curriculum is still a detrimental factor to come across skilled professionals who can act on their own with relative confidence in the language. English is still the language of the elite - and the division of classes continues unabated - on language grounds. Consequently for those that are in their mid thirties in Bangladesh - the lack of English language skills finds them desperately ill equipped for any major employment opportunity and frustrations abound. Simple email correspondence with Bangladesh companies will point to our failure to have a grip in mastering a world language - as we had somehow like the Chinese or the Japanese exuberantly expected the world to learn Bengalee in 1971 to deal with us! That Economics and not politics will ensure the survival and spread of our 'mother language' was something that our founding fathers, our early planners and policy makers had not taken into cognisance. A new generation is having to shoulder the burden of those early failures - and for Bangladesh to catch up with the rest of the world it is still an uphill struggle - a struggle that has only painfully started - but showing sure signs of success.

31. World Culture - Deshi Rock in the Dock

Adaptation of 'world culture' however started soon after the Liberation War and the first evidence was noticed in Music that went on to make very important 'cultural statements' of things to come. Bengalee Rock Music or Band Music was one of the products of gain in our culture following the War.

In the Bengalee language the early rock bands started a bush fire that ignited the passionate war weary young - a fire that would soon envelop Bangladesh and set into motion a 'counter culture' that is all set to unseat the hypocrisy of the decaying 'old fashioned culture' - with its attitude, message, hopes, patriotism, sensibility, socio-political activism, love, heritage, secularism, anti communalism, anti fascism, anti extremism - indeed all that was missing from a 'culture' that was thrust on the people of Bangladesh, saw a revolt after 1971 in Band Music.

From Revolt to an ongoing Revolution, Bangladesh Band Music has come a long way.

Lot more about it in the concluding - Part 8.

First Published 12th February 2001

Monday, February 05, 2001

Bangladesh 2001: The Myth of Bengalee Culture - Part 6

History is who writes it,
unlived and lived again history changes with the pen,
who writes history walks on water,
distorts the sleep of buried dreams,
and transforms to wine the stream of time,
history is the contrite blood of Christ.

History is an apparition,
of wisdom's holy ghost in extradition,
history is a fractured vision,
caught in oceans of inscrutable time,
history is the crucible of the heavens,
who walks with history talks in parables,
whose words consort with rhymes and riddles,
who fiddles a sad psalm,
history is a dust storm.

History is a living thing, a gusty tree,
growing and bestowing,
its roots, unforgiving spread deep in grief,
extending steep its limbs to implore an end of its repetition,
who reads or heeds it understands,
history is a crust of bread that feeds a multitude,
from the palm of broken hands.

The coagulated thread of civilizations bled,
the scourge of God,
Noah's flood the rod of Moses parting seas,
and Ali's forked sword is history,
the morning star of Al-Zulfiqar,
history is a dead moon,
exhumed by Ibne Khaldoon.

History is the light of a rainbow at midnight,
history is the rain's ablution the wind's intuition,
and extinction of the animal kingdom,
history is the death by flight of the ozone layer,
the glare of radiation history is the suffocation
with a green house effect, history is a nuclear future.

History is a chronicle of crimes destiny by design,
the indestructible soul meandering through time,
history is the romance of destiny by chance.

History is a cryptic beauty,
and Oxonian or Smithsonian historians
when you dip your sharpened pencil into the silence of antiquity,
do be sure to be secure of fate,
before you embrace the subtle curvature of time and space.

Before disremembering the Gordian
knot remember Lot,
and his wife the statuesque pillar of the salt of life,
who seeks her favours, savours the flair for snare,
inherits the curse the face and Medusa's head of history,
and listen to the wailing dead,
their orisons too late History is a hooded figure,
disfigured by love and hate history has a painted face,
concealing in disgrace a congenital eczema
an emotional leprosy of the soul,
history is a charlatan curing
all with an hardening of the arteries, history is Hiroshima.

Tread carefully my friend the lover of destiny,
must circumvent the quicksand's of a lattering palmistry,
and who binds history,
is a blind poet stumbling through the wooded pathway of his sonnet,
to a wounded gate
where history has many streams and waterfalls into infinity...

History is the garden of Allah.

© Nadeem Rahman, History, Poems of Expiation

22. History of Bangladesh: Condemned to Repetition

The History of the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971 is by far the most distorted piece of cultural documentation that we have inherited. Thirty years to this month of March 2001, I consider it a patriotic duty not to indulge in the profanity and sheer hypocrisy that it has been reduced to, keeping in mind what my poet friend Nadeem Rahman has mentioned above. One more change of hand and it becomes one more rape, and one more illegitimate version - that I certainty do not want to be a party to.

My only remarks would be that readers who have been painfully following the last five episodes of this writing, have more than ample similes to come to a simple conclusion, that our dishonesty and betrayal with culture has also resulted in dishonesty and betrayal with our history that has only been a catastrophe for our 'shadahron jonogon' - not our elite or the middle class who have since 'hijacked' the War as their personal or party property fraught with their alignments - non of which is aligned to the interest of Bangladesh. Never ever will the history of Bangladesh be written with any degree of authority or authenticity. There is no proverbial silver lining behind our dark clouds.

If blood is a price to pay for Independence, it is the 'shadharon jonogon' who has overpaid, while our elite has only catapulted themselves into 'position' or 'opposition', or whatever over time, standing tall on the accumulated skeletons that the 'masses' and not those on the 'fringe' have left behind.

History has only been fair to winners - and while the common man in Bangladesh won its Independence, it never stood to enjoy the fruits that it so much deserved. While we kicked the Pakistani's out, we made enemies real or imagined in every juncture of our history among our own people - to the extent that the thin line between fact and fiction has gotten more an more dimmer and complicated with passage of each year.

Differences on the question of history alone, and its many versions that is played about with impunity has seen the deaths of thousands of people in Bangladesh most of whom were young. The price Bangladesh has had to pay and is probably still paying for democracy would put the world to shame. Shame as thirty year down the line all the political parties that have come to the lime light of power have found more use of goons and thugs - and while tall talks about curtailing 'terrorism' abound - the truth is our political culture can not operate without terrorism, without threats and importantly without deaths. The piling of dead bodies ensures political survival. Decency and civility are things we probably have no fondness for.

The India factor stands high on our portrayal of patriotism. Thirty vain glorious years later a generation is being asked to remain loyal not to Bangladesh, but to India for its 'help' to our people in 1971 - and never to question its role since. The 'Spirit of the War of Liberation' - which I have earlier referred to as 'chetonization', seeks a clear divide of a people - not its unity, and the philosophy is played up in proportions that one can only call institutionalised lunacy. Revenge for 'crimes of 1971' is been harped up over and over again, to a generation who by and large were born after 1971, and had no role to play in the shaping of its bloody history. The only crime that these young have committed perhaps is being born in the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh?

Bengalee's before 1971 had heroes and traitors in its popular culture who were never Bengalee's in the first place? The 1857 Battle of Plassey, a historical spark reference point for Bengalee nationalism saw the transformation into a 'hero' the tyrant Nawab of Bengal, Sirajud Dowla and the 'national arch traitor' Mir Jafar for his betrayal of Bengal to the British. However neither of them were Bengalee's.

Similarly the word 'Razakar' to describe collaborators with the Pakistani army of occupation in 1971 is a Persian expression - not Bengalee and is a distortion of its original pronunciation 'Rezakar' or 'volunteers'. A strong and far reaching Bengalee word has yet to be invented to express the contempt we feel for these villains's of infamy. Every new day sees newer versions of traitors hobnobbing with the people we have vested our confidence in, and our valuable yet occasional mandate on - LEADERS, who have made it a culture to deceive and distort for petty personal or partisan gains.

Will readers please try and work out wonderful new terminology's in 'pure, correct and cultured Bengalee' that could aptly describe these jokers! I give up……

23. The Patriotic Culture - The Last Vestige of Scoundrels

If economic domination and unfair play in determining our destiny are factors that led to our struggle for Independence, the mistakes we made with Pakistan are the same mistakes we are repeating with India, and today all aspects of our existence revolves around paving the way for the eventual colonization of Bangladesh by the great Republic of India.

A flag and map is all we have inherited to express our geographical independence, the Liberation of our petty minds from complacency, deceit and co-opting to India's will, and standing firm for what Bangladesh is all about, has been shoved to historical dustbins. Support for India and its demeaning communal policy towards Bangladesh will place you in the favors of our 'patriots'. India bashing makes you a 'coward enemy of the people' - even a traitor! So be it.

Prior to 1971 what use to irk the people of Bangladesh was the role of Punjabi nationals of Pakistani descent who were 'muscling in' just about everywhere in our civil administration or private sector - mainly as Managers or Technicians. Menial jobs were left to the Bengalee's - so that in effect, after 1971 the greatest paucity we had was the absence of qualified Managers and sound entrepreneurial capacity among our citizens. Talented Bengalee's would have to compete with the Pakistani's for their dire existence in all jobs including the civil and military bureaucracy. All good jobs would be in the hands of expatriate Pakistanis.

Today the scenario is just about the same. While thousands of talented young Bengalee's with an education are deprived of a job opportunity and find only doors slammed on their faces, Indian nationals of lesser talent and a smattering of the duh duh 'Indianized English' spoken skills are paid six fold salaries and facilities they would normally receive in their own country. The advertisement business, media, multi national companies are now in the firm hands of Indians - some even in sensitive position's detrimental to the security of Bangladesh. Ironically 'management graduates' from the many suspect institution in by-lanes and alleys of Kolkata have the plum jobs in Dhaka - something unimaginable back home?

While Bangladesh nationals have made a mark in the countries that they have gone to anywhere else in the world, in Bangladesh they are discriminated in preference for Indian 'experts'. The pecuniary advantages offered to Indians could have easily seen hundreds of aspiring and qualified Bangladesh nationals queuing in for the same jobs - but for 'patriotic' reasons - that does not happen.

We have conspired to allow the Indian take-over of Bangladesh, and the first phase, media and transmission offensive has already been a great success, thanks again to our 'patriotic' citizens. India does not need to conduct a geographical invasion of Bangladesh to raise its tricolour in Dhaka. Given half a chance - our own Bengalee 'patriots' will do it for them - it is only a matter of time.

While Marwari's together with local collaborators busted the back of our stock exchange in 1996 and brought our infantile yet prospective capital market to its knee, while Marwari's have a stake in one of the largest Bengalee newspaper in Bangladesh whose agenda is communal and distinctly anti-Bangladesh, while the IT industry and computer training schools with dubious 'international' credibility is in the Indian domain and controlled as some press reports would suggest, by operatives of the RAW, while the garments industries and buying houses are controlled by Indians, while restaurants in Dhaka bring in Indian chefs to prepare culinary delights, Bangladesh is being denied a fair chance to trade, its hands twisted firmly backward till it complies to perform as determined - or perish.

The recent incident of battery manufacturers from Bangladesh being battered by anti-dumping legislation in India, is a stark reminder. All of that, and now an attempt by an Indian company to set up a battery manufacturing plant in Dhaka with 'local collaborators' to delete all 'threats' from Bangladesh companies, who have less than 01 % percent of the Indian battery market!

Is India afraid of Bangladesh's potentials? Who knows.

Lets look at the melamine crockery exports to India in the early nineties as another case scenario. Price, Packaging, Product and quality wise, they beat any Indian competitor hands down and turned out to be a great success in West Bengal and other neighbouring states that they were marketed. Yet the Marwari's raised a hue and cry, 'isko bandh karna hai' (this has got to be stopped) raised the tariff and levy so that it became impossible to operate profitably across the border.

Unlike the battery manufacturers cribbing for attention with hopes for a fair playing ground, the melamine crockery business shifted base to the Middle East where it stood to make more profits that it did by trading with India?

Given half a chance, Bangladesh can easily be the lean and trotting horses of the sub continent that can quickly shift and outsmart the heavy elephant India truly is. But these are success stories that rarely get reported - so no regrets!

24. The rise of the Bhajakars - Patriotic Traitors?

Thanks to what began as an 'open policy' in the BNP era in the early nineties, the Indian cultural take-over is in effect complete. With music, films, serials, cinema, news and views dominating almost 90% of Indian overused or abused viewing and listening times of Bangladesh nationals (ZEE TV being the favourite television channel of Sheikh Hasina, to quote no less but her husband), their 'fashion' models, film stars, cricketers, pop stars have a ready market in Bangladesh no different from any other provincial state of the Indian Republic - Made in India, Vande Mataram and Jai Hind - already an integral part of the popular vocabulary.

What do we call these 'pro Indian collaborators' in our culture and politics? If collaborating or 'dalali' with the Pakistani occupation forces saw the coining of the term 'Razakars', I suggest for future usage - when in the unlikely event of Bangladesh becoming a truly independent country - the word 'Bhajakar' meaning 'Bharotiyo dalal'. (Indian collaborators). Any other colourful expression is more than welcome!

It has become fashionable in our political culture to appropriate blame on one or other party to be 'pro-Indian' on a day to day basis. The truth is ALL our political parties i.e. Awami League, BNP, Jatiyo Party even the Jamaat e Islam operate on a pro-Indian agenda, and our political future will therefore remain firmly in the hands of how India decides for us.

While the Awami League is yet unsure of its possibilities of coming back for another four years in election 2001 - if at all the BNP does, it will be by default, not because the people of Bangladesh have any great love for them, but because the people of Bangladesh have become rabidly anti-Awami League (read anti Indian).

IF the BNP does come to power there might be some surgical redefining scenarios at the cultural level, i.e. more doses of 'jasbahization' (Spirits of Islam) that will have the 'kut mullahs' given more access to determine every aspect of our 'national life'. Nothing positive will happen to get us anywhere out of the political quagmire that traps our people, period. While the patriotic card will inevitably be played out with wild abandon in the run up to Election 2001, no political party will raise the specific point of Indian cultural or economic subjugation. The mandate will be determined by those on the 'liberal Islam pro India' side of the fence. The people who will inevitably be 'fenced in' are those that accept Islam as a part of Bengalee culture - which is conveniently forgotten by parties once they hop into the hot beds of power. Not to forget that Islam is neither Bengalee nor Muslim in our culture !

25. Talent and Technology: Juggling with devices

While Bangladesh is still considered amongst the poorest of the poor in the world, what surprises many is the easy and early availability of technology before any other countries in the subcontinent. The first VCP's that were seen in India were actually smuggled in from Bangladesh. Up until 1990 Bangladesh Television (BTV) was the hot favourite of Indian TV viewers in West Bengal and North East India, not only LIVE coverage of Olympics or World Cup football, but stale drama serials and news as well. That all changed once the Indian satellite televisions stormed in and turned the table.

Consider necessary devices like the pagers (late eighties), cellular phones (early nineties), video conferencing facilities, (late eighties) email (early nineties) and the Internet (1995), Bangladesh nationals had access to all of these well before India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. Yet it is a great shame that they came in for the 'consumption' of our elite - at a price unheard of anywhere. Early cell phones for instance sold for over two thousand dollar - today anyone can have one for less than two hundred dollars - still expensive - but imagine the early ripoffs by monopolist businesses, aligned to parties in power! Similarly all other information related technology came early yet we could not make any effort to counter the sustained Indian domination over the last five years or so.

Shall we move on to some positive 'cultural gain' and bring this morbid exercise to a conclusion? Shall we be proud of who we are? Shall we once again tell India and the rest of the world that 'up there' is where Bangladesh belongs - so dont dare tread on us any more.

On this thirtieth birthday - shall we be brave enough to show the Indians an index finger?

Hello ! Are there any 'patriotic' Bengalee's around?

First Published 5th February 2001