Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Valentine XPress: 'Younging Gracelessly' - Tethered to Stagnant Times

"Life inevitably translates into time. That is why the sum total of a life is called a 'lifetime'. Freedom is the potential to spend one's time in any fashion one determines." Gil Scott-Heron, November 3rd 1998 (Words For The Mind)

1. Of Valentine Day and 'Black Make-up'

It was while fixing a frame for a shot which needed my physical presence (or anchoring as they call it) in a Valentine's Days Special for Bangladesh Television that our camera person Rinkon suggested ever so politely if I would consider using 'black make-up' for my graying hair. I was assured that this could be brushed aside once the shoot was over! For the uninitiated 'black makeup' is quite the opposite of 'white make-up', used in hair when your script demands that you make a younger person look 'old' in the visuals.

My nonchalant reaction was my hair was graying not because I was 'aging gracefully' but because I was 'younging gracelessly'. The usual round of laughter followed, and it was not until I sat to have a first glance at my own mug during editing that I realized: Rinkon could not have been more correct.

What the mirror in my toilet had constantly betrayed over the years is what the Betacam camera would not. More than half my head had turned gray and while I reminded myself that at 'forty something' this was only a 'natural phenomenon', I felt a tinge of happiness for holding my ground. Take it away - I have really nothing to hide: at least my hair never ever received a layer of dye - nor have I found the habit of applying 'henna' as a lot of people do to disguise their graying hair (and age) to a 'saffron brown' particularly in good taste!

St. Valentines Day came and went with its usual fanfare and a whole dose of controversy. In Bangladesh where we have been on a belated streak of 'internationalism' it was rather humorous to see a lot of papers refer to this as the 'Antorjatik Bhalobasha Dibosh' - or 'International LOVE Day' ! I reminded my audience at a concert the same evening at the TSC in the Dhaka University, that there is no such thing - as there is no such thing as an 'International Eid ul Azha' or 'International Christmas'.

2. Of Fanatic and Lunatics we call Fundamentalist

The propaganda of the VHP or RSS in India compared evenly in tone and content to what the Khatib of Baitul Mukarram in Bangladesh was saying. 'Imported vulgarity', 'alien culture' and the usual assortment - not to forget 'Christian conspiracy to spoil the moral of youth' of our respective countries. All said and done, what I found of particular interest were the comments that followed in Letters Column by some of our 'cultural and religious luminaries' against Valentine. The strongest argument was 'how can LOVE be dedicated to merely one day - are we not supposed to LOVE each other every day of the year?' Fair question. But then why did we have to select one day for Eid ul Azha or 'korbani'? If 'korbani' means 'sacrifice' - after having digested all that beef and mutton, do we really make any effort the rest three hundred and sixty four days of the year to 'sacrifice' hatred, animosity and above all the urge to insult and humiliate anybody whether that be an adult or even a child - the 'lofty' but easily forgotten 'ideals' of Eid ul Azha?

For that matter do we really need an Ekushey February (21st February) to remind ourselves the sacrifices for the Bangla language when fifty years down the line we realize the haplessness and sheer backwardness of our lot, in our failure to master the English language - neither have we been able to make Bangla an acceptable International language. Also have we made any analysis of the significance of what this so-called 'recognition of UNESCO' making the day an 'International Mother Language Day' (doubt if this is celebrated internationally) truly means to us?

I have no ready answers - but tragically those of us taking comfort on the 'conservative and progressive fringe' of society with the advantage of AGE on our side, are also behaving and endorsing 'fanatic and lunatic fundamentalism' - not to forget that fundamentalism (if there is such a word) is not connotative of any religion - but an evil, almost 'satanic religion' in its own right, and a religion that dictates us to preach hate, war-mongering, exploit confusion, shackle us ruthlessly and deliberately, lead us backwards - not FORWARD - no matter which side of the fence you prefer to sit on.

What do I mean ? Please read on.

3. Mid Life and 'Mid Section' Crisis'

Now AGE as far as my book goes is a perverse state of mind, perhaps even a mental disease. You are as young/old as you want to be or as much as your frame of reference will allow you to be. The day one starts thinking that one is 'aging' is also the day one starts dying, a death worse than cancer - for ultimately it is an eczema of the soul, a self inflicted leprosy on the vital force we call LIFE - a gangrene we cannot amputate but have to live and endure with the stink it overbears us with. Physical aging is no indicator of mental aging and vice versa. It all boils down to mental stamina, adaptability and dexterity or the lack of it.

Among my 'like aged' if not 'like minded' friends all on a sudden there is such a thing called 'mid life crisis' (as if most of us will live to the ripe old age of eighty - God spare us! ) and together with diabetes, hypertension, graying hair line and fighting losing battles with the flab, we also have to contend with our gangly pre or post teen children, on a day to day basis - and who more often than not, in our own words are 'out of control'!

We blame the MTV, other satellite channels and the vulgar media among others - but never ourselves. All of this CRISIS if we may, bang in the middle of our homes, bang in the middle of our 'mid life crisis', bang in the middle of where it is most unnecessary - because physiologically it is BANG, a 'mid section' problem! Never earlier in life do we start procrastinating as seriously as to what determines actions - or how best to control (a Hitlerian term) organs parked comfortably in the 'middle' of our children's legs - than now!?

Let me explain.

4. No sex please we are Bengalees and the 'Maanoosh ' Manufacturing Machine'

We are after all Bengalees -the 'no thrill' entity of Mother Nature - as if we are some 'creature' that has evolved outside the 'natural process'.? Regrettably in our culture, the term 'sexually active' does not exist and is referred to as 'nongramee' or a 'dirty act' in common parlance. By implication it also means that for a Bengalee the very process of 'birth' is 'dirty' and therefore LIFE itself is nothing but a load of FILTH. The culture of denial of dignity towards each other starts with the basic denial of our blessed birth because it is only a culmination of this 'nongramee'- that mother earth allowed us our bedeviled entry - is the standard yet perverse mindset.

Very good.

That is not all, we also start using the term 'cheley meyeder maanoosh kortay hobay' - translated into English to mean 'we have got to start making MEN out our sons and daughters'. I choose to use the word MEN to translate 'maanoosh' for much as I reflect, it only goes to confirm our societies penchant for gender oppression that starts from that point on, and the female species is targeted to bear the brunt as these are again diktats of a male chauvinist establishment. However it was the Baul's who first pointed out to me that 'Maa' or the 'mother' comes first before 'noosh' (whatever that means)- yet we term Maanoosh as 'Men' or precisely the male species?

While we boast about the fact that the head of our Government or our Opposition are WOMEN - we dare not question the fact that in reality they are nothing more than mere representatives of the male dominated status quo.

The other English word for 'maanoosh' is 'human'? - however, I selectively wish not to use that term because in our exercise of constantly downgrading and 'running down' our children, this on the flip side would mean that we have created a bunch of 'omanoosh', translated - 'inhuman', 'wild creatures' from out of our own loins.

Here at 'mid life' we have decided somehow to be able to 'break' them like they 'break and tame' wild horses - or beat them back into our perfect criteria of 'maanoosh' bravo. 'Mid Life' is also the time in our lives that we like to take on very fashionable 'public positions' regarding 'gender violence', 'discriminations' etc -, however, in context of how we treat our children, I sometimes wonder if there is also an AGE so to speak, for all these hypocritical and so called 'lofty ideals' to take root in our psyche. Psychologically, the 'Us versus THEM stand off culture' starts at home and remains ingrained till worms in our graves have devoured us. Memory fails me - but who was it that once said 'charity begins at home and end rights there - so let's FORGET IT!' - no misnomer for Bangladesh.

I mean it is quite passe and fashionable to stand up to police raping women, and communal disharmony, or suicide spate among young women (human chains in front of the Press Club or any other stale ideas) because mouthing those 'causes' ensures us a cushy presence in our 'bhodroloke' (gentlemen) society that salutes us for our 'adorsho' (ideals) - but what about those victims that we routinely discriminate in our own homes, inflict physical and mental torture in our grandiose plan to make 'maanoosh' out of? How many times in our lives have we made sincere efforts to investigate rapes of our children by uncles, cousins, tutors - worst of all even the domestic help who we hoped would blind eyed help us in the 'maanoosh' making exercise?

Our children do not have a 911 phone line here in Bangladesh to call the police for help when we bash them up and a law prohibiting 'Oppression against Women and Children'- is also a law that requires an adult to intervene on behalf of the child to make it a 'specific case'. A child's complaint without a 'guardian' is incomplete in the eyes of the law - because we have conspired with the 'powers that be' that they are not yet 'maanoosh' enough to do so. The 'nongramee' clause in our culture - seeks to prohibit sex education - and going to the law would make our children who are victim of parental abuse - not only misfits, but remanded to 'protective custody' where nightmare far worse and more diverse then ones they already experienced - awaits them like predatory hyenas. We patronizingly create 'policies' and laws for the 'welfare' of our children, but never try to figure out if our children have anything to say about things that will determine the course of their own lives - their ONE life time.

The sum total of the 'Oppression against Women and Children' law is that it brings us sheer pleasure because it allows us to sit as moral 'guardian angels' three hundred and sixty degree - doesn't it?

5. Returning Residents - The Confused American Deshis Cultural Shock

A recent report in the daily Manabzamin tabloid - which I read every morning to monitor how 'low' we can get.

Its not the events following 11th September 2001, but 'cultural reasons' that an American Bengalee couple has returned back to Bangladesh. What in the love of God is that - I ponder and read on.

The 'cultural reason' is actually 'culture shock' - shock because the mother (an American citizen) has 'discovered to her horror' that her fourteen year old daughter has been bunking school to 'see' (dekha korto) her American boyfriend. Seems she is not the only one - most American kids do the same - and if I may be allowed to be so candid - so do a lot of them here in Sonar Bangla, Bangladesh! School Polatok Meye (School Bunking Girls) the 1995 song of the band NOVA says it all.

'Bad kids' - hey kids - what is it that you can 'see' in the daylight 'sacrificing' your parent's money and studies that you cannot 'see' at night or vice versa? Put a stop to it, said her parents- and so the Bengalee American kid - obediently did so - or as it seemed.

On a hunch - two weeks later the mother returned home just after lunch to 'see' her daughter and her American boyfriend engrossed 'deep in conversation' in their 'own living room' (nijer baritay dibbi adda dicchay ). Enough is enough and the couple decides to pack bag and return to Bangladesh - and 'may consider returning to the US once their daughter turns eighteen' - the report ends.

In the next four years they hope to make 'maanoosh' out of her - 'of what kind ' - I do not have a clue.

6. What are we trying to protect?

Reminds me way back in 1995 a University friend (shall we call her Farzana ) who was planning on returning for similar reasons from Canada. 'Mac they hand over condoms to fourteen year old kids - can you beat that!'

I remember telling Farzana, that if she was planning to return to Bangladesh 'only to protect her daughter's virginity' - it would be an exercise in futility - for she could lose it any way, right here in Bangladesh. Half in jest, I told her that there is simply no way to stop such a 'dirty thing from happening' other than painfully designing a unique 'chastity belt' and ensuring that she has custody to the key at all times. If she loses it or misplaces it - well too bad for her - 'too good' for her daughter!

The 'maanoosh manufacturing machines' if allowed to flourish in Bangladesh will soon be designing such belts - and will surprise me no end, if they are even seriously contemplating female circumcision?

At the end of the day Bengalee boys in the US fare better off. They come back properly 'maanooshed' with their degrees and certificates from their alma maters - as well as album full of photographs or American beauties they were merely 'seeing' - as their parents will tell you proudly.

They are, now on the look out for a 'perfectly virgin' bride in Bangladesh for their 'America tay maanoosh howa' son?


Dhaka, 4th March 2002 - never published by any mainstream daily for reasons of 'sensitivity' - hairay Maanoosh!


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