Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Acculturation and our Gutter Garbage complex

It is once too often that we are required to comment on ‘the state of culture’ in Bangladesh and what becomes apparent as and when confronted with this extremely barbed issue, is how little we understand what this so-called ‘culture’ is really all about. It is bewildering how we Bengalis will stand up and ‘resist’ anything that we cannot easily comprehend at the first instance, and move into rapturous states of dementia when the status quo in our ‘comfort zones’ are challenged by anything that we in our infinite judgment, have made up our minds are ‘alien’ and will cause us harm.

Trite with exasperation and irate in our inadequacies, we lash out quite understandably as if it were a treasure in our ‘national psyche’, which is inherently threatened because it is apparently ‘so rich’, and must be defended; yet in our defense we have been pathetic paraplegics! We Bengalis are an excitable race, and nothing excites us more when it comes to the question of this holy ‘shongskriti’ and the precept of how it was, still is, and will remain in the foreseeable future, are ‘serious matters’ that keeps us enraptured as also, hopelessly deluded.

For one, the word ‘culture’ as defined, used or ‘abused’ today, is an invention of our British colonial masters and dates back to the Victorian era. It is a literal derivative from the word ‘krishi’ or agriculture, and for all intended purpose, used on the same premise and parameter i.e. an exercise to control and exploit nature in creating food for man. In a round about way, it means an ability to study the natural laws of science and explore avenues in ‘controlling and exploiting’.

The commodity being exploited for gain was Man and his sense of aesthetics, and this was also a time in Bengal’s history when it became obvious that whoever it was that wanted to ‘control and exploit’ our fate politically, needed to have just that extra dosage of knowledge to be masters of the land and our destiny. The Zamindars (landlords) class was created and before long the early imperialist used this ‘landed gentry’ of their selection, to collaborate and advance the idea of a so-called ‘culture’, that would lead to the control and mastery in the mindset of the tilling and toiling ‘chotolokes’ (low life’s) intrinsically creating a new class after ‘have and have not’s’ – the ‘have plenty’s’! Thus, for all practical purpose the word ‘shongskriti’ might henceforth be termed ‘shongskrishi’ – or exploitation of the human species much as one would ‘agri-culture’?

The ‘elite’ of Bengal were indeed the minority then as is today, yet by wielding this ‘sword of culture’ have consistently defined and repainted whatever suited their immediate exigency or lack thereof. This defined and ‘refined culture’ was not democratic but tyrannical and dictatorial in practice. Unfortunately then, as even today, the vast majority of our populations were deliberately targeted and there seems to be no end to the shielded class warfare that has remained, despite the many insurrections, rebellions, near revolutions and ‘Independence’ that has been our fate.

So what then is the true ‘culture’ of Bangladesh?

For one we have a proud natural heritage of acculturation, and an infinite ability to assimilate. Historically ours has never been a regimented society, and all indications are that natives of Bengal were always open, appreciative and accommodative to other cultures. That is our culture in its uniqueness and try as we may, our apprehensions that this intangible but treasured commodity is always under some form of ‘threat’, in a way guarantees its well being and prosperous health. A melting pot we may be, but we readily do not accept anything without questioning.

The only problem however, we have till this day not been able to shed off our alarmist doomsday mindset that gets unduly activated, as we are not in the habit of doing our homework’s right. What we view as an ‘invasion’ at the outset, earlier than we had thought, we tend to accept them, make them part of or lives, and work our way about improving our lot. By nature we are not a negotiating race, but ‘hard bargainers’ but then we are also consumed by a defeatist psychosis of being perpetually cheated – that leaves us all too often cheated in our ‘historical bargains’, specially when the chips strongly favor, and don’t oppose our moves!

For instance, of late there have been loud debates in national forums of whether or not, the ‘invasion’ of Indian artists, musicians and singer are a ‘threat to our culture’, with accusations that sumptuous sums of money are being spent on their tamashas, while many of our more talented kins are perhaps going hungry, lacking the ‘desired exposure’ that would have most certainly propelled them to greater heights of fame and fortune.

The truth is – this is a double-edged sword and one that needs to be addressed as forcibly as ever. Anybody basking on the notion that artist’s from India can simply walk in, do whatever they have come to do, and up the ante and leave everybody in Bangladesh pauper and in wrecks, are co-opting to the idiosyncrasy that our ‘culture’ is fragile, weak and cannot resists any of the so-called onslaught.

Quite on the contrary, our acculturation regime has proved time and again that it is strong, dexterous and has a capacity to cope, much beyond our limited imagination and it is all because of the resilience in our national character. We as a proud nation are gregariously hospitable, and have inherited the trait, not because we have in anyway proved ourselves inferior, indeed it stems from the fact that we have never feared competition. Thus Indian, or for that matter any artist from any country in the world need not or should not give the Bangladeshi an inferiority complex.

Having stated the above, it also makes sense that we try and identify what it is that makes India or its artist, or lets call it even their ‘culture’ such a hot favorite among our citizens? Because we have been unable to fuse our spirit of acculturation with the finer lines of business and commerce, and because our ‘national leaders’ know nothing about ‘culture’ – than how to juggle about number bingo games before elections, ‘culture’s’ biggest threat if at all, lies within.

We have a handful of gray haired nincompoops routinely boring us with long lectures, yet ask them to work out a solution, and all they will peddle are the ‘threats’, not our opportunities which we have suicidally lost. A solution appears only to be the exclusive purview of a band of ‘culture vultures’ – who will act only when it is their own ‘picking’s’ that are ‘threatened’ by whoever they consider ‘predators’. We will get to that in a while.

It is our media and by that we do not mean to infer, as if it’s the electronic media that is the villain. Pick up any newspaper’s, journal or magazine printed in Bangladesh and none can help overlook how much space and importance we give to Indian’s at the expense of our own, without even thinking about it and hopelessly without even their asking for such ‘favors’?

It is a travesty of judgment that our print and electronic media advertises India in its entirety - and that has moved on from an ingrained bad habit to that of a delirious ‘feel good’ mania – akin to a fine art. With no ready remedy available to monitor or regulate our ‘more than free’ media and no clear direction on what constitutes matters of ‘national interest’, what we have in hand as outsourced garbage with in-sourced resourcefulness, is inbred arrogance of the worst kind.

Getting back to nit picking, measure to measure, let us ask, would any Indian newspaper be so ‘generous’ in promoting Bangladeshi artiste or for that matter any product, to the extent of breaking the law?

One so-called ‘highly circulated national newspaper’ in the English language for instance, is notorious in coming up with a regular full page broadsheet every week in heavy promotion of Indian music, books and DVD’s, little realizing they are not only harming the nation, but also promoting piracy as none of the proprietorship of the product advertised is owned by any company or Indian representative in Bangladesh.

If you do not blindly support or advertise India, you will most certainly be termed with pains of humiliation as an ‘anti-liberation, fundamentalist, Razakar element’ in the popular shongskrishi! Yet try flipping this over, and attempt to endeavor a proposal welcoming Indian daily newspapers to ‘invade’ Bangladesh, and one can quite predict the outcome? Their well-trained, primed and plumed brigade of ‘culture vultures’ would have you slaughtered!

Bangladesh acculturation problems have routinely come with huge price tags. Decades back we opened our skies and our hearts to almost all Indian satellite TV worth its name, little realizing that it was just not culture that was up for sale, we opened the floodgate of our market to Indian consumer products which we then heavily advertised - FREE. Over the years much as we shouted, gloated and moaned, our ‘big neighbors’ cheap products essentially captured the local markets.

One of the arguments advanced when Indian satellite TV was literally ‘ushered in’ is how entertainment starved our general populace was, and since there was nothing comparable on offer (or available free) – no greater options were conceivably available. However post 1996, there has been a steady rise in the number of Bangladeshi satellite TV channels, offering as good if not better than Indian TV programming, within the limitations of budgets on offer and the very small size of the market they operate. Yet no government of the day has been able to effectively hard bargain an entrance into the Indian TV market, meaning all the ‘hospitality’ that we had offered earlier had been taken as granted for our ‘inferiority’. A hard balled Razakar statement: it can also be perceived as an appropriate ‘return’ for the ‘hospitality’ India extended to our people in 1971?

We as a nation never had our priorities straightened out and it comes not from a lack of interest or sheer incapacitation under any situation, rather it has become our ‘national culture’ of the ‘agri-cultural’ variety to bend over backward to accommodate India’s whims and caprice. By that we cannot singularly blame any political government at any time frame in our history, indeed all ‘democratic governments’ post 1990, have been relentless in their unabridged sycophancy to India, and one the general masses of chotolokes have begun to unwillingly accept as their predestined fate.

It is a shame that while we question any possible ‘cultural invasion’ by sounding clanging alarms and raising red flags, what is incomprehensible is how quickly we accept them and look the other way when things go terribly wrong. If there is at all a threat to acculturation, it comes not from any flaw in our national character, but in our failure to hard bargain, as we have readily accepted that ‘culture’ is not a commercial or political capital, but an intangible ‘commodity’ that can correct itself without much prodding from any direction – and with no intervention from market forces. We have remained primitive in our thinking as much as our ancestors, who lost out on the jamdani muslin fabrics to the Brits, and the ‘have plenty’s’ continue to ‘have them’ in heaps 200 plus years later, as much as our grandmothers sing us lullabies of our past glory.

There are no easy solutions, yet if we so much as try to be masters of our destiny the first thing we ought to learn are the fine skills of negotiation and behave independently. Much as India veers in its fanciful dream of becoming an international superpower by 2025, propelled by a US shot in the arm, thanks to the windfall courtesy the War on Terror, it nonetheless faces the haunting prospects of a huge energy security crisis and would play fair and foul to have it their way or show all its neighbors (with the exception of Pakistan perhaps) the ‘highway’.

No one has missed out the print medias recent columns after columns deification and glorification of Tata’s ‘proposal’ for a paltry US $ 2.5 billion (even when we have yet to see the face of the money) to have uninterrupted gas supply from Bangladesh, neither have we failed to notice its quick dribble back and forth when met with ‘ governmental resistance and delay’ to once again advance the millennium East India company’s jargon – ‘heck we don’t want gas pals – we want coal’ (read we want to trade innocently, NOT occupy), yet so ebullient and dogged was the media’s happiness with the Indian offer, that around the same time when a cocky Middle Eastern walked in to Dhaka, and offered over $ 3 billion up-front to buy up prime time real estate and hotel, it made little if NO press. Why? He wasn’t seeking gas or coal or any of our intangible and so-called ‘agri-culture’?

The answer lies if one looks up a good map of our pompous ‘Sub Continent’.

From the Himalayas down to the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh at the very bottom is viewed by India no more than a clogged and smelly drain, left to its elements at best. Its unabated, unprovoked and unrestrained propaganda howitzers aimed at Bangladesh only reinforces this very sore point. It knows all too well that we have to let the tide of fortune and misfortune they ‘control’, flow unhindered through our territory, yet nobody in Bangladesh has taken an education, that indeed all that ‘sediment’ good or bad, deposited in our shores, in our rivers and in our land makes us who we traditionally are – fertile, rich and prosperous and one that encompasses our national psyche.

A great Indian sage once said, “The human mind has a garbage dump and a treasure trove within his soul. It is up to him what he values and use it at his own discretion”.

The Bangladesh ‘culture vulture’s’ advanced, financed, fed and led by the media mafia, have inherited a most unpatriotic ‘gutter garbage complex’. It is only the confluence of time and space - much as the confluences of all the mighty rivers emanating from the Himalayas is one which will deal its preemptive final blow and reward them with appropriate answers.

As much as the water leaves the residues of all that is rich and bountiful in our soil and thus our spirit, it also rejects and ejects waste and effluent materials into the Bay of Bengal.


Here is wishing a ‘watery hell’ to our unpatriotic ‘patriots’!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Another Frame: Mobin and his Unwritten CV – Part 1

Imran Ahmed Chowdhury -Mobin [1969-2005] RIP
Till we catch up for a Party in Heaven pal!

In the flood of emotions that has overwhelmed all of us since he passed away on 20th April the one I find hardest to cope with is to talk about him the past tense.

There are moments when I have pinched myself hard enough to find out if this is yet another of his “jokes” that he was famous for, and the truth is it hurts, meaning a reality has dawned that he has passed on from this dimension we called life and living, into another we have the faintest of clue.

On his chehlum after the final prayers, I told Harold who was sitting next to me and equally numbed by grief “gOD perhaps needs a good sound engineer UP THERE” and his reaction to that was – “Mac, Mobin would have loved this joke”.

Honestly how do you begin to write anything about Mobin, which would in no way move us away from who he was, a friendly, tireless, honest, “humorous to a fault” practical joker, and importantly a caring human being whose work was his religion?

I have by now received far too may emails from all across the globe to share my insight into this larger than life figure, and found myself stumbling – really where to get this started, until last night something hit me as like a bolt from the blue.

Mobin had been a great admirer of my writing skills and I would dump printed materials on anything that I had written and thought might interest him. Sometimes serious political stuff, sometimes on music and of course, all those bawdy jokes he loved.

I had been a Netizen since 1996, and Mobin always felt he was missing a whole lot and was hungry about information and regretted that he wasn’t wired and worse that he simply didn’t have the money to buy a PC (Taka 1,20,000 in those days). All too often he would quickly scribble on a piece of paper and ask me to check the price or information on technical products like a microphone or effect processor– and there were more.

I think it was mid 1998 that he called me and by the tone of his voice I felt there was something more than a little exciting that he wanted to share with me.

“Can you drop by the studio in the evening Maqsood bhai” – and I said “sure – is everything okay with you”…. reassuring me they were, I caught up with him and on seeing me he pulled me aside for what seemed a secret he wished to share.

“You’ve got to do me a great favor” and I said, “shoot”.

What he was asking would in no way be me doing a favor. As far as I was concerned, and really with all that he had done for me, directly and indirectly, I would just about do anything no matter what it cost, to be able to repay my debts of gratitude.

What he had to ask was so baffling innocent and so typical of him!

He wanted me to write out a “first class CV”, the idea being TOP SECRET, he would use this to post it somewhere in an Internet site, which would bring him close to his cherished dream, a placement at a US University for higher studies in sound reinforcement and engineering.

Not being a technical person, I said, “look Mobin, I could write a few thousand words about who you are and how good you are, but placement is serious business. So, you’ve got to help me fill in the technical details – things like what equipments you use, you existing knowledge about sound and importantly a list of all the great albums you have mixed and mastered: the public record of your works”.

He quickly agreed and pulled out a large A4 size paper asking me to write them in the order that it should be displayed. “On this Maqsood bhai, your judgment is final” all he wanted was for me to understand the urgency of it all, and I said with his inputs in hand, it shouldn’t take me more than half a day to write it out. “Great” he exclaimed and we got to work.

I explained him the difference between what we refer to as ‘Bio-Data’ used in common parlance here in Bangladesh, to what a CV or ‘Curriculum Vitae’ is – and it was important that he list his latest achievements first and work his way backward to where his career started. Since he had no academic qualification to list, and was a self trained engineer it MUST be a convincing CV.

He agreed that he would keep everything ready within the next 72 hours and hand it over to me. I stressed that he not waste time, but concentrate on the technical details and leave me to fill in the “cosmetic padding”. “With all the best chapaabaziz on me you can muster ”…our evening ended as they would typically, with a lot of laughter.

Despite pursuing him for more than a year, Mobin never ever got around to filling me in with the ‘technical details’ I so much wanted, and seven years thereon, here I am guys, writing out his “unwritten CV” – albeit, this would be more about how I saw him up close and up front and it has to start with events and date closest in the calendar.

I will attempt to work my way back to the earliest date I can recollect but I beg readers to be patient as it may take me quite a few weeks to give you the full picture - frame by another frame. Mobin’s death still hurts, and I am not yet completely healed.

In this small endeavor for a loyal friend and a workaholic colleague, help me dear gOD.

6th May 2005: dHAKA moves into the Sound Machine practice pad in Maghbazar and the members are shocked with my decision. We were very happy with our guitarist Russell’s pad in Dilu Road that had been our haunt for over 2 years.

Something Mobin had said about checking out Titi’s studio – adjacent to the pad was working overtime in my mind. The place is larger, the AC better, the drum kit professional and finely tuned, but Mobin…now he wouldn’t stop joking would he!

The full range speakers that project my voice in the pad I am told were “hand crafted and made” by Mobin. Small but hugely powerful, in my first session there, I felt Mobin was around the corner fiddling with the mixer. Those were one of 3 pairs of speakers Mobin specially created for his friend Titi of Sound Machine.

20th April 2005: The first thing that struck me when his ‘dead body’ arrived was how small he was (he couldn’t have been more that 5 feet and a few inches) and how, even till the last, he did not deny himself and us, the dignity in with which he conducted himself in life. I had thought that he would be carried in one of those ugly open pick-up trucks with red flags flying, and blood dripping as is common after such a smash up.

Quite suddenly a microbus arrives and not many realized the ‘object’ neatly wrapped and taking only an extended and flattened out middle seat next to the side door, was Mobin.

Khaled Bhai of G-Series had ensured in the Comilla Morgue that his face was properly gauged up, and first placed on transparent polythene sheet, and later double wrapped in a thick black plastic sheet. So when all of us carried him indoors, it seemed like we were handling a US Army body bag. Mobin would have loved this description!

17th April 2005: After we finished the Onirbaan show, Mobin was adamant that I finished the last peg of Mexican Tequila, which he had saved for me before we left the venue. I begged him that I already had “quite a few shots of whiskey already and mixing Tequila would be risky” – and a huge boisterous laugh reverberated across the room.

Partho of Souls, said "Maqsood bhai, Mobin has been guarding this almost empty bottle for you for over 2 hours – now no nekaami, please drink up".

I pleaded how about getting in some fizz and mixing it with the Tequila, to which Mobin said “come on boss, that’s not what you taught me, go for it - one straight shot” and quickly 2 plates appeared, one with lemon slices, the other with salt. Doing the honor, I did a ‘bottom up’ and the fiery liquid went in more smoothly then I had thought.


Knowing how much I hate flattery, he was always careful about praises on the face. On the elevator, he mentioned very quietly that we had a “great performance” and that was good enough for my small ego – specially coming from Mobin. On the way out, Tarik had arranged a microbus that would take me, Mobin and my pal Khoka (dHAKA Bassist) back home.

After dropping off Khoka in Elephant road I asked if he was keen on breakfast to which he agreed. So we went over to a hotel in the Moghbazar roundabout, and it was like 5 a.m, and no real breakfast was available. We sat down to chicken biryani and beef curry.

In retrospect I recall that he was unduly quiet and I asked him if anything was troubling him, and nonchalantly the answer was “nah – Maqsood bhai”.

He was ecstatic about teaming up with Tarik and wanted all help and advise about Onirbaan, to which I gave him my thumbs up. He also thanked me for “reconnecting” Tinku, of Cool Exposure, who would handle the press for Net concerts with pre and post feeds to newspapers an TV channels.

He talked about the difficulties in the narrow bandwidth of Paltak, and how Tarik would shortly be buying up a huge server, that would not only relay music, but also live stream video images – like a fully capable Net Radio and TV station and really a direction to the future of good music from Bangladesh.

The topic then veered off to LIVE Sound a very sore point for him and he said dejectedly that he now only does it for Warfaze and Black, and the politics against him has not actually stopped.

He talked about his frustrations in the Ampfest concert at Mirpur stadium, when all the processor racks were switched off before he came in, even as much as the talk back, so that the entire duration of the show he couldn’t communicate with Black on stage…and there was more. About one “senior band” he had staked his neck out one too many times in his life, and who have not been exactly kind to him.

I asked him if it would be appropriate for me to intervene (as I had done many times in the past whenever he faced such problems) and resolve his differences…to which he said very sadly “thank you Maqsood bhai….it has come to a point of no return”.

About 6:30 in the morning as I had done so many times in the past, I dropped him off in front of his house in Dhanmondi, and his last words as usual “Take care – we will party with Tarik after I return from the DJuice concert in Chittagong” followed by a loud laugh.

I wished I had said a more forceful “Take care boy” as I left.

I wish he had actually taken more care of himself than he would others.

I wish I had called him on the 18th or 19th April to thank him once again for the tremendous job in the Onirbaan concert.

Strange how we end up with lists of unfulfilled wishes when all is over.

There was no premonition working in me that this would be his last goodbye.

Perhaps he wanted me to be guided by taking a last shot of courage as the Eagles sang in Tequila Sunrise

“Take another shot of courage/

Wonder why the right words never come/You just get numb/

It's another Tequila sunrise/this old world still looks the same/Another
frame ..”

To be continued…….