Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Transitions: Notes from Dhaka’s ‘Historical Underground’ - Part 2

Then came Television – and all hell broke loose. It was a 6 p.m. to 9.p.m thing and we were watching the world. Daytime would be spent talking endlessly about what we had seen in the grainy, sometime half broken black-and-white transmissions. There was only one TV set in the building and something like fifty of us kids sitting transfixed till it ended with the Persian national anthem of Pakistan, every night for months, except on Monday’s – the TV station also had a weekly holiday!

My suave elder brother and hero Mahmoodul Haque, on vacations from Faujderhat Cadet College where he studied, would sit with his hair immaculately combed in front of the TV set. When the oomph Masuma Khatun made her announcements, we were convinced that she was only looking at Mahmood Bhai, NOT us! The girls would go ga-ga about Alam Rashid, the English newsreader, so we boys did our best to mimic the way he spoke.
The 1968-1969 anti-Ayub Khan political upheavals leading on to the Seventies saw Mahmood Bhai and another dear cousin Rafique Hossain (Sabu Bhai) both students of the Dhaka University then, in serious problems with the law. Sabu Bhai was exceptional – and when I caught up with him after his troubles ended, he had long hair and beard, the first real ‘Hippy’ that I had set my eyes upon, and that too in my family? He indoctrinated me into finer things in life, Comic Books, Readers Digest, Marx and Mao Tse Tung, as also a first taste of Chewing Gum. When I wanted to grow my hair long, Mum said, ‘very well, be as good in your studies as Sabu, and you can have things your way’ – but I knew I would be defying her soon, very soon.
The late sixties revolt in the US and Europe bubbling up to the seventies; questioning parental and establishment’s authority was the ‘in thing’, in pictorials of LIFE Magazine. Scenes from Vietnam on TV hung like a painful burden in my little thudding heart. Anti-war student protestors being beaten up in the US to chants of ’the whole world is watching you’ for a global TV audience came together with the first deaths. When Crosby, Still, Nash & Young sang “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we're finally on our own, this summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio”, I cried in unison with the world. We weren’t pushed that Hippy by then had became a derogatory word and reading Che Guevara specially his Bolivian Diary, only ebbed the fire in me that was getting increasingly harder to control. He too had long hair and died with them, so ‘what the heck’.
In 1971 I witnessed first hand the US backed brutalities in this motherland of mine. Rape and torture victims, dead bodies and everything that went with it; there were one too many, and in no way different from the tales of millions. I wish now to forget everything, as there is nothing personally ‘heroic’ to report here of ‘fighting the enemy’ other than contending with demons within my psyche and learning the hard way that there is no such thing as a ‘humane war’. Fearing my growing sensitivity Dad held a tight ‘emotional blackmail’ like leash over me. Who wouldn’t? I was only 13 then and an only son.
Ironically it was Dad’s job in a Swiss company that saw us leave Dhaka in July of the same year and end up in Karachi where on 17th December – the newspapers ran a terse 24-word statement, that I can still recall from memory: “Following an agreement made between the local commanders of the Eastern Front, fighting has ceased in East Pakistan, and Indian troops have entered Dacca”, confirming what the BBC Radio broadcast the previous evening, the bloody birth of Bangladesh.

jOI Bangla I hugged Dad and Mum amidst sobs and tears, and it was NO political slogan those days, neither did my head hang in shame as it does today
While in Karachi, Mum never asked me why I had stopped going to the barber which I had promised myself would be only in Bangladesh. In November 1972, following a failed attempt to escape via Quetta, then a second in 1973, when we were locked up in custody for over 12 hours by Pakistani border guards, who looted our money, we managed to reach Kabul in Afghanistan via Kandahar in near stages of destitution. Snow, which I saw for the first time in my life – invigorated me – Free at last.
On 22nd February 1973, we reached Dacca (Dhaka today), and on 7th March – off went my shoulder length hair, as started a new regimented life at the Adamjee Cantonment College. I had lost three precious years of schooling and times were hard in this new Sonar Bangla of ours. Broke and in brink of famine, down to every man on the street, my family could be no exception. The TCB (Trading Corporation of Bangladesh – who me and friends renamed ‘Thog, Chor O Butpaar’ for good reasons) offered us ‘fair price goods’ – and in a way it was nice, because all of us wore the same tetron fiber pants, and pink polyester shirts! Socialism was working in a round about way – we had ‘very cheap’ Mod Russian shoes to wear. The only problem was, we had to riotously sieve through a whole pile in TCB shops to get a matching fit.
We had earful of The Concert For Bangladesh LP’s at our friend Taimur’s in DOHS (old) where we tore his house down with the very loud ‘turn tables’ (record players by then had a new term), together with months of Wood Stock ’69 - 3 Days of Peace and Music – and all our heroes from Santana, Rolling Stones, Sly & The Family Stones, The Who, CSNY, CCR, Jimi Hendrix, even Ravi Shankar, you name it, every body was there – screaming for FREEDOM.
In independent Bangladesh the global concept of freedom couldn’t have had a better time. Cannabis smoke hung like a ‘thick cloud’ from the floor to the roof of the Engineers Institute auditorium in 1974, and with chants of ‘Gausal Azam hoo hah’ in the psychedelic haze, on stage would appear a Christ like figure, bearded and hair flowing past his shoulder, a former Mukti Bahini guerrilla Commander, Azam Khan. He would proceed to blow our minds with music from his band Uccharon – and shape our fearless attitude much to the consternation of our parents.

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