Thursday, June 30, 2005

Transitions: Notes from Dhaka’s ‘Historical Underground’ - Part 3

We wanted to form a band. We had names ready, and Disha back from Russia with his European orientation taught us ‘Rock attitude’. Even as we debated whether we should be playing Deep Purple and Uriah Heep or ‘khyat Bengali songs’ we had no instruments or equipments, and ones we sometimes managed to beg and borrow, none of us knew how to play them!
My friend Nawshad had better ideas - ‘we gotta start somewhere man’ and so we ended up banging the table and raising hell at a neighborhood teashop every evening. That sort of built us a tiny reputation that went pretty well with our ‘flair-ed’ pants (they had to completely cover our 2 inch High Heeled shoes) and figure hugging Batik Tee shirts brought from Shade in Moghbazar. Somebody was at least thinking of dressing us up affordably, and doing a roaring business – in fact Shade to my reckoning was the first fashion and curio house in Bangladesh. We of course designed our own torn and patched up denim shirts – with the tongue wagging logo of Rolling Stones and My Foot graffiti in the back. Jeans that we all loved were not available then.

For us dudes in DOHS, we had a Timothy Leary (1920-1996) like visionary in – Yamin Chowdhury, (now teacher in Agha Khan School) maverick extraordinary and Master student of Physics in DU then. With an acid tongue of considerable notoriety he made F*** vogue in our vocabulary! His twice weekly lectures at an under construction house, on politics, philosophy and the way the world was shaping, made him an undisputed savant. In retrospect, how else am I to explain his prediction of ‘Yanks kicking Muslim Asses soon’ and invading Iraq way back in 1973? To chastise our errant ways he would lovingly quote verses from Kahlil Gibran and the English Koran, which made sense and we would fall into discipline more than the neighborhood mullah could dare dream.
In 1974 I caught up with Popsy and Murad (musician friends who could actually play the Drums and Bass) and begged them to our first practice session in Nawshad’s # 1 (old) DOHS backroom. The place was 10 feet by 12 feet with a smelly toilet next door, and to cheer us on would be a hundred friends in the garden, and something like a dozen wannabe rock stars lining up. I was ‘formally’ designated the ‘English vocalist’ – by Nawshad by then ‘Manager’ of the FIASCO band, and one performance at the Dhaka Club after a Housey (Bingo) Game later – it all ended in a huge fiasco……his Dad threw us out!
In January 1975, I joined Notre Dame College where the American Principal Father A. J. Wheeler, wouldn’t look down at our long hair, our smoking cigarettes in the canteen, or interfere in our spirit of freedom as long as we stayed OFF politics. The Famine of the same year left me a mental wreck and devastated. I was the only Muslim student that stayed back after college as a volunteer to work till late at night with the Christian Seminarians in the relief camp set up inside the campus.
We looked after 2,000 destitute and dying children and cooked, fed, bathed and clothed them. Malnourishment meant most of them had hideous skin infections. The overpowering stench of rotting corpses would hang on my clothes making it unbearable for my parents. I had therefore to wash up in the garden, and change to new clothes before I would be permitted in. They silently bore my emotional trauma, but let me continue for months – what they thought I must do.
And then came 15th August 1975, the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family. Soldiers were moral policing streets and the unspoken decree was ‘long hair’ was an act of hostility. After Nawshad was bashed up, all of us decided to ‘let it go’. Was freedom on the way out? Nah.
My backbench buddy from Class IV in Shaheen School, Rizwan bin Farouq (the one who ‘honored’ me with the first peek at Playboy and Oui magazine), worked out therapeutical ways to release us of all that pent up hurt and general state of depression.
Saturday Afternoon Party they were called, and at House 123, Road 4 Dhanmondi, Dhaka 5, (1,2,3,4, 5 – now could anybody miss that?) was the first DO and became later a regular hangout. Girls from Holy Cross College and Vicky (Viqarunnessa Noon School) would bunk classes, get to the venue by afternoon, change from their uniform into mind blowing attires and facial make ups, and we would dance until just after dusk, the tempo broken by an occasional ……’ssssh keep it low man’ whenever an Army patrol came to the neighborhood.
No AC’s those days (officially a luxury item), so we like ‘sweated into each other’ with Eagles “You can’t hide your Lyin Eyes” in the background when in came time for the grand finale - ‘close dance’ to close the evening. They were usually KISS (Keep it Short and Simple) as the girls had to clamber back to their uniforms to go home. Smooches, and TTFN’s (Ta ta for Now) later, we looked forward to the next Saturday and the next and the next. All of us were reading Harold Robbins, and some of us were falling in and out of love, and there were occasional hushed whispers among the girls about ‘missing periods’ – but look at the flip side dudes - the Icing In The Cake?
Our freedom fighter ‘boro bhais’ and their girlfriends the ‘apas’ were joining in the fun, and we were giving them the mighty ‘chheel’ when we needed money. The generational divide, remnant from our parent’s time was essentially severed at that point for GOOD. But hang on….‘Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll has arrived among children of the elite’ sermonized a leading Bengali newspaper and ‘boro bhais and boro apas’ quite rightly pleaded ‘bondho koro eishob’.
We were drawing too much attention from ‘party poopers’ – so everything kinda sadly melted.

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