Wednesday, December 16, 2009

V-Day Exclusive Interview: 'Liberation' Thoughts!

Maqsoodul Haque (Mac)

This full Interview with Mac Haque was conducted by Misha Hussain, a Dhaka-based British-Bengali journalist. Excerpts from the interview is available at Bangladesh Unplugged

Misha: What does the Bangladesh flag represent for you?

Mac: The flag we have now is totally unlike the resistance flag, which appeared around late March 1971. It had a striking yellow Bangladesh map within the red circle and as an impressionable 13 year old – that had me thoroughly zapped. The current red and green is passé – but not at all impressive I am afraid – looks like the Japanese flag!

Misha: What does liberation/independence mean to you?

Mac: After 38 years – it really doesn't mean a damn thing to me. A flag, a map is really what we have got. These are merely geographical parameters of freedom; but realliberation or independence as is known anywhere else in the world continues to elude us to this day. Socio-politically we are still trapped in a vicious identity crisis – with 'nationalism' bordering on fascism deciding who you are and which side of the fence you sit on – of whether you are a'Bengali' or a 'Bangladeshi' ? Free thoughts and expressions are frowned upon not only by the establishments, but also the mainstream intelligentsia who then drive their fossilized thoughts courtesy of the media and entrenched culture vultures.

The 'black or white' mindset equation means you have got to be either pro-Indian or pro-Pakistani to survive. For someone like me who believes that millions of lives were sacrificed to establish a nation state called Bangladesh – a 'pro-Bangladesh' stance, which derides both Pakistan and India and one I have chosen to adopt in my public life – is not always up for grabs. I have earned my share of 'notoriety' and quite enjoy it because Bangladeshi politicians and our establishment per se, refuse to believe or see any other colors in the rainbow! Be it.

Misha : How is liberation day celebrated in Bangladesh?

Mac: The usual and no different from what I wrote in a poem back in 1994
"The Television will feature 'special bulletins' and reporting of happenings,
like 'wreathes being laid' on monuments and memorials,
where otherwise: dogs urinate the rest of the year,
of prisoners being fed 'improved diets', of mercy and clemencies,
of 'solemn vows of reaffirmation' of the 'Spirit of Liberation',
and of course the ritualistic interview with a straight faced liar,
who keeps panting in anticipation, for that epic point in his narration,
where he hopes to be applauded for his 'baptism in fire',
of how he 'took on' the enemy, and how he won the battle
……Battles only battles, Dear Bangladesh is what we have won,
the war was lost forever, for the 'traitors', they too survived,
in our midst...and today, we've got them everywhere..."
Misha: How do you celebrate liberation day?

Mac: Eat, drink and be merry and make sure I do not read the newspaper or watch TV! If I am lucky – I get to play a concert or two.

Misha: Is it important to remember your history?

Mac:It surely is – but in 38 years the distortion that has been embedded into our history lessons and curriculum's – has me thoroughly disillusioned. Some would argue that distortion began after Sheikh Mujib assassination in 1975 but let us stop here and call spades spades and oranges oranges. Do a 're-hear' of Mujib's historical speech of the 7th March 1971 and what do you find? I was glued to Pakistan Radio who carried it live. While ending his speech and after several 'Joi Bangla' – the last word he said and the audience of over half a million hushed to a deafening silence was 'Joi Pakistan' ? Now that 'Joi Pakistan' slogan has been deleted from our historical records and archives? Why ? We shall never know.

That is a part of history that I was witness to, heard live and wouldn't like to forget. Distortions that came in thereafter were inevitable and were split on political lines, rehashed and rewritten over and over again – with every change of the pen and the sordid odyssey continues. That leaves a new generation of citizens of this country to doubt anything and everything that is said or written about 'history' – it has become more or less "His" or "Her"

Misha: What are the dangers of remembering such historic days (if any)?

Mac: It is important that we remember history – but the danger really is not to reduce it to predictable histrionics like 'buy a flag, buy a map, buy a cell phone, buy a fizzy drink, buy a Tee shirt'. I am truly amazed at the impunity by which multi-national companies make money these days by ostensibly 'celebrating' history. There is no governmental control – and the real tragedy is - none of the fund generated go to the people who really fought the war and received no benefits from 'liberation' – i.e. 90% of our rural poor, and who till today - toil the soil and is left with nothing more than a pittance. That is betrayal in my dictionary. The danger can hardly be overemphasized.

Misha: How do you feel towards Pakistan and Pakistanis?

Mac: I have been a front seat witness to the war – seen my neighbor being shot dead in front of my eyes, seen his daughters being dragged away by Pakistani soldiers to be raped in their camps. These are events deeply etched in my conscience. While I have a lot of friends in Pakistan as much as my extended family I was nonetheless unable to either forget those times, or forgive Pakistan. I was among those who were foolish enough to demand an apology/forgiveness from Pakistan since Independence. But then quite by sheer coincidence in 2002 I stumbled upon a historical document of 1974 - (which was kept secret till then) where it suggests: forget asking Pakistan for forgiveness – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman himself forgave Pakistan – so I told myself, "if the Father of My nation could forgive Pakistan - who the hell was I to hang on to old gripes?" – end of the story.

Misha: How do Bangladeshis feel towards Pakistan and Pakistanis?

Mac: You get the perfect indications about how people in general feel about Pakistan and Pakistanis when cricket matches are televised Live – especially if the opposition is India! I don't have to elaborate…do I? :)

Misha: Do you feel Pakistan is portrayed fairly in the media?

Mac: Pakistan has one too many problems specially terrorism and dictatorial governance and those are I guess fairly and somewhat enthusiastically portrayed for whatever reasons. We rarely get to see anything positive about Pakistan – and the Pakistani TV channels most of whom espouse Shariati/Wahabi brands of Islam that we get to see inBangladesh really sucks.

Misha:What are you hopes and dreams with regards to the future relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan?


Not too much and not too little for the time being. A whole lot of people-to-people cultural exchanges maybe – dramas, theaters, cinema, art and painting shows etc. Also I am dying to see serious Pakistani rock bands like "Noori" and the fusion "Mikhael Hasan Band" play live in Dhaka. Beg, borrow or steal – I am going to make sure I am in the front seat to see these fascinating musicians. We have had an over kill of "Junoon", "Jaal, and "Atif Aslam" – who are pathetic and are indeed worse then some of our local acts. Also I look forward to the day I can visit Karachi – for no other reason but to hug my childhood hero and cousin Ayaz Peer Mohammed – who I haven't seen since 1971!

Maqsoodul Haque (Mac), 52, is a Dhaka based radical columnist, poet and Jazz-Rock-Fusion musician.


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