Friday, April 29, 2011

Our Collapsing Cultural Canopy, Conflicts and attack on Bauls

Maqsoodul Haque – Mac

”Whatever is Sin for a Nation, could be salvation for another” Fakir Lalon Shah

  • The choice by default of people with a cultural bent of mind prior to any national elections is to vote for the ruling Awami League, for no other reason than its ‘commitment to secular pluralism’ which on surface and devoid of deceits - translates to tolerance of minority views, ideas, beliefs and lifestyles. Yes, we have managed to drive out the BNP-Jamaat nexus of Islam pasand bigots as also a Military backed ‘Caretaker Government’ – but is our new found spirit of Freedom and Democracy any indicator that we have been able to wrestle control, or enlarge the very constricted liberal space that overrides our collapsing cultural canopy?
  • For instance, there have been absolutely no ‘big noise’ from our so-called ‘Cultural Activists’ when it concerns recent spate of looting, theft and ransacking of deities in Shonaton Temples all across the country, nor has there been any ‘protest’ to decry the forceful eviction, usurping of their land housing religious sites, or the intermittent violence against the community. The reasons are understandable: all of these are happening during apparently ‘secular’ times when we bask in complacency of having been able to marginalize the Mollahs at long last. Our ‘Cultural Activists’ therefore do not want to embarrass the Government of the day – and in our Bangaliana have even turned a blind eye to continued racist oppression of other communities including Adivasis – our Indigenous Peoples.
  • In focus: the incident in Pangsha, Rajbari on 5th April where 28 members of the Baul fraternity were attacked, their long hair and beard shorn by a local Imam and other cohorts, later forcing them to a nearby Mosque to utter ‘Tawba’ (repentance). Their crime? They were holding a yearly ‘Shadhu Shongo’ (Conclave of the Wise) which the fanatics branded ‘un-Islamic’ – are deeply disturbing signals. The incident went unreported until about the 8th of April and was limited to the vernacular press. Other newspaper joined in begrudgingly, and had it not been for Mohammad Fakir (the Shadhu who called the Conclave) lodging a case in the nearby police station – it would have been brushed under the carpet. The attempted suppression of this news became all the more obvious when the facts went public. Surprise of all surprise - it wasn’t our ‘known and sworn’ enemies – the ‘fun-da-mental-ist’ who launched the attacks. Turns out, the attackers including the Imam were either Awami League leaders or/are involved with the ruling party politics in the area.
  • Belatedly exposed to the faux pas the local Awami League MP Zillul Hakim was seen expressing his ‘regrets’ on TV and that the issue has been ‘mutually and peacefully resolved’– with the Bauls apparently ‘agreeing to a solution’. End of the story? No, there were no apologies offered to the Bauls, the Court case was bypassed and it only confirmed that our ‘secular, plural and progressive forces’ were the real perpetrators, possibly even the instigators of the attack. Later reports suggest the Bauls were coerced into the ‘agreement’ prior to the meeting with the MP. Asked why an agreement was arrived on an issue of such seriousness especially when it is in Court, private video footages quoted the MP as saying –“even murder cases are resolved in my constituency in like manner”!
  • Bauls and their music are not only our national wealth they are listed in the UNESCO declaration of 2005 as ‘Masterpieces of Oral Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ and while two Baul Saints, the Late Khoda Buksh Shah of Chuadanga and Late Karim Shah of Sunamganj, Sylhet were awarded Bangladesh’s highest Civilian Honor Ekushey Padak, members of the agnostic fraternity continue to eke out an existence in the periphery and are largely ostracized. It is nonetheless heartening that the Baul Movement has built up enormous urban followings since the mid 90’s and on Facebook there was an outcry – with some aficionados calling for a ‘counter Shadhu Shongo’ at Pangsha later in the month. My immediate reaction was to point out that a Shadhu Shongo is not meant for tit-for-tat reprisals or a forum for protest or expression of irate sentiments.
  • These conclaves are essentially limited to discourses into the music, life and teaching of the many Saints who sought to illumine the majority of our people. Further, a Shadhu Shongo is called by a Baul Shadhu (practitioner) and those sending out the Facebook invites – did not necessarily fit into the category – nor did anybody have a clue that Shadhu Shongo’s are not held in the month of Boishakh! Why? Again it is best left for the Shadhu’s to explain – however from my very limited knowledge on the subject; one has to study esoteric Indian Cosmology to get the drift. Same reason, the month of Boishakh is not thought to be auspicious even for marriages.
  • In any event – good sense prevailed and it was left to Mohammad Fakir of Pangsha to send out a new invite – asking people to ‘assist him complete the incomplete Shadhu Shongo’. With hundreds of eager enthusiast with no knowledge of either the Baul way of life, or the regimes associated with the belief system imminently set to descend upon Pangsha to ‘right the wrong’, one hopes this does not degenerate into a photo-op cultural picnic! Any escalation and/or law and order situation will lead to more outrages on the Bauls and result in unwanted intrusion and curiosity on their belief – which while acknowledging the ‘omniscient Maker’, rejects all religions, temples, mosques, rituals and symbolism – a belief and life style of our people for over two thousand years.
  • I also find it very hard to accept the blasé synonymity drawn between Bauls and Fakir Lalon Shah, which has been much the case in the Media this time around as in the past. Lalon never claimed to be a Baul, and the Baul movement indeed predates him by centuries. Therefore not all Bauls are ‘Lalon devotees’ – or vice versa. One may hold Fakir Lalon Shah In the highest of reverence, be inspired by his message – but it goes contrary to Baul belief if we are to propel any man to a pedestal for worship. Lalon in his lifetime abhorred and resisted such inclinations.
  • While shearing off long hair and beards of a Baul is condemnable – it is not a ‘sacrilegious’ act at any rate, rather a criminal attack, humiliation of the worst kind and a violation of an individual’s sovereignty. Sporting long hair or beard does not necessarily make one a Baul, as much as skull caps, beards and dresses denoting the so-called ‘Islamic identity’ of the Mollah any affirmation of a pukkah Muslim either!
  • It is time that we move forward than get bogged down by trivialities which border on the tokenistic. Cultural cohesion can only be achieved by thorough knowledge and understanding of our inherent strength – our folk philosophies and philosophers – and without a doubt Lalon stands out as the greatest Master we as a Nation have been blessed with.
  • To end, a Baul greeting – Joi Guru – ‘Long Live the Great God in Man’.

NEW AGE Xtra - Print Version

Friday, Dhaka 29th April 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Of Road Rage, Rickshaw drivers and our Cult of ‘Morol VIP’

Maqsoodul Haque – Mac

“Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.” Anon

  • Its not the first time we have seen such an event neither will it be the last, yet I wonder what leads people to launch road rage that we witness on a near daily basis which other than loss of life and property, leads on to traumatic situation for those caught up in the violence? The background to the incidents of 28th March was predictable – the authorities decided to ban access of rickshaws to the so-called ‘VIP Roads’ in the city without any prior notification. As of final count, 21 roads in Dhaka are listed as ‘VIP’ – which basically means pedal pushed Rickshaws and vans are off limit.
  • The justification advanced by authorities in upholding the ‘VIPs’ at the expense of the poorest of the poor Rickshaw drivers: it would apparently ‘ease traffic congestion's’ in the city. However these unwanted, highly degrading and prejudicial orders are flagrant violations of a citizens basic right to work – and is directly linked to a right to food and sustenance which the State ‘will not’ guarantee.
  • Ironically we go about showcasing the Rickshaw in World events – like the ICC World Cup as a ‘transport of choice’, put the three wheelers up on pe
    destals for ‘foreigners’ to see how much we ‘deify’ them, sell rich traditional heritage motifs that adorn Rickshaw body’s at insane prices in chic Boutiques across town as ‘Rickshaw art’ – our treatment of Rickshaw drivers nonetheless borders on sheer brutality demeaning their life, living and very existence to those of ‘creations of a lesser God’ – reducing them to scum’s of the earth, albeit revealing our grotesquely obscene mindset.
  • I am talking about an estimated 1.2 million Rickshaw drivers in the City, perhaps 5 million nationwide – add to that the number of families and indirect beneficiaries to their hard work, thus in the schemes of our ‘spiritual demography’, us ‘creations of a Superior God’ are indeed a microscopical minority!
  • Conversely, when we mull over the word ‘VIP’ one wonders – who the hell are these vulgar ‘gentries’ and why on earth do we have to block off 21 major roads for their privy use? How much more ‘I’ (read Important) can they be, compared to ‘others’ in this wretched Nation? Read on…..
  • On surface, those of us who do not use the public transportation system, or suffer ignominy of endless hours of waiting to board a Bus, or hassle fares with drivers of half broken bashed-up and highly unsafe contraptions we call ‘Taxis’ or ‘CNG’ three wheelers – bottom line – those of us that own or have access to the use of a private car or limousine are ‘VIPs’……wow isn’t that kewl!
  • But how much more parochial and feudal can we get? Wake up folks – 11 years into a new Millennium – much as we would like to trick ourselves into believing that we live in a device savvy, ‘dizzy-tally’ (digitally!) thrush-ed Bangladesh, truth is this Nation was and is still by default ‘owned’, run and ruled by a ‘morol’ (village headman mindset) elite – who will battle it out with BATONS? And that’s what really happened, greatly cheesing-off us, ‘privileged creations’ – for we were not prepared for the consequence of our arrogance.
  • Rickshaw drivers launched an attack initially on ‘their kind’ and then proceeded to vandalize over a 100 cars. In the 3 hours of rage, policemen stood by and did what they do best – ‘lovingly’ scratch their testicles! With no help forthcoming, some gentrified victims made a feeble attempt to protect vehicles and families by resisting the outrage – they were beaten black and blue with sticks, batons ,iron roads and ooof those embarrassing bamboos!
  • Sum total – all of Dhaka city was locked in a grinding traffic jam that lasted almost half a day – and the soul searching and Media post mortem commenced with the ‘Mother of all Insults’ – wails of ‘chi chi chi rickshaw wala ra bhodroloke der pitiyechey’ filled the headlines, airwaves and TV talk shows. Beats me : if the Rickshaw driver’s actions were ‘unprovoked, spontaneous’ – how is it that over 2 dozen newspaper lens person and Television crew were present on-scene ‘at the opportune moment’ to capture footages – yet missed the policemen who were…………….well :)
  • There is a very fine line to be delineated whenever we use the word ‘VIP’ for while we pay road taxes, those that do not or are tax exempt are the worst offenders. No one makes an issue whenever our Prime Minister on her jaunts - official or otherwise - holds up traffic for hours together. Our worst nightmare comes when she makes trips ‘abroad’. Not only her entourage of hundreds of cars owned by party apparatchik and sycophants, but Ministers and their security details too jam traffic as they head for the Airport to ‘bid her farewell’.
  • Add to that the Diplomatic Corps who are ‘compelled’ to indulge in the ritualistic al-vida which is repeated by khosh-amded upon the ‘VIPs’ return! These idiosyncrasies in no way exonerate the Leader of the Opposition, for we have exact same repeat performances, whenever she travels abroad and there are host of petty issues that crops up to add spice to daily news. Things like ‘why was so and so important leader forbidden from entering the VIP lounge ‘…… for?
  • In a nutshell can anyone please explain why this feudal culture of doing a great hungama of our VIPs ‘historic trip abroad and triumphant return’ has to be done by squandering public money and at great harassments to the tax payers? Why can’t they simply board an aircraft and leave and return like everybody else?
  • Back to Road rage and destruction of public property – can we really blame the Rickshaw drivers? Despite all the tall talks of Maglev trains, flyovers and other ‘constructions and innovative ideas’ to ease traffic congestion, I know as much as everybody else, that realities revolves around how much cuts and commissions can be made from the ‘massive’ deals. Since corruption has no political boundaries, color or affiliations, politicians salivate for the spoils, never get enough - and nothing significant has happened or is likely to happen anytime soon.
  • 40 years have gone by for us as a Nation – but the scenarios have been the same – in fact repeated over and over again. Condescending and patronizing may be our take on the Rickshaw driver; these are by the way the same citizens that our shameless political elite use to fatten their vote banks come national elections.
  • Look up our history book and read ‘strategies to overthrow a Government’ please and what do we have? The convenient weapon of choice for politicians have been to mastermind Road rage, arson, killing, mayhems and destruction of public property – as also holding us cowards, hostage at home through Hartals. Try looking up headlines of the past three month and check how many times politicians have threatened each other – ‘we will confront you on the roads and streets’.
  • Road rage and street violence do not cost our politicians money – for the ultimate fodder to their perverted lust for power are none else than the Rickshaw drivers. Politicians are arrested and the Media in turn makes them heroes. The Rickshaw drivers are with crocodile tears irreverently remembered as ‘poor Shaheed’ – Martyrs – and just as quickly forgotten.
  • We only have to come up with a Law that makes Road rage, destruction of public property, road blockage a CRIME meriting capital punishment – and much of our woes would be over – with our politicians heaped into historical trashcans – ta ta.

New Age Xtra

Print Version

16th April 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Maqsood O' dHAKA's Resignation from Bangladesh Musical Bands Association - BAMBA

15th April 2011


Hamin Ahmed


Bangladesh Musical Bands Association (BAMBA)

Niketon, Dhaka,

My Dear Hamin,

Subject: Resignation from BAMBA and its Executive Committee.

Further to my SMS to you earlier on, this is to inform you of Maqsood O’ dHAKA’s decision to resign from the Bangladesh Musical Bands Association (BAMBA) with immediate effect – as well as my personal decision to resign from the esteemed Executive Committee.

I would like to state in parting that BAMBA has greatly deviated from its lofty ideals of standing to uphold the greater interest of all 37 member bands, and of late, it has become obvious that its fine earned reputation of over 24 years is being abused for the personal and petty interest of a handful of so-called ‘Star’ bands at the expense of the majority.

It is a sad day that among these bands – we have notably elements that have time and again worked against the best interest of BAMBA, yet today they seem to be the ones determining the fate of the Association and its members and doing so with arrogance by bending over backwards in sycophancy to please various Corporate Sponsors interest and a Media syndicate/s.

I am not at all opposed to Corporate Sponsorship, however if Sponsors on the prodding and dirty politics of these unwanted elements decide to influence and derail a National institution such as BAMBA, it is not only an insult to its members, but indeed to Bangladesh – a country that has given us so much. Since the inception of BAMBA in 1987, you as much as I have been well aware of these elements (not to mention the many personal harms they have done to both of us), yet I cannot help point out that today - they have a larger and domineering role in derailing all possibilities that BAMBA holds.

It is well known, that I have always maintained a consistent and principled position against any form of exploitation or oppression both in my public and musical life, however I am afraid the prevailing situation which I see has no way of correcting itself, makes it well nigh impossible for me to continue. It is not a matter of one individual by the name of Maqsoodul Haque – Mac - but essentially a conscientious decision – and my conscience has never ever betrayed me or vice versa.

I do not want a new generation of bands inspired by us, which has joined us over the years to ever question or blame me about our failures. In resigning I know for a fact that I am absolving myself of any blame – that you as President and members of the Executive Committee have to answer for- if not today – but surely in the days to come.

I wish you all success and prosperity.

With regrets and kind regards

Maqsoodul Haque – Mac

Band Leader

Maqsood O’ dHAKA

Founder President: Bangladesh Musical Bands Association (BAMBA) – 1987 - 1990