Of Dead Heroes, Culture Vultures, Hyenas and Kosher Patriotism
Maqsoodul Haque – Mac
"Patriotism is the last vestige of scoundrels" Samuel Johnson
Azam Khan, February 28, 1950 - June 5, 2011 R.I.P
- On 5th June the rock icon and former freedom fighter Azam Khan died after a year-long battle with cancer. In our history one cannot recall any other public figure receiving the number of tributes filling media space and is ongoing as I write. A colleague from New Age sent me an SMS to say that Azam Khan has outstripped Sheikh Mujib, General Zia even Moulana Bhashani in the outpouring of grief and media coverage, in print, TV as well as in Internet social medias. It is the truth.
- That said, post his death the Government of the day seemed to be at a loss as how to handle honors due to him. There were conflicting and confusing signals, whether he should be treated as a former freedom fighter or a rock legend? In the end politicians and partisan activists with no knowledge of either culture or rock, were bent upon highlighting only his role in the Liberation War. Fair enough, but there was a glaring loophole. Despite his bravery and heroism in the nine month long war as a front line guerrilla leader, no post-Independence Government as such ever awarded him a medal for gallantry!
- Azam Khan's known pre-war leftist leanings and commitment to the people as opposed to petty partisan interest meant; he was never a blue-eyed boy of the establishment. Further, his 38 years of unflinching dedication and devotion to rock saw him identifying with aspirations of the masses and his faith in a new generation of musicians. He spent most of his adult life and quality time with them. For as long as he lived, his graying and fossilized contemporaries found his musical activism repulsive, infantile and not worthy a contribution to our culture. Forgotten was fact that by default he was also a youth leader par excellence.
- His cancer led to unauthorized fund raising initiatives by opportunist as well as sincere well-wishers both at home and abroad. Ironically much of it was pilfered and never reached the ailing hero. The Government, particularly the Prime Ministers contribution of Taka 5 lakhs was a pittance at best, covering less that 1 percent of the total cost of the treatment. Yet one couldn't help overlook that each and every newspaper and media report never failed to rub-in her 'great contribution'! Is Taka 5 lakh all that the Government could cough up to absolve itself? Why couldn't the Prime Minister or the Government takeover full responsibility for the treatment of Azam Khan, when much lesser mortals of repute (or disrepute) have been afforded so?
- Part of the problem is in our ingrained attitude whenever an artist is reported ill or dying; we start to criminally degrade them. Dushtho Shilpi or destitute artist is the coinage. Poverty apparently is 'crime' in a nation where most citizens live well below levels of basic subsistence? However the brunt is faced only by artists who are deliberately pauperized, their hard earned respect, honor and dignity shamelessly brutalized. In Azam Khan's death it was no different, only that it carried a shocking due entendre. Together with Dushtho Shilpi he was also a Dushtho Mukti Joddha ?
- Now come on, there cannot be any such thing. We after all have a Freedom Fighters Welfare Ministry and are led to believe that 'the greatest sons of the soil are all being looked after'. Deleted from cumulative memory are 90 percent of our unheard and unknown heroes of the War were from villages. Forget also that those who participated in the war from urban areas are without a doubt its greatest beneficiary today. The thonga of Mukti Juddho is 'hot commodity' in cities, enough money is on offer and has been made and much more is yet to be. There are no end to salivating elements out there fine tuning their act to fine art. Azam Khan chose not to be party to such chicanery.
- The Liberation War hero, the only half-hearted Guard of Honor offered by the Government was a hastily arranged Police detail near his residence before his body was moved for funeral prayers and burial. Partisan politics which Azam Khan hated in his lifetime came in next to hijack opportunities that presented itself in the planned chaos.
- The pro-Government Sammilito Sangskrtik Jote (SSJ) of which Azam Khan was never a member, quickly seized his corpse and put it up for public display at the Central Shaheed Minar under its ghastly banner. A fascist organization, the SSJ has no representation from Bangladesh's teeming rock fraternity and given its reactionary character, especially its post 90's co-opting to MNC's exploitative interest, makes it a sworn enemy for all rockers and conscious people of Bangladesh.
- That done, what came on next was a huge media circus, with music 'celebrities' and TV personalities jockeying for space to expose their unwanted faces. On TV cameras they talked endlessly about the great man without inkling as to what he really stood for. Gone amiss from the circus was an issue Azam Khan held in the deepest of contempt; the corporatization of our culture and Media exploitation which had also befallen his fate.
- Alas as his corpse lay in the CMH morgue Azam Khan's worst nightmares were coming alive. TV and radio channels in deference to pretentious 'respect, tribute and adoration for the Guru and Pop Shamrat' Azam Khan kept up non-stop relay of his songs, Music Videos and LIVE TV performances. There would have been no complaints had it not been, that added to the shenanigan, all the programs were sponsored by cell phones, soap and toiletries makers and even kitchen masala companies!
- No one asked how much money has already been made by the TV and radio stations in their maya kanna post Azam Khan's death? As of now, there are no records to confirm that the media volunteered to share any revenue it earned since his death with members of his family, the ultimate and rightful beneficiary to his immortal works. Crores of Takas has already been pocketed.
- The unnecessary controversy and degrading of his dignity over money raised for his treatment could well have been addressed, if Azam Khan's final request to the media was heeded and/or serious steps taken to demand what was due to him. His immortal works is invaluable and in a simplistic message before he went to Singapore, he pleaded :
- 'I don't want pity, largesse, contribution or financial help from anyone. If the TV and Radio channels just pay the royalties due to me, I should have more than enough to cover my treatment with my own money'. No one in the media took heed. All they wanted was to project a 'destitute artist' and they got away with it unchallenged. That didn't stop even after he died.
- Post death, his family (a daughter and two sons) continues to be hounded by culture vultures and media hyenas. However, the scenario has changed slightly. Everybody now wants to hand out tokenistic dole to them, with a catch. 'How about signing this legal paper, authorizing so and so to come up with a tribute album, concert or TV show?' Add to that the horror and humiliation they felt when Channel I went ahead with a LIVE sponsored TV show on 19th June featuring Asif Akbar murderously singing Azam Khan's song and the Producer on request and plea from the family, arrogantly not giving a hoot?
- Or how do we explain a statement by the notorious plagiarist Ayub Bacchu 'if we do not perform Azam Khan's song, they will simply die'? When will this two bit megalomaniac ever realize that an Ayub Bacchu as such is not required to save Azam Khan's songs? The original audio and video recordings of Azam Khan that are available in the public domain are more than enough to perform that yeomen service.
- We pride ourselves with the number of TV and Radio Channels that have mushroomed over the years and yes they do have permissions from all Government bodies and even the BTRA. On papers they may be legit, but as far as their dealing with artists, repertoire and broadcast of music and video are concerned; they are COMPLETELY ILLEGAL. For all practical purpose these entities are nothing more than pirate Radio and TV stations as they do no comply with the Copyright laws of Bangladesh which is in effect from 2005, and do not offer royalties on the original software's of the CREATOR, the artist!
- At the end of the equation it is greed and a lack of transparency that will derail this nation if it has not been already. On 16th of June the Government conceded to US pressure and signed off our gas resources to ConocoPhillips. With pressure building up from activists groups opposed to the move the flippant and obtuse Finance Minister in presence of his 'future masters' could only come up with his oft repeated abuse 'utter nonsense'. With a secret deal aimed at usurping our national wealth only one-upped patriotism could come into play.
- And so it was left to none but our Prime Minister to copyright patriotism in her name only, leaving rest of us scoundrels that dare resists 'unpatriotic'? Be it, but wasn't it Edward Abbey that said, "A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government"?
- Azam Khan R.I.P - dream on my Hero. There will be no copyright to the 'utter rubbish and nonsensical cans' of history. Time and tide will wait for none. This Nation of braves will surely rise and revolt.
New Age XTRA
Print Version, Friday 24th June 2011