Friday, August 26, 2011

A politically incorrect letter to Tareque Masud

by Mac Haque
"I've overcome the blow, I've learned to take it well, I only wish my words could just convince myself,that it just wasn't real. But that's not the way it feels" – Jim Croce
Status: Open/Unrestricted
Mood: Meditative/Gloomy/Angry
Music in Background: Do it Again – Steely Dan
Date/Time- Line: From Then, Now to Never
My Dear Tareque,
Something went awfully wrong on Saturday the 13th of August 2011, and they tell me that you will remain incommunicado forever. Fair deal pal…that appreciated if not understood; I hope you will take time out to read this letter. I have deliberately marked it open and unrestricted, so that somewhere down the line somehow, maybe through a gap in the ether, it will be delivered to you unblemished.
You are the savviest of communicators for our generation indeed in the history of Bangladesh. I know for certain that you will continue with your job beyond the 24/07/365 spectral dimension, a rather limited sphere for a genius like you.
It's this delusion we call life the Baul in both of us recognizes that stops me from mentioning you in the past tense. It would be an insult to the living and illuminated spirit that has broken free from a clay tomb. Death is a celebration as much as life an unending cycle; the entrapped Clay Bird is now free to hover.

As early as 1983 when you were working like an obsessive maniac on Adam Surat featuring living footages of Lal Miah, you charted your road map in life. You chose an iconoclast, a living legend as your subject. A subject who on the quiet had gone International, and his paintings hung side-by-side with masters like Matisse and Dali, was yet, little known to his own people then, as even today.
Quite characteristically you explained with unending patience, about technological advancements and why your 16 mm celluloid print of Adam Surat can't be sent to a festival as the mandatory requirement was U-Matic, NTSC BVU format etc. Very few people in Bangladesh understood what the heck you and I were talking about.
Worse was to follow. Despite my reluctance you bull headedly went ahead and talked to the illiterate proprietor of the Travel Agency I was working - for sponsorship. You were shown the door and the same month I quit. In retrospect, not many doors were open to us anyway friend. We had a notorious reputation for speaking our minds and there wasn't a huge appetite for our brutal to a fault honesty.
Communications between us were never regular or irregular, but I find it comforting to think that whenever there was a crisis we always met and spent quality time. In winter of 1987 after a Whiskey wasted night when we talked only about financial solvency I had no way of knowing what was really doing overtime in your mind.
So it was more of an embarrassment than a shock that the same morning after waving me goodbye, you tried a hop-skip-and-jump in front of a public bus? Man that was weird. If your ambition was to bag an athletic gold for Bangladesh in the Olympics, you chose a real lousy turf for a practice run…...phew!
Your personal turbulence's were officially over in 1988 when you walked in to my office arm-in-arm with Catherine Shapiere. Before long fate conspired and she was being hounded by people in absolute power who were not quite able to understand the economics or politics of a visiting American student with a perpetually broke Bangladeshi boyfriend! Love perhaps was an obsolete word back then.
Our last ditch plea to get the US Embassy to help was met by a stern official on the phone. To our horror we learnt that he will ensure Catherine's passport is returned, but could do nothing about the deportation order. The three of us hugged and cried but our gloom was short lived.
I remember Catherine promising she would return which she did much earlier than expected. And that poem on her adopted motherland written at the Departure lounge of Dhaka Airport after a humiliating interrogation by Immigration Police was bitterly poignant. The two of you were destined to serve the Nation, and do so with the greatest honor and highest of admiration. No power on earth could dare stop that.
I came to know about your nuptials courtesy the grapevine. Months later you enjoyed my quip when I pointed to the framed portrait of the two of you in a wall. Prem er porey frame – aha!
Then most annoyingly you vanished without a trace not to return until the early nineties. When you did, you excitedly summoned me to talk about a treasure trove that you had discovered in New York and NO, you assured me you haven't robbed a Bank! Nevertheless I rushed to see you and Catherine with a hope that..…ahem….I may end up being an important side-kick for a soon to be billionaire in Bangladesh.
An hour into the meeting at your Kalabagan hangout with all that hush-hush secrecy, I realized what you have in hand was indeed priceless, but fraught with risk higher than a Bank vault. It was a people's statement that no political party would be able to stomach. Never spoken but never denied - our lives were at stake.
Reading between the lines, I am sure had it not been on Catherine's insistence, you wouldn't have budged to call up Lear Levin. This was based on an emotive flashback by a much inebriated Tareq Ali in New York. And sure enough Lear Levin was on the phone directory. And sure enough so was the cache, preserved in mint condition in his temperature controlled basement. Hours of raw celluloid footage of the Liberation War, not blood or gore but front line cultural activists in action, entertaining guerrillas and common people.
And there was Tareq Bhai, Benu Da, Naila and Shahin Apa, Shopon Da and so many more. From reel, real to surreal, it was as if 1971 had returned, courtesy you - to tell its own tale in 1995.

The two of us have tormented for years whenever the Liberation War came up for discussions. Here we were faced with a new generation and our reminiscences as teenagers growing up in 1971 were rubbished. "Were we dreaming back then, or are we lying today?" You finally had the answer to my question. We NOW HAVE THE PROOF Dosto! The next challenge was how to get this across to the people of Bangladesh, the ultimate beneficiary of the treasure.

Muktir Gaan was then an unfolding history of a history in changed times, when we had all but given up on the bloodiest phase in our history. From handling the Censor Board without editing out a single frame, to organizing screening and alternative out-of-the box distribution without sponsors or patron you masterminded the movie reaching furthest corners of Bangladesh without dithering on your resolve.
Ironically while you received a lot of pats on your back, when it came to real help, you had next to none. Try as you may to hide this my friend, I know for a fact that with all of that happening around you, there were days you went without food. The prohibitive cost of the movie burnt a huge hole in your pocket which was never very deep in the first place.
It was my sheer fortune and destiny to be a tiny piece in a gigantic jig-saw puzzle that was to be the Muktir Gaan project. I am honored together with other volunteers and friends, to be a roadie and lift and lug the very expensive projector equipments and precious celluloid prints during the initial screenings at Public Library Auditorium.

The Muktir Gaan Public Screening at Public Library Auditorium - 1995. LTR: Catherine and late Tareq Masud (head down) stand in silence as self and Shampa sing Joan Baez "The Story Of Bangladesh"

I am equally honored that you ordered our friend Shampa Reza and me to be the MC's for the first screening of Muktir Gaan to diplomats, bureaucrats and others at the Dhaka Museum Auditorium. The shows at Manikganj, Faridpur and Bhanga where I accompanied you and Catherine in those tumultuous days will forever be etched in my memory.
But then, we had our differences sometimes very heated. While you agreed with me most times, you never accepted my pathological rejection of the status quo or contempt for Culture Vultures and Media Mafia who were hanging around our motley crew for all the wrong reasons.
To quote Bob Marley, I was merely "Oba, ob-serving the hypocrites, as they would mingle with the good people we meet", so all I could do was watch dejectedly from the periphery and take another toke of Sinsemilia! You are the superior being. You could hear history calling, you could hear the peoples cry when defeat after defeat, our senses had gone numb.
And then it was Matir Moyna (Clay Bird) and Cannes in 2002. You firmly placed Bangladesh in the International Cinema map. Everything was to change, except you my dear friend. Your dynamism was infectious as usual, but you remained the forever approachable Tareque Masud.
I thank God for that. Your head didn't outgrow your shoulders. You had no pretensions to be a Ray or Kiarostani or stoop to the perverted commercial decadence of a Farooki……..who?
Last if not the least DostoRunway was awesome and I don't know if I thanked you enough for the peek preview at your house last year.
Catch up with you soon.
Salutes - my comrade in thoughts.
PS. I have not been able to go see Catherine and Nishad. I don't know what to tell them about your disappearance when enough has already been said.
New Age XTRA
Print Version
Friday, 26th August 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Of graffiti galore, weird boards and weirder laws

Maqsoodul Haque - Mac

"Tying garbage bags around your head and hands is overkill." April Winchell

  • All we have to do is take a serious look around every time we step outside our homes and into the horrid realities of street, main roads and the so-called VIP roads. At eye length there is simply not an inch of public space that has not been usurped by advertisers, political parties and other do-gooders. From paan and Cigarettes shops, roadside eateries, Malls, under flyovers, walls and buildings, indeed any free area that attracts people are game to occupation and it would seem a sin if it was any other way.
  • The city consequently is acquiring the look of a massive garbage can. Graffiti's, posters, decals and stickers keep jarring our sensibilities. From walls, to footpaths, sides of footpaths, pedestrian crossing over bridges, trees, road dividers it's someone or the other selling or trading anything and everything from Telco offers, to tutorials to fizzy drinks, to IELTS courses, Property developers, prophylactics, awareness campaigns, political and fashion statements to sexual stimulants!
  • Competing in maniacal obsession are political parties, who these days beautify their posters with digital plastic printouts, and mount them on Stainless Steel (SS) frames. Their pathetic provinciality notwithstanding other than the photographs of their great leaders, these monstrosities also have images not only of the local MP or Ward Commissioner, they also emblazon idiotic mug shots of the sponsor i.e. showjonyye so-and-so and just in case one misses the point, rubbed in conveniently is fact the individual is also a Bir Mukti Joddha…hah.
  • If there is a historic meeting or histrionic convention and not to forget historical dates, the competition for sheer ugliness hits an all time zenith. Black clothes are emblazoned with blurbs like Kando Bangali Kando or cry Bengali cry – leaving me wondering, why? Do we really need a date to remind us to cry? Does it not mean that if not reminded we won't cry? Truth is the trial and tribulation, the sheer pain in the you know where of our daily existence doesn't make us cry but literally weep and these daily rituals in survival are ones that our obtuse, obese and very well fed politicos preaching eat-less morals do not have to suffer!
  • The cult of sponsorship does not only reveal pathetic cultural inadequacies of our politicos, they display unabashed arrogance and alienation from the masses, together with a high degree of sycophancy. In most cases, the ugly posters are branded by party headquarters, and it appears mandatory that they must contain not only the images of leader/s, but also their offspring's and offspring's of offspring's and so forth. In a kilometer stretch of road – one may end up seeing more than fifty such visual morbidities. Unknown to our politicos, such repetitive messages do no excite or leave any imprint in our minds worth remembering. All it does is remind us of the state of annoying filth we live in and how filthier we can get. The public level of irritation at this apathetic disregard for decency will soon explode into HATE if it has not already.
  • Look up at the sky line, the assault to our vision is overwhelming to say the least. Huge, ugly signages do add some color to our life, but its profusion and newer hoardings erected almost every other day means that sooner than not, we will be unable to have glimpses of the blue sky. Occasionally either through freak winds or freakier accidents, these billboards falls off, killing people on the street. A lot of hullabaloo is made by the press, and the victims and the issue as quickly buried. Before we know it, hundreds more crops up and there seems to be no respite.
  • I wonder if there is a law in place to restrain advertising and marketing companies. It's apparently a maybe situation and the maybe depends entirely on what part of the city you live, regardless of whether or not you are a tax payer. Regardless or not, if you have any rights to question the MNC money Gods and even if you do, are there other citizens in the capital who are better off and do not have to endure the noisy visual attacks on their sensibilities? The equation is bizarre.
  • Example: from the Zero Point in Motijheel all the way to Uttara, Gazipur and beyond, each and every lamp post and tree for the last eight months or so is adorned with very ugly red plastic posters advertising a cell phone company. As if that isn't enough, the company also has over a hundred billboards in place. As if that is also not enough, each and every TV and FM channels have their jingles going every fifteen minutes. As if that IS ALSO NOT ENOUGH each and every newspaper has their blurbs every day of the week. The question is when do we call enough, ENOUGH?
  • These MNC's are behaving no less vulgarly then our politicos and little do they realize that bombarding people with their messages may help them rake in cash, however the long term implications will not be conducive. There is surely a law against public nuisance and for all practical purpose citizens will wake up and go for litigation suits. The crux of the legal posturing will depend on how serious our citizens are and how long they will continue to endure this rape and intrusion on the limited public space that we pay our taxes for. Somehow somewhere there is a precognitive strain in our people. They have the patience to wait before they pound, and when they do it is destined to be brutal.
  • How long will constriction and looter like rampaging be tolerated when in the end, justifiable questions can be raised since it looks like some citizens in pockets of the capital, are exempt from this menace while others are not? How is it that there are certain areas where advertisers cannot or do not advertise and in others, they do so with impunity bordering on criminal?
  • Example: the stretch of road opposite the Prime Ministers office all the way to the Air force Officers Mess is spick and span clean. No graffiti's, no billboards, no posters, no political messages, NOTHING! What does it mean? There is either a law that prohibits such visual assaults, or plainly the advertisers and their criminal nexus do not want to mess about with the Prime Minister or the Air force.
  • What makes the Prime Minister who was voted into office by our mandate to be free of a scourge that we citizens have per force been afflicted and infected with? And the Air force, men and women who are supposed to be defending us, are state employees, and live and thrive on tax payer's money – what circumstances and/or prerogative makes them any more superior to us? And that's not all.
  • When was the last time any one of us have either visited or driven through the stretch of heaven we call the Dhaka Cantonment or even the old DOHS? Why is it that in this less than 10 sq kms pocket life and living seems to be at perfect ease and tranquil? There are no traffic jams, no garbage or litter, no jay walking, no killer trucks, no rickshaws slowing down life. Add to that perfect footpaths and pedestrian crossings, road dividers with seasonal flowers not restrained or protected by ugly barbed wire fences, aromatic hibiscus, no garbage can, and no litter – in fact anything and everything that one can expect of a civilized nation or a city is up for showcase. And NO there are no billboards, graffiti's or other menaces that we see elsewhere in the city!
  • That should leave us contemplating two serious questions. But first, an axiom: it is after all possible to keep our city clean, manageable and decent contributing to our overall psychological well being. And the questions 1. What are the laws in place inside the Cantonments that is NOT in the rest of the city and leads to anarchy? 2. In a democratic state is it constitutionally valid to have two sets of discriminatory laws for two different set of citizens within the same city?
  • What then are the options available? The one that my left-of-center colleagues in New Age will frown upon is the suggestion that we enforce Cantonment laws all across Dhaka. The other that will not be taken lightly or even with a sense of humor is unleashing the jungle laws of consumerist overkill that we civilians have to live with in our Cantonments as well? Quite simply, what and to whom are we showcasing our Cantonments as opposed to the nation's capital? Is our military being pampered into an elitism to appease them?
  • What are our genuine worries on this one – any answers?

New Age Xtra

Print Version – Friday 12th August 2011

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Timeless Tales in Making of the Unforgettable 'Melay Jai Re' - 1989 by Feedback

by Sajeda Tamanna Hossain,

Pix: Shahid Ahmed Irad & Collections

Song Title: Melay Jai Re

Album Title: Mela

Date of Release: 1990

Lyrics: Maqsoodul Haque

Composition: Maqsoodul Haque and Fuad Naser Babu

Musical Arrangements: Feedback

Down Memory Lane: Floating along with the tide of time, we continue to stroll through the hall of fame. The cool sway of the summer breeze, mild sting of humidity and searing waves of sudden heat come as reminder to us, of the new calendar, new season and renewed celebrations. As the mind lies engulfed by the thoughts of 'Boishakh', as if in silent agreement, unknowingly, the footsteps were walked to the threshold of, 'Melay Jai Re' by 'Feedback' 

The Making:

Maqsoodul Haque: Bangla Noboborsho meant a lot for me, when I was very young. At the time, the residence of my family used to be at Narayanganj. Every Pohela boishakh, alongside my family, I travelled to Dhaka for a daylong visit to the Ramna Park. The occasion was celebrated with all of the Chhayanaut family. In those days, Chhayanaut was relatively small and closely knit, and somehow or the other, everyone knew my parents and were connected to them. I am speaking of a time even before the independance, say during the mid or late 60s.

Even in those days, Borsho Boron began at dawn break but the occasion was  carried out at a much smaller scale with about 300-400 people. It used to be like a picnic at Ramna, with neither as many people, nor as many cars. A child of my age then, I understood nothing of the songs that greeted Noboborsho, and therefore, spent much of the day playing with other children. Such was our remembrance of Boishakh and had become a regular practice over the years.

As I began maturing, during the days following independance, I realised that Pohela Boishakh had become a serious, conservative ordeal, met with a solemn approach. There were a set of unspoken rules and guidelines, that silently dictated, what were to be followed as, the norms of culture; as for example, dawn till mid-day, must oversee orchestrated performances of Tagore songs, conventional recitations of Nazrul's poems etc. Consequently a boredom materialized within me.

Impositions as such have been witnessed even once before, as citizens of East Pakistan! Even then, it was the rationing of the commoner's freedom of cultural expression. It was a massive issue and only grew bigger, as more people started understanding the communal attitude of the Pakistani administration prior to liberation- placing ideas such as, that Bengalis weren't Muslims and that our culture was influenced by the ideas and rituals of Hinduism! The only body of people, that resisted such notions was that which we know as, Chhayanaut!

Our elders spoke of these matters with grave concern; we overheard their conversations as children but absorbed the depth and gravity of their concerns much later as adults. And so, the seeds of rebellion, the winds of change, the freedom of expression- these were the significant catalysts for everything that subsequently wound into a new way. But as time journeyed on, the successors of the new way, developed into an obsessive cult of culture vultures! Pohela Boishakh- an occasion that once marked every Bengali's pride in his identity and symbolized cultural union through congregations at 'Boishakhi Mela'-s; a time had come that the 14th of April was yet another 'must not deviate from tradition'! Thus, all that I witnessed of Noboborsho were contradictions- proclamations were made of festivity and freedom, but no smiles or laughters on the lips that pronounced!

This repeated repulsive routine was boring the patience out of me and my generation. One Noboborsho, it agitated me so much so, that it involuntarily escaped my mouth, 'Ai chol eikhan theke jai toh! Ramnay ar bhalo lagtese na! Chol melay jai!', I told my friends. And so in mid '87, the matter, as I perceived it, finally formed a proper and organized string of ideas, settling down as words!

With reference to my the then observation, to the common man, the whole essence of Boishakh lies in the 'Mela'- indulging in the utmost of rustic rural flavors of Bengal. The Boishakhi Mela reminds us of our roots- Pohela Boishakh is not merely the first day of a new calendar; it signifies a new season of harvest, new tallies of accounts and thus brings hopes of a new year bearing newer possibilities.

In disapproval and criticism of the manipulation of cultural definitions, such were the thoughts expressed through my lyrics. On the occasion of Noboborsho, people wait for Ramna's boring session- making a display of predefined traditions- to be over and look forward to the festivities afterwards, encompassing Boishakhi Mela-s.

In an effort to draw attention to the visible changes in season, I made references to the flowers 'polash' and 'shimul'. However, at the time, I really didn't know much about flowers and their blooming seasons. And hence, contrary to the facts of botany, the floral bloom was referred to in the song- 'polash' and 'shimul', I later learned, are not blossoms of Boishakh.

My basic idea in crafting the lyrics of the song, was to be able to incorporate four main elements in relation to Noboborsho- the composition and instrumental sounds that harmoniously synchronise and appeal with a recollection of a Boishakhi mood to whoever, listening to the song; vivid and appropriate color references in the lyric to trigger visual memories of Boishakh; nostalgia jogged with references to fragrances and aromas, characteristic of the common attributes and familiar experiences of a Boishakhi Mela; provoking use of words in reference of and recalling the sensations of touch, felt only when in contact with the gifts of Boishakh. Altogether, the four elements making references to the four sensory stimuli, must appeal to the listener, having wholly engulfed him in memories building real experiences and individualized association with Boishakh.

The song also makes very subtle and sarcastic remarks encompassing the hypocrisies of society as a whole and the contradictory practices of people as individuals, such as- celebrating a Bengali festival while adorned in foreign perfumes; the congregation of Bengalis at mela-s is held to symbolize union and comradeship, and yet, the Bengali woman is still subject to harassment by their male counterparts, even on an occasion as such.

I did try to indicate that it is dynamism in culture that we have to look for; we must learn to draw a differentiating line between the former, and tradition. People need to widen their acceptance of change in perspective so that at no point in time, we face something called a 'cultural shock'; after all, what is culture today, might not be so tomorrow.

And all these ideas, thoughts and expressions gradually came together, placing themselves carefully next to each other and 'Melay Jai Re' finally came to life. It's been 20 years; when I look back, I feel no regrets!

A Memory: A very special memory attached to this song is of this woman, who regularly telephoned my residence asking for me. One day, Dio's mother, my late wife Nazreen Haque, informed me of her frequent calls, having mentioned that the lady wanted to speak to me about a special something regarding the song and that Nazreen had asked her to call back the following weekend afternoon. The lady called accordingly and I answered. The special something that she wished to speak of was regarding her 3 year old child! She said, 'Bhaiya, I really admire and respect you. This song is absolutely amazing but there is someone else in my family, who is crazier about it than myself- it's my baby! I can't possibly breast feed him on even a single occasion without the song playing in the background.  You actually have to see it to believe it.'