I “met” the Awami League’s dinosaur gen sec last year. I was in Changi airport waiting for a connection to Dhaka. We were called to board, and then suddenly the gate was closed. We were told a VIP would be boarding first. We waited to see who this bloody nuisance of a VIP would be. Imagine our collective disgust when we saw the figure of Jalil plodding down the closed off gangway to the plane. What a disgrace, the gathered Bengalis felt, that this plump personage who together with his boss was responsible for so much chaos and violence in Dhaka because of their hardline stance was being honoured like this over and above paying passengers like us (some of us are SIA’s elite PPS status). Why could he not board with everyone else? What gives him the right to stage his own mini-blockade here in Changi, Singapore?
Anyway, Mr Jalil has had something of a comeuppance recently. It appears he was basically ticked off for his little MOU with the khelafatistas which would have seen this so-called secular Awami League okaying fatwabajis and okaying communalism. But it was left to his hardline boss, Sheikh Hasina, to come to his defence and explain that principles are to be entirely forgotten when it comes to winning elections ( necessary for access to state resources) - confirming once again, the thesis of clientilist politics of Prof M Khan of SOAS as explained in this paper here (pdf document).
And then there is Mr Mossadak Ali Falu. He seems to have run out of luck good and proper. This guy could write the definitive book on corruption in Bangladesh. I really think Transparency International in Gulshan should give him a fellowship and ask him to write his memoirs. He is apparently already a writer of several books on islamic, historical and development issues! He is currently in jail, and one hopes, he will spend a sufficient time there to start on what should be a voluminous tome. He is a remarkably talented man - he has risen from nothing to being everything - writer, activist, President of the Mohammedan Sporting Club for over a decade, Khaleda’s chief operator, an MP, sorry a vote rigging MP that is, owner of private satellite TV channels, a hoarder of corrugated iron sheets meant for relief and you name it he has done it….and now he has topped his career by being charged with anti-state activities, obstructing safety and illegally erecting hoardings. What a man! And oh yes…there was yesterday’s conflagration in which sadly there were a number of deaths and injuries. Falu’s TV channel went up in smoke. I wonder if he is an arsonist too?
The bihari issue in bangladesh is not likely to feature in this caretarker administrations sights. Indeed it hasn’t featured in the sights of any government.
Last year it was noticeable from the press releases and statements of the UNHCR that there was a disjuncture between the approach of the foreign ministry ( = it is an issue for Pakistan) and that of Khaleda’s office ( = we are already integrating biharis). But really nothing was being done. So much time has passed and it is incredible that we can’t resolve this issue. Feelings run high at the very mention of the name. I was talking to an outwardly sane chap only the other day and when I mentioned this as a possible documentary project, he started telling me stories about how the bihairs would fling bengali children in the air and bayonet them during the war….end of conversation.
Yet there are so many examples to draw upon. The South African TRC, problematic though it was, has useful lessons.The Cambodians have started the process. And this week, Timor and Indonesia have got down to it. I have to say the joint Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship looks even more problematic than the South African TRC. In fact it looks seriously flawed. That should not be reason to not bother with things in bangladesh. Everything is open to contestation, to bargaining and to negotiation. And so the various stakeholders really need to gear themselves up to deal with the issue. Certainly the bihari issue is located within the pro-liberation and anti-liberation cat-calling that goes on but surely, given the conjuncture, there is no better time to deal with it than now?
Its a day to remember those who made the supreme sacrifice and, if you are religious, to pray for their departed souls. Its a day to dream, like the martyrs did, about the possibilities of the future.
I am remembering and also dreaming. I am dreaming that two people in particular need to make enormous personal sacrifices and physically depart from Bangladesh. Who are they you ask? I can’t quite make them out but I think its Khaleda and her son Tareq I am dreaming about. In my dream, I am feverishly petitoning Patricia Butenis to do what Uncle Sam has done for many a corrupt head of state - whisk them away to a safe haven somewhere.
“Beauty apa,” I am calling out, “please offer them whatever loot they have stashed away but for heaven’s sake get them out of the country. Do this for Bangladesh. Kissinger ushered them in. Now you, Butenis, take them away.”
I am also dreaming of a big house in the middle of dhaka somehwere. I am dreaming that a hijab clad woman is made to see sense and go and live there and not venture out ever again. In my dream she leaves politics and retires to her architecturally interesting house (where did the money come from to build such an excrescence?). I am dreaming that if she refuses, the caretaker administration bars her from taking office. That they lay at her feet the responsibility for the nightmarish violence she used to unleash wihout the slightest care about fatalities and injuries.
I am also dreaming of another departure. However you will agree that this one is even more outlandish than the two above. My dream is for the massive ego of a
certain high interest charging banker professor to fly away, and allow him to begin to attempt to change the mould of Bangladeshi politics.
Bangladesh is more exposed than any other country to global warming. And a series of unusual events - from dying trees to freak weather - suggest its impact is already being felt. Justin Huggler reports from the Sundarbans nature reserve for The Independent (19th February 2007)
As a follow up to my original Rickshaw babe post here is another hot rickshaw totty below. Sorry she is slightly blurred. My hands were shaking in excitement and hence the imperfect photo. I am presently searching forÂ paintings of Britney Spears onÂ Dhaka rickshaws. Apparently they exist! Who said globalisation was bad?
The nobel laureate and the man behind the so-called microcredit revolution is contemplating launching his own political party, possibly with the name -” Nagorik Shakti” or citizen’s power. If you read bangladesh related blogs you will find only superlatives attached to Prof Yunus’ name, and I shall maintain the tradition: He is, for example, THE consummate politician. True this is only when it comes to making embarassing political gaffes but hey, don’t knock it, he is good at it. He has no identifiable social base. This fact has never daunted him, and he proclaims merrily ” I want to be in politics with everyone.” No point in reminding Mr Yunus that there are winners and losers in politics or that there damn well should be. He is an economist. He knows all about pareto optimality. Let him marry the interests of the destitute with the production functions of the elite.
I can’t wait to see this guy’s manifesto. Already his putative party structure has raised an eyebrow or two. The party is to consist of volunteers who will locate and finance morally superior beings for the forthcoming (one hopes) elections. What this means for party discipline god only knows but it strikes me that the system is just a tad open to manipulation? But I shouldn’t think it is as devolved as the Daily Star report has made it out to be. Prof Yunus rules Grameen with an authoritarian zeal. And so if we do an elementary exercise in logic, it would go something like this:
In Awami League, all roads lead to Sheikh Hasina.
In BNP, all roads lead to Khaleda Zia.
In Grameen Bank, alll roads lead to Prof. Yunus!
Therefore, in Yunus’ new party, oooh I am stumped…..
If you live in New York and have not seen Tanvir Mokammel’s documentary “Teardrops of Karnaphuli” - you can catch it at the 2007 Arab and South Asian Film Festival. The CHT is a big blot on Bangladesh’s human rights landscape. And this documentary is particularly noteworthy because of the way it understands landscape as social history. Watch it please if you can.
You will soon be able to buy this DVD online….watch this space. If you belong to an NGO or Human rights forum or environmental network, and you wish to show this documentary, please get in touch.
Well if you want a slightly stereotypical view of Bauls read this piece in the Newropean Magazine. Actually it is such fun that i will reproduce it below. I don’t mean to criticise the learned Rene Wadlow but i wonder if he has spent any time with Bauls? I have a little, and these days they are as different from each other as you and I. Anyway that is a minor point. Here is what the learned professor has to say ( and keep reading otherwise you will miss the bit about tantric sex. Yummy):
The Bauls: The Dionysiac Minstrels of Bengal
“Why do you keep looking for the Man of the Heart
in the forests, in solitude?
Turn your attention this time
To the grace and beauty within your soul.”
So begins one of the songs of Lalon Shah of Bangladesh probably the greatest of the Baul singers. The message is simple, yet its appeal is universal. In his songs, he tears down the barriers of caste and creed, the walls that separate man from man. Lalon Shah who died in 1890 composed many thousands of songs, passed down orally from disciple to disciple, only a small number have survived such as his song on the moon, which is a strong Baul symbol:
By great good luck one may see that moon.
It has no dark spots.
In it lies the golden abode of the Unknowable.
In the world of the moon there is no play of day or night.
Who are these Bauls? The Bauls are a class of minstrel, wandering singers of mystic songs. They sing of love and friendship in the search for the Creator who dwells within each person, and of the beauty of all created things.
The Bauls came into prominence as a socio-religious group during the 19th century, and became more widely known as their songs were written down by Rabindranath Tagore Bengal’s great poet and social reformer. One of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite songs “If there is no one that heeds your call, then go on ahead alone” is a Tagore song with a distinctly Baul melody and rhythm.
The Bauls today, number around half a million persons, living largely in communal establishments called akharas, the largest number in Kushtia, Bangladesh on the frontier of the Indian state of West Bengal. The Bauls live under a spiritual preceptor, the Murshed. Life in the Akharas is very simple. The Bauls have no personal possessions other than a single piece of cloth garment, often saffron in color, a reminder of a period when Bengal was largely Buddhist. Today, Bangladesh is largely Muslim and the Bauls are considered by most as Sufis, Muslim mystic preachers who also travel from village to village.
The Bauls play a two-stringed banjo-type musical instrument, the “do-tara”. Women Bauls put on a white single-piece dress; they do not use ornaments. The Bauls sing for the unlettered, a school for the poor and the down-trodden masses. They sing of the primacy of the spirit in a world where many would prefer material wealth and luxury.
The Bauls also carry on esoteric tantric practices which were developed by the Sahajiyas, early Buddhist mystics of Bengal who considered the sex act as the key ritual in their worship form. The Bauls believe that inner enlightenment comes by sexual union with a specially selected and trained woman. The sex act is performed to help both the man and the woman to attain their spiritual destiny. Sexual union is part of the “Deha Tattva” the doctrine of the body said to be composed of the four elements: earth, water, air, fire, and its powers as a way of reaching “Shain” -the God within. The Bauls are looked down upon by the more legalistic Muslims of Bangladesh or thought of as only “folk singers” but their search for the inner man, for the indwelling light has a message for each of us.
I hear on the grapevine and in some news reports that this ultra-talented photographer is seeking asylum in Germany. He has received death threats because of his depiction of a madrassah, and in particular this photograph.
has done a fantastic job in his book “The Festivals of Bangladesh.” Yes I know he wrote it 10 years ago but I have just come across it. And as there are over 150 visitors to this blog everyday, I thought I would make it known to you …..He describes eid, muharram, janmashtami, durga puja. And its all absolutely fascinating. Did you know that eid has only become a big thing in the last forty years or so??! I felt a little apprehensive after reading this book. We have so much to lose if communalism ever succeeds in Bangladesh. The ultra-slim book immerses you in history, in poetry, in humanity and here and there hints at a deeply inclusive philosophy.
The wires have been buzzing with tales of suitcases, and silly as they are I think I should blog about them. As I am currently in Glasgow, the first story concerns the celebrated Scottish/bangladeshi chef - Tommy Miah. It transpires that he is a good mate of Tareq Zia’s right hand man and one of bangladesh’s principal ‘godfathers’ - Mr Giasuddin Mamun. Now apparently Tommy visits Dhaka every month. So do a lot of people including my goodself. Nothing amazing there. However whilst I only ever have cabin luggage, Tommy regularly comes back with 5-6 packed suitcases. Garam masala, I suspect you are muttering? Not according to the Weekly Blitz. They reckon green stuff. And I don’t mean saag or other exotic vegetables for his Edinburgh restaurant. They reckon these cases were stashed with foreign currency notes supplied by the slippery Mamun.
The next story also in the Weekly Blitz concerns the mystery of 453 missing suitcases. Our ex-PM, Khaleda Zia, went to do Umrah ( a cut down version of hajj) and she and her small entourage travelled to Saudi Arabia with 480 suitcases and trunks. Upon her return, KZ et al. only had 27 cases with them. Talk about missing luggage! Except, according to the gutter Weekly Blitz, these weren’t missing at all. These were probably used to carry the green stuff to Saudi and then deposited in banks there.
The final story concerns the bangladeshi New York cabbie, Osman Chowdhury, who found a case of diamonds in his boot, and then made strenuous efforts to return them to the owner. His behaviour was exemplary and professional. And he fully deserves the praise being heaped upon him. His behaviour was however entirely rational. CCTV, taxi-fare logging and other tecchie related developments pretty much ensure that it would have been foolish of him to do a runner with the case of jewels. So game theoretically it was the correct thing to do. Emotional bangladeshi bloggers have taken his behaviour to the next level and started comparing it to the self-seeking behaviour of bangladeshi politicians at home. To these bloggers, corruption is all about individual pathology. Correct yourself and all will be ok. Honest individuals is what it is about. In their naivete they fail to look at the structural causes of corruption in Bangladesh and indeed throughout low income countries, and the politics that develops as a result. Not to mention the assurance problem which affected the cabbie but would not have affected corrupt behaviour in Bangladesh. And this is of course dangerous. Because these bloggers would be the first to welcome the current goings on in Bangladesh and believe that corruption is being sorted out. Without a doubt some positive changes might be enacted, but to think that governmental fiat is all that is required along with a few thousand arrests…well dream on.
Shamim Reza is a very talented bloke, and this is my latest acquisition. He has exhibited at the Bengal gallery and has a bit of a quirky style. This painting is not typical of his work. In fact, to tell the truth, I prefer his experimental stuff to his farbric work. Having said that I have seen some of his larger fabric creations and they are simply stupendous .He has typical ’shilpi’ like traits - he invited me last month to view his works in pitch darkness at his home. I kid you not.
Yes. Surprised? And what if I told you that some muslim kids celebrate Israel’s national day, eat kosher food, learn hebrew etc? You would think I have gone potty right? Well I haven’t.Â See for yourself - click to read about King David primary school in Birmingham. Stereotype that!
SB tackles the subject of gun culture and violence in Dhallywood! Naeem Mohaiemen is co-curating the exhibition which features a most interesting amalgam of artists using a wide variety of media from flash animation to video to installation art. The theme is broadly about conflict and war….read it for yourself in this all too gorgeous web site - CLICK THE PICTURE below. I wish i had time to zip over there.