While I was involved with student magazines, it was only during grad school that I started toying with the idea of long form writing. The first idea was a Clancy-style Desi thriller — a Muhajir general in Pakistan army trying to affect the ground realities in Kashmir, setting off a nuclear crisis, which is defused by a daring Indian Muslim academic with the help of a Bollywood heart throb with a secret past… It was good six months before the Kargil War, which (along with the pressures of school) put paid to that story.
The next idea was a bit more serious — a group of Desi boys and girls growing up in a Sydney-like city, with its sun and surf, but also the ethnic suburbs, you know, the angst and the agony of the whole ABCD existenz. Zadie Smith had just written a book on that theme, but hey, while she dedicated White Teeth to Jimmy Rahman, I was Jimmy Rahman. That story was to end with a spectacular explosion in some iconic location. The story was conceived prior to 9/11, and needless to say, it died on that day.
That story upset many of my closest friends because, well, I didn’t portray them in charitable fashion. I tried to redress it a few years later. With my brother, I wrote about 70 pages of this. This would have been the biggest, baddest Bollywood movie ever. Sadly, life got in the way.
Blogs are much easier to write. Couple of hours maximum for a long piece, half an hour for shorter ones. Write about whatever you fancy. Don’t need to continue on the same subject. That was the idea behind A-A-A.
As Bangladesh was sleepwalking into 1/11, I started following UV, where a blogger named Rumi caught my attention with his political analysis. While everyone was convinced that Iajuddin Ahmed was going to rig the January 2007 election for BNP, Rumi Ahmed argued that in the ‘digital age’, it’s very difficult for an unpopular incumbent (like BNP was at that time) to pull off a rigged election against a determined opposition (like the Awami League could have been). I agreed with Rumi bhai’s analysis, while he felt strongly enough about Ziaur Rahman to write to me personally about this post.
Correspondence continued after 1/11, with analysis of what happened and what was to come. By April 2007, I was blogging in UV. That was also when DWC started. By then, UV had decided to oppose the regime, and DWC heavily pushed the anti-1/11 agenda.
While I contributed regularly to UV/DWC, I needed a space to post personal thoughts/ideas/ramblings, most of which were too half-baked for broader association. A-A-A wasn’t really the place for it, not the least because the other bloggers there had little interest in Bangla politics. So, five years ago this week, this blog was born.
Sydney was a great, vibrant city at the turn of the century. After all, when the machines would built the Matrix, the pinnacle of our civilisation, they would choose Sydney as the setting. And for good reasons. The inner city suburbs got a facelift thanks to the Olympics. Outskirts were about to start a massive housing boom. There was a sense in the air that this sprawling conurbation was destined to become the New York or Calcutta of the 21st century. More broadly, there was sense that Australia was going become the next California, only better, sunnier — no one would ever write Hotel Australia.
But by the time I watched Dil Chahta Hai ten years ago, things had already started to change.
I had already left Sydney by then. Like most my friends, I was transitioning from university to a career. We had ambitions — to discover the truth, improve the public welfare, make money. We had confidence — in our abilities, in love, about the future. As the song went, হাম হ্যায় নয়ে, আন্দাজ কিউ হো পুরানা?
Change would have to come, we knew it all along. But changes that did come in the decade, they were not what we had dreamt of in the city depicted in the movie. Sydney may be on the other side of the world from New York, but 9/11 shook this city too. And not in a good way.
Peace: a word from a Merciful Lord. (Ya-seen, 58)
Nurul Huq Miah and Shaqila Yasmin probably had an ordinary morning, commuting from Brooklyn to downtown Manhattan. They probably had meetings and deadlines. They probably had dinner invitations in the evening. They probably talked with folks the previous night. They were a young couple, maybe they were planning on a trip, to elsewhere in the States, or perhaps a trip home. We don’t know. But we do know that they will never call home, or go to another dinner, or commute to work, or sit in a meeting. They, with about 3,000 others, perished that September morning.
Salahuddin Chowdhury usually worked evening shifts, but he was at work that morning so that he could take his pregnant wife to the hospital that evening. Salman Hamdani, a medical student and police cadet, wasn’t in the towers. But he rushed there like many other to help. He perished, but the FBI harrassed his family until his body was discovered in the rubble.
So this day no soul shall be dealt with unjustly in the least; and you shall not be rewarded aught but that which you did. (Yaseen, 54)
I moved into a new apartment that evening, and after setting up the basic furniture etc, was pretty tired. I went to bed at about 10pm, which is early morning in New York. I’m not sure why I didn’t sleep right away. Some channel was playing a rerun of a West Wing episode. Another channel was playing When we were Kings – the documentary on the 1974 Ali-Foreman fight. At about 11.08pm my time, there was a newsflash – plane hits the World Trade Centre in New York. A few minutes later there were live pictures. Within half an hour, I was calling friends and family.