Ask for a piece on Pakistan and Bangladesh during December and you’re likely to get something about the 1971 wars — note the plural, because the eastern part of the subcontinent simultaneously experienced an inter-ethnic civil war and ethno-communal cleansing, genocide, inter-state conventional war and a war of national liberation, all climaxing in the crisp Bengali winter of 1971. Naeem Mohaiemen’s seven part series is an example, covering many aspects of that fateful year.
Let me skip 1971 in this post. Instead, I’ll begin by marking the other December anniversary, one that will have a particular relevance for Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2013. And I’ll note the parallels between the post-1971 developments in the two wings of former United Pakistan.
I missed the whole Humayun-Shaon-Gultekin drama because of a microbe attack. But even if I were well, I probably would have been baffled by the whole thing. Perhaps because I had little touch with Bangladesh during the 1990s, when Humayun-mania was at its peak, I really have no opinion matters like this, which seem to animate most literate Bangladeshis. And I can very easily understand why Humayun Ahmed would not have been a news in Paschim Banga (let alone rest of India).
I was, however, quite amused to see bunch of talking heads in TV — sorry, don’t remember the channel, nor do I have any link, you’ll just have to take my word for it — bemoaning the fact that ‘our Humayun isn’t better loved by them, even though we love their Sunil-Samaresh et al’. I mean, seriously, how childish can one get — it reminded me of my two year old who cries when other kids don’t want to share their toys.
That may have been childish. But given our tragic history, there is nothing childish about this:
পশ্চিমবঙ্গে হুমায়ূন আহমেদের বইয়ের কোনো চাহিদা নেই। অথচ তিনি বাংলাদেশে একজন মেগাস্টার। দুই বাংলার সাহিত্যপ্রেমী পাঠকের কাছে গ্রহণযোগ্যতার প্রশ্নে এই তারতম্য কেন? প্রশ্ন করা হয়েছিল বিশিষ্ট কথাসাহিত্যিক সমরেশ মজুমদার এবং পশ্চিমবঙ্গের এক বিশিষ্ট পুস্তক প্রকাশককে। প্রশ্নকর্তা অমিতাভ ভট্টশালী। উত্তরে সমরেশ মজুমদার এবং পুস্তক প্রকাশক মহোদয় কারণ সম্পর্কে প্রায় একই সুরে কথা বললেন। তাঁদের বক্তব্যের মূল প্রতিপাদ্য হলো পশ্চিমবাংলার হিন্দু বাঙালি পাঠক খুবই সংকীর্ণ মনের। তারা জলকে পানি, দিদিকে আপা, পূজাকে নামাজ ব্যবহার প্রাণ থেকেই গ্রহণ করেনি। কাজেই বাংলাদেশের মুসলমান সাহিত্যিকদের কদর সেখানে খুবই সীমিত। সমরেশ মজুমদার বললেন, আমার বই বাংলাদেশে কমপক্ষে চার লক্ষ বিক্রি হয়ে থাকে। আমার লেখায় হিন্দু ধর্মের কথাই থাকে। পুজো কিংবা বিভিন্ন সামাজিক হিন্দু আচার অনুষ্ঠানের প্রসঙ্গও থাকে। কিন্তু বাংলাদেশের পাঠক ওগুলো আমলে নেন না। এ ব্যাপারটি বাঙালি হিন্দু পাঠকের ক্ষেত্রে খুব একটা দেখা যায় না। এটাই হচ্ছে সংকীর্ণচিত্ততা। বাংলাদেশের পাঠক সাহিত্যমূল্যকে ধর্মের ওপরে স্থান দেন। কিন্তু হিন্দু বাঙালি পাঠক ধর্মকে সাহিত্যমূল্যের ওপরে রাখেন।
(In Paschim Banga, there is no demand for Humayun Ahmed’s book. But he is a megastar in Bangladesh. Why is there such a disjoint in terms of acceptability among the literate readers of the two Bengals? The question was put to the renowned author Samaresh Mazumdar and a major publisher. The questioner was Amitabh Bhattashalee. Both the publisher and Samaresh Mazumdar replies in nearly the same tune. Their main thesis is that the Hindu Bengali readers of Paschim Banga are very narrow minded. They had not accepted in their hearts the use of pani instead of jal (for water), apa instead of didi (for elder sister) or namaz instead of puja (for prayer). That’s why the appeal of Muslim writers from Bangladesh is very limited there. Samaresh Mazumdar said: “My books sell at least 400,000 copies in Bangladesh. My writing mainly reflects Hinduism. It includes puja and other Hindu rituals. But Bangladeshi readers don’t mind them. But this isn’t the case with Hindu Bengali readers. That’s the narrow mindedness. Bangladeshi readers put literature above religion. But Hindu Bengali reader puts religion above literature”.)
While commenting on an early draft of my post on the chronology of coups and mutinies, a friend suggested I turn it into a long form magazine, or even semi-academic article. Now, I am not in a position to write anything long form — or short, op ed, form either; dear reader, this blog is the only thing I write in these days. If I were writing a long article, I would pose two questions:
1. Did history pre-dispose Bangladesh to military interventions?
2. How do we end the cycle of interventions?
This post tackles the first question. There maybe a separate post on the second one.
Updated: 28 June 0950 BDT (the original post was incomplete).
Last May, I started a series on my understanding of the politics of synthesis initiated by Ziaur Rahman. The first installment was on politics and governance, while the second one was on society and economy. My main contention is that when things work in Bangladesh, they work along the path set by Zia, and they work because the politics of synthesis crafted by this military strongman turned popular politician had continued from the work of his predecessors, and his successors saw the merit in keeping them.
This theme of continuity is nowhere more present than in the realm of foreign relations. And yet, the political needs of the present era has resulted in deliberate obfuscation of Zia’s foreign policy by both his political heirs in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and their opponents in the Awami League.
The country of Bengal is a land where, owing to the climate’s favouring the base, the dust of dissension is always rising – so said the Mughal court chronicler Abul Fazl in the 16th century. Four hundred years later, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has been a country where the dust of dissension has repeatedly risen among the men armed to guard the republic. The allegedly thwarted coup in January is but the latest in a long list of coups / mutinies / revolutions / military interventions going all the way back to the country’s very foundation in 1971.
The country’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed with most of his family in a brutal coup in 1975. Within a decade of the country’s 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan, much of the political and military leadership of the war were either killed or politically delegitimized by successive coups. And the coups of the 1970s reverberate even today, as Humayun Ahmed (a popular novelist) found out recently — Mr Ahmed’s latest novel, set in 1975, has been effectively banned because his depiction of history doesn’t suit the version favoured by Bangladesh’s current political dispensation. The politicised quest for what Naeem Mohaiemen calls shothik itihash (correct history) stifles the freedom of speech and thought, and sets back academia and creativity.
Of course, what actually happened in the 1970s, and beyond, should be subject to serious debate. History isn’t, after all, mere recount of dates and facts. History should be about understanding what happened and why they happened. Needless to say, one’s understanding depends on one’s own political biases.
Over the folder, I summarise major mutinies/coups/rebellions of the past four decades, and the narrative reflects my own biases and ideological prisms – just as one’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, so is one’s mutiny someone else’s revolution. For the interested reader, a reading list is provided at the end.
…আমরা বুঝি বঙ্গবন্ধু মানুষ চিনতে কখনো কখনো ভয়ানক ভুল করেছেন, ট্র্যাজিক নায়কদের মতো, যেমন খন্দকার মোশতাক আহমদকে, খালেদ মোশাররফকে; হুমায়ূন আহমেদ তাঁর প্রাপ্য মর্যাদা দিয়েছেন; কর্নেল তাহেরকে পুনরধিষ্ঠিত করেছেন তাঁর বীরের আসনটিতে। এ দুই চরিত্রের এক আশ্চর্য নিরাবেগ চিত্রায়ণ করেছেন হুমায়ূন আহমেদ ইতিহাসের দায় থেকেই। এ উপন্যাসে জিয়াউর রহমানও আছেন এবং আছেন তাঁর ভূমিকাতেই। জিয়ার প্রাণ রক্ষাকারী বন্ধু কর্নেল তাহেরকে যখন ফাঁসিতে ঝোলানো হলো, দেখা গেল কর্নেল তাহেরের কোনো অভিযোগ নেই কারও বিরুদ্ধে, শুধু অসম্ভব এক স্থিরচিত্ততার প্রকাশ ঘটিয়ে তিনি বীরত্ব এবং দেশপ্রেম কাকে বলে তার এক অসাধারণ উদাহরণ সৃষ্টি করে গেলেন।
… we understand that like many tragic heroes, Bangabandhu made terrible mistakes in recognising people such Khondoker Mushtaq or Khaled Mosharraf; Humayun Ahmed has given him his due recognition; and restored Col Taher in his valiant seat. Humayun Ahmed has painted an unsentimental portrait of these two characters because of the debt of history. Ziaur Rahman is also here, in his role. When Zia’s saviour friend Col Taher was hanged, it appeared that Col Taher had no complaints against anyone else, he just created an extraordinary example of valour and patriotism by expressing an impossible tranquility.
That’s what Prof Syed Manzurul Islam says about Humayun Ahmed’s yet-t0-be-published-but-already-banned novel set in post-liberation Bangladesh. I have no idea what “অসম্ভব এক স্থিরচিত্ততা” actually means. But it’s pretty clear that Syed Sahib likes Col Taher, and Humayun Ahmed’s depiction of Taher.
As far as I understand, Syed Manzurul Islam’s politics is that of pro-liberation/pro-1971/progressive/secular/Awami/Bengali nationalism variety. What exactly did Taher do for that brand of politics? If anything, more than anyone else in November 1975, it was Taher who was responsible for the defeat faced by that kind of politics. So why is Taher a hero to Syed Manzur?
It’s a shame that the New Age has such a poor circulation, because its supplements and opinion pages are usually much, much better than the more widely read Daily Star or BDnews24. Its Independence Day supplement covers a number of good articles, including Naeem’s on Shothik Itihash. This post is about this particular bit:
A blogger friend sounds a pessimistic note: ‘Our countrymen are maybe more blatant about it than most, but there is no “true” history anywhere in the world. It’s all air-brushed, covered with pancake makeup, and then dipped into rosewater.’ He suggests that these history wars are just a form of dialectic struggle, perhaps a healthy one at that.
No, I am not the blogger friend. I missed the chance to discuss the piece before it was published. In any case, I agree with both Naeem’s general thesis, and the particular statement by our mutual blogger friend. It’s just that thinking about the dialectic makes me even more depressed our intellectual poverty.
Yesterday, Deshi cyberspace and TV were flooded with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s famous 7 March speech. That speech is noted for its sheer defiance. And parts of it still give me goosebumps.
However, that wasn’t the only speech Mujib gave in the lead up to the Liberation War. Over the fold is his speech broadcast on PTV and Radio Pakistan before the December 1970 elections. This speech is notable for a number of reasons. It was delivered in English, and Mujib was addressing the West Pakistani ruling junta and the local and foreign establishment. It was Mujib’s chance to tell the powers-that-be what a Mujibist government in Dhaka would mean. This was the closest thing the outside world had to judge Mujib.
Ziaur Rahman, military strongman turned a very popular politician, was killed exactly 30 years ago today. Despite the twists and turns of politics, three decades from his death, when things actually work in Bangladesh, they work along the path set by Zia. And they work because the politics of synthesis crafted by Zia had continued from the work of his predecessors, and his successors saw the merit in keeping them.
In a five-part series, I show how the Zia synthesis still defines Bangladesh’s politics and governance, economy, society and culture, and foreign policy. Not in all aspects does this blog agree with the synthesis — the disapprovals are also pointed out. Finally, the series points out how along one crucial dimension, the Zia synthesis has completely been abandoned.
The discourse about Zia is dominated by lies of various degree. This series is a modest attempt at setting the record straight.