Mukti

Mountains of the moon – 9

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on January 2, 2018

For those who came in late:

Eruption

Shankar woke up around midnight.  There was a noise somewhere out there in the woods, something was happening somewhere in the forest.  Alvarez was also sitting up in his bed.  Both listened carefully — it was quite strange.  What was happening outside?

Shankar was quick to come out with a lit up torch, but Alvarez stopped him.  He said — I warned you many times to not go out of the tent like that at night time in these woods.  And where are you going without a gun anyway?

It was pitch dark outside the tent.  Following the rays of lights from their torches, they saw —

Packs after packs of wild animals — hyena, baboon, wild buffalo — were coming out of the jungle to their west, in a mad dash without pause, running headlong to the hill to their east.  Two leopards brushed pass them.  More were coming…  in groups after groups…  troops of male and female colobus monkeys were running with their younglings.  It seemed as if they were running for their life from a sudden danger! …. Meanwhile, there was a strange sound from somewhere — a rumbling, deep, yet thunderous sound — as if a thousand Bengali drums were beating afar.

What was this phenomenon?  They looked at each other.  Both were surprised.  Alvarez said — Shankar, make sure the fire is lit properly, otherwise these beasts will trample over the tent with us inside.

The number of animals kept increasing.  Even above their head, flocks of birds were flying away from nests.  A massive herd of springbok deer came within ten yards of them.

But they were so stunned at the time that they forgot to shoot in spite of the deers being so close.  They had never witnessed something remotely like this!

Shankar was about to ask Alvarez something when — apocalypse struck.  At least that’s how it seemed to Shankar.  The whole earth seemed to shake so much that they both fell to the ground, and at the same time it seemed a thousand lightning struck nearby.  The ground seemed to crack open — as did the sky.

While trying to stand up, Alvarez said — Earthquake.

And right after that the surprise continued as they saw the darkness suddenly disappear with a bolt of light coming from somewhere that was bright enough to be from fifty thousand electric bulbs!

And then they turned their glance to that peak afar.  There seemed to be a massive inferno.  The whole horizon was bright red from the apocalyptic flame, red clouds seemed to bubble up from the peak to a couple of thousand feet into the sky — and then there was the noxious aroma of sulphur in the air.

Looking at that, Alvarez blurted with shock and awe — Volcano!  Santa Anna Grazia da Cordova!

That was a strangely beautiful sight!  Neither could avert their gaze for a while.  It seemed to Shankar that a hundred thousand fire cracker was going off at once.  The cloud of red fire dimmed for a while, and then it rose above a thousand feet all at once, similar to what happens when a fresh wood is thrown into a campfire.  And accompanying all this was the noise of a thousand bombs going off.

Meanwhile the earth was shaking so much that it was impossible to stand straight — it was as if they were surfing.  Bobbing and weaving, Shankar entered the tent — there he saw a little puppy-like animal in his bed, shaking with fear.  It froze looking at Shankar’s torch, with its eyes sparkling like a gem.  Seeing it upon entering the tent, Alvarez said — Keep it, since it took our shelter fearing life.

Neither of them had seen a live volcano before, nor were they aware of the dangers it posed — but even before Alvarez could finish his sentence, they ran outside hearing something large fall, it was a burning rock weighing perhaps 15 kg — it was then that Alvarez said in a panicked tone — Run away, come on Shankar, lift the tent, hurry…

A couple, maybe more, of fiery-red heavy rocks fell around them with booming noise even as they lifted the tent.  Meanwhile it was getting harder to breath with so much sulphuric fume.

Run… run…. run.  After a couple of hours of dragging and carrying their stuff, they made it to the foot of that eastern hill.  Even there the air reeked of sulphur.  After half an hour, molten rocks started falling even there.  They climbed uphill, pushing through the forest in the dark night.  They climbed up two and half thousand feet, and sat down in fatigue under a large tree on the slope as the dawn broke.

That terrific beauty of the eruption dimmed a lot with the sunrise, but the noise and the rock-falls seemed to increase.  Now it was no longer just rock, a very drab coloured ashes started falling from the sky too…. the trees and vines soon became covered with thick layer of ash.

The inferno continued unstopped whole day — and then the night fell again.  That terrific beauty returned at night, with the jungle and the sky and the distant horizon being red with the fire from the volcano — though the molten rocks seemed to have abated a bit.  But the cloud of the fiery smoke was still shining bright.

Their drowsing came to an abrupt end after midnight with the loud bang of a massive explosion — frightfully they saw that the peak of the burning mountain had blown off — the forest in the valley down below soon got covered with ash, fire and burning rocks.  Alvarez was hit by a molten rock.  Their tent caught fire.  A large branch fell behind them after being hit by a rock.

Shankar started thinking — this huge natural calamity in this desolate forest would have gone completely unknown had they not been there.  The civilised world didn’t even know about the existence of this jungle volcano.  They might not even believe it if told.

In the morning, it was clearly visible that the mountain peak looked like a burnt out candle.  It was as if someone had taken a bite off the ice-cream.

Alvarez said after consulting the map — The map doesn’t denote this as a volcano.  Likely to be the first eruption after many years.  But the name in the map is rather interesting.

Shankar asked — What’s the name?

Alvarez replied — The name written is Oldonio Lengai — in archaic Zulu this means The bed of the Fire God.  From that name, it would seem that the volcanic nature of this range was not unknown to the old folks of this region.  Perhaps this was quiet for a century or two, or even longer.

Hailing from India, Shankar found his palms joining in respect and touching his forehead.  Salutation, oh the God of Wrath.  Accept my respect, oh Mighty, for letting us witness your awesome destructive power.  A hundred diamond mine is insignificant next to your beauty.  All my travails have been worth it.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Tagged with:

Comments Off on Mountains of the moon – 9

2018 wishes

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on December 31, 2017

Facebook tells me that exactly four years ago we watched Frozen in the theatre.  To anyone born in the west in the past decade, there is no bigger cultural phenomenon than this Disney production.  My then not-quite-three discovered it in kids youtube — about that some other time — and then went through a phase of memorising every song by line.  And then, just like that, he got over it.  Initially I thought it was just a ‘boy’ thing, but it would seem sometime around when they finish kindergarten, kids of all genders get tired of the princesses.

I wonder what the kids understood from that movie.  What does a five year old know of pressures to conform, or courage to be themselves, or the balance between expressing oneself and the great responsibility that comes with great power?  Surely these lessons will be important when the kids are in their teens?  Will they return to it in a few years?

Come to think of it, the theme of the movie applies to us grown ups too.  Here is to letting it go in 2018.

Tagged with:

Comments Off on 2018 wishes

Dadagiri

Posted in adventure, books, movies, thriller, Uncategorized by jrahman on December 20, 2017

When Shashi Kapoor passed away a few days ago, my facebook was abuzz (or should I say alight?) with clips of mere paas maa hai.  I wanted to post my favourite Kapoor as my childhood favourite hero.  I was sad to find no clip of Kissa Kathmandu ki — Satyajit Ray’s small screen adaptation of his Feluda caper in Nepal.  Granted it wasn’t Ray’s finest, but all sorts of weird and improbable stuff can be found online, why not this, I wondered.  My mind then wandered to why Ray cast Kapoor and not Amitabh Bachchan, the only tall man in India, for the role of the towering Bengali detective?  Perhaps because Bachchan was by then too busy with politics.  But that leads one to wonder why Ray hadn’t made a Hindi Feluda earlier?  For that matter, why did Ray not make more Hindi movies?

The latest on-screen adaptation puts Ray’s sleuth in the modern day — check out the trailer:

(more…)

Comments Off on Dadagiri

How many shades of hypocrisy?

Posted in gender, Rights, society by jrahman on December 5, 2017

Guest post by F Rahman

Too much learning is a dangerous thing – it was an op ed by Mehnaaz Pervin Tuli published by the Daily Star on 2 Dec 2016.  The author tried to show, using satire, the daily struggles of women who are meant to never speak up and are thus shouted down when they actually do. 

The satire was missed by Dhaka’s chatterati, and there was a large hue and cry in the social network.  Incensed, Farhana Rahman wrote the following.  The Daily Star agreed to print it, and then changed their mind, pulling Ms Pervin’s original piece from their website instead. 

Hypocrisy comes in all shapes and sizes in Dhaka. This is just another one…

JR

Every culture has it.  Every race has it.  Every era, including our own, has had it.  We have it too.  When you look within yourself, how many shades of hypocrisy do you see?  Of course, I cannot answer that question about anyone but myself, as I am no one to judge. We all should be the judge of our own selves and all the shades we bring along.

So was perhaps what this writer tried to do – perhaps she was looking within herself to see the life of us, as women, as a daughter, as a sister, a wife, a mother, a home maker, or a professional, and at end of the day, just a person.  A writer whom I never heard of, I came across her on facebook, when a friend commented on her piece that has been shared randomly.

I was curious despite the seemingly bland title of the article. (By the way, I think my title is equally bland. Solidarity!).

So she thinks too much learning is a dangerous thing.

She attempts portraying the typical female life in our everyday society, within her household and outside: the different roles she plays and juggles at every step of her life; and how they affect each other. She goes on to further detail how the complexity of our interlinked but different faces are all too often overlooked by people around us whom we save on our call-list as friends and family.  Forget any hope of real support, she reminds us how callous our F&F can be at the time of need!

We have talked enough about the brother getting the big piece of fish and husband getting the fish head or some versions of such, so I don’t want to bore you by explaining that bit – you get the context. Our writer here goes a step further and points out how even just by being a female in Bangladesh we are taken for granted to put on a number of faces, and then simply expected to live each of them with utmost perfection.  And just because we are women, we are not meant to speak up under any circumstances, even if we appear to wear our faces superbly.

As if being a perfect daughter, sister, wife, or a mother – which are supposed to be the only valid roles society had long deemed for us females – isn’t hard enough, the writer mocks how we seem to be deliberately making our own lives even more miserable by facing the outside world with (un)necessary further roles.

We know that there is no easy way, no chance of mistake, no one to lean on or no one to turn to. People will stand by the side, watching, and they will pretend applauding you as a successful woman, but one simple slip up is all that’s needed to reveal their true faces – the hypocrisy within them.

So my unknown writer friend tries expressing her frustrations and disappointments on all the above with “humour”.

Guess what?  It seems she slipped up!

How dare she, with her bad English (as if every other op ed writer in Bangladesh is an Oxford debater)!

Why couldn’t she be just happy with whatever faces she has to hold. Not only she dared to express her opinion, even worse, she made it to the newspapers in Bangladesh.

And from there, all hypocrisy just broke loose.

Sometimes life puts you in a spot that’s so bad that you have to just laugh at things.  It was pretty hilarious discovering how many of us didn’t take a breath criticising the writer’s education, background, or motive, while completely ignoring the fact that we ourselves lacked total empathy to hear the cry of a wounded heart.  Our reaction seemed to be less about what she wanted to say, but whether she had the eligibility to say anything.

I simply couldn’t stop wondering since when did we need “eligibility” to speak our mind! It amazes me that we are ready to reject someone just because she couldn’t express her thoughts “correctly” or offer any solution to our situations.  She dared trying mockery instead and apparently failed to “capture on a foreign language” her satire, never mind the exclamation mark at the end of her article!

How many shades of hypocrisy?  Tricky question.

We are either hypocrites, or we are not.

We cannot keep lecturing in our stuttering, heavily accented English on International Women’s Day to a room full of men about uplifting women, empowerment, justice or such big heavy words, and then go criticising someone who happens to be a woman, for being brave enough to speak her mind on issues we dare not touch, in whatever language she knows to whatever standard with whatever background she has.

When we do that, the shade is solid hypocrisy.

Tagged with:

Comments Off on How many shades of hypocrisy?

Jammin until the break of dawn

Posted in army, books, democracy, economics, history, political economy, politics, uprisings by jrahman on December 2, 2017

What do you do during the evenings, after the day’s tasks are done, of work trips?  You might be tired of being up in the air, or just simply tired.  But depending on the jet lag, you might not find much sleep.  I certainly don’t, even when there is no jet lag — I hate hotel beds.  If you find yourself in a hotel that used to be one of Idi Amin’s torture chambers palaces, and your colleagues are fellow political junkies, you will likely talk about politics over a nightcap.  So did we that rain-soaked Kampala evening.  We talked about, among other things, Zimbabwe.

Why didn’t they get rid of him the old fashioned way, you know, APCs on the streets, tanks in front of the presidential palace, radio or TV broadcast by some unknown major…..

An old Africa hand explained why Robert Mugabe wasn’t toppled in a coup.  No, it wasn’t because of his liberation cred.  Kwame Nkrumah or Milton Obote were no less of independence heroes to their respective countries.  Both were ingloriously booted out, not just of their presidential palaces, but also the countries they led to existence.  At least they lived, unlike say Patrice Lumumba.  Clearly being a national liberator figure didn’t make one coup-proof, particularly if one had turned his (can’t think of a mother of the nation top of my head!) country into a basket case, and had faced concerted political pressure from home and abroad.  According to my colleague with years of experience in the continent, the key to Mugabe’s survival was in relative ‘latecomer’ status.

Mugabe came to power much later than was the case for other African founding fathers.  And the disastrous denouement of his rule happened during a period when the great powers saw little strategic importance in regime change in an obscure corner of the world.  The second factor meant there was no foreign sponsor to any coup.  The former meant that any would be coupmaker, and their domestic supporters, knew from the experiences elsewhere in the continent about what could happen when a game of coups went wrong.

Mugabe gave them hyperinflation.  Getting rid of him could lead to inter-ethnic war.  Easier to do currency reform than deal with refugees fleeing genocide….. 

(more…)

Comments Off on Jammin until the break of dawn

All my hope is (not) gone

Posted in activism, blogging, forced disappearance, Rights by jrahman on November 19, 2017

It was over a decade ago, before smartphones, at the dawn of the Facebook age.  Most online communication still involved sitting with a laptop, or even desktop.  And daily routine involved checking a few googlegroups and blogsites over morning caffeine.  That morning, the big news was that Tasneem Khalil had been picked up by the army.  Over the next 24 hours, online activists and offline negotiators, from Dhaka to DC and a dozen other places. worked hard to secure his release.  CNN was involved, as was Bangladesh-related big wigs in the American foreign policy establishment.  And it was impressed upon the big wigs of the 1/11 regime that releasing Tasneem was in the best interest of everybody.

Deshe jacchi, kintu nervous lagcche, Caesar re kara niye gelo….  (Going to Dhaka, but feeling nervous, who took Caesar….) — someone was saying at a social event recently.  Caesar is the nickname of Mubashar Hasan, of Dhaka’s North South University.

Tasneem ke jokhon dhorsilo, ke, keno, kothaye, ei gula toh jana chilo….. (When they took Tasneem, we knew the who, why and where)….  — Tasneem got in trouble for publishing a piece linking Tarique Rahman, the DGFI and radical Islamists in North Bengal.  Mubashar has been missing for a week and half, and no one seems to know who has taken him or why.

His research involved globalisation and Islamisation — could be heavy stuff, sure.  But he wasn’t an investigative journalist or an avenging activist.  He was focussed on synthesis, and practical, policy-oriented research.  Still, he might have come across things that could upset people in Dhaka.

Do you notice I write in the past tense?  Have I given up on the possibility of Mubashar returning?

When you say it’s gonna happen “now” / Well when exactly do you mean? / See I’ve already waited too long / And all my hope is gone

Maybe not all hope is gone.  After all, his near and dear ones have been pleading, begging, from divine and Prime Ministerial intervention for Mubashar’s safe return.  If there was no hope, would they have supplicated thus?

But then again, in a decade, we have gone from defiant activism and applying pressure to quiet submission and passive acceptance — collective despair, you be the judge.

Mubashar was — what’s the point of not using the past tense — hopeful.  Unlike so many others — yours truly included — he did finish his PhD.  He started blogging after the glory days of Bangla blogosphere.  He worked within the system, because he knew that’s the only way to make change.

Most importantly, he overcame issues in personal life to give his daughter a better tomorrow.  We had bonded over not just the stupidity of Shahbagh, but also about co-parenting.  There is a little girl out there hoping his Baba will return with some My Little Pony gift.

I too submit, submit to the Almighty — please don’t let that girl grow up without hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged with:

Comments Off on All my hope is (not) gone

Wonder years

Posted in action, Bangladesh, Drama, history, movies, sci-fi, thriller, TV by jrahman on November 10, 2017

Thirty years ago today, Dhaka was shut down as the opposition parties — all of them, Awami League, BNP, leftists, Jamaat — demanded the resignation of President HM Ershad.  There were meetings and rallies around the city, many turning violent.  A working class man in his mid-20s was killed around the General Post Office near Gulistan.  He had the words shoirachar nipat jak (down with autocracy) painted in his chest.  Written on his back was ganatantra mukti pak (free democracy).

Of course, there was no school that bright crispy early winter morning.  Our impromptu game of neighbourhood cricket was ended abruptly by an auntie whose window was smashed by a square cut, or perhaps it was a cover drive, or an overthrow — I don’t quite remember after all these years.  I do remember what happened next.  We rode our bikes.  We didn’t care about politics, but coming from a heavily politicised family, I knew enough to avoid going towards the city.  Instead, we gathered on the new road that was being built near our neighbourhood, and then hit the runway of the old airport.  I don’t think any of us had a watch, but even if we did, who checks the time when so much fun is being had!  Before we knew it, we were in the heart of the Cantonment, and it was around the time of the Asr prayer that we returned home.

I was reminded of the adventures of that day, and the parental wrath thus incurred, while bingeing on the latest episodes of Stranger Things.  I am told it’s not bingeing if I am watching only one season.  But I feel five hour-long episodes straight in a weeknight, starting after the day’s chores are done, counts as binge watching.  Bingeing or not, the second season of Stranger Things is even better than the first one.  And that’s quite a feat considering the hype.  Like everyone else, I had no idea about the first season before watching it, liking it instantly, even if it was, to use the show’s self-deprecation, a bit derivative.  I feared disappointment with the new season, fears that proved unjustified.  This must be how it would have felt to watch Godfather 2 or The Empire Strikes Back back then, unfiltered by the accumulated weight of pop culture now-memory.

Now-memory?  From the show.  This post will have spoilers.  Read at own risk.

(more…)

Comments Off on Wonder years

The middle

Posted in democracy, economics, elections, governance, political economy, politics by jrahman on November 3, 2017

The Middle is an American sitcom about a middle class family’s struggle in the wake of the Great Recession.  I never watched the show beyond the first episode in 2009.  At that time, it seemed to me to be a poor derivative of Malcolm in the Middle and Roseanne.  Facebook tells me that this will be the final season of The Middle.  Maybe I should watch the show.  Set in the mid-western state of Indiana, the protagonist white family might have been just the type that put Donald Trump where he is.  Aristotle wrote that …those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large.  Some argue that stagnation of the American middle class lies behind the rise of Trump.  I am not so sure — perhaps tribes matter more than class.

I don’t want to spend precious time and energy pondering about the plight of the white American middle class.  Instead, let me talk about the role of the middle class in Bangladeshi politics.  The term Bangladesh paradox is now at least half a decade old, and refers to the idea that Bangladesh has been surprisingly good at improving the lives of its poor despite dysfunctional politics and a stunted private sector — that’s from the Economist.  William B Milam, former American envoy to Dhaka and Islamabad and a keen observer of both countries, often talks about another Bangladesh paradox:

….Bangladesh should have become, over the past 25 years, a modernized democracy, knocking on the door of entry into the middle income category of developing countries. Its economy has grown for most of the last two decades around 5-6 % per year, and its social development indices have improved rapidly and now are generally better than most other South Asian countries except Sri Lanka. Instead, over those same two decades, Bangladesh has regressed along the democracy/authoritarian axis no matter which of the two major parties was in power.

(more…)

Comments Off on The middle

A brief (alternative) history of Pakistan 4

Posted in fantasy, what ifs by jrahman on October 28, 2017

Previously, Pakistan is created as a ‘moth nibbled basket case’, with its first prime minister MA Jinnah dying after merely 13 months in office.  Subsequently, the Muslim League splinters into two parties, each vying to win the country’s first general election in December 1950.  HS Suhrawardy is re-elected in the centre, and consolidates power over the provinces.  

As the years have gone by, historians and pundits of all stripes look back to the mid-1950s with increasing fondness.  However, Pakistan under Prime Minister Suhrawardy was every bit chaotic, with all aspects of life being just as contingent on chance, as it is today.

(more…)

Comments Off on A brief (alternative) history of Pakistan 4

The transition blues

Posted in democracy, development, economics, governance, institutions, politics by jrahman on October 24, 2017

….nearly every country that experienced a large democratic transition after a period of above-average growth  ….  experienced a sharp deceleration in growth in the 10 years following the democratizing transition.

That’s from the Pritchett-Summers paper covered in the last post.  Let the sentence sink in.  Then, if you’re interested in Bangladesh, read on.

(more…)

Comments Off on The transition blues