Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on October 6, 2015

I wrote about television waybackwhen, and tried to read philosophy even earlier.  Considering vision and philosophy translate similarly in Bangla, it’s only natural that I would pick up Everything I Know I Learned from TV: philosophy for the unrepentant couch potato at first sight.  And I read it in on weekend nearly a decade ago.

Anyone who likes to watch TV and read books should get this little gem.  Let me just note the shows and ideas covered.


Golden fibre

Posted in Bangladesh, economic history, economics, history by jrahman on October 3, 2015

Naeem Mohaiemen is a well known name in Bangla cyberspace, going all the way back to the days of and DOS.  To many, its his tireless work for the marginalised peoples of Bangladesh such as the Paharis or the Ahmadiyaas that matters most.  To others, it’s his art, intricately linked with his politics.  And then there is his work on the history around the formation of Bangladesh — few things highlight the intellectual shallowness of the Sachal-Shahbag types than the way they reacted to the most detailed take down of Sarmila Bose.

Few know that Naeem is also an empirical economist.  Or was.  Or could have been an excellent one.  Consider the abstract of his honors thesis:

I will look at the factors that effect (sic) jute prices. This is important for several reasons.  Since sudden changes in the price of jute are unanticipated by the individual farmer, they are adversely affected if they produce the same amount of jute each year but suddenly receive lower prices for it. Jute prices are also important factor in Bangladesh’s development. If overall production remains stable, but prices suddenly drop, revenue fluctuates. In trying to aid the jute industry, there have been two arguments frequently repeated in Bangladesh. One is that, jute growers need to bring sudden supply shocks to a minimum. The other is that jute growers need to concentrate on developing new markets for jute, so that Polypropylene and other substitutes do not keep eroding the market. The analysis in this paper may help to isolate the more important factors effecting price variations and, therefore, point to which factors need to be concentrated on to reduce price fluctuations in the jute industry.


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Posted in democracy, governance, institutions, politics by jrahman on August 30, 2015

If only we had the right leader….

If only Bangabandhu (or Zia) had lived….  

If only we had a Mahathir….  

I am sure you can finish the sentence with all sorts of claims about how Bangladesh would have been, or could still be, a much better place with better leadership.  Never mind the fact that all things considered, Bangladesh might actually have done more-than-okay.  To many of our chattering classes, we’re doomed because we haven’t been blessed with the right leader.

How much does leadership matter?


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Coffee House

Posted in gender, music, Rights, society by jrahman on August 1, 2015

As every educated Bengali knows, decades before a bunch of photogenic New Yorkers made it trendy, hanging out in a cafe — the Coffee House was cool.  Hanging out — adda –with your friends after work, who can’t relate to that?


The Manna Dey classic suggests the great experience mid-20th century Calcutta would have been for young guys — the Art College graduate drawing sketches for marketing firms before making it to Paris, the reporter who would migrate to Dhaka (and write a great book on 1971), the Goanese guitarist who died young, the amatuer actor suffering from a romantic tragedy related breakdown, the unrecognised poet with cancer….

… and the girl….

Ah, yes, the girl…. the one who is supposed to be happy because she has a millionaire husband who buys her jewellery….

Ray’s Big City wasn’t a great place for women.

Much of the subcontinent still isn’t.


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For Bergman

Posted in Freedom of speech, Rights by jrahman on July 7, 2015

Not Ingrid, nor Ingmar, but David — the nefarious Zionist Islamist enemy of our Holy Spirit of Liberation.  In a just and fair country, he would be lauded for his effort.  In a normal country, he would be ignored by everyone except for a few academic type.  In Bangladesh, well, sigh…..


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Learning from history

Posted in democracy, elections, history, politics, South Asia, Uncategorized by jrahman on July 5, 2015

Forty years ago last week, things were happening in New Delhi that are more often seen in Islamabad and Dhaka.  India came under a State of Internal Emergency on 25 June 1975.  Indira is India — the cult of personality around Prime Minister Indira Gandhi preceded the Emergency, but with wholesale detention of opposition politicians on spurious charges, draconian censorship, executive decrees and ordinances bypassing the legislature and subordinating the judiciary, Indian experiment in democracy seemed to be over.

Then, in early 1977, Mrs Gandhi called fresh elections, which were held on the announced date, in a free and fair manner, and her party was thrown out of office by the voters, she herself losing her seat.  Accepting the verdict, she stepped down.  Indian experiment in democracy returned, to be continued to our time.

The Emergency plays a climactic role in Salman Rushdie’s much-celebrated novel Midnight’s Children.  But it’s Shashi Tharoor’s treatment in The Great Indian Novel that I find more nuanced.  Tharoor’s rendition of the Mahabharata has the general election of 1977, following the Emergency, as the modern-day Battle of Kurukshetra.  Duryodhana, the leader of the ‘baddie’ Kaurava clan, is recast as Mrs Gandhi, while the ‘goodie’ Pandava brothers are: Morarji Desai (who replaced Mrs Gandhi as the prime minister) as the virtuous Yudhishtir; the Indian army as the valiant Bhim; media as the heroic Arjuna; and the civil and foreign services as the Nakul-Sahadeva twins.  As the epic battle isn’t simply ‘good trumps over evil’ in the Epic, so it is in the novel, which ends with a place of honour accorded to Priya Duryodhoni / Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi in the ‘court of history’.


A very model of a modern authoritarian regime

Posted in democracy, media, politics, uprisings by jrahman on June 21, 2015

Other than close friends and family. my facebook contacts consist of people I befriended or came to know professionally, and those I got acquainted or friends with through shared interest in Bangladesh.  The professional group, unsurprisingly, consists mainly of economists.  But it was the latter group that was abuzz when John Forbes Nash Jr was killed in a car crash a month ago — thanks to Hollywood, the mathematician was well known to Bangladeshi netizens.

Not surprisingly, game theory — the branch of applied mathematics that Mr Nash made famous –is perhaps not well understood by my online compatriots.  Over the past few decades, game theoretic approaches have illuminated our understanding of many socio-economic-political phenomena.  For example, a recent political science paper by Sergei Guriev (Sciences Po, Paris) and Daniel Treisman (UCLA) perhaps can tell us more about how Bangladeshi political scene is evolving than most punditry one is likely to come across online or otherwise.


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Illiberal development

Posted in democracy, development, economics, governance, institutions, politics by jrahman on June 15, 2015

A few years ago, Vietnam was the rage among the Bangladeshi chatteratis who hobnobbed in the development circle.  Look how they have forged ahead under a strong, patriotic leadership, while we languish behind because of our corrupt, venal political class — that was the refrain.  Of course, anyone who knew anything reasonably detailed about both countries would have their eyebrows raised by that.  I have vague recollection of writing something for Zafar Sobhan on this, but can’t find any link anywhere.

In any case, who cares about facts in Bangladesh?


The force…

Posted in movies, sci-fi by jrahman on June 10, 2015

… is upon Rahman pere et fils.


We’ve watched all six episodes — starting with A New Hope, followed by The Empire Strikes Back, then the prequel trilogy, to finish with Return of the Jedi.  Then we started afresh with the first two prequels.  Now going through The Clone Wars — we will not watch Revenge of the Sith until the animated series has run its course.

That’s, of course, on TV.  On the iPad, between the homework, dinner and bedtime reading, endless loops of I am your father or you are the chosen one or goood, not to mention the lego or angry bird versions of the saga or eleventy million fan videos — that’s a different story altogether.

He has the lines from this memorised:

At this rate, I think the kid will have his first brush with disappointment because, let’s face it, sky high expectations are usually unmet.

Was it the unrealistic expectation that caused our disappointment with the prequel trilogy?  After thorough research (see the first para), I am convinced that the prequels are bad in their own right.  In fact, I can do better.  I think I have a good idea of what went wrong with those movies.  As long as these mistakes are avoided, I think I’ll be satisfied with the new one.


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On bunyip

Posted in adventure, books by jrahman on May 10, 2015

I guess only a Leone or Coppola could meet my expectations, so I must not be too harsh on Kamal Mukherjee.  He ought to be lauded for taking a chance, but the fact that his adaptation only gets a 6.7 in IMDB tells me that there is room for Bollywood yet.

When that happens, it’s imperative that Bunyip is done right.


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