The thick blurry line

Posted in 1971, history by jrahman on November 24, 2015

I used to think that there were two clear, fine lines to analyse people’s actions in the context of 1971 — those who fought for Bangladesh, and those who fought against.  These clear, fine lines provided markers that, I used to think, allowed for nuance.

Let me illustrate with the examples of two renowned public servants.  Both Kamal Siddiqui and MK Alamgir were junior sub-district level officials in mofussil East Pakistan when the war broke out.  Siddiqui crossed the border and participated in the war.  Clear case.  Alamgir, not so straightforward.  He did not cross the border or join the Mukti Bahini.  He stayed in his job in the East Pakistan civil administration throughout the war.

But did he fight against Bangladesh?  Alamgir is a leader of the Awami League, and is accused of all sorts of things, many of which are perfectly valid.  But I am yet to be shown any evidence that he fought against Bangladesh.

Like 65 million of his compatriots, he stayed in the occupied East Pakistan.  Maybe he was afraid of guns.  Maybe it was because he had a two month old son in March 1971.  Whatever the reason, he did not cross the fight against line.

My two-clear-line framework allowed for such shades of grey.  Or so I thought.  Then I came across the case of Major General Amjad Chowdhury.


Prisoner of Jhind

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on November 20, 2015

Good thing you skipped Salman Khan’s new movie.  They made the movie around 14 songs collected over many years. Waste of time!

That’s my brother on the recent Bollywood adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda.  The lookalike-as-a-plant has been used as a plot device many times, including those starring Bollywood bigshots.  My favourite retelling on pages is the Flashman caper involving the Schleswig-Holstein Question — note to self, must blog about Flashman sometime.

But for the screen, let me recommend the 1961 Bangla adaptation.  Adapted to the Indian settings by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay of Byomkesh fame, the movie contains great visuals of the rugged Central and Western Indian terrain, decade-and-half before Sholay.  Uttam Kumar in the title role is solid, but Soumitra Chatterjee as a villain is sublime — an early cut of his performance in Ghare Baire two decades later.  Oh, there is also a Bengali nationalist twist in the mix.

The best thing about the movie, however, is its music.  Ali Akbar Khan matches the likes of Ennio Morricone.  They just don’t do tunes like that any more.




Between the war and the history wars….

Posted in history, movies, 1971, action, Dhallywood by jrahman on November 19, 2015

…. there was a time when acknowledging Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s unquestioned leadership in 1971 did not stop one from acknowledging the significance of Ziaur Rahman’s broadcasts from Chittagong.  Chashi Nazrul Islam’s film Sangram is from that time.  It’s a fictionalised account of the experiences of the 4th East Bengal Regiment during the onset of the Liberation War.

In March 1971, the seniormost Bengali officer in the 4th Bengal, stationed in Comilla, was Major Khaled Mosharraf.  Just before the 25 March crackdown, he was sent to border regions in Sylhet, ostensibly to fight Naxalites but really to be ambushed by the Pakistanis.  Khaled avoided the trap and returned to Comilla where Captain Shafaat Jamil and others had already rebelled.

In the movie, Khaled is renamed Major Hassan.   Jump to about 44 minute mark in the video below to see how the major addresses his troops — Pakistanis have attacked us, Sheikh Sahib has declared independence, our job is to defend that independence.


Immediately after that, he is shown as listening to Zia’s radio speech and noting that his is not an isolated mutiny.  That is the real significance of Zia’s March broadcasts, to tell the world that Bangladesh was an independent but occupied land and a war of resistance had begun against that occupation.

When Mr Islam made that movie in 1974, he understood the significance perfectly well, as did his leading man Khasru — both were freedom fighters, the actor was and remained an Awami League activist, the director ended up in BNP.  In the last scene, Sheikh Mujib is seen as taking salute from the Bangladesh army, with Khaled, Zia and other senior officers behind him.

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Bond and the baddies

Posted in action, books, Drama, movies, sci-fi, sci-fi, thriller, thriller, TV by jrahman on November 17, 2015

Bond movies, even the forgettable ones starring Pierce Brosnan, are to be watched as soon as possible, with a group of friends, to be followed by an adda where you can dissect the said movie every which way.  The new movie opened here couple of weeks after the worldwide premiere, and it’s hard to avoid the chatter in our hyper-connected world.  So I was very keen to watch it during the weekend.  Needless to say, the Black Friday in Paris cast a shadow.  But to let that tragedy stop us from discussing movies and books would be a betrayal of the joie de vivre and La Résistance that we associate Paris with. 

Hence this post, which is not really a movie review.  I liked Spectre about as much as Skyfall — not good as Casino Royale, but much better than Quantum of Solace.  

Is this movie too sentimental or emotional?  Does Bond fall in love too easily?  Is he not ruthless enough?  Well, this is what you get from Batmanisation — you can’t give the guy a backstory with emotions without turning him, well, emotional.  But it’s also Sherlockisation — am I coining a term here?  Let me elaborate.  In one of the very first scenes of the BBC show, an eccentric chemist deduces that his potential flatmate, a complete stranger, is an Afghanistan vet — a scene straight out of the pages of the first Holmes novel.  While not a strict adaptation of anything specific of Doyle, every other scene in Sherlock harks back to the cannon.  So it is in Spectre, which continues Bond’s evolution from a thug-with-a-government-paper to mister-suave, paralleling the evolution from the earlier, younger, rough-edged Connery to the later, older, smoother Moore.  If anything, the forthcoming fifth Craig-starter (don’t believe the hysterics about him not doing another) is set up pretty well for a…. okay, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Let me pause here and turn to one aspect of the Bond lore  — the antagonists, the villains, the baddies. 

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Game of coups

Posted in Uncategorized, politics, history, army, Bangladesh by jrahman on November 5, 2015

In the blood-soaked history of Bangladesh, this week marks the 40th anniversary of a particularly dark and grim episode.  On 7 November 1975, dozens of army officers of were killed by mutinous jawans.  The mutiny was orchestrated by Lt Col Abu Taher, who was retired from services a few years earlier and at that time was a key leader of the radical Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal.  The mutineers killed Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf, who had instigated a coup few days earlier against the regime of Khondaker Moshtaq Ahmed, in power since the bloody putsch of 15 August that killed President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family.  Amid the confusion caused by Mosharraf’s manoeuvres against the ‘killer majors’, four senior Awami League leaders — including Tajuddin Ahmed, the country’s first prime minister who led the war effort in 1971 when Mujib was interned in Pakistan — were assassinated in the central jail, allegedly with the consent of President Moshtaq.  The chaos and carnage of 7 November, coming on the heels of the August massacre and the jail killing, threatened to put the very existence of Bangladesh at risk.

Fortunately, Taher’s mutiny proves short-lived as the army rallied behind Major General Ziaur Rahman.

This post isn’t about revisiting our coup-prone history  or explaining it.  Rather, using the ideas of Naunihal Singh, an American political scientist, I want to discuss why some of those coups were more successful than others, and what they might tell us about the present day Bangladesh.


Tin Kanya

Posted in Uncategorized, movies, Dhallywood by jrahman on October 31, 2015

According to google, Bangla movie Tin Kanya refers to either the 1961 Ray adaptation of Tagore or the 2012 risque Rituparna starrer.  The 1986 Bangladeshi film starring Suchanda, Babita and Champa is completely ignored.  That’s a shame, because it deserves to have a cult following, if Dhallywood had cult following that is.


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Meddling foreigners

Posted in politics, history, foreign policy, US, democracy, cold war by jrahman on October 18, 2015

Updated: 431pm 19 Oct 2015 BDT

As I try to get back to writing, I asked an old friend and longtime reader about potential topics.  Syria came up, hardly surprising given the recent news.  I have, however, been quite surprised with the way Bangladeshi cyberspace has been reasonably united in reaching the conclusion that Putin’s Russia is the ‘goodie’ in the conflict and America is responsible for everything that has gone wrong in that benighted country.

I have nothing particular to add on Syria except to observe that the United States and allies occupied a country to get Saddam Hussein, bombed another but stopped short of invasion to get Muammar Qaddafi, and did neither when it came to Bashar Assad, and yet Syria is just as much a mess as Iraq or Libya — so the ‘it’s all America’s’ fault line doesn’t really gel with me.  But hey, if it unites Shahbag revellers, Shapla Chattar mourners, and everyone in between and beyond, who am I to disagree.


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A theory of andolon

Posted in politics, democracy by jrahman on October 13, 2015

Historically, most street movements, andolons, launched by the opposition party failed to achieve the stated objective.  And yet, politicians ranging from Tofail Ahmed to Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury have, while in opposition, advised their respective parties to persist with street protests.  Why?

Drawing on the work of Bert Suykens and Aynul Islam of Belgium’s Ghent University, we can tell a reasonably coherent story with a possibly scary implication.


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Political business cycle in Bangladesh

Posted in politics, economics, political economy, governance by jrahman on October 10, 2015

While looking for something else, I recently discovered that in 2013-14 financial year, Bangladesh government’s current expenditure — that is, money spent on salaries, procurement, subsidies and loan repayments — increased by 0.8 per cent of GDP.  On top of that, government investment also increased by 0.7 per cent of GDP.

That is a lot of spending.

Now, I haven’t been following economic and policy developments in as much detail as in the past, so I may well have missed great policy initiatives that underline the apparent spending binge.  But according to the work of IMF’s Christian Ebeke and Dilan Olcer of Riksbankrise in government expenditure of that magnitude is not uncommon in election years in developing countries.  More worryingly, they show that this kind of binge usually ends badly.


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Posted in books, culture, comedy, TV, Drama, sci-fi, thriller, romance 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.


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