I was 14 when a Dhanmondi girl first told me about Valentine’s Day — no, not asking me for a date, rather informing me about hers. In the quarter century since, in and out of relationships, the day has never really resonated with me. Call me unromantic? Not so fast. You see, I do love rom coms, particularly on the small screen.
And could there be a better show to showcase my case?
A trained economist turned historian, a liberal who has written on cricket, you can see why I might like Ramachandra Guha. When it comes to our corner of the subcontinent, Mr Guha particularly resonates with me because unlike so many other liberal-progressive Indians, he is unsentimental about partition. This allows him to observe Bangladesh (and Pakistan) with less blinkered eyes. This was evident in the two op eds he wrote after visiting Bangladesh late last year.
Based on ‘ long, drink-filled, evenings’ of addas with his local interlocutors as well short trips to Manikganj and Tangail, he concludes the first piece as:
The present is scarcely trouble-free, the future is clouded and uncertain. That said, this Indian would like to raise one cheer, and perhaps even two, for the people of Bangladesh. They were once part of Pakistan; after separation, they have been somewhat more successful in thwarting Islamic fundamentalism. They were once part of the undivided province of Bengal; after separation, they have shown more entrepreneurial drive and constructive social activism than their counterparts to the west.
Little quibbles — for example, Bangladesh is not, nor has it ever been, an Islamic Republic — aside, I agree with Guha’s assessment. It is his second piece, however, that I found more interesting. Let’s remember that one of his hosts in the Dhaka Lit Fest is an Awami League MP, and his trip was — as things tend to be — quite carefully managed. I suspect the literati and the chatterati he interacted with have little enthusiasm for the non-existent opposition politics. And yet, he came away with this stinging indictment of the current order:
… the manner of her administration’s present functioning is dangerously reminiscent of her father’s most ignoble period, those early months of 1975 when he amended the Constitution to virtually outlaw dissent and consolidate power in himself.
Thus, Mr Guha raises his glass, but not three cheers for Bangladesh — politics is letting us down, and the current prime minister deserves the blame. Who could disagree with that assessment? Foreign correspondents were coming around to that view over four years ago.
And yet, is that the full picture? Perhaps the glass Mr Guha raises contains a cocktail that the
people of Bangladesh the establishment is willfully imbibing. Perhaps, Mrs Wajed’s autocratic ways are accepted because the alternative in our winner-take-all set up are perceived to be too risky for stability that underlines social and economic achievements he lauds?
Awrup Sanyal wants to whet your appetite about Richard Eaton’s seminal work. Let me complement him on the effort. I have noted Eaton in the past: a must read book on Bangladesh; and a book that has stayed with me. A full-fledged critical review of the Eaton thesis is well beyond my capability. This post really is a complement to Mr Sanyal’s.
… at least for now. Upon watching it again, I tentatively, and partially, echo Brad DeLong:
Recommended Star Wars Viewing Order:
- The Force Awakens
- A New Hope
- The Empire Strikes Back
And that is it. Everything else would simply be a letdown, and leave viewers disappointed.
Tentatively, because The Force Awakens leaves so many threads open that we cannot really judge it conclusively until the rest of the trilogy plays out. Partially, because the rest of the refined canon (including the much derided prequels) has relevant material. Both points, and more, will be elaborated in a long form piece soon. Over the fold is some theory about the movie’s central plot twist. (Spoiler alert).
A staple of political rhetoric in Bangladesh is to ensure affordability of rice, lentil, oil and salt. Throw in a kilogram of coarse rice, 250 grams of red lentil, 40 ml soya bean oil and 10 mg salt and we get a rather bland plate of khichuri. CEIC Asia database provides monthly retail prices of these essentials in Dhaka with a lag. Currently, the latest data point is August 2014. Still, using the bland recipe and prices (and smoothing the data by taking a 12-month moving average), we can get a sense of how the price of our plate of khichuri has evolved over time — for example, when BNP was turfed out in January 2007, such a plate cost around 35 taka, which rose to around 60 taka when the Awami League returned to power in January 2009, and was around 70 taka when its five year term expired.
Of course, to say anything sensible about prices, we need to have a sense of income. From the same source, we can get daily wage of a skilled factory worker. Her wages went from around130 taka a day in January 2007 to over 210 taka two years later to over 300 taka further five years on.
Putting the two together, we can get what I am going to call the Khichuri Index — plates of khichuri an average industrial worker can buy in Dhaka. The chart below shows how the index has evolved between January 2000 and August 2014 (the period I have data for).
Classical Muslim scholars used to divide travel and travel writing into two categories. First is what they called rihla — a description of what the traveller did, saw or experienced. Ibn Battuta’s travelogues are the best known in this genre. However, rihla can also be more than mere narratives and descriptions. They can form the basis of scientific enquiry. An example of this kind of rihla is the 11th century polymath Al Biruni’s description of India. Travelling under the protection of Mahmud of Ghazni, Al Biruni studied sciences and mathematics and wrote Tarikh al Hind — one of the most comprehensive books on pre-Islam subcontinent. In fact, great rihla, according to the scholars, had to have some analysis as well as description.
There is another tradition of travel and travel writing among the learned Muslims of yore, that of safr. Safr is the word for travel or journey in most north and east Indian languages, including Bangla. To the 11th century Sufi philosopher Al-Ghazali, safr meant any travelling through which a person evolves. To him, safr meant as well as the physical act of travelling somewhere, mixing with the inhabitants of that land, imbibing oneself with their customs and ways, and evolving into a person closer to Allah.
Al-Ghazali further categorised travellers: those who travel seeking knowledge, the best kind; the Hajis; the immigrants — the Prophet himself was an immigrant; and the refugees, the worst kind.
What is the line between an immigrant and a refugee? Salman Rushdie and VS Naipaul have both written about the uprooting involved in migration. Both have noted that at some level or other, all migrants are really refugees. But for Naipaul, the uprooting is mostly a bad thing. Rushdie is open to the possibility of migration leading to something new. Migrants are works of translation, he writes.
Those of you who have read the Quran probably have done so in translation. Translation then can’t always be bad.
Being a Bangladeshi student in the urban west of the 1990s wasn’t easy.
Leaving home for a strange place — whether from a village in Maheshkhali for Dhaka University, or from Dhaka to foreign cities — is difficult for anyone in their late teens. And at any age, student or otherwise, it is hard to move to a city. Cities, metropoles that are cosmopolitan, dense with information to overload all the senses, and yet a depressing place where you are likely to be all alone amid the teeming multitude. You seek to belong, because you find solace as part of something that is bigger than your mundane existence.
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, Alamgir 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 border, but nor did he cross the fight against line.
My two-clear-lines framework allowed for such shades of grey. Or so I thought.
Then I came across the case of Major General Amjad Chowdhury.
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.