Mukti

The Fantastic Five

Posted in books, classics by jrahman on November 10, 2019

The kids are going through the classics of the genre, taking us along with them.  That’s, well, fantastic!  Not only are these books great to get children into reading, but they also open the mind to imagination, to worlds that are like ours and yet are not, and things that aren’t possible in ours are very much so in the realms of fantasy.  In those worlds-that-aren’t-quite ours, kids can see the actions and choices of characters and infer the morality or lack thereof.  As they grow older, children can re-read these to decipher the nuances and ambiguities.  Not just children, but grown ups too can read these imagined worlds and appreciate the fictions we tell ourselves in our own world — imaginary stuff like nations, religions, profits and losses, gender and racial identities and such like.

Of course, there is something to be said about coming across books serendipitously, as was the case for us in our childhood.  But we still wondered whether there might be a good order in which five classics of the genre could be introduced to kids over a number of years.

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The 2020 outlook

Posted in economics, macro by jrahman on November 8, 2019

When trying to get back to the habit of writing, it is useful to start with something that is in one’s comfort zone.  That, for me, is obviously the economy, except it has been years that I have seriously read or paid attention to the Bangladesh economy.  I guess doing a post on the macroeconomic state of play months out from the new decade is a good excuse to read up on the subject.

Back when I used to think about this stuff more regularly, 7-8 per cent growth was considered outlandish.  In its October World Economic Outlook, the IMF forecasts Bangladesh’s economy to grow by over 7 per cent a year on the back of remittance inflows into the next decade, coming off recent high of 8 per cent.  Inflation is expected to be around the Bangladesh Bank’s target of 5½, and strong export growth is expected to underpin a sustainable current account deficit.

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A time to write 3

Posted in activism, blogging, Uncategorized by jrahman on October 28, 2019

Yes, we have to write.  And we need to be cautious and sensible, which is easier said than done.  The question, however, still remains — where to write?

Back in December, an editor friend told me in December 2018 to write in Facebook — you’ll get many more readers there!  He is still right, insofaras numbers are concerned.  Facebook would easily garner a large readership.  And size does matter if the primary objective is to shape the daily news cycle.

However, the longer term impact of the running-commentary-on-the-news-of-the-day is about as high as the bitter personality feuds that pervade the social media.  For any kind of longer form writing, Facebook is simply not all that useful.  If nothing else, as Zia Hassan experienced recently, it is quite easy for the regime’s trolls to disable or delete or erase the analysis posted in Facebook.

Ideally, there would be a multi-media platform where:

  • short, rapid-fire posts from Facebook are archived;
  • videos — including live ones — are posted or streamed;
  • long form writings are published and followed up with contrasting views;
  • TED-talk style videos are shared on relevant topics; and
  • all of these are publicized.

Incidentally, that was roughly the vision I had for the Unheard Voices blog in about a decade ago.  And I had suggested something similar to the editors of Nuraldeen blog in 2013-14.  If anything, there is perhaps a greater need / appetite for such a platform now.

Of course, just because there is demand does not necessarily mean supply is forthcoming, because this is not a well-functioning market.  You have to be incredibly idealistic (to the point of perhaps being naïve!) and energetic to try something like this in today’s Bangladesh.

The point about idealism is perhaps self-evident.  Let me stress the bit about hard work.  Running a platform like above is a full-time job — three people put 20-25 hours each a week on average on UV back in the day.  And much of the work is unglamorous chore — chasing people to meet deadline, proof reading, managing ego clashes and such like.  This is not for someone who treats writing as a glorified hobby.

I have been following two individuals with tremendous potential — Anupam Debashis Roy and Asif Shibgat Bhuiyan.  The former has started a platform that shares with this blog not just the name, but also a commitment to liberal democracy.  The latter’s experiments on youtube and publications on Islam show that a liberal future is still possible.

In solidarity with both.

 

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A time to write 2

Posted in activism, blogging by jrahman on October 16, 2019

It’s a time to write because, to put it bluntly, there is a moral imperative to write while we still can, before it’s too late.  But even if we accept that as a self-evident, axiomatic truth, questions still remain about what to write, for whom, and where?  There are, of course, many possible answers — let a hundred flowers bloom I say!

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A time to write

Posted in activism, Freedom of speech, Rights by jrahman on October 11, 2019

Back in January, Facebook encouraged users to post their 10-year old photos against a current one.  Being rather inactive in social media, I didn’t partake.  As it happened, I was in Dhaka at that time, just as I was a decade earlier.  I couldn’t help but sketch out a long essay in my head — ‘Bangladesh: the 10-year challenge’.  Unsurprisingly, the unwritten piece would have covered how things had changed since January 2009 — unprecedented prosperity, previously unimaginable political repression, mutually contradictory social changes…. you get the idea, the piece practically writes itself.  Perhaps it would have been too cut and dry with numbers and factlets, so I would likely have peppered with personal anecdotes — ups and downs, trials, tribulations, and let’s not be ungrateful, the occasional triumphs, the vicissitudes of life…  Or perhaps not — that kind of writing was never my natural, and I don’t think I would have started now.

In the event, of course, nothing got written.

Why not?

Ostensibly because I was busy.  But let’s be honest.  When we say we are too busy to do something — write, or call someone once near and dear, or play with our kids — what we really mean is that we don’t consider that something to be valuable.  In the current context, the answer to why wasn’t this written comes in the form of a counter question — what’s the point of writing?

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A Song of Chaos and Power 3

Posted in 1971, action, books, Drama, TV by jrahman on April 25, 2019

From Bollywood to Hogwarts, plot twists involving separated, long lost families, mistaken or concealed identities, new revelations, or much less satisfactorily, some deus ex machina are common.  Sometime they genuinely come as a shock, and profoundly alter our understanding of the story.  I don’t remember a time when I did not know Darth Vader’s true identity, and yet get goosebumps watching Luke Skywalker hearing I am your father.  Typically, these plot twists hone in on the key individuals, protagonists and antagonists of the tale, even if there are larger, macro consequences.  For example, rise, fall, and apotheosis of the Skywalkers may matter for the entire far, far away galaxy, but the fate of the galaxy is not our primary focus, is it?

Game of Thrones has plenty of plot twists, relying on all the common tropes, and more.  Things are not what they seem like.  Royal children turn out to be not so.  Men of honour turn out to be not so dissimilar to men without honour.  Even death might not be the finality in this story.  The interesting thing about this saga, both in the show and the books, is that not only is there a focus on the relevant characters — you had a knife through your heart, you died, and now you’re back — but that there is no shying away from the fact that these twists are integral to the fate of the entire Seven Kingdoms.

The wars for the Iron Throne are also, as is the case in Bangladeshi politics, history wars.

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A Song of Chaos and Power 2

Posted in action, books, Drama, TV by jrahman on April 19, 2019

A friend quipped when I pointed out the parallels between Game of Thrones and Bangladesh — Wait, you telling me Hasina is Khaleesi and Khaleda is Cersei? Bhai ki deshe ferot jaben?

To anyone familiar with the show, the punchline of the ribbing is obvious.  But the joke is completely lost if one has never seen an episode.  Khaleesi is widely seen as the heroine of the show, and at least in the earlier seasons a veritable sex symbol.  Cersei, on the other hand, is the main antagonist, a bitter, manipulative woman with no regards for anyone other than herself.

You get the point my friend was making?  Good.  But — and as Ned Stark used to say, nothing before the word ‘but’ counts — this story is much more complicated than a fight between a good queen and a bad one, just as the battling begums is a sexist and inaccurate caricature of Bangladesh’s politics.  I will leave Bangladeshi politics for another time, and try to sketch out the story instead.

In the process, of course, there will be spoilers.  But to the uninitiated, this should not be a problem.  After all, we all know how the story of star-crossed lovers from feuding families end, but that does not stop us from enjoying adaptations set in Californian ganglands to the one starring Salman Shah.  I will, however, abstain from linking to the gazillion bytes of videos and blogs and discussion on the show and the books — do, or do not, indulge on your own.

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A Song of Chaos and Power

Posted in action, Drama, TV, Uncategorized by jrahman on April 14, 2019

Only a few more hours to go before the final season of Game of Thrones begins, and over the following six weeks life will be quite annoying for people who do not partake. A fellow Deshi political junkie friend who had never watched the show once asked me why I would recommend it — I know it’s got dragons and stuff. But that’s not my thing. Doubt you watch it for that. So, what’s the deal?

I replied that it’s a show about Bangladesh.

No really, I am not kidding. Think about it.

Once upon a time there was a legitimate, but inept, king whose misrule brought the realm to ruins. The king was killed by his own guard, and the rebels massacred most of his family. The usurper, however, proved just as unfit to rule, and before long he too was gone, triggering a vicious power struggle. Behind the scene, a shrewd, master strategist consolidated power, forging alliances of convenience. But he too was killed, along with most of the contenders for the throne. His capricious heir ascended to power, while a challenger emerged from beyond the border — the old king’s surviving daughter had assembled, in exile, a coalition of discontents and foreigners that was about to capture the throne.

Wait, you telling me Hasina is Khaleesi and Khaleda is Cersei? Bhai ki deshe ferot jaben?

What about he White Walkers?  They are the mullahs?

And who’s Jon Snow?

Questions followed from friends who clearly had watched the show.

Of course, I was being facetious.  But only just.  No, the show is not about Bangladesh, even though the parallels are quite uncanny.  More profound, however, is the fact that I couldn’t think of any Jon Snow, or Tyrion for that matter, parallel. None of this makes sense to anyone who hasn’t watched the show, or read the books.  Therefore, if I were to convince my friend to watch the show, or make any political points about Bangladesh, I would need to elaborate a bit more.

Ultimately, Game of Thrones, and the book series whence it’s based — A Song of Ice and Fire — is a meditation on political philosophy, political economy, and moral philosophy.  And there is sex, violence, and yes, dragons, and ice zombies.  Over the next few weeks, as winter comes to my town and the show ends, I plan to elaborate on these themes, posting here and in Facebook.

Oh, I will end the series well before the show is over.  How do I think it will end?  To quote one of the characters — If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.

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The Finished Revolution

Posted in Bengal, history, left, politics by jrahman on March 25, 2019

Traffic was uncharacteristically brisk that winter morning in Dhaka, and it took me less than an hour to get from Lalmatia to Savar.  We barely even stopped around Asad Gate, and only after we had crossed the junction that the historical significance of it occurred to me — fifty years ago that week, those red pillars in Mohammadpur got its current name.  That evening, I flicked through seemingly endless streams of Bangla channels to find not a single mention — no septuagenarian waxing nostalgic, no Tagore-quoting melodramatic fictionalisation, not even a perfunctory news item, nothing — about Asad’s bloodstained shirt.

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Siren of the flags

Posted in music by jrahman on March 24, 2019

Most Bengalis are aware that Rabindranath Tagore penned the national anthem of two countries.  I wonder how many know of the teenage girl whose voice, broadcast over radio, inspired soldiers of two countries in the battlefields of two different wars in two different corners of the subcontinent.  Shahnaz Begum did just that, before she became Shahnaz Rahmatullah.

I am not surprised that the older of the two songs is forgotten — who really cares about the 1965 war in Bangladesh.

I am, however, shocked that this is not widely shared.

As long as those two countries born of blood and tear survive, Shahnaz Begum’s voice will live.

 

 

 

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