Mukti

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Apocalypse later, maybe

Posted in development, economics, macro by jrahman on October 21, 2017

As I read about the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, it occurred to me that throughout my professional career, for some reason or other, I have had to think about the consequences of a hard landing in the Chinese economy.  It also occurs to me that I first started thinking about Bangladesh towards the end of graduate school — that is, I first fretted about an economic crisis in our People’s Republic before I ever thought about the other one.  Then I remembered this cautionary note about China (and India), which apply just as well to Bangladesh.

In its just released World Economic Outlook, the IMF forecasts Bangladesh economy to grow by 7% a year over the next few years.  It has been a while since I looked at the detailed data, so I am not in a position to comment on whether the IMF is too optimistic.  Look at the chart below, and think about whether 7% growth would be too optimistic?

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Recipe — aloo-phulkopi bhaji

Posted in culture, food by jrahman on October 17, 2017

Simple

Heat couple of tablespoon of mustard oil, and fry couple of medium-sized potatoes cut into small cubes until they are golden brown.  Set aside.

In the same oil, throw in four (less if you aren’t Desi) dry red chillies, one teaspoon of whole cumin seed, and couple of bay leaves. Couple of minutes later, add a finely chopped medium-sized onion.  Fry till golden brown.

Add a medium-sized cauliflower chopped into very small florets.  Stir couple of times and add salt.  Reduce heat and saute for three minutes.  Add potatoes and peas.  Reduce heat to very low, and cook covered for a few minutes.

Uncover.  Check for salt.  Turn the heat high.  Stir fry until vegetables are browned.  Add three chopped spring onions before removing.

*Chitrita Banerjee, Bengali Cooking: seasons and festivals.

Fancy

Heat two tablespoons of ghee.  Fry for a few seconds one and half teaspoon of white cumin seed, quarter teaspoon of black cumin seed, and half teaspoon black mustard seed.

Add one large potato cut into small cubes, and stir-fry for five minutes.

Add one teaspoon salt, one teaspoon chilli powder, one teaspoon turmeric powder, and one teaspoon coriander powder.

Add a medium cauliflower split into florets.

Stir to mix the ingredients well.  Add three tablespoon of whisked yogurt and simmer until vegetables are cooked.  A few minutes before ending, add one teaspoon of garam masala and one table spoon of fresh coriander leaves.

*Joyce Westrip, Moghul Cooking: India’s courtly cuisine.

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Joy (the other) Bangla?

Posted in Bengal, comedy, Drama, history, movies by jrahman on October 11, 2017

Interesting things maybe happening in the Indian Bengal, and not just with films, though a film is a pretty good place to start.  Aparna Sen’s Goynar Baksho — a family dramedy about changing role of women in the mid-20th century bhadralok society — garners two wholehearted cheers.  Moushumi Chatterjee puts on perhaps the best performance of her career, and Konkona Sen Sharma is in her exquisite elements.  That’s two cheers, not quite a third for Srabanti Chatterjee though, who pales before the two veterans.  More importantly, the first two-thirds of the movie is astute social commentary that is simply fun to watch.  Depiction of the partition-induced transformation of a landed gentry East Bengali caste Hindu family into trade-dependent petit bourgeois is up there with the best of partition-related art.  Indian Bengalis tend to have a hard time pulling off East Bengali accent — this is a rare and pleasant exception.  For all that, however, the movie is far from being a great one because of its last third.  And yet, it’s the ending that made me think.

The story ends with this:

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When fact is fiction

Posted in fantasy, movies, music, thriller by jrahman on July 15, 2017

I live in a country that Lyndon Johnson once called the ‘ass end of the world’ — whichever direction you travel, there is no short flight from this southern land.  One good thing about the long haul flight, however, is the chance to watch stuff that you otherwise might not have, provided you’re flying a decent carrier, of course.  My usual guilty pleasures are sitcoms — I think I watched more HIMYM and Big Bang Theory episodes airborne than on my couch.

I made an exception recently.  The Emirates have a reasonable collection of Bangla (or given they are from the Indian Bengal, should I say Bengali?) movies.  I was curious, and wasn’t left disappointed.  It appears that a number of noir films have come out of Kolkata recently.  How exciting, right?

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Political impact of remittances

Posted in democracy, elections, labour, political economy, politics by jrahman on July 12, 2017

Along with the garments industry and the NGOs, there is a broad consensus that remittances have played a key role in Bangladesh’s economic development over the past decades.  Notwithstanding that broad consensus, the economic impact of remittances may be more nuanced than one might think, as I conjectured a long time ago:

Well, how about a stylised, and very speculative, story along this line — while RMG has meant women entering the formal workforce, migrant worker boom has sent a lot of risk-taking men overseas; aided by the NGOs and microcredit, households have smoothed consumption and invested in human capital of their children; but they have not invested in physical capital, avoided entrepreneurial activities, and have not pushed for a more investment-friendly polity.

We would want to explore this story further. We would also want to explore the income side of GDP, and tie it into a political economy analysis.

The remittance boom, for example, should see the labour share of the economy rise. Of course, the question is, what happens to the money that is remitted back? It’s reasonable to assume that unskilled labourers are from the poorer parts of the society. So, in the first instance, any remittance back to the villages is a good thing in that it reduces the direst type of poverty — that is it stops things like famine or malnutrition. But what happens after that? My tentative hunch is that a lot of remittance has been saved but not invested in a productive way, rather they ended up fuelling land/stock prices —this is an area that needs to be explored in detail.

Needless to say, I have not followed up on these questions.  But at least the economic impact of remittances is something people have thought about.  What about the political impacts?  That’s the question Shafiqur Rahman of Oregon University explores.*

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