Just another Dhanmondi family
Last November, after the perpetrators of the 15 August massacre were hanged, Daily Amardesh reprinted a series of articles from the Mushtaq era. I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination what motivated Amardesh. Today I’ll talk about one specific piece.
Apparently the Mushtaq regime did an inventory of things found in the Sheikh Residence in Road 32, Dhanmondi. Amardesh reproduced that inventory here. According to the report, there was ‘হীরা, মুক্তা, প্লাটিনাম ও স্বর্ণালঙ্কার ৭ লাখ ৮০ হাজার টাকার’ (diamond, pearl, platinum and gold jewelery worth 7.8 lakh taka).
That’s a lot of jewelery, one might think. Well, it turns out that 7.8 lakh taka in 1975 wasn’t as big a deal as one might think.
How would we know how much 7.8 lakh then would translate in today’s money?
Ideally we would want to know the volume of the metals/stones the jewelleries are made of — that is, how many bhori/ounce/carats etc. Short of that, we would want to know how much consumer goods 7.8 lakh then would have bought, and how much this would mean in today’s prices — that is, inflate by CPI. Unfortunately, BBS CPI measure doesn’t go back to 1975.
The next best thing is GDP deflator, which measures the price of everything produced in the economy (that is, it includes exports and investment goods such as machinery, as well as household consumption). From World Bank estimates of real and nominal GDP, I have a series of GDP deflator between 1960 and 2009. That series suggests that since 1975, prices have risen about 7-folds.
This implies jewelery found in Dhanmondi to be worth about 55 lakh taka.
there were 5 adult women in that house — the mother, two sisters, and the two bhabis. That’s about 11 lakh taka worth of jewelery a head. At 30,000 taka per bhori, that’s less than 40 bhoris per person. I won’t embarrass any of my affluent readers by asking how much jewelery your wives/mothers/sisters have.
Even if you think this calculation is off by miles, and double the amount, you still get slightly more than a crore. I am sure we have all been to wedding celebrations where people wear more valuable jewellery than that.
Apparently, there was also বাংলাদেশী মুদ্রায় নগদ ৯৪ হাজার ৪৬১ টাকা (94,461 taka cash). That translates to 675,000 taka in today’s terms — forget the rich, this money is well within the reach of today’s upper middle class.
In fact, when one visits that house in Dhanmondi, that’s what strikes one most. The Sheikhs were no Kashmiri Brahmins like the Nehrus, nor did they trace ancestry to Baghdad like the Suhrawardys. This was an upper middle class household, with extended family network tying them to rural heart of Bengal.
Whenever I visit that house, that’s what keeps hitting me. Not Bakshal. Not the freedom struggle. Just that these guys were like my family. And 35 years ago, about now, this family was gunned down. Other people, people like me, did nothing. Whenever I visit that house, that’s what I think about.
These days, a cult of personality is being built around Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that would put most Soviet leaders to shame. Of course, for a long time the very name Mujib was being airbrushed from history in a very Soviet manner. And heir of Mujib’s political opponents, the BNP chief, continues to make a mockery of herself and her politics by insisting to hold a birthday party on 15 August.
Someday the political cycle will turn. Maybe farcical birthday celebrations will be aired in BTV someday. But as long as that house in Dhanmondi stands open to ordinary people, the fact that a very ordinary family from a very ordinary village in rural Bengal produced an extraordinary man will remain.