Just another Dhanmondi family

Posted in history, people by jrahman on August 15, 2010

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.

Tagged with:

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Udayan said, on August 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    I visited the house in 2001, when I was leading a group of university students from the US (we were doing a pro-bono project with BRAC). We went as tourists, though I, as the only Bengali, had a historical curiosity as well. I didn’t say anything as we walked solemnly through, and was consumed by all sorts of emotions especially when we came to those stairs. But one after another, my colleagues, all European or American, mentioned how this just didn’t seem like what they thought would be where the founding president, father of the nation, not to mention corrupt dictator (as we had been lectured to by several know-it-alls when we told them we were going to visit) etc of a country would have lived AFTER he had achieved all of those things. And how the humility of the place moved them more than anything. And these guys knew nothing about the bigger story. When I compare it to other similar homes visited (eg Tito’s in modern day Slovenia where there is a garage with about 20 vintage cars) or Nasser’s outside Cairo (where a whole floor is devoted to his collection of pistols, most of them with some decorative precious metal) this really does speak volumes.

    I haven’t been to Tungipara, but I was pretty shocked to see pictures of the mausoleum as it looks now. I remember seeing pictures of Mujib’s grave when Hasina used to visit in the late 80s and early 90s, when the very simplicity of it told a story not only of the man and his origins, but of the way he was callously disposed of yet touchingly guarded by very simple people once the military left after trampling all over that village in August 75. But now it looks like something very out of place in the middle of Shonar Bangla. I don’t think it should have been redone like that – but that’s a personal opinion.

    • jrahman said, on August 17, 2010 at 10:09 am

      Udayan, the new mausoleum is the ‘Cult of Mujib’ that is being built now, whereas the house in Dhanmondi is the ‘real Mujib’ that will survive the turning of political tides.

  2. […] view of BNP, it’s not hard to understand where the views come from.  Never mind the massacre in 1975.  When the entire country was grief-stricken after Saturday’s shocking accident, Khaleda […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: