Mukti

Gone Girl

Posted in books, Drama, family, gender, movies, Rights, society, thriller, thriller by jrahman on June 26, 2016

 

What are you thinking?  How are you feeling?  What have we done to each other?  What will we do?

The primal questions of any marriage — says, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) as David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl begins.  Wrestling with the unravelling of own marriage, the questions came as a jolt as I watched the scene in a lonely hotel room after a long day of work.

A decade of marriage, and you realise you don’t know who your partner is.  Worse.  You don’t know who you are anymore.

What have we done to each other?  Indeed!

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Ramadanomics

Posted in economics, labour, macro, society by jrahman on June 19, 2016

Ramadan fasting is like no other Islamic ritual.  In the month of Ramadan, those who never perform the pre-dawn Fajr prayer get up even earlier to eat, only to abstain until dusk.  And after a month of that, even those who would otherwise never set foot in a mosque line up in unison to kneel towards Mecca.   For an entire month, from cooking, attire, TV to intimacy — the very lifestyle of a billion plus people change.  Except perhaps the aversion to pork, observance of, or at least respect to, the Ramadan fasting is arguably the most ubiquitous characteristic of Muslims.

Given its prevalence and ubiquity, Ramadan must have observable economic impacts.  Exactly what might they be?  In a fascinating paper, Filipe Campanile and David Yanagizawa-Drott of Harvard’s Kennedy School provide us with some answers.*  Summary — fasting makes us happier, if poorer.

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The case for arranged marriage

Posted in family, music, society by jrahman on April 8, 2016

Update: April 11 425pm BDT at the end

Theirs was the stuff of fairy tale romance.  The son of a Supreme Court judge and a charismatic English professor, he was brought up to be a pukka gentleman.  She came from the wrong side of the poorest of backwater towns, first in the family to make it to university, relying on nothing but her grit.  They were white collar professionals, colleagues who fell in love in their late 20s.  I was there—it happened in my living room actually.  They moved in, and then moved overseas together for greater opportunities, for both.  Careers progressed, and love deepened.  About ten years ago, they got married in a picturesque island.  Couple of years later they returned to a large wooden house with a big backyard to raise a little girl, and then a boy.  Financially secure — they benefitted from the asset booms of that decade — it was a time for career change, to follow their hearts.  She joined politics.  He decided to pursue his passion for writing.

Then the fairy tale ended.  While turning 40, she finds that politics is hard work, and merely willing isn’t enough.  He is in deep blue funk, with writing going nowhere.  Kids are alright, I guess.  But the parents most definitely aren’t.

How about a more conventional couple?  Both from straight forward middle class families.  Met in their 20s through friends, and started seeing each other frequently, and then exclusively.  He had an opportunity to move overseas for work.  Marriage was the only way for them to be together, even though this meant an end to her career.  A decade and three daughters later, she is mostly tired and bitter.  Meanwhile, he wonders what might have been had they never met.

These are not isolated incidences.  Whether in Desh or in the west, I see couples of my age and socioeconomic background, regardless of ethnicity or culture, in stale, unexciting marriages where no one is really at fault, where the fire of passion is buried in repressed memories and forced indifference.  And these are the marriages that survive.  Scarily, I joked recently with a friend that I am more likely now to attend a social shindig marking the end of someone’s marriage than a wedding!

What happens?  In short, life.  It’s hard to navigate the demands of modern life — finances needed for the standard of living we aspire to, but also the expectations of personal achievements we set ourselves, and then there is the social rat race that none of us are really immune from.  All that before we throw in the curve ball of raising kids and the emotional and physical tolls that entail.

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Love is just a four letter word

Posted in comedy, culture, music, romance, society, TV by jrahman on February 9, 2016

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?

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Degenerating the Faith (2)

Posted in books, classics, culture, faith, history, Muslim world, society by jrahman on December 5, 2015

Part 1.

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.

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Degenerating the Faith

Posted in books, classics, culture, current affairs, faith, society by jrahman on December 2, 2015

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.

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Coffee House

Posted in gender, music, Rights, society by jrahman on August 1, 2015

As every educated Bengali knows, decades before a bunch of photogenic New Yorkers made it trendy, hanging out in a cafe — the Coffee House was cool.  Hanging out — adda –with your friends after work, who can’t relate to that?

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The Manna Dey classic suggests the great experience mid-20th century Calcutta would have been for young guys — the Art College graduate drawing sketches for marketing firms before making it to Paris, the reporter who would migrate to Dhaka (and write a great book on 1971), the Goanese guitarist who died young, the amatuer actor suffering from a romantic tragedy related breakdown, the unrecognised poet with cancer….

… and the girl….

Ah, yes, the girl…. the one who is supposed to be happy because she has a millionaire husband who buys her jewellery….

Ray’s Big City wasn’t a great place for women.

Much of the subcontinent still isn’t.

 

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সাতকাহন

Seven trashes collected by the senses.

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Shahbagh ramblings

Posted in activism, politics, society by jrahman on February 20, 2013

I had not been following the war crimes trial in much detail.  Like many, I was surprised by the sentencing of the Abdul Quader Mollah.  He was convicted, but not given the maximum penalty (death sentence) — what gives, I wondered.  I saw some facebook chatters about a behind-the-scene understanding between Awami League and Jamaat-e-Islami — the alleged war criminals don’t hang, and Jamaat abandons BNP and participates in the coming election, the speculation went.  I saw some facebook messages about a gathering in Shahbagh protesting the ‘farcical verdict’. 

Here is a video of the gathering.* 

I didn’t pay much attention.  I was wrong.  I was wrong not to pay attention. By the time I took notice, Shahbagh turned into a sea of people. I saw and heard and read of people of several generations going to Shahbagh. Some dismissed them as hujugey Bangali. But I think that’s insulting the sincerity and passion of large number of people from all walks of life. Clearly this was something we have not seen in Bangladesh for a long while.  And having been wrong in my decision to not pay attention, I decided to keep my mouth shut, and eyes open. 

In general, my reading of history and politics is that spontaneous, leaderless uprisings tend to eventually yield to organised forces.  I didn’t expect much from the Occupy or Anna Hazare movements.  Even in Egypt, I expected the much better organised Muslim Brotherhood to gain ahead of liberal forces.  The initial surprise and the large crowd in Shahbagh notwithstanding, I see no reason to change my view of history and politics when it comes to Shahbagh.  If Shahbagh changes Bangladesh, it will have to do so through the organised, mainstream politics of Awami League and BNP.  

This is not to say Shahbagh has no impact.  It clearly does.  Awami League has already changed the law governing the trial process, while BNP has explicitly stated that it will continue the trial.  Neither would have happened without Shahbagh.  Even if the movement stopped tomorrow, these are already concrete achievements.

And there may well be further ramifications, including the AL capitalising on the nationalistic sentiment for its re-election campaigns.  It’s just that whatever fundamental change we might be hoping for, I think the avenue for them is through organised politics.  If Shahbagh is to replace AL and BNP, then it has to eventually create organisation(s).  And by the same token, I don’t take seriously talks of fascism or fear of civil war.  Fascism requires a fascist party.  If AL is a fascist party, then it has been so without Shahbagh.  And a few renegade Jamaati vandalism or terrorist act a civil war does not make.

That’s about as much as what I have got on Shahbagh’s big picture as it enters the third week.  Over the fold, couple of specific issues that I’ve found interesting.

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On da’wa and harakat

Posted in Islamists, politics, society, Uncategorized by jrahman on January 30, 2013

In a number of online forums including this blog and UV, I’ve chided Bangladeshi progressives for lumping all Islamic movements — harakat, to use the Arabic term preferred by many participants of such movements — as one monolithic and homogenous enemy, and demonising them as war criminals / collaborators / militants (if not chhagu or something worse).  For some ultranationalists, anyone with facial hair and skull cap — dari-tupi — or hijab is enough to warrant such derogatory tagging.  Childish such behaviour may be, but in a country where 90% of the people are Muslim, that behaviour will have dangerous blow back.

This post, however, is not about making that argument.  Rather, this is really my attempt at classifying several streams of harakat as I see them in (hopefully soon to be post war crimes trial) Bangladesh.  The analysis behind the classification is based on my own personal experience, observation and conversation, as well as a reading of the relevant literature (authors I would recommend include Gilles Kepel, Olivier Roy, Timur Kuran and Wali Nasr).

As always, the views are ever evolving and tentative.  I may well change my mind in future.  In fact, I will very likely do so.  But this is how I see the movements in near future Bangladesh.

This is a positive post, not a normative one.  That is, I am not going to comment on where I stand on the movements or their objectives.  Rather, the idea is to classify the movements.

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