Mountains of the moon – 9

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on January 2, 2018

For those who came in late:


Shankar woke up around midnight.  There was a noise somewhere out there in the woods, something was happening somewhere in the forest.  Alvarez was also sitting up in his bed.  Both listened carefully — it was quite strange.  What was happening outside?

Shankar was quick to come out with a lit up torch, but Alvarez stopped him.  He said — I warned you many times to not go out of the tent like that at night time in these woods.  And where are you going without a gun anyway?

It was pitch dark outside the tent.  Following the rays of lights from their torches, they saw —

Packs after packs of wild animals — hyena, baboon, wild buffalo — were coming out of the jungle to their west, in a mad dash without pause, running headlong to the hill to their east.  Two leopards brushed pass them.  More were coming…  in groups after groups…  troops of male and female colobus monkeys were running with their younglings.  It seemed as if they were running for their life from a sudden danger! …. Meanwhile, there was a strange sound from somewhere — a rumbling, deep, yet thunderous sound — as if a thousand Bengali drums were beating afar.

What was this phenomenon?  They looked at each other.  Both were surprised.  Alvarez said — Shankar, make sure the fire is lit properly, otherwise these beasts will trample over the tent with us inside.

The number of animals kept increasing.  Even above their head, flocks of birds were flying away from nests.  A massive herd of springbok deer came within ten yards of them.

But they were so stunned at the time that they forgot to shoot in spite of the deers being so close.  They had never witnessed something remotely like this!

Shankar was about to ask Alvarez something when — apocalypse struck.  At least that’s how it seemed to Shankar.  The whole earth seemed to shake so much that they both fell to the ground, and at the same time it seemed a thousand lightning struck nearby.  The ground seemed to crack open — as did the sky.

While trying to stand up, Alvarez said — Earthquake.

And right after that the surprise continued as they saw the darkness suddenly disappear with a bolt of light coming from somewhere that was bright enough to be from fifty thousand electric bulbs!

And then they turned their glance to that peak afar.  There seemed to be a massive inferno.  The whole horizon was bright red from the apocalyptic flame, red clouds seemed to bubble up from the peak to a couple of thousand feet into the sky — and then there was the noxious aroma of sulphur in the air.

Looking at that, Alvarez blurted with shock and awe — Volcano!  Santa Anna Grazia da Cordova!

That was a strangely beautiful sight!  Neither could avert their gaze for a while.  It seemed to Shankar that a hundred thousand fire cracker was going off at once.  The cloud of red fire dimmed for a while, and then it rose above a thousand feet all at once, similar to what happens when a fresh wood is thrown into a campfire.  And accompanying all this was the noise of a thousand bombs going off.

Meanwhile the earth was shaking so much that it was impossible to stand straight — it was as if they were surfing.  Bobbing and weaving, Shankar entered the tent — there he saw a little puppy-like animal in his bed, shaking with fear.  It froze looking at Shankar’s torch, with its eyes sparkling like a gem.  Seeing it upon entering the tent, Alvarez said — Keep it, since it took our shelter fearing life.

Neither of them had seen a live volcano before, nor were they aware of the dangers it posed — but even before Alvarez could finish his sentence, they ran outside hearing something large fall, it was a burning rock weighing perhaps 15 kg — it was then that Alvarez said in a panicked tone — Run away, come on Shankar, lift the tent, hurry…

A couple, maybe more, of fiery-red heavy rocks fell around them with booming noise even as they lifted the tent.  Meanwhile it was getting harder to breath with so much sulphuric fume.

Run… run…. run.  After a couple of hours of dragging and carrying their stuff, they made it to the foot of that eastern hill.  Even there the air reeked of sulphur.  After half an hour, molten rocks started falling even there.  They climbed uphill, pushing through the forest in the dark night.  They climbed up two and half thousand feet, and sat down in fatigue under a large tree on the slope as the dawn broke.

That terrific beauty of the eruption dimmed a lot with the sunrise, but the noise and the rock-falls seemed to increase.  Now it was no longer just rock, a very drab coloured ashes started falling from the sky too…. the trees and vines soon became covered with thick layer of ash.

The inferno continued unstopped whole day — and then the night fell again.  That terrific beauty returned at night, with the jungle and the sky and the distant horizon being red with the fire from the volcano — though the molten rocks seemed to have abated a bit.  But the cloud of the fiery smoke was still shining bright.

Their drowsing came to an abrupt end after midnight with the loud bang of a massive explosion — frightfully they saw that the peak of the burning mountain had blown off — the forest in the valley down below soon got covered with ash, fire and burning rocks.  Alvarez was hit by a molten rock.  Their tent caught fire.  A large branch fell behind them after being hit by a rock.

Shankar started thinking — this huge natural calamity in this desolate forest would have gone completely unknown had they not been there.  The civilised world didn’t even know about the existence of this jungle volcano.  They might not even believe it if told.

In the morning, it was clearly visible that the mountain peak looked like a burnt out candle.  It was as if someone had taken a bite off the ice-cream.

Alvarez said after consulting the map — The map doesn’t denote this as a volcano.  Likely to be the first eruption after many years.  But the name in the map is rather interesting.

Shankar asked — What’s the name?

Alvarez replied — The name written is Oldonio Lengai — in archaic Zulu this means The bed of the Fire God.  From that name, it would seem that the volcanic nature of this range was not unknown to the old folks of this region.  Perhaps this was quiet for a century or two, or even longer.

Hailing from India, Shankar found his palms joining in respect and touching his forehead.  Salutation, oh the God of Wrath.  Accept my respect, oh Mighty, for letting us witness your awesome destructive power.  A hundred diamond mine is insignificant next to your beauty.  All my travails have been worth it.




Tagged with:

Comments Off on Mountains of the moon – 9

2018 wishes

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on December 31, 2017

Facebook tells me that exactly four years ago we watched Frozen in the theatre.  To anyone born in the west in the past decade, there is no bigger cultural phenomenon than this Disney production.  My then not-quite-three discovered it in kids youtube — about that some other time — and then went through a phase of memorising every song by line.  And then, just like that, he got over it.  Initially I thought it was just a ‘boy’ thing, but it would seem sometime around when they finish kindergarten, kids of all genders get tired of the princesses.

I wonder what the kids understood from that movie.  What does a five year old know of pressures to conform, or courage to be themselves, or the balance between expressing oneself and the great responsibility that comes with great power?  Surely these lessons will be important when the kids are in their teens?  Will they return to it in a few years?

Come to think of it, the theme of the movie applies to us grown ups too.  Here is to letting it go in 2018.

Tagged with:

Comments Off on 2018 wishes


Posted in adventure, books, movies, thriller, Uncategorized by jrahman on December 20, 2017

When Shashi Kapoor passed away a few days ago, my facebook was abuzz (or should I say alight?) with clips of mere paas maa hai.  I wanted to post my favourite Kapoor as my childhood favourite hero.  I was sad to find no clip of Kissa Kathmandu ki — Satyajit Ray’s small screen adaptation of his Feluda caper in Nepal.  Granted it wasn’t Ray’s finest, but all sorts of weird and improbable stuff can be found online, why not this, I wondered.  My mind then wandered to why Ray cast Kapoor and not Amitabh Bachchan, the only tall man in India, for the role of the towering Bengali detective?  Perhaps because Bachchan was by then too busy with politics.  But that leads one to wonder why Ray hadn’t made a Hindi Feluda earlier?  For that matter, why did Ray not make more Hindi movies?

The latest on-screen adaptation puts Ray’s sleuth in the modern day — check out the trailer:


Comments Off on Dadagiri

2017 wishes

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on December 25, 2016

Every holiday season, I come across the line that gifts are a terrible idea.  Some years it’s a confident-sounding man trying to impress a social crowd with his neoclassical economics.  At other times, the argument pops up in places like the Financial Times or Vox — that you know best what to do with the money that’s spent on the gift bought for you, and as such, everyone will be better off without gifts: give cash if you must.

Of course, looking for pareto improvement in O’Henry shows just how clueless such male economists (oh, such types, in my experience, are always men) can be.  Gifts are as much but about you-the-giver as you-the-receiver.  What you give to whom tells everyone about the who/what/how of your values.  Buying the shiniest, largest toy, without regards to the recipient’s feelings — well, that says a lot, though perhaps not favourably of the giver.

The most precious thing you can give your loved ones is the gift of time.  If you love someone, spend your time with them and on them.  Whatever you did in the past, wishing you a fresh start from this holiday season.

Happy 2017.

Comments Off on 2017 wishes

Recipe — goat rezala

Posted in culture, food, Uncategorized by jrahman on April 10, 2016

There appears to be a lot of variation in how people make rezala.  Mine is definitely not authentic as I tend to improvise a lot while cooking this, which these days is regrettably rare.  Back in the day, however, this had never failed.  Go ahead, give it a shot.


Tagged with:

Comments Off on Recipe — goat rezala

Guha raises a glass

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on January 15, 2016

A trained economist turned historian, a liberal who has written on cricket, you can see why I might like Ramachandra Guha.  When it comes to our corner of the subcontinent, Mr Guha particularly resonates with me because unlike so many other liberal-progressive Indians, he is unsentimental about partition.  This allows him to observe Bangladesh (and Pakistan) with less blinkered eyes.  This was evident in the two op eds he wrote after visiting Bangladesh late last year.

Based on ‘ long, drink-filled, evenings’ of addas with his local interlocutors as well short trips to Manikganj and Tangail, he concludes the first piece as:

The present is scarcely trouble-free, the future is clouded and uncertain. That said, this Indian would like to raise one cheer, and perhaps even two, for the people of Bangladesh. They were once part of Pakistan; after separation, they have been somewhat more successful in thwarting Islamic fundamentalism. They were once part of the undivided province of Bengal; after separation, they have shown more entrepreneurial drive and constructive social activism than their counterparts to the west.

Little quibbles — for example, Bangladesh is not, nor has it ever been, an Islamic Republic — aside, I agree with Guha’s assessment.  It is his second piece, however, that I found more interesting.  Let’s remember that one of his hosts in the Dhaka Lit Fest is an Awami League MP, and his trip was — as things tend to be — quite carefully managed.  I suspect the literati and the chatterati he interacted with have little enthusiasm for the non-existent opposition politics.  And yet, he came away with this stinging indictment of the current order:

… the manner of her administration’s present functioning is dangerously reminiscent of her father’s most ignoble period, those early months of 1975 when he amended the Constitution to virtually outlaw dissent and consolidate power in himself.

Thus, Mr Guha raises his glass, but not three cheers for Bangladesh — politics is letting us down, and the current prime minister deserves the blame.  Who could disagree with that assessment?  Foreign correspondents were coming around to that view over four years ago.

And yet, is that the full picture?  Perhaps the glass Mr Guha raises contains a cocktail that the people of Bangladesh the establishment is willfully imbibing.  Perhaps, Mrs Wajed’s autocratic ways are accepted because the alternative in our winner-take-all set up are perceived to be too risky for stability that underlines social and economic achievements he lauds?



Prisoner of Jhind

Posted in action, adventure, books, Drama, movies, thriller, Uncategorized by jrahman on November 20, 2015

Good thing you skipped Salman Khan’s new movie.  They made the movie around 14 songs collected over many years. Waste of time!

That’s my brother on the recent Bollywood adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda.  The lookalike-as-a-plant has been used as a plot device many times, including those starring Bollywood bigshots.  My favourite retelling on pages is the Flashman caper involving the Schleswig-Holstein Question — note to self, must blog about Flashman sometime.

But for the screen, let me recommend the 1961 Bangla adaptation.  Adapted to the Indian settings by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay of Byomkesh fame, the movie contains great visuals of the rugged Central and Western Indian terrain, decade-and-half before Sholay.  Uttam Kumar in the title role is solid, but Soumitra Chatterjee as a villain is sublime — an early cut of his performance in Ghare Baire two decades later.  Oh, there is also a Bengali nationalist twist in the mix.

The best thing about the movie, however, is its music.  Ali Akbar Khan matches the likes of Ennio Morricone.  They just don’t do tunes like that any more.




Comments Off on Prisoner of Jhind

Game of coups

Posted in army, Bangladesh, history, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on November 5, 2015

In the blood-soaked history of Bangladesh, this week marks the 40th anniversary of a particularly dark and grim episode.  On 7 November 1975, dozens of army officers of were killed by mutinous jawans.  The mutiny was orchestrated by Lt Col Abu Taher, who was retired from services a few years earlier and at that time was a key leader of the radical Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal.  The mutineers killed Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf, who had instigated a coup few days earlier against the regime of Khondaker Moshtaq Ahmed, in power since the bloody putsch of 15 August that killed President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family.  Amid the confusion caused by Mosharraf’s manoeuvres against the ‘killer majors’, four senior Awami League leaders — including Tajuddin Ahmed, the country’s first prime minister who led the war effort in 1971 when Mujib was interned in Pakistan — were assassinated in the central jail, allegedly with the consent of President Moshtaq.  The chaos and carnage of 7 November, coming on the heels of the August massacre and the jail killing, threatened to put the very existence of Bangladesh at risk.

Fortunately, Taher’s mutiny proves short-lived as the army rallied behind Major General Ziaur Rahman.

This post isn’t about revisiting our coup-prone history  or explaining it.  Rather, using the ideas of Naunihal Singh, an American political scientist, I want to discuss why some of those coups were more successful than others, and what they might tell us about the present day Bangladesh.


Tin Kanya

Posted in Dhallywood, movies, Uncategorized by jrahman on October 31, 2015

According to google, Bangla movie Tin Kanya refers to either the 1961 Ray adaptation of Tagore or the 2012 risque Rituparna starrer.  The 1986 Bangladeshi film starring Suchanda, Babita and Champa is completely ignored.  That’s a shame, because it deserves to have a cult following, if Dhallywood had cult following that is.


Comments Off on Tin Kanya

Learning from history

Posted in democracy, elections, history, politics, South Asia, Uncategorized by jrahman on July 5, 2015

Forty years ago last week, things were happening in New Delhi that are more often seen in Islamabad and Dhaka.  India came under a State of Internal Emergency on 25 June 1975.  Indira is India — the cult of personality around Prime Minister Indira Gandhi preceded the Emergency, but with wholesale detention of opposition politicians on spurious charges, draconian censorship, executive decrees and ordinances bypassing the legislature and subordinating the judiciary, Indian experiment in democracy seemed to be over.

Then, in early 1977, Mrs Gandhi called fresh elections, which were held on the announced date, in a free and fair manner, and her party was thrown out of office by the voters, she herself losing her seat.  Accepting the verdict, she stepped down.  Indian experiment in democracy returned, to be continued to our time.

The Emergency plays a climactic role in Salman Rushdie’s much-celebrated novel Midnight’s Children.  But it’s Shashi Tharoor’s treatment in The Great Indian Novel that I find more nuanced.  Tharoor’s rendition of the Mahabharata has the general election of 1977, following the Emergency, as the modern-day Battle of Kurukshetra.  Duryodhana, the leader of the ‘baddie’ Kaurava clan, is recast as Mrs Gandhi, while the ‘goodie’ Pandava brothers are: Morarji Desai (who replaced Mrs Gandhi as the prime minister) as the virtuous Yudhishtir; the Indian army as the valiant Bhim; media as the heroic Arjuna; and the civil and foreign services as the Nakul-Sahadeva twins.  As the epic battle isn’t simply ‘good trumps over evil’ in the Epic, so it is in the novel, which ends with a place of honour accorded to Priya Duryodhoni / Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi in the ‘court of history’.