A Bangladeshi superhero

Posted in adventure, Bangladesh, books, desi fiction, history, thriller by jrahman on May 11, 2017

It’s a sun-drenched, ocean-front, posh hotel where the scene is set.  A diabolical fiend is cheating on a game of cards with the aid of an earphone and a skimpily clad assistant with a binocular.

Enter our hero.

Watching the classic scene for the first time all those years ago, my thought was — whoa, 007 ripped off Masud RanaI had read Swarnamriga a few weeks before watching Goldfinger — first Rana novel and Bond flick for the schoolboy who didn’t know the original.  I suspect many Bangladeshis of certain ages would have similar Rana stories to share.

Okay, it is quite possible, likely even, that the typical reader has no idea what I am talking about.  A brief primer from wiki:

Masud Rana is a fictional character created in 1966 by writer Qazi Anwar Hussain, who featured him in over 400 novels.  Hussain created the adult spy-thriller series Masud Rana, at first modelled after James Bond, but expanded widely. …  books are published almost every month by Sheba Prokashoni, one of the most popular publishing house of Bangladesh….

Although there is no superpower as such, his attributes would make a combination of Batman, Bond, and Bourne pale before Rana. Of course, superheroes need supervillains.  Rana’s arch-nemesis is a megalomaniac genius scientist criminal mastermind named Kabir Chowdhury, who’s also a fellow Bangladeshi.  And then there is Israel.  However, it’s his foes from the first decade or so of the series that make for a fascinating political study.



Comments Off on A Bangladeshi superhero

Between the war and the history wars….

Posted in 1971, action, Dhallywood, history, movies by jrahman on November 19, 2015

…. there was a time when acknowledging Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s unquestioned leadership in 1971 did not stop one from acknowledging the significance of Ziaur Rahman’s broadcasts from Chittagong.  Chashi Nazrul Islam’s film Sangram is from that time.  It’s a fictionalised account of the experiences of the 4th East Bengal Regiment during the onset of the Liberation War.

In March 1971, the seniormost Bengali officer in the 4th Bengal, stationed in Comilla, was Major Khaled Mosharraf.  Just before the 25 March crackdown, he was sent to border regions in Sylhet, ostensibly to fight Naxalites but really to be ambushed by the Pakistanis.  Khaled avoided the trap and returned to Comilla where Captain Shafaat Jamil and others had already rebelled.

In the movie, Khaled is renamed Major Hassan.   Jump to about 44 minute mark in the video below to see how the major addresses his troops — Pakistanis have attacked us, Sheikh Sahib has declared independence, our job is to defend that independence.


Immediately after that, he is shown as listening to Zia’s radio speech and noting that his is not an isolated mutiny.  That is the real significance of Zia’s March broadcasts, to tell the world that Bangladesh was an independent but occupied land and a war of resistance had begun against that occupation.

When Mr Islam made that movie in 1974, he understood the significance perfectly well, as did his leading man Khasru — both were freedom fighters, the actor was and remained an Awami League activist, the director ended up in BNP.  In the last scene, Sheikh Mujib is seen as taking salute from the Bangladesh army, with Khaled, Zia and other senior officers behind him.

Comments Off on Between the war and the history wars….

1971: beyond reading

Posted in 1971, Bangladesh, history by jrahman on January 15, 2015

I’ve been asked recently about what to read to clarify one’s thoughts about 1971.  My answer is over the fold.


How to lose the history wars

Posted in 1971, Bangladesh, dynasties, history, politics by jrahman on December 17, 2014

I said in the previous post:

They didn’t think much of him last winter. And since then, sporadic forays in our pathetic history wars have done nothing to improve his standing. They create media buzz, senior Awami League leaders end up looking quite stupid, and BNP rank-and-file feel fired up for a while. But what do they do to alleviate Mr Rahman’s extremely negative image?

Obviously, I don’t approve of the way Tarique Rahman is engaging in the ‘history wars’.  It occurs to me that I should elaborate and clarify.  Hence this post.  I don’t agree with Mr Rahman’s interpretation of history.  More importantly, from a partisan political perspective, I think they cause more harm than good for BNP.  And most frustratingly, a few solid points that BNP could make very usefully are utterly wasted.


Bleak, Ne’er-do-well, Past

Posted in democracy, dynasties, politics by jrahman on December 12, 2014

There is no shortage of punditry along the line of BNP-is-in-trouble, most being pretty vacuous like this.  Shuvo Kibria had a better attempt a few weeks ago:

সরকার ….. নিজের আস্থাহীনতার সঙ্কট আছে।….. জনব্যালটে তার ভরসা নেই। …..সরকার চাইবে রাজনৈতিক শক্তি হিসেবে বিএনপিকে সমূলে উৎপাটিত করতে। বিএনপির চ্যালেঞ্জ হচ্ছে, রাজনৈতিক শক্তি হিসেবে নিজেকে পুনঃপ্রতিষ্ঠা করা।  (The government has its own crisis of confidence…. It doesn’t rely on public ballot…. The governent will want to uproot BNP as a political force.  BNP’s challenge is to re-establish itself as a political force).

I think the above is in on the whole correct.  And there may be a degree of validity in this as well:

বিএনপির প্রথম সারির নেতাকর্মীদের মাঠে নেমে প্রমাণ করতে হবে দলের স্বার্থে তারা যেকোনো ঝুঁকি নিতে প্রস্তুত।  (BNP’s front row leaders and workers will need to prove their willingness to take any risk for the party by getting into the field).

But I think even Kibria misses some key nuances.


Two wings and a prayer

Posted in 1971, Bangladesh, history, South Asia by jrahman on March 19, 2013

Ask for a piece on Pakistan and Bangladesh during December and you’re likely to get something about the 1971 wars — note the plural, because the eastern part of the subcontinent simultaneously experienced an inter-ethnic civil war and ethno-communal cleansing, genocide, inter-state conventional war and a war of national liberation, all climaxing in the crisp Bengali winter of 1971. Naeem Mohaiemen’s seven part series is an example, covering many aspects of that fateful year.

Let me skip 1971 in this post. Instead, I’ll begin by marking the other December anniversary, one that will have a particular relevance for Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2013. And I’ll note the parallels between the post-1971 developments in the two wings of former United Pakistan.


Comments Off on Two wings and a prayer

Breaking the curse

Posted in army, democracy, politics by jrahman on September 23, 2012

We’re talking about a South Asian country where the government is under pressure from several corruption scandals and not-so-good economic news.  The ruling party led the country’s independence, and supposedly stands for secularism and pluralist democracy.  In reality, the party is a dynastic fiefdom of the country’s founding leader, and once the current matriarch passes, the future looks uncertain for the dynasty.  The opposition is no better.  It supposedly reflects a more authentic nationalism than the one espoused by the ruling party, but in reality it has often fueled communal bigotry and violence.  It used to attract professionals and businessmen a generation ago, but not any more.  The country has a strong tradition of community and grass root activism and media tradition.  Dissatisfied with both the main parties, these civil society groups are clamouring for a third force.  Meanwhile, violent extremism that was once thought effectively suppressed may be biding time in remote rural areas.

I could be talking about either Bangladesh or India.  Everything in the above paragraph describes both countries.  But there is one crucial difference.  When people talk about the third force in India, they mean a coalition of parties that will reject both Congress and the BJP.  Any potential third force in India will be based on electoral politics.  In Bangladesh, the most plausible third force, on the other hand, is a military coup.

As I argued here, our history has made us vulnerable to military interventions in politics, right from the beginning of the country.  As we get close the next general election, there will be a lot of talk of yet another coup of some form.  Is there no end to this cycle?


Comments Off on Breaking the curse

Money is no(t the main) problem

Posted in development, economics, institutions by jrahman on September 16, 2012

Money is no problem — I have heard multiple, and contradictory, stories about the context of the quote attributed to Ziaur Rahman.  I’m reminded of one particular story by the recent fracas about the Padma bridge — for those who came in late, here is a good primer.

Okay, there are multiple aspects of the Padma bridge scandal.  I am leaving the political aspects of the issue — enormous as they are — to others more knowledgeable than me.  Let me talk about the economics of the matter.

The Economist, in its story on the issue, saysBangladesh relies heavily on Western aid for a vast array of projects that otherwise would not exist. Without the Bank, there can be no bridge.

The implication is clear — money is the problem, no Bank funding, no bridge.  I don’t think this is quite right.


The Internationale shall unite

Posted in China, foreign policy, India, West Asia by jrahman on July 11, 2012

For those who came in late: Purboposchim at Alal-o-Dulal argued that in the context of Sino-Indian rivalry, Bangladesh should avoid becoming like Afghanistan and be like Switzerland; I said Bangladesh need not be either because it need not be a theatre of Sino-Indian rivalry, rather it should focus its foreign policy on selective issues in the global fora; Purboposchim wrote back with some further thoughts.

Over the fold, the conversation continues.


Curse of the majors

Posted in 1971, army, Bangladesh, history, politics by jrahman on July 7, 2012

While commenting on an early draft of my post on the chronology of coups and mutinies, a friend suggested I turn it into a long form magazine, or even semi-academic article.  Now, I am not in a position to write anything long form — or short, op ed, form either; dear reader, this blog is the only thing I write in these days.  If I were writing a long article, I would pose two questions:

1. Did history pre-dispose Bangladesh to military interventions?

2. How do we end the cycle of interventions?

This post tackles the first question.  There maybe a separate post on the second one.