April 29, 2008

Bangladesh Zeitgeist Watch: The Rise of the Aloo

Lying there, half-immersed in curry sauce, ignored by those looking for meat, the aloo has been a much-neglected vegetable indeed. Until now that is. The Knight of the Order of the Aloo rode in on horseback, his armour - polished by the spittle of a thousand supporters - shining in the deltaic sun! All to save the aloo from the ignominy of being made bhorta. The aloo is indeed redeemed, for chefs at five-star hotels now covet it. The Knight is vindicated, and we admire his courage for mixing himself up with such a funny vegetable.

Without further ado (aloo), below I list some things I expect to witness in the coming months, and fondly contemplate how the aloo mania is affecting my favourite advisor ever. Just remember: aloo must be consumed ALONGSIDE rice, not INSTEAD of it, as any number of recent op-eds in the Pravda can attest.

Mohammad Ashraful (speaking English WHEN HE COULD BE SPEAKING HIS OWN MOTHER TONGUE!): We eat rice and lose all the time. From now, we eat aloo and win!

Robi Thakoor (back from the grave, beard longer than ever): I made a spelling mistake in one of my songs. It should have been “Aloo amar, aloo ogo, alooy bhubon bhora, aloo jokhon bhorta, tokhon alooy petta bhora.”

Naimul Islam Khan (writing yet another egotistical editorial): Aaj thekey Amader Shomoyer naam bodliye amra holam Aloor Shomoy, eengrejite ja daray the Age of the Aloo. Ami jani pathokra ei cheyechilo. Ami jani.

Matiur Rahman (not to be outdone): Aloor Shomoy kono potrika holo? Oita to puro goyendader hathey. Tar thekey apnara aaj thekey Prothom Aloo porun. Amra shecchay aloo khai.

The Tagore-Protection Committee (open letter to various newspapers): We, patriotic aloo-eaters that we are, strongly protest recent attempts made on certain blogs to parody Tagore’s lyrics. We condemn this dhakashohor chhokra in the strongest terms and hope he does not get his aloo tonight.

Mainul Hosein (unemployed, breakfast: aloor dom): Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy!

Hasan Mashud Chowdhury: The potato’s meteoric rise is very suspicious. I think amader uchit hobey ekti case thookey dawa, jaatey remandey niye alooke ektu bhorta kora jay.

Daily Star’s Crown Jewel’s filed report: The Potato’s meteoric rise has come under the scrutiny of the ACC. The Potato’s activities are known in every corner of the country. The Potato is rumoured to have established a shady presence in a few flats, a few cars, a few companies, a few restaurants and a few television channels, all in an illegal manner as far as I know. And I didn’t try looking too hard, just used my access to government officials without trying to get independent confirmation of the aloor bhaji they fed me.

Wait – Breaking News: Potato found to be none other than our very own “aloo”, favoured by Knights on Horseback. Case dismissed! No suspicion on the aloo ever. No, we don’t apologise.

Mainul Hosein (unhinged, lunch: aloo bhaji): Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy!

Delwar Hossain Saidee: Aloo is halal. Not just halal, but the most Islamic of foods. From Saladin to Jinnah, they have all endorsed the aloo as “Islamic”. That is all that matters to Believers like me. It is also easily proven that the Ihudi-Nasra-Hindu-Nasteek Buddhijibi-Indian Thread Makers-Venusian Sith Lords Chokro have never spoken well of the aloo.

Shahriar Kabir: Aloo khetey ami raaji, but we must ask, is this Secular aloo? If the farmer prays for a good harvest, then surely that aloo cannot be Secular. Also, I heard Delwar Hossain Saidee praising the aloo, so surely…

Saidee (the next day): Aloo is haram from today. Nasteek buddhijibira aloo khetey raaji!

Dan Quayle (hand-written statement): I wish Banglanians Banglastanis Bangladeshies the best in their ongoing adventure to harness the awesome power of potatos.

Mainul Hosein (approaching senility, dinner: aloo bhorta) : Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy!

Forhad Mazhar: Porashoktir ekta slang term ache, “couch potato”, maaney sharadin sofay boshey boshey, aloor chips kheye kheye jara aloor moto dekhtey hoye jay. Jemon hoyechey dhakashohor namok ak bhojonbilashi, olosh-prokritir shamrajyobadi-blogger! Chee chee. Aantorjatik o aancholik porashokti ei chay: tader bohujaatik company gulo diye amader aloo khaiye khaiye couch potato banatey. Shabdhan!

Pinak Ranjan Chakrovorty: Bangladesh could learn a lot from India on how to make your aloos secular and your aloor dum more tasty.

Mahmudur Rahman (writing in Naya Diganta): This sort of comment on our aloo and our aloor dum is nothing short of a Breach of our Sharbobhoumotyo! Amader aloo ar aloor dom ke opomaan korechey bharoter rashtrodoot. Er pichoney nishchoi amader sushilder haath achey, tara aloo na kheye polao korma kheto eto din. This is the Greatest National Crisis Ever (GNCE) to hit us since India tried to make us a “captive market”, and look how well my Jatiyotabadi government dealt with THAT! Ei sorkar eishob meney nay ki korey?

Patricia “Beauty Apa” Butenis: We will welcome your aloos in Iraq. We will make freedom fries out of them.

Abul Barakat (yet another roundtable): Hawa Bhaban stole 64 billion MT worth of aloos. In one night. Just from my dinner table alone. God knows how much more aloo they stole from the entire country and deposited in Switzerland! I know for a fact that the Swiss have been switching from cheese to aloo fondue not just because it is cheaper, but obviously more fun to do. (groan away!)

Syed Badrul Ahsan (weekly column in DS): April is the cruelest month, breeding aloos from the dead land. Yes, indeed the land is dead, for its people have failed to acknowledge that it was Bangabandhu and NO ONE ELSE who came up with this grand plan to eat aloos!

Mainul Hosein (sleeping, pillow: aloor bosta): Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy!

Hossain Zillur Rahman, (PhD): Sorkar ekti notun udyog niyechey. SMS korun amar phoney, ebong ami apnader ek bosta aloo pathiye debo. Rice via OMS chilo political solution, riddled with corruption. Amader solution hochchey aloo via SMS. Wider coverage (I use GP, you should too)*wink* and no chances of corruption.

Forhad Mazhar: PhD ajkal money hochchey Potato-holder’s Degree hoye gechey. Etao porashoktir arek shorojontro. Aloo khawa cherey din. Shabdhan!

Shishir Bhattacharya: I honestly cannot think of any funny cartoons or joke about aloo and our current national obsession with it. And no, I don’t check out blogs for ideas for my cartoons.

Shahriar Kabir (angrily, on some talk show): Ei dhakashohor naam diye ek neo-Jamaati, shamprodayik bojjat cheley blog korey. Aloo niye likhtey giye tar shamprodayikota exposed hoye giyeche. Shey Robindronath Thakoorke bangyo korechey! Amakeo! Er porey aloo khawa jay ki korey, apni bolun?

Delwar Hossain Saidee (Friday afternoon on television): Aloo is halal again! Reading that bekhtameez larka dhakashohor’s idiocies is still haraam!

Mainul Hosein (lost in a field of aloo): Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspi – (gets hit on head with aloo)

April 11, 2008

শহীদুল জহির RIP

হয়ত সেই রাতেও পূর্ণিমা ছিল
হয়ত রাস্তায় এক ফকির তার বাবাকে থামিয়ে বলেছিল যে তার কপালে এমন এক সন্তান আছে যার মতো লেখক বাংলা ভাষায় এর আগে দেখা যায়নি।
হয়ত সেই কথা শুনে তার বাবা অবাক হয়ে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকার সময় ঘাট থেকে নৌকাটি ছেড়ে দিয়েছিল।
হয়ত তার পরের নৌকায় উঠার সময় তার সাথে দেখা হয়েছিল তার ভবিষ্যত স্ত্রীর, তার ছেলের ভবিষ্যত মা।
হয়ত সেই ছেলে ভুতের গলিতে সত্যিই ভুত দেখতে পেয়েছিল।
হয়ত সে সত্যিই শুনেছিল গ্রামের মানুষের কাহিনী সেই জ্যোৎস্নার আলোতে।
হয়ত সে সত্যিই জীবন ও রাজনৈতিক বাস্তবতা মেনে নিতে পারেনি।
হয়ত সে কারণেই তার মতো মানুষ, যে এই দেশ ও দেশের মানুষের করূণ বাস্তবের মধ্যেও সৌন্দর্য ও ভালবাসা খুজে পেয়েছিল, সেও চলে গেল এত কম সময় কাটিয়ে।

শহীদুল জহির ওরফে শহীদুল হক – ১৯৫৪-২০০৮ইন্নালিল্লাহেওয়াইন্নাইলাহে্রাজিউন।

April 08, 2008

Leave them alone

Call me old-fashioned. But there are some things about our tradition I cherish unquestioningly. To take a random example, as those who are even remotely familiar with worker revolts in tea-estates know, women, children and the elderly are never targets. The men, ie. the head of households, are. It’s considered bad form to attack those who cannot defend themselves. This might be a patriarchal mindset, but it does lead to admirable self-restrain and spares someone amidst the mindless violence. That is our tradition.

This is a code of conduct I cherish amongst fighters, whether in the fighter’s arena or the politician’s. I recall it being broken once, in bloody fashion about 23 years ago. A pregnant woman died that day. A 10-year old boy died that day. A mother of five died that day. The killers remain unpunished. Even worse, their disrespect for our own Bangladeshi tradition and their cowardice in attacking women and children are not sufficiently berated in certain quarters.

Which brings us to the present day. I can understand if not condone that there are people thirsty for power after 15 years of rule by two people. But what exactly are they doing by charging and/or arresting wives, children and siblings of those they are up against? I have previously argued against the insanity of charging a young girl for her father’s corruption. I have argued against Mrs. Hasina’s sister being charged absurdly in her cousin’s extortion case. Now, I hear that Dr. Zobeida Rahman and her mother (of all people!) are being charged with some thing or the other. I’m sure many more families will suffer if this keeps up.

Which leads me to wonder if I might be charged with hiding something since I happen to be Mr. Moudud’s cousin, 64-times removed. I estimate we have a common ancestor somewhere in the 12th century. Now you might say that’s not true, and you’d have a point. But if you believe that the charges laid against all these relatives of prominent politicians are true, it was worth a shot trying to convince you of my (in)famous family connection.

What a pathetic bunch of losers these guys are turning out to be.

April 01, 2008

Forum does an April fool piece in March

Do you pick a fight with a helpless beggar on the street for swearing at you because you didn’t give him/her any money?

No? Then why pick one with Henry Kissinger?

I was annoyed when some Bangladeshi journalist thought it worth his while to ask Kissinger about the “bottomless basket”/ “international basketcase” remark. But when I saw this article in March’s Forum, my annoyance turned to utter astonishment! I urge every reader to read the article for themselves before reading my blog post.

Surely Forum is trying to promote itself as a publication that carries thoughtful, high-end political, economic and social commentary. In which case, what is it doing running an article that would fit better into a rag like Amader Shomoy?

The entire point of this article seems to be that some anti-Bangladesh and anti-Mujib quarter has amplified the importance of the “bottomless basket” phrase to hurt “Bangladesh’s image abroad” (Mrs. Zia, Mr. Babar, Mr. Nizami, meet your soulmate!). How have they amplified this? By asserting that the phrase was uttered by Kissinger himself when in reality it was made by some career diplomat that no one has heard of.

Oh brilliant! Simply bloody brilliant!

There is one big, glaring problem within the article, and some larger, more ironic meta-problems.
The BIG GLARING problem

I have just finished reading the article twice. I read it the second time because I could not quite believe what was going through my head, so decided to duck back and re-read the entire thing more carefully. And here is what I found: there is one single sentence that talks about the U.S. administration’s “tilt” towards Pakistan in 1971. There is no background given for this, which would explain that Kissinger was the architect of that infamous “tilt”. There is no mention of the fact that Kissinger deliberately turned a blind eye to the atrocities carried out by the barbaric Pakistani army, and that made him anti-Bangladesh more than any throw-away remark.
Sticks and stones actually break bones; words… not so much!

I repeat: there is NO mention of this not-unimportant detail; not a little mention, not an understated mention, not a footnote even. NO mention of this easily verifiable historical fact. A Bangladeshi writes about Henry Kissinger’s relationship to Bangladesh (if only tangentially) and does not mention this historical detail at all: what do you call that? Astounding.

Reminds me that when Sharmila Bose was publishing her drivel, there was talk about who was backing her. Some said the U.S. foreign policy establishment was trying to get her to re-write their dirty role during our war and its attendant atrocities. At a time like this when the historical record is under attack, surely the editors at Forum can take a closer look at the impact of what they are publishing. Especially when the article in question focuses on words that Kissinger may or may not have uttered, and NOT on his egotistical backing of Pakistan against us, just so that the little f***er could score a deal with China and feel like a real man!

Let me illustrate all this by way of a parable. Mr. X is accused of murdering his neighbour. Mr. X is also accused of calling his neighbor “a man of loose morals”. Mr. X’s lawyer gathers about witnesses, documents and testimonies from those in the know to prove that not only did Mr. X not say anything, but furthermore he cannot even pronounce the words “loose” or “moral”, and moreover Mr. X has philosophical doubts about the very worth of morals themselves. Indeed, all this proves what a “heavyweight” Mr. X is therefore absolved of never having said any of this, and therefore his neighbor has nothing to be unhappy about! Take the focus away from the murder and onto the insult.

This article is – deliberately or inadvertently – Mr. X’s lawyer.


And this leads us to several meta-problems.

1) I quote from the article:

“ Now, more than ever, is the time to de-link Kissinger from the “international basket case” as its real history intimates, and correct ourselves and leave our younger generation free from false context and wrong historical perspective.”

The phrase “right perspective” also crops up twice in the introductory paragraphs.

The irony is that this article itself seems to be perpetuating the very “false context and wrong historical perspective” that it decries. To repeat ad nauseum: the problem with Kissinger was not this remark, but his material support for the Pakistani army!!!

That’s the right perspective and it is not represented here!

2) But wait, there’s more. The writer and editors might argue that this was not an article about Kissinger’s foreign policy, but only about his “bottomless basket” remark. Which of course poses a larger meta-problem. Because the article says clearly:

“It was this propaganda that had been carried out in the world to unmake Bangladesh -- to prove that breaking up with Pakistan wasn’t a viable alternative in the first place. And unfortunately, knowingly or unknowingly, we are participating and/or contributing to that propaganda today.”

And asks desperately:

“Why do we continue with the legacy of erroneous information and flawed interpretation and be a part of the anti-Bangladesh propaganda?”

Why indeed? Propaganda does not work without our consent. By focusing on just the “bottomless basket” remark, we have once again given it undue importance and thus “participating and/or contributing to that propaganda today” by consenting not only to propagating it, but also to say that it is actually important enough to refute. As I’ve asked before, do you pick fights with a helpless beggar who says something awful about you? Why or why not?

Frankly, this borders on the ridiculousness of CNN decrying the cable news coverage of the latest Britney Spears breakdown… which of course is their way of covering the latest Britney Spears breakdown! I say “borders” because our genocide actually matters!

3) Nothing though beats the extreme irony of what this article teaches us. It teaches us that Kissinger is “a heavy weight”. It says things like “Bangladesh did not get even a year to prove the American diplomat Ural Alexis Johnson wrong!” and lastly, with a truly ironic attempt at irony, “Let us recognize Ural Alexis Johnson ….and work in unison to prove his prediction wrong…”

Firstly, “development” is not – or at any rate, should not be - about trying to prove the NYT or Americans wrong, and even less about trying to live up to the expectations of Westerners. That entire “proving” business is the worst thing about our little obsession over Kissinger’s comments.
Secondly, since when does an admirer of Mujib have to acknowledge Kissinger as anything other than the slimy rat he was? We, who love Mujib, love him regardless of something that Henry Kissinger (of all people!) said. Is Forum’s audience now reduced to fringe Jamaati elements and Muslim League remnants that they are publishing this drivel? They’re about the only Bangladeshis elements in Bangladesh, who think Kissinger’s some sort of a “heavyweight”. At least, I used to think so until I saw this article!

Lastly, let me just nitpick a bit about the picture that accompanies this piece. It shows men – some with beards, some in punjabis and almost all wearing prayer caps – burning an American flag.

If the photo editor wanted to compare BANGLADESHI critics of Kissinger to knee-jerk anti-American, flag-burning Islamists, then that is the highest insult towards us that I can imagine!
If on the other hand, s/he wanted to compare the magnified importance that these Islamists give American gestures and political figures to the magnified importance that the author of the piece gave to Mr. Kissinger, then I am fully behind him.

Forum, save the April Fool jokes for the April issue!