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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Preserve Kuakata antique boat: Expert

A French-born Bangladeshi expert on local traditional boats examined the ancient boat that surfaced from beneath the sandy beach in Kuakata recently and said it is a national heritage bearing ethnic history. 

‘I have never seen such an unusual traditional boat,” Yves Marre told The Daily Star after examining it on the beach Monday afternoon. It is important to preserve it now as it is lying at an insecure state,” Marre said.

Marre initiated a traditional boat museum under the banner “Protection and Preservation of National Naval Heritage of Bangladesh”. 

Marre with his project has so far replicated 65 types of traditional wooden boats of Bangladesh and exhibited those boats in France and other European countries. 

Talks are underway to open an exhibition of those boats in the naval museum of Greenwich in London soon. 

“I urge the government to take immediate step to save the boat to preserve our heritage and it is going to be a learning process for generations to come,” he said. 

“The boat should be kept in Kuakata by setting up a museum or at a safe place where tourists can visit it easily, this is going to be a landmark attraction of Kuakata,” he said.

Marre, an internationally acclaimed expert on traditional boats and also managing director for TARATARI Shipyard Ltd at Kalurghat in Chittagong, said the monsoon tides are too high to do anything on the surfaced boat. “We have to wait till November to lift the boat from the sand and start restoration,” he said.

The ancient boat which is believed to be belonging to the first Rakhine settlers from Arakan province in Myanmar over 200 years ago was found on June 29 during the low tide.

On July 11, a team of archaeologists from the Department of Archaeology Khulna office examined the boat and declared that the boat is over 200 years old. It is clearly an unusual boat that the first Rakhaine settlers in the area used for fleeing from Myanmar’s Arakan province, the team leader said. 

Earlier on July 24, Amitav Sarker, deputy commissioner of Patuakhali, visited the ancient boat and asked local authorities to take measures to protect it. 

Meanwhile, Department of Archaeology has formally asked the government to immediately form a committee and to provide funds for lifting the boat and to start restoring it. 

Made of timber of Gorjon tree, the 72-foot long and 22.5-foot wide boat was found near the tamarisk garden in Kuakata. 

 

Monday, July 30, 2012

PM blasts Dr Yunus

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has strongly criticised Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus for charging high interest rates by the Grameen Bank he founded. 

She came down heavily on Yunus in an interview with the BBC's HARDtalk. The interview was taken during her five-day visit to London that ended Sunday. 

Here is the text of a part of her interview. 

BBC: It seems a shame for the Bangladeshi people that your relationship with one of the most respected business leaders in your country, Noble Laureate Mohammad Yunus, has also soured so badly. Why did you call him a bloodsucker of the poor?

PM: You go to Bangladesh, you see in your eyes then you will see. But how could he say I said it? Did I mention his name? I didn’t. I said someone. But why it occurred in your mind…

BBC: Sorry, so let’s be clear about this. So are you now denying that you have said Mohammad Yunus is a bloodsucker of the poor?

PM: No I am not denying anything. I am putting a question to you, why it occurred in your mind that it is him? Why?

BBC: I have been reading the Bangladeshi press, everybody, it seems, in the Bangladeshi media believes that you referred directly when you used this phrase ‘a bloodsucker of the poor’. If you want to retract or if you want to tell me you didn’t mean him, then that’s fine.

PM: Listen, listen, I am telling one thing. Taking interest 40 percent, 30 percent or 45 percent from these poor people – is it fair? It is not. How can these poor people stand by themselves? If you lend money and take 35 to 45 percent interest, it’s a shame.

BBC: So the entire model built by Grameen Bank and Mohammad Yunus which has been celebrated around the world as a way of lifting poor people out of poverty – you are saying you do not accept it, you do not want it.

PM: I want there should be an enquiry that how many people come out of poverty because of that. If there’s one village, how many people? Poverty reduction is done by my government. Within three years we reduced 10 percent poverty. So, it is our government. And about this Grameen Bank, it is a government statutory body.

BBC: Isn’t it the truth that you forced Mohammad Yunus out of his role in Grameen Bank after he tried to setup an independent political party in 2007, that’s why you turned against him?

PM: Listen, that time I was in custody, I was in jail when he tried to form his political party. He was such a big person so why he failed? He has every opportunity, why he couldn’t form his own party? 

Have you ever thought about it? Well, having said that, I am telling you I didn’t oust him from the Grameen Bank, he himself did it. 

 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Forgotten Rohingya

Burma (now Myanmar) has a history of persecuting its minorities, Muslims in particular. The Muslims constitute 4 percent of its 60 million population. When I was posted at Yangon in the 1990s, local Muslims claimed that their ratio of population was much higher. The last official census was held in 1983. The bulk of the Muslims live in the Rakhine State, bordering Chittagong in Bangladesh. From its west, the Rakhine State (called Arakan by the British) borders the Bay of Bengal with a fairly long coastline. In the north, River Naf separates it from Bangladesh. Islam came to this part of the world through Arab traders and Rohingya Muslims, who number around one million and are descendents of the Yemeni Arab traders. With their darker skins and sharper noses, the Rohingya are easily distinguishable from the Burmese.General Ne Win, who assumed power in 1962, nationalised all businesses and Muslims were the biggest losers. He also purged the armed forces and the civil bureaucracy of Muslims. Many fled to neighbouring East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), Thailand and Saudi Arabia. Anti-Muslim riots took place in Mandlay in 1997 and again in 2001. 

The current rioting in Rakhine State began early June as majority Buddhists alleged that Muslim men had raped one of their women. In the ensuing rioting, hundreds of Muslims were killed. The security forces sent by Yangon (former Rangoon) to protect the Muslims are alleged to have made the situation worse by siding with the majority.The Rohingya problem, however, goes deeper into history. Their area in Myanmar had been a part of the Mughal Empire till 1785, when it was annexed by Rangoon. Some years later, the territory was annexed by the East India Company and then passed to British India. In those days, the Rakhine State was administered from Chittagong and Rohingya moved freely between Bengal and Burma. This has given rise to the false Myanmar claim that Rohingya are migrants from British India. The fact of the matter is other way round. Many of them migrated from Burma and settled in Bengal.What we witnessed recently is a systematic genocide abetted by the Myanmar authorities and the international media has just about ignored it. The Myanmar government still considers the Rohingya as illegal immigrants, ignoring the fact that they have lived there for decades, if not centuries. General Ne Win stripped them of the Burmese citizenship in 1982. This minority has no rights; it cannot buy land and is not represented in government jobs. This is racial discrimination, plain and simple! The UN has described Rohingya Muslims as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Hundreds killed in a few weeks and the world is just not bothered. The West is salivating about the prospects of new business opportunities in Myanmar. President Barack Obama has recently lifted restrictions on US investments in Myanmar and UK has opened a trade office on July 11 in Yangon. The United States is keen to counter vast clout that China enjoys in Myanmar. China and India have not spoken about this persecution as they too have vital interests there. Even the Muslim world has taken no notice of the grotesque brutalities in Myanmar. The OIC, which adopted a human rights charter in 2008, has also done little. And worse still, this huge problem of violation of basic human rights has not shaken the champion of human rights and darling of the West, Madam Aung San Suu Kyi.Thousand of Rohingya have fled by sea or river to Bangladesh only to be returned by its navy using brute force. This is in violation of the Convention on Refugees 1951 and its attendant Protocol of 1967. Under the Convention, no country can shut its borders to the refugees fleeing persecution. The receiving country, however, does have the right to screen the refugees to determine their credentials. Bangladesh has refused to accommodate these refugees on its soil, as it is not a signatory to the convention. However, that position does not entitle BD armed forces to fire on fleeing Rohingya.It may be of interest to the readers to know that a large number of Burmese, who fled to Saudi Arabia in 1960s and 70s hold Pakistani temporary travel documents even today. Thus, Pakistan had done its bit to help these persecuted people. But today, even Pakistan government is quiet about the atrocities heaped on these innocent people by a racist regime in Yangon. Iran is the only Islamic country that spoke for the Rohingya people this time. I have called the regime racist because Myanmar President General (retd) Thein Sein has publicly suggested that these people should be expelled and the UN should take their charge. 

The UN has rejected this demand, out of hand. The Rohingya have all along been loyal citizens of Myanmar and even then their basic citizenship right is denied to them.The West seemed euphoric in recent months as Aung San Suu Kyi was released to contest by-elections. In this international euphoria, President Asif Zardari too rushed to Yangon to bestow a Benazir Award on Suu Kyi. But nothing of substance has changed in Myanmar. The real power still lies with the generals. Indeed, with the advent of a semblance of democracy, majority Buddhists feel they now have a licence to persecute minorities. This is tyranny of the majority at its worst.I have often wondered what makes Buddhists, their monks in particular, as they walk bare footed to save insects, so cruel. My analysis is that military regimes, lacking legitimacy, befriend clergy. In Myanmar, the generals have often pandered to the monks. Military patronage has made the monks bold, indeed savage.It is about time that the UN, OIC and the international media took notice of this grave historic wrong of racial discrimination that has now become genocide. Bangladesh should speak for the Rohingya rights within Myanmar. After all, a peaceful and stable Myanmar, with all its minorities feeling secure, is good for the entire region. And it would only look good if India, which has secular credentials and aspires to be a global power, also espoused the just Rohingya cause. But I doubt it, as Delhi is too keen on keeping the Myanmar junta in good humour.

 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

BANGLADESH'S WARNING OVER POSSIBLE TERRORIST REFUGEE THREAT

THE Prime Minister of Bangladesh has warned of possible terrorist connections among the thousands of Muslim refugees trying to enter her country from neighbouring Burma.
Sheikh Hasina said in an interview with the Sunday Express that her government had passed on concerns about a number of unidentified “incidents” to the authorities in Burma where there have been clashes between Buddhists and Muslims.

The recent fighting, which has seen dozens killed, has been taking place in the western Burmese state of Rakhine.

Thousands of Rohingyas, whom the UN describes as a persecuted Islamic minority group in Buddhist Burma, have tried to flee to Bangaldesh, a secular country of 160 million mainly Muslims.

Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government has been turning them away at the border, angering campaign groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.

However, she told the Sunday Express that the international community should investigate why so many are fleeing.

She met Foreign Secretary William Hague earlier today to discuss the situation.

In her interview with the Sunday Express, she said she was concerned about the activities of Jamaat e Islami, an Islamic fundamentalist political party that has a powerbase near the border with Burma and which has previously been accused of terror links, allegations it denies.

She alleged: “Jamaat e Islami is very much involved in terrorist activity, there’s no doubt about it and everybody 
knows that.

“As for refugees, we have a large number trying to get into our country, which is already over-populated.

“How many can we take it? We don’t want any refugees coming to Bangladesh. “The international community should try and find out why these refugees want to come.”

Asked if she was concerned that Jamaat e Islami might be encouraging some refugees, she said: “We have some intelligence reports about it. 

“My government has talked to our ambassador in Myanmar (Burma) and they have informed them about some incidents and our intelligence people and law enforcement agencies are enquiring about it. 

“We are trying to find out the reality.”

Sheikh Hasina, who attended Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremony, also praised Britain and Scotland Yard for helping in the fight against terrorism.

She came to power in 2008 after several years of rule by the military and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, whom 
she accused of being soft on terror.

She said: “Our position is a zero-tolerance to terrorism. Many people were killed between 2001 and 2006 but but since we formed our government we will not allow anybody to use our soil to launch any type of terrorist activity.”

“But once a previous government encouraged them or nursed them, you cannot stop them overnight. 

“We have good relations especially with the British. We have a Joint Task Force on Counter Terrorism and they are training our people and that is really very helpful and I really appreciate that.”

She also thanked UK taxpayers for the £250million of foreign aid sent from Britain every year, cash she says is 
helping her vision to make Bangladesh a “middle income country” by 2021.

She already has a large-scale infrastructure improvement programme in the country and is also working with neighbouring Nepal, India and Bhutan about a massive tourism drive in the region.

She said: “We have the world’s longest naturally sandy beach (at Cox’s Bazar). 

“We want to develop that with lots of beautiful tea gardens areas, so there is a very good possibility to develop this.”

In her meeting with Mr Hague today, the Rohingyas crisis was raised alongside other issues, including trade, migration co-operation and climate change.

Mr Hague said: “The strong roots between our two countries are reflected in our trade relationship where the UK is the largest cumulative investor in Bangladesh. 

“I welcome our co-operation on a range of international issues not least climate change, where Bangladesh plays an important role.”  


Conflict over land triggered riots: Tarun Gogoi

Dismissing claims by his detractors that the ethnic violence in lower Assam was a fallout of infiltration from Bangladesh, chief minister Tarun Gogoi said Muslims in Bodoland are Indian citizens and not Bangladeshis. He said the tussle over land between Bodos and non-Bodos is the main reason behind the clashes.

Gogoi on Friday assured that the non-tribal people in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) tribal belt who have been displaced and are staying in relief camps will not lose the land they have left behind.

"The non-tribals living in the Bodo tribal belt will continue to enjoy their land rights as before," Gogoi said, clearly indicating that bone of contention in the clash was land.

"The conflict is actually conflict of interest over land. BJP is giving a communal colour to it. It is not communal. There are no Bangladeshis in the clash but Indian citizens," he said.

Generally, land in a tribal belt cannot be owned by anyone else but tribals. The Bodo Accord that was signed in 2003 departs from this practice. "There is a special provision in the Bodo Accord which allows non-tribals living in the tribal belt to have land rights. We want the Bodos to develop and move forward, but there is a large number of non-tribals in the BTAD area. This provision in the Accord can be altered only by a new Act," the chief minister said.

He also agreed to protect the land rights of the tribals (read Bodos), who have fled their homes and land in the neighbouring minority-dominated and non-tribal Dhubri district. "No one's land will be taken away. I will ensure that the land rights of the tribals in the non-tribal district are protected even if there is no law to protect them," Gogoi said. There are reports of Muslims occupying villages abandoned by Bodos in Dhubri district.

For the state government, the biggest challenge now is to send the people from relief camps back to their homes. "We have to build confidence among the people so that they return home without fear. A few people are starting to return home but panic exodus is still continuing," Gogoi said.

The number of people fleeing their homes has swelled, forcing authorities to set up more relief camps. "At the moment, we have 270 relief camps and there are 3.92 lakh people in them," chief minister Tarun Gogoi said. There were 211 relief camps and 1.7 lakh inmates on Wednesday. On Thursday, the number of camps went up to 228, while the inmates were nearly three lakh. Gogoi said the large exodus is fuelled by rumours.

The Bodos, who are the biggest tribal group among the 23 notified tribes of the state, have clashed with Muslims and Adivasis five times in the last 60 years and all the conflicts have been based on land sharing. The conflicts may have subsided but the mistrust between the groups continues to remain, which does not put to rest the possibility of clashes in future. The Bodos hardened their stand to attain a separate identity but the other co-existing communities are apprehensive of losing their land.

The non-tribal land owners in the BTAD area comprise Assamese, Koch-Rajbongshis, Adivasis, Nepalis and religion-wise, Muslims.

Friday, July 27, 2012

MYSTERY OVER HUMAYUN’S DEATH : ‘Infection transmitted through food or water’

He was arguably the best among the contemporary story teller. Now his own story must be told with painstaking probing, courage and hindsight. The sad demise of Humayun Ahmed on July 19 at New York’s Bellevue Hospital did not occur due to cancer for which he had undergone treatment since September last year.

According to hospital records, the legendary writer succumbed to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), spurred by a post-surgery infection. The killer infection got transmitted by a virus which, according to experts, might have been injected into his frail metabolism leading to the fatal consequences.

“Although viruses can spread by simple contact, exchanges of saliva, coughing, sneezing and sexual contact, Humayun’s infection was transmitted through the oral route via contaminated food or water,” opined an expert, insisting on anonymity.

This simply implies he may have been poisoned. On July 18, a day before he died, Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative at the UN acknowledged that an ‘unknown virus had attacked the writer, affecting his lungs and liver.’ The oft spoken virus is a phenomenon of which no one was aware of, or prepared for.

Prior to departing New York for Dhaka on May 11, his wife, Meher Afroz Shaon, said the third phase of his treatment would start through the operation at Bellevue Hospital in New York on June 12. “The operation is very important. So the writer wants to meet relatives…to seek blessings,” she added.

When asked about his condition, Shaon exuded confidence. “You can understand, we’ve been allowed to travel to Dhaka as his condition has improved. He will have to stay in the hospital for two weeks after the surgery,” she said.

As the writer returned after 20 days of sojourn in his native land, he found himself afflicted by a new disease. According to Mazharul Islam of Anya Prokash Publications Ltd., who’s a long-time friend of the writer, “On the day of his death, doctors said his kidney and heart were still working well. But soon, his lungs were attacked by a foreign infection.”

How does one succumb to ‘foreign infection’ in the oldest and one of the most acclaimed US hospitals is the mystery that is sprouting speculations, angst, murmurs and conspiracy theories. This is also a hypothesis that’s being probed and gaining convincing credence with each passing moment.

Humayun and his close family members have long been under the spell of an inexplicable dilemma since the banning of his latest novel, Deyal, and the author’s negation to correct his version of the tales of August 15, 1975 that he strove diligently to fictionalize with brutal candidness. The dilemma compounded further due to the government’s pre-emptive move in January to appoint the writer as the special adviser to the Bangladesh mission in New York; aware that the book would be published soon and some of its contents were not palatable to the powers that be.

In hindsight, government’s act of generosity appears superfluous, for the writer had paid for his treatment from September 2011 to January 2012 when the government chipped in. The purported generosity of the government would have been blemish-free had the writer not been on the throes of publishing his first political novel; one which covers the hyper-sensitive Mujib killing episode; a matter of intense passion and preoccupation to the incumbent Prime Minister of the country.

Now, many of Humayun’s well wishers have started to believe that the writer’s negation to rewrite some chapters of Deyal has foisted him face to face with the country’s judiciary as well as the government which had quickly proscribed the book pending to some correction, following the May 15 court ruling.

While in Dhaka, Humayun found the Deyal proscribed for allegedly distorting how the nation’s first president and his family members were murdered in 1975.

Upon arrival at the Shahjalal international airport, famed writer Zafar Iqbal, Humayun’s intimate sibling - who was present in New York during Humayun’s death - confirmed that Humayun “died not of cancer, but of post-surgery virus infection.”

The reiterated claims are profoundly worrying as they irreversibly shift the cause of the writer’s death from cancer to virus infection, and, the transformative anecdote helps propel the plot of his death into a higher trajectory of suspense.

In life, Humayun was often labelled by his fans as a ‘moonstruck fantasist’ due to his obsession with moonlit-night and rain. The ‘moonstruck’ king of romanticism and laughter was not a lunatic, however, as the term would literally imply. A prolific, charismatic author of 322 books and countless drama and cinematic scripts, he had had reasons enough to feel awe-struck and intimidated by the banning saga and what followed.


In the terminal days, he was helpless too; for a legal foil for the ban of his book was offered by a High Court ruling on May 15 after the Attorney General quickly moved to seek the ban upon seeing some fragmented citation of it on May 11 in a vernacular daily. The Attorney General argued that the book ‘misrepresented established facts’ about the August 15 tragedy by not fully conveying the brutality of the killings.

Of particular concern to the government is the narrative of the death of Sheikh Russel, Mujib’s 10-year-old son, who was gunned down at point-blank range while being huddled in a room with his two sisters-in-law. “It was a brutal scene, but it was not depicted properly in the novel,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters at that time. Alam insisted that Russel was with a caregiver (nanny) in another room, not with his sisters-in-law, as the book claimed.

How big a deal that is? And, who had testified where exactly Russel was before being killed, most of the inmates of the house being dead? Above all, are fictions supposed to be the blow-by-blow depiction of facts?

Those questions will never be answered by a coterie of self-gratifying, partisan pundits for whom hobnobbing with the government is more important than seeking truth. An author read by millions and of high stature, Humayun had least expected a concerted onslaught on his writings, although the history of Bangladesh has been re-written many times since the coming to power of the AL-led regime in 2009. He felt thunderstruck when the axe came down hard on his composition too.

Earlier in March, the high court ordered police to censor 17 academics for allegedly distorting the history of the liberation war and maligning Mujib in a school textbook. In January, millions of copies of a textbook were ordered seized after dispute erupted over crediting the heroes of the independence struggle. One of Humayun’s cardinal sins was his portrayal of Colonels Farooque, Rashid, et al - the masterminds of the August 15 coup - as liberation war heroes.

Of course they were heroes in 1971, and, that is the correct version of history. True liberation war heroes are those who’d joined the battle, braved the bullets and shed the blood. Besides, the fabric of history may be woven from facts, writers have their own interpretation of events and occurrences. Humayun, like many others, exercised his chic ingenuity to depict an event as he perceived it. As a veteran in the field, he might have spruced up and fantasized many other anecdotes to captivate readers, although, as yet, we do not know for sure due to the book never having encountered the daylight.
BY :  M. Shahidul Islam.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tears for Humayun Ahmed

Professor Humayun Ahmed, who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from North Dakota State University, and who was one-third scientist, one-third writer, and one-third filmmaker, died at the age of 64 on Thursday night in the United States after a nearly year-long battle against colon cancer. The heart of every Bangladeshi has grown heavier and heavier since his death.

Humayun was a custodian of the Bangladeshi literary culture whose contribution single-handedly shifted the capital of Bengali literature from Kolkata to Dhaka without any war or revolution. The influence of Humayun’s long and distinguished literary career has been incredible. His writing is so influential that his readers not only experience a fulfilling satisfaction upon reading his books, but usually end up becoming fans of his fictional characters, such as Himu, Misir Ali, and Baker Bhai. His creations generate the scent, sounds, and vibrations of feelings and moods, which have proved to be immensely powerful for his readers’ minds. However, in death, Humayun’s celebrity seems likely to exceed his popularity, even at the height of his fame. His funeral, which was held in Dhaka on Tuesday, became a Super Bowl-like event as millions of Bengalis from all walks of life flocked to the Shaheed Minar to bid him farewell.

Humayun’s death has proven that the tragic and completely unexpected passing of an icon familiar to millions can create an emotionally unifying experience for a nation. Bangladesh does not have oil, coal, or fossil fuel, but it’s still more united than many others because it gave birth to a patriot like Humayun Ahmed, whose work was strong enough to emotionally unite all Bangladeshis upon his death. What, then, is our assessment of Humayun’s importance in world literature?

Humayun, who was known for his depiction of the tribulations of ordinary middle-class Bangladeshi life, reached the peak of his fame with the publication of Nondito Noroke (In Blissful Hell) in 1972, which remains one of his most famous works, winning admiration from literary critics, including Dr. Ahmed Sarif. He wrote over 200 fiction and non-fiction books—all of which were bestsellers in Bangladesh. He may be the only writer in the history time whose every book became a bestseller. This achievement alone would probably entitle him to place his name next to Shakespeare. 

Furthermore, Humayun made a huge contribution to the field of fine arts, especially in filmmaking. He is hailed as one of the most influential architects of television drama of all time, authoring landmark sitcoms such as Ei Shob Din Ratri, Bohubrihi, Ayomoy, and Kothao Keu Nei, which featured a fictional character Baker Bhai, who was wrongly convicted and executed. Baker Bhai became such a popular character that before the last episode was aired, thousands of people across the country urged Humayun to change the script just to save his life, the life of a fictional character. This made Humayun a household name, which allowed him a great deal of autonomy for his future projects - motion pictures. His films have covered many themes and genres—addressing such topics as the Bangladesh Liberation War, the middle class crisis, and many socio-economic issues. His first film Aguner Parashmoni, based on the Liberation War of 1971, was a huge success, winning National Film Awards in eight categories, including Best Picture and Best Director. His film, Shyamal Chhaya, was submitted by Bangladesh as an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. As with Satyajit Ray, Zahir Raihan, or Tareque Masud, it is difficult to define in words the effect Humayun had on Bengali films. But he was indisputably the most talented Bengali filmmaker, more so than his three famous predecessors. In fact, I cannot name any other Bengali filmmaker who better illustrated the history of the country’s independence through film; Humayun was ahead of his time. Had Humayun done nothing else, the creation of such films alone would have entitled him to be one of the greatest Bengalis of all time. 

In understanding Humayun’s significance, we must remember that had he not lived, his books and films would never have been created. For this reason, some people even contend that it is Humayun, rather than Tagore or Nazrul, who should really be considered the greatest Bengali of all time. Carried to its logical conclusion, that argument would lead one to place Humayun higher than Tagore or Nazrul. However, I am a little skeptical about accepting such logic. It is true that Bengali literature would have remained piteously incomplete, and even imperfect, without the works of Humayun. However, it is also quite apparent that without the works of Tagore or Nazrul, Bengali literature would have broken up into mutually unintelligible dialects. Hence, it is fair to place Humayun after Tagore and Nazrul.

In fact, I am confident that if anyone conducted a survey to list the five greatest writers of Bengali literature, Humayun would be third, if not first or second. Furthermore, one should consider what others have said about Humayun. Several years ago, I asked Muhammad Yunus how he assessed Humayun’s overall impact, and he replied, “Humayun’s works are the most profound and most fruitful that literature has experienced since the time of Tagore and Nazrul.” Al Mahmud, the poet laureate of Bangladesh, shared with me a similar thought: “One golden age of Bengali literature ended with Tagore and Nazrul and another began with Humayun.” 

Fiction writer Imdadul Haq Milon considered him to be the almighty of Bengali literature, controlling all their actions and thoughts. If so, he is a generous lord, because he created immortal characters, such as Misir Ali and Himu, and they, upon entering our memory, have become more alive than the living. Misir Ali is a rational psychologist committed to unraveling the mysteries around him through logic. On the other hand, Himu, who works with anti-logic, appears to possess strong intuitive power, though he dismisses his intuitions that come true as mere coincidence. While Misir Ali forces us to realize that logic is above emotion, Himu forces us to understand that within ourselves live the better side of our nature which always struggles with our subtle dark side.

Although Humayun created literary fever through his works, which spread all around Bangladesh, unfortunately he still remains as one of the great unsung heroes for those who live outside the Indian subcontinent. With that said, literature, of course, is not all about recognition. In a time when hardly any of the roles are being played correctly in Bangladesh, Humayun played his role of a writer and filmmaker remarkably well. As a result, his name has become synonymous with the greatness of Bengali literature. Hence, to a Bangladeshi, his loss is manifold. He made young people—especially students who had been bred to political passion—understand that there was something more important than politics: reading books, and appreciating the fine arts.  

Humayun may be regarded as one of the world’s most successful writers, but despite his innumerable professional successes, he found it difficult to maintain a harmonious relationship with his first wife. In fact, so pragmatic was Humayun’s approach to love, that when he realized that his 32-year marriage to Gultekin was floundering, he filed for divorce in 2005, and married Meher Afroz Shaon shortly afterwards. Many people have tried to understand Humayun’s behavior through the poems of Nazrul: “I am disorderly and lawless, I trample under my feet all rules and discipline! I dance at my own pleasure; I am the unfettered joy of life.” Did Nazrul’s poem justify Humayun’s decision? The answer can be found in the poetry of Persian poet Rumi, who claimed that no one is a saint by saying, “If you are a saint, you do not belong to the human race”.  Rumi also wrote:

“Stretch your arms; And take hold the cloth of your cloths; With both hands; The cure for pain is in the pain;
Good and bad are mixed. If you do not have both, You do not belong with us”

People are not going to hate Humayun, because he was not a saint. In fact, they love him so much because he was so human. People love the prickly faced Humayun and his childlike search for the magic-story in the forest of Nuhash Palli—now the place of his eternal rest. This is why without Humayun, all Bangladeshis’ lives would be paler and poorer. The fact that Humayun wrote books, and made the sitcoms and films that were the background melody for millions of Bangladeshis’ childhood, gives us the basis to love our motherland. 

This is why it is impossible for 170 million Bangladeshis to hold back their tears, or not to wonder what might have been if he had been able to beat cancer. A poem—similar to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s elegy on the death of John Keats — might be applied even more appropriately to Humayun: 
“Why do you weep for Humayun—thou think he is dead?

Oh, no—he lives as long as the moon lights
Why do you mourn for the Shakespeare of Bangladesh—thou think he is perished?
Oh, no—he never died
He wakes; he walks—and still writes for us
Oh weep not, Oh mourn not
‘Tis death is dead, not Humayun
He lives as long as the sun shines.” 

 

Himu arr nei

On May 29, 2011, on the 60th birthday of arguably one of our greatest actors on stage, television and cinema, Humayun Faridi, Humayun Ahmed, his legendary namesake, wrote a witty and moving tribute to him for one of the vernacular dailies of the country. In it, Ahmed began how he was once told by a journalist that there were five famous Humayun’s in this country – Politician Humayun Rashid Chowdhury, Journalist Ahmed Humayun, poet and academic Humayun Azad, Faridi and himself – and how the journalist would like to write a feature on five of them together. Ahmed, however, held off the journalist for the time being, until, one after another, the Humayuns began to disappear. Ahmed writes: ‘Two out of Haradhan’s five children are left behind. Who knows who amongst the two will fall off first!’


It’s been little over a year since Ahmed wrote that wonderful piece. And we’ve lost both our remaining Humayuns.


It is very difficult for the ardent reader, the television drama fan or the cinema enthusiast to exactly sum up their feelings on the loss of Humayun Ahmed. Ahmed was a magician of words, a dream weaver, a creator of quirky characters and humourous twists, a teller of spectacular tales, a man who could dance over the most profound emotions with light almost butterfly-like steps, a man given to passions, sentiment, and yet a man of exact science. For the last three decades Humayun Ahmed has rained upon us words, stories and emotions. He built a magic world around our mundane existences; he found humour in the most unexpected and ordinary things in our lives. In trying to entertain us, he captured the soul of our existences at different social layers, while the men who embarked on a conscious journey to ‘discover our souls’, churned out boring treatises and tried to dismiss him off as a mere entertainer.

 For anyone growing up in the 1980’s on a steady 9:00pm diet of Bangladesh Television, it is difficult to separate memories of our childhoods from Humayun Ahmed’s creations. There was the family drama ‘Ai Shob din ratri’ and the sitcom style drama that had you in stitches ‘Bohubrihi’. By the time Bangladesh Television aired ‘Ayomoy’, Humayun had established a singularly spectacular dominance over not just the publishing industry but prime time television as well. Mirza Shaheb and his long quiet walk down the corridors, his blind yet wicked mother, his boro bou and choto bou, Hanif – his security guard, the rags to riches story of Kashem Shaheb – have become indelible parts of our memory.


But besides the memorable characters and spectacular tales that Humayun created, there were also the dialogues, the one-liners that refused to leave our lips. A parrot mimicking ‘Tui Razakar’ or the beggar troupe singing ‘Diner nabi Mustafa’ keep on ringing in our ears, despite all the years having gone by.        

His crowning moment on television, however, was the death of the fictional character Baker Bhai in the drama serial ‘Kothao Keu nei’, a moment much reminiscent of the death of the creator of Baker Bhai himself. The entire nation went into frenzy, at first pleading and sending petitions to the author to save the protagonist’s life, then going into a state of literal national mourning, once the author decided to hang Baker Bhai after all, despite playing with their hopes for a little while in the last episode. There were ‘janazas’ held on the death of the imaginary character while hordes of loyal fans attacked the houses of actors who played the character ‘Kuttawali’ – the evil character in the drama, and ‘Bodi’ – the friend who betrays Baker Bhai. 


Over the next two decades Humayun Ahmed defied all logic of a poor, highly illiterate, country not being able to feed its writer, as one after another spectacular commercial success literally chased after him. There were stories about him – that publishers would line up outside his door ready to offer just about anything for a single manuscript, at the very moment he finished it. And most of those stories were true.


At the Ekushey Book Fair every February, stalls that contained an Ahmed title were literally swarmed by people, while their neighbouring stalls looked a distant poor relation. They said publishers were giving him a SUV for sitting through a single day of book signing.


And Humayun Ahmed was prolifically, almost incredulously, productive. He came out with five or six titles every year, but his real legend was built around the two characters – Himu and Misir Ali – the former a Meursault (The Stranger by Albert Camus) or Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin/Alyosha Karamazov–like character who lived outside society or always found his emotions in conflict with society. Both characters appeared in numerous stories, and often explored contemporary social issues in his signature light-hearted style – ‘Holud Himu Kalo RAB’ – being a perfect example. 


It is also during this time that Humayun Ahmed developed many of his detractors. They said he had ‘sold his soul to the devil’, that he repeated himself much too often, that he played with cheap sentiment etc. Some of the criticism may be true about some/many of his books during this period, as some of his novellas are like 60 to 90 page-odd breezers, which nonetheless carry a few masterstrokes, but too thin to be considered masterpieces.


They remind one of the legendary habits of famous painters at the height of their fame, like a Salvador Dali or even a Picasso, who were content to put a few brush strokes to their signatures, and set a price to it. We remember Dali and Picasso on the entire body of their work, and not just on each individual pieces, and there is no reason to doubt that in time his lighter work will fade off into oblivion only for the golden parts to strike out better.


The great French writer Honore de Balzac, after all, was considered an author of cheap, almost semi-pornographic fiction, during his lifetime. Look what posterity discovered in him.


Some of the criticism seems to also stem from the fact that he did not try to deliberately handle socio-political issues, that his stories apparently did not contain ‘messages.’


To set the record straight: Humayun Ahmed tried to tell, and told, a great story. He dealt with whatever issue came in the process of telling his story, and not the other way around, where political and social messages are veiled as stories. It is not his fault, and instead his great gift, that he could say simply, in the simplest of languages, what he wanted to say. Not all great literature read like ‘Ulysses’ or deal with war, poverty and hunger.


Unfortunately, for our country, where politics has often managed to hijack other professions – like journalism and education – the critics seem to think that Humayun’s literature, or for that matter anyone else’s, should always be serving the purpose of politics and society. Well, there are many great examples across the world where many great authors did not walk that walk.


In the last decade of his life, Humayun Ahmed literally gave himself a new life. He married for the second time a woman half his age, Meher Afroz Shaon, and had two children with her. This, in a conservative society like ours, gave rise to great controversy. Seeing that Humayun was clearly very happy in his new personal life, and yet by his own admission had hurt his near and dear ones through this act, it would be best for the loyal reader to remember that a writer gives to his readers and fans his creations to enjoy, analyse and judge, and not their personal lives.   


It was, however, also during this period, despite intense forays into film-making, that Ahmed wrote some of his best fiction. Three of his more recent works – Modhanno, Matal Hawa and Jochona o Jananir Golpo – stand witness to the author’s efforts to push his work on to a bigger canvas.


They are based respectively on the events of the partition of 1947, the mass upsurge of 1969 and the liberation war of 1971. In them, through his signature dose of quirky, intense, feisty characters Humayun captures the essence of the life and existence of people during those periods, while the actual historical events of the time, and in the case of the two latter books – the personal experiences of the author himself, are magically weaved into the narrative of the story.


In Modhanno, Humayun draws a vivid picture of Hindu-Muslim existence in the pre-partition period, without ever resorting to descriptions of violence, hatred or racism. In Matal Hawa, he tells the story of a household and the events taking place in them in 1969, which either have an eerie resemblance to political events taking place that year, or are indirectly related to them.


Jochona o Jananir Golpo, meanwhile, tells the individual stories of ordinary men, women and children who went to war or were compelled by circumstances to go to war, of the people who suffered because of the war, of opportunists who betrayed, of the great men of the period - Sheikh Mujib, Zia, Kader Siddiqi, Tajuddin.


It is a story of each one’s war completely unrelated to the others’, and yet it is the same war. Some people doubt the historical accuracy of the stories told in the book. True, Humayun Ahmed did slip once in a while when it came to informative accuracy, but he never slipped when it came to emotional accuracy.


Never will you read a better two page fictional description of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that so powerfully captures the magic he wound around his people at the heights of his power in early 1971. And towards the end of all three books, when all the separate narratives come together, Humayun Ahmed stamps his class as a great storyteller with spectacular endings to each book.


While the nation breaks into grief and mourns, one cannot help but notice the efforts of some of the ‘mourners’, harshest critics of Humayun during his life, at one end trying to grab a slice of the pie and at another trying to remind people that somehow Humayun was producer of ‘cheap’ literature.


For me personally, the three books mentioned above helped me understand, comprehend, and most importantly, in many ways, relive the periods that were dealt with in the book, which has such an enormous bearing on my life, though I had never been a part of it. Ever since I read those books I’ve looked at every person who lived through those times with a different eye. If that is not a purpose and achievement of a great author, I do not know what is.


Besides with just a few lines of description Ahmed could create a Himu, Misir Ali, Baker Bhai, Nandailer Yunus, Khadok and many other men and women – men and women who never existed and yet are more real than real men and women.


Ahmed could not just write in a simple language, he spoke directly to your heart, he was like a personal best friend to his readers who only existed through his words. And he explored human nature – low lifes and murderers, mean housewives and philandering men, rebels and anti-socials, historical men and periods, all in the fabric of the typical Bengali family and his signature quirky characters who could never shed the light-heartedness and humour in them. It seems Humayun’s crime, in the eyes of his critics, is that he could entertain as much as he could intellectualise.


On his passing away, there is no better way to describe the loss, then to say it just feels extremely sad. There will no longer be words raining down on us. Our favourite characters will cease to grow. That familiar voice will no longer be speaking to our hearts. There will be no more one-liners to use in our conversations. If Humayun could himself tell this as a story – a story of his passing away and disappearing from the lives of his readers – he would probably name the book: Himu arr nei.

BY :   Mubin S Khan.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Japan, World Bank give Dhaka lesson in diplomacy

It is interesting that some ardent supporters of the ruling party are coming out of denial over the Padma Bridge fiasco and admitting that this government has messed up its diplomacy badly. An editor who is well known for his pro-ruling party sentiments said on a TV talk show recently that he was surprised that even India that could have put in some strong words for Bangladesh in its fight against the WB over the cancellation of the Padma Bridge loan preferred to let Bangladesh fight its battle alone. Judging by the array of contradictory statements from the government leaders in languages both undiplomatically and unparliamentarily on the Padma Bridge, it appears that the government is both embarrassed and confused.
 
 Early in its term, this government wasted special friendship with China built painstakingly since 1975 ironically because it has bent over backwards to please India that has now failed to come to its rescue over the Padma Bridge.  China would have perhaps come to Bangladesh’s aid if relations with it were as warm as under previous governments. The government is in an open and self imposed fight with the US that it has accused of conspiring against Bangladesh at the instigation of Dr. Mohammad Yunus. Recently, the government accused Germany for critical comments of the German Foreign Minister on human rights issues. The British have also expressed strong reservations on issues of human rights and governance. The other European and the EU Ambassadors do so regularly. Thus when the government needed support on the PB loan issue, there was no friendly hand in sight. 

The reason for those governments’ unhappiness is simple. The government, caught in a cobweb, is failing to put personal issues behind to lead the country ahead on issues of national interests to build bridges and friendship with foreign nations and institutions. It is intriguing that why a government in desperate need of global support for advancing its national interests should fail to use Dr. Mohammad Yunus’ influence for the purpose? Instead it chose accuse Yunus of conspiring to influence the US and the WB against it and cancel the loan for Padma Bridge. Surprisingly, the government has chosen to humiliate the Noble Laureate knowingly that such action would not like by important countries and global leaders.
 
When this government took up issues with Dr. Yunus, it said that there were principles that were more important than a Noble Laureate’s position and importance. It called him “blood sucker of the poor” and brought corruption charges against him. None of the accusation was proven and Dr. Yunus came out clean. In fact, the Government’s attempts to humiliate him did not do its image abroad any good. In the process, the government ended on the wrong side of Dr. Yunus’ long list of powerful friends abroad.
 
If the government had not taken its fight with Dr. Yunus in the media, perhaps a lot of the diplomatic damage would have been avoided. When individuals as powerful as a US Secretary of State make a request, it is simple common sense to accept the request or if the government has an issue, decline that request diplomatically. For some mysterious reasons, this government chose to turn down all requests from powerful global leaders on Dr. Yunus with contempt. It appeared that it was relishing the attention of powerful world leaders and nations on their attempts to humiliate Dr. Yunus not realizing what damage it was causing to the pursuit of the country’s interests abroad.
 
Unfortunately, the government repeated the same mistakes as it made with Dr. Yunus with the cancellation of the PB loan by the World Bank exposing its bankruptcy in diplomacy. The government leaders went overboard in abusing the World Bank in a manner that made little sense except if one believed that such sycophantic actions were meant to please the Prime Minister. In a series of confusing and hard to believe responses to the cancellation, the Finance Minister attempted what was poor diplomacy. 
 
The government nevertheless continued to accuse the WB of corruption while absolving itself of the charges brought against it by the Bank. Throughout, the WB refused to be drawn into one sided vilification of it by senior leaders of the Government including the Prime Minister. Perhaps emboldened by the WB’s silence to respond, the Finance Minister suggested that the WB could go ahead and elaborate the charges of corruption against the government to back the Prime Minister who said that there was no corruption in her government over PB project and that instead the WB should answer charges of corruption against it.
 
On another level, the Foreign Minister, after a meeting with the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister in Tokyo where she had gone to attend an international conference on Afghanistan, said that she was assured that the PB loan could be “under a new framework of donor arrangement”. A Foreign Ministry statement issued on her meeting went on to state that “Japan would pursue the donor groups, including the ADB, to embark on a negotiated settlement in respect of the project”. Clearly, the Ministry was in a hurry to convey the good news to the Prime Minister that the Japanese are with the Government of Bangladesh and not the World Bank on the PB issue. The Ministry did not wait to consider that a public announcement that Japan would follow a different path than the WB would embarrass it. 
 
Both the statements have turned out to be diplomatic faux pas. The Resident Director of the WB Ellen Goldstein tactfully underlined the Finance Minister’s faux pas in an interview with a leading English Daily in Dhaka. She said that the WB would not release anything about the PB to the media on principle. She suggested that Bangladesh could disclose all evidence it submitted to it on all aspects of the charges of corruption, including names thus putting the Finance Minister in a spot who said earlier that the Government would not disclose those evidences to protect the WB’s confidentiality. She nevertheless did not lose the opportunity to mention that the WB contacted the Bangladesh Government only after it was given credible evidence of corruption verified through multiple sources that the Canadian Company SNC Lavalin had given bribes aimed at winning contracts for constructing the PB with funds from WB/ABD/JICA.
 
In her written interview, she refrained from answering names of those charged with corruption concerning the amount paid by the Canadian company to win contracts. Nevertheless, she left little doubts that the WB’s case has been based on clear evidence that the Bangladesh government sidetracked. She also said that although the cancellation would not affect WB’s aid programme for Bangladesh, and added: “the government’s weak response to evidence of corruption in a flagship operation adds to mounting concerns about a deteriorating governance environment in Bangladesh, and this will be reflected in our programme going forward.” Thus by some bad diplomatic moves, the Finance Minister has put the government where the opposition wants it; a demand to make public the WB’s correspondences.
 
Like the World Bank Country Director, the Japanese Ambassador Shiro Sadoshima spoke to underline the foreign ministry’s faux pas. He chose to do so in a seminar arranged by the Diplomatic Correspondents’ Association of Bangladesh. What he said destroyed the hopes that the Foreign Ministry had built based on the Foreign Minister’s visit to Tokyo. He said that Japan would wait for the government’s investigations of the WB’s allegations of corruption to end before deciding on its involvement in the PB. The Ambassador also said that the construction of the PB is theoretically possible from domestic sources but highly unlikely to happen.
 
The Foreign Ministry failed to consider what is obvious to those who know Japan and its foreign policy goals and objectives in building hopes that it would come on Bangladesh’s side parting with the World Bank. Japan would never cut links with WB where the latter has walked away from a mega project because of corruption. Further, the Ministry also seemed unaware that in Japan’s aid diplomacy, the question of funding any project where there is even the slightest suspicion of corruption is absolutely impossible. Among the aid providing countries, Japan has the highest ethical standards and its parliament is the most effective watch dog against corruption.  
 
The Ministers, by some poor diplomacy, and the leaders of the ruling party by some insensible and mindless statements have pushed the government into uncharted waters. It is time they shut up and deal with the PB issues outside the media to avoid more serious disaster lurking in wing. They would do themselves, their party, the government and their leader a great service if they cared to wait and see what would happen to the case in the Canadian court and the fund that SNC Lavalin has allegedly paid to officials in the Bangladesh Government based on which the World Bank has cancelled the loan.
 
The World Bank Country Director and the Japanese Ambassador, in particular the latter, have shown what diplomacy is about. They have made some very strong statements about this government without use of any undiplomatically or unparliamentarily language. There are warnings obliquely mentioned in their statements about the case in the Canadian court, which the government is not even focusing. Our negotiators and those conducting diplomacy on behalf of this government would do well to study their style of diplomacy and their statements to see the mess they have made and the dangers that they have alluded to. The most perplexing aspect of this government’s negotiations is after all the abuse that its leaders have heaped on the WB, the Finance Minister is still expecting the WB to fund the PB. 
 
If this is not perplexing enough, the Malaysians have on their own said that they would start the project by October while an Australia-based Chinese company has offered to build the bridge with a financial option better than the World Bank! In the midst of the air of surrealism created wittingly or otherwise by the government leaders over the Padma Bridge, the only sensible statements that have found their way to the media so far have been those of the Japanese Ambassador and the World Bank Country Director. 

BY :  M. Serajul Islam. The writer is a former career diplomat and retired Ambassador to Japan and Egypt.

PADMA BRIDGE : Hunting the truth

“Truth is stranger than fiction,” it is said. Yet man’s search for truth is never ending. Gautam Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree in search of the truth. Others strive to find it through reasoning, fact –findings and evidences.
 
To ‘hunt for truth’ is a dangerous proposition and that is what Shiro Sadoshima, the Japanese Ambassador has suggested as perhaps, the last resort to unearth the facts which underlie the myth of the Padma Bridge. 

While exchanging views with the Diplomatic correspondents’ Association at the National Press Club, he said: “We are discussing the financing issue among ourselves as our tax payers would raise question about our spending”. He then added: “Bangladesh’s position in CPI (corruption precision index) is not recommendable.”

The democratic government in Bangladesh, he said, is not functioning properly and from the investor’s point of view, it is not a good thing. He suggested that formulating policies about governance, integrity and corruption is vitally important and when these policies would be in place, it would bring good results. Commenting on the allegations of corruption that had come up in the run up to the finalization of the World Bank credit, he said: “There are allegations out there and you have to deal with it. Basically we are in a process of making our position”, he said, adding: “Your government’s action will help my government take a decision. We are watching very closely what actions are taken to hunt the truth”.
 
Replying to questions whether the construction would be possible with Bangladesh’s own finance, he briefly remarked: “logically possible but not viable.” Substantiating his statement he argued that the construction of the bridge is not the only purpose. What matters is the service to the people. Financing is important in providing the service as the government has to keep it at a reasonable price level. If the cost of financing is high, the government would have to provide huge amount of subsidy. “Those subsidies”, he said, “would kill government. We are watching that portion”. 
 
The views of the Japanese Ambassador, our biggest development partner over the last four decades, spell out the multi-faceted implications of the failure of the Bangladesh government to strike the biggest credit deal ever with the World Bank . First , the failure has hit the 16 districts of the country’s south-western region very hard. 
 
Here the proportion of population living below the poverty line is about five percent higher than the national average. Lack of connectivity with the country’s all powerful and all- embracing civil –political bureaucracy in Dhaka is primarily responsible for the existing disparity which will grow further if the under-developed areas are not connected to the centre with a viable network of communication .
 
Second, after this unforeseen turn of events for which the same unwieldy bureaucratic machine is largely responsible, Bangladesh’s position in the Corruption Perception Index is no longer recommendable to the taxpayers of the donor countries who need to understand how the investment mix will change overtime and where it will land. If they are not happy with the risk involved and if the funds are misplaced and raise questions, they simply decline participation. 
 
Third, in the existing circumstances it will not be sufficient for the government to simply play out the math, continuing to pick up kid’s Tiffin money and threatening to build the bridge with ministers’ one day’s pay as the government loses high-profile contests in the eye of the world community. It may be able to build the bridge even with the money of some unknown tycoon in Malaysia, but that way the government will never prove it’s innocence: that nobody in government or connected with it is involved in the corruption game. The Padma Bridge issue has created a distance between the government and the international community and that distance may further widen, which is fatal. The government badly needs to pitch down-to-earth, be substantive and specific to the purpose, get gritty and show willingness to scuff its shoes in pursuit of meaningful understanding with the comity of nations of which we are an integral part.
 
Fourth, stepping up understanding is more complicated than just playing the game of politics to win elections. It’s really the big world out there. And the nature of the challenges each nation is facing is not only bilateral and multilateral, but trans-national as well. The biggest challenge before the government is to present an affirmative agenda, not a reactive one. There are as many electoral constituencies within the country as there are countries and world bodies with which we have relationships. So at the end of every day we have to find out whether we have maintained proper relationship with everyone and shown enough courtesy. We must keep an eye on the long term trend because the global community is working toward a coherent goal. None will wait for us if we falter or fail to catch up.
 
So, there is a matrix of issues involved in each of the international communications and it is surprising that the Foreign Ministry has not spoken a word on the issue. Relationship with the world is critical to the formulation of state policy having the perspective of diplomacy when decisions are made. We have invested time and effort over the last forty years to build up relationship with different states and important world organizations. 
 
As a sovereign state we may insist over the prerogative that we are entitled to conduct our affairs following a go-alone policy. But when we assert such a prerogative we disconnect ourselves with rest of the world and lose the battle straightaway. It is, therefore, essential that we think along the same line as rest of the world thinks. 
 
We have to go and meet, talk and listen to manage all our relationships. What matters most is the trust and confidence; with that we can always find the common ground to work on. And there will be a more likely convergence if the country or organization we are talking with feels that we have developed a cordial relationship. We have spent an enormous amount of time and energy just building those relationships. Now it is all about having enough trust between the partners so that misunderstandings do not occur and there can be greater appreciation of each others’ point of view.
 
At the moment there is a grey area where the national interest or the public interest is not self-evident. It is important that we re-establish the relationship with the World Bank so that there is a measure of respect in negotiations especially in a situation when a crisis has developed. In the Padma Bridge case, the government must prove that it acted “in the public interest” and not for “private gain” of certain individuals.
 
Economist Thomas Sowell very aptly described how people work differently for different purposes: “Those spurred on greed may well drive throughout the night or take short-cuts over rough terrain, while those operating “in the public interest are more likely to proceed on a less hectic pace and by safer or more comfortable routes.”
 
Unfortunate though , the government, in the instant case, has chosen the rough terrain for a short-cut which is not a safe route for the people of this country.
 
BY :   Abu Hena.

Myanmar Shouldn't lead the Rohingyas to secession


If the Myanmar government doesn’t accept the Rohingyas as their citizen let a separate independent state for the Rohingyas be created in the Arakan region.

 Myanmar President U Thein Sein’s open confession that he desires to expel all the Rohingyas from Arakan uncovers one true that it was the Myanmar government that perpetrated the recent episode of communal rioting that killed and wounded and displaced unspecific number of people. According to Mr. Thein Sein, as “the Rohingyas don’t belong to their ethnicity so they are illegal and hence would be deported if any third country would accept them” and in his language “This is what we are thinking in the solution to the issue.”

Such irresponsible utterance of Mr. Thein Sein indicates that he and his associates is the main architect of the planted massacre against the relatively peaceful Rohingyas. The episode of so-called rape of a Buddhist woman allegedly by Rohingya youths was nothing but a pretext. Such conclusion is further strengthened seeing role of Myanmar security forces, who instead of protecting the Rohingyas sided with the Buddhist rioters. It means it was a state-sponsored massacre and the entire government of the Thein Sein should be prosecuted in the International Court of Justice for their crime against humanity.

On the other hand, claim of Myanmar President is contrary to history. There are enormous historical evidences and records to disprove his claim that the Rohingyas are illegal intruders. Arakan virtually is an extended cultural, linguistic and religious unit of ancient Bengal. As a natural Physiographic unit, the whole region of Arakan is separated from the rest of Myanmar by Yuma range running north to south. It is close to Bengal in comparison to mainland Myanmar where Muslims reside since over one thousand years. The medieval Bengali literature flourished in Arakan. The literary works of Daulat Kazi, Alawal, Mordon, Nassrulla Khan, etc., bear the testimony of Bengali Muslim predominance in the region.

Earlier The Arab Muslims first came in to contact with Arakan through trade and commerce during the 8th century A.D. and since then Islam started spreading in the region. After the advent of Islam in Arabia, Muslim traders, preachers, pirs, saints, darvish from Arabia, Iraq, Persia and other regions of central Asia gradually thronged the region. Moreover, the legendary Hanifar Tanki and Khayafurir Tanki (both are shrines) in the Mayu territory between the rivers Kaladan and Naf, the shrines of “Babazi Shah Monayam of Ambari” and “Pir Bader Shah” (Badr-al-Din Allamah), situated on the coast of the Bay of Bengal at Akyab, all bear evidence of the arrival of Muslim saints in Arakan in the early period of history. Muslim traders and preachers settled in the region that subsequently spread Islam among the locals in Arakan. The Rohingyas are the descendants of those Muslims. History says, Arakan was an independent country for centuries and the Burmese Buddhists invaded Arakan and during the British rule the region remained with Rangoon.

So the Rohingyas are not newcomers or intruders in Arakan. They are Muslims, they speak Bengali, still there is no scope that they originated from the territory which comprises Bangladesh today. But a few people of Bangladesh territory went to the region in search of work who married the local women and fathered children.

No government, other than Thein Sein, earlier ever claimed that the Rohingyas were illegal intruders in Myanmar. In fact, there is no scope to brand them as illegal intruders, as they are the original residents of this region, which was engulfed by the Buddhist settlers after Burmese invasion. Most importantly, the Rohingyas actively participated in the independence movement of Burma. Like all other Myanmar nationals they participated in all national and regional elections held in different phases of time. Even the former successive Myanmar governments signing agreements with Bangladesh facilitated the return of most Rihiingya refugees who crossed the border in 1978.

Now Thein Sein cannot reverse or bury history. In fact, he invokes a fatal game. If the Rohingyas, due to their marginality in all respects, including population and economy, are treated as illegal intruders in Arakan where they live for over thousands of years, then none is legal anywhere in the world. If his utopian theory is accepted it will be an example and whole world will face unprecedented chaos and rivalry as the majority will claim that the minority people are illegal intruders. His audacious statement to confine the Rohingyas to refugee camp and ultimately to deport them to a third country simply invites problem not for Myanmar, but for other countries, particularly for Bangladesh. Despite repeated anti-Rohingya genocide since 1942, they remained clam and loyal to Myanmar Union. But the irresponsible utterance of Thein may change entire scenario. He simply provokes the Rohingays to be armed and unruly to wage war against the non-Rohingyas now living in Arakan.

The expansionist powers around the world may avail of the situation that will seriously cause Myanmar and beyond. Sein should come to his sense that he doesn’t live in an age of darkness or barbarity or isolation. He should leave his military, better to say, dictatorial mindset and communality and stand for democracy, humanity and human rights, above all reality. He should repent and seek apology for such aggressive and inhuman utterance and take appropriate step immediately to rehabilitate all the Rohingyas in their homeland with equal status and privileges who are scattered in many countries of the world, including Bangladesh and end all types of discriminatory draconian laws and rules that were imposed on them in recent years.

The Myanmar leadership should come to its sense. They made crime snatching away all the rights of the Rohingyas, including their state-identity, voting rights, rights of having children, marriage, and all other privileges what they should enjoy as the nationals of Myanmar. Their problems seldom get international media coverage as they are marginal in number (around one million), and Muslims in faith. The international community remained, as if, ignorant of their problems, for decades. International community cried for democracy even awarded a Nobel Peace Prize to Aun Sun Shuki for her struggle for democracy, but paid no heed to the causes of the Rohingyas that led the Rohingyas to be persecuted by the predominantly Buddhist community under a so-called democratically elected government of Sein. Now the time has come to solve this problem once for all.

If the Myanmar government doesn’t accept the Rohingyas as their citizen let a separate independent state for the Rohingyas be created in the Arakan region with its capital in Akyab. Such tiny state has already been created for the religiously and ethnically minority people of East Trimor. The international community should ask Myanmar government what option they prefer whether they are ready to accept the Rohingyas with full status as Myanmar nationals or form a separate state in Arakan out of Myanmar. There is no other solution to the problem. If they choose the first option they (Myanmar government) are to pledge with a guarantee that such massacre will never occur again against the Rohingyas or any other marginal community now living in Myanmar.

Being a neighboring country Bangladesh can’t ignore the tragic state-sponsored persecution against the Rohingyas. Bangladesh government should genuinely evaluate the inner mindset of Myanmar and lodge strong protest against it, as Myanmar President points his finger towards Bangladesh as their ancestral abode what is totally contrary to historical facts and documents. There is little scope for Bangladesh to remain silent or try to solve the problem through bilateral dialogue that will simply prolong the problem and misery of the Rohingya people. Bangladesh should mend and warm up its cold relations with the Muslim and democratic world, ASEAN region, Japan and Australia and particularly ask China to bridle Myanmar. Initiative should be taken to table the issue before the regional and international forums. It is no longer a bilateral issue. Our passive role and tolerance made the Myanmar arrogant and believe that we are too weak to face Myanmar in any level. We should reverse such fancy conclusion of the Myanmar rulers. Rohingyas have rights to live in their homes in Myanmar, and Myanmar is obliged to create and provide congenial atmosphere in Arakan region for the honorable repatriation of the Rohingya refugees or create a separate independent homeland for them in Arakan what is actually belonged to them.*

BY :   Mohammad Zainal Abedin. : Email: noa@agni.com

Humayun laid to rest

Humayun Ahmed has been laid to rest at his favourite retreat at Nuhash Palli in Gazipur on Tuesday.

Thousands of people including his fans, relatives and friends thronged Nuhash Palli to say 'good bye' to the popular writer who captivated them for nearly four decades.

As Humayun was buried, rain, which had fascinated the writer most in his lifetime, poured down incessantly.

Humayun's elder son Nuhash led the pallbearers who gave their shoulders and placed Humayun in the grave. Nuhash was wearing a Panjabi of blue colour, the colour his father related with rainy season in many of his fictions.

Humayun's daughters Sheela and Nova, second wife Meher Afroz Shaon and her sons Nishad and Ninit attended the burial along with the writer's two brothers – Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and Ahsan Habib – and two sisters.

Following family's decision early morning on Tuesday to bury Humayun at Nuhash Palli, the ambulance carrying Humayun's remains left BIRDEM mortuary. The ambulance with Shaon and her sons aboard reached Nuhash Palli at 12:05pm.

Nuhash, Sheela and Nova, Humayun's children with his first wife Gultekin, reached their before the ambulance came.

Fans started to throng Nuhash Palli as soon as the first light of the day appeared and about a kilometre of road stretching from Nuhash Palli to Pirujali village was filled with people.

All of them took part in the writer's last namaj-e-janaza conducted by the Imam of a local mosque Mozibur Rahman. The writer was laid to rest in his grave dug out at Humayun's favourite part of Nuhash Palli, Lichu Tola.

Humayun died on July 19 at a New York hospital after battling with Cancer for about ten months. His first janaza was held in United States followed by the one held at Jatiya Eidgah on Monday.

His burial site selection saw division among family members. Shaon claimed Humayun's last wish was to be buried at Nuhash Palli while the writer's three elder children from his first wife wanted their father to be buried at a place in Dhaka easily accessible by all.

Zafar Iqbal informed the media about the decision of burying his brother at Nuhash Palli at 2:30 am Tuesday saying they did not want to get Humayun's burial delayed anymore. 

 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Humayun Ahmed: When the author and the reader became one

Humayun Ahmed’s body belonged to the writer but the soul belonged to us. The man who for nearly four decades had painted with words the middle-class sensibilities of an entire people has passed away. It was not just grief for the departed but pain of the knowledge that no writer shall probably ever again depict so well what was in essence our own face, our fate, us.
On July 23rd we buried us.

* * *
Few deaths have been mourned this way in our history. A writer however great is limited by the responsibility to create, make sense, convey beauty of the craft — the very nature of his art. But Humayun Ahmed transcended that limit not through art but by writing in the same rhythm of the beating heart of his readers. His gift as a writer is not the point because he had become his readers through his work — the image the people had of themselves. They read him to affirm, confirm and ultimately validate the sprit and notion of a people.

Again, he was us.

* * *
Many years ago, in the mid ‘70s when his fame was just being established, he had in an interview said that his writing was unexpected. He was a brilliant student, better than brilliant a chart toper. His preparation was for the life of an academic. But he had become a writer and it had changed his life. He gave up that world to become a full-time writer and filmmaker and shifted his space.

It was also a transition for a man who was so dearly held in so many lives, a challenge to his own image. The academic who also wrote novels changed and became the new Bangladeshi, a far more dramatic character than the older image of the scribe who is slightly helpless, the harmless kurta-pajama type we are used to imagining. By adopting a new lifestyle, he killed the stereotype of the Bengali author. There were critics of that but as the subsequent events of his life show, he had gone beyond them all.

* * *
What prepared him for this role? He came from an enormously gifted family whose father was killed in 1971. He spent a part of the war days as a Dhaka University student, seeing firsthand the terror of that year. But he emerged with a great sense of the people in distress and joy and related to the extraordinary power of those who survive.

The events of 1971 were key to the understanding of his people and when he began to write, he became the writer who had as if read almost every personal diary that had been written. Art at some point of time became almost irrelevant because he was not doing literature but writing our autobiographies.

* * *
This was not skill but a gift and one cannot argue with that nor perhaps locate it in the literary world. He not only wrote stories that brought to life the nuances of the middle-class — educated, aspiring, agonized, dreaming but often not in control — he knew what the maladies of his class were. His readers knew that it was a mine where the treasures of their own self would be found. His two most noted characters — Misir Ali and Himu — are an amalgam of such insights as they traverse the dark part of the spirit and mind often in conflict with each other. It is no accident that Misir Ali explores the psyche trying to live with the normal, abnormal and the paranormal in the same plane.

It is no accident that Himu is capable of enormous internal conflict and absurd behaviour confounding the very same society and people that had given birth to him. It is by bringing together these elements that are common in our society that the author constructed the new world. In some ways, the author was like the fabled French author George Simenon, whose character Inspector Maigret tries to solve cases but in actuality is holding a mirror up to show who they all were. We shall never know where the characters ended and the author began. And that mystery made him so addictive.

* * *
Humayun Ahmed documented the rising middle-class more successfully than any writer in Bangladesh. He could communicate with his readers in an almost supernatural way. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay of an earlier era connected with the readers but not with images of their own world. Humayun Ahmed took the ordinary lives and made them look outstanding. He made the mundane fascinating and in doing so anointed the world of the real with the glory and permanence of fiction. Few writers have tried that, even fewer have been so successful.

* * *
Somewhere in some space the writer, the readers and the characters all met and each took the cloak of the other and became a little bit of each other. We mourn something far more significant than the passing away of a writer; we grieve the death of our collective imagination that was personified by this man. The time for a critical review of his work will be done later. Today it is about the sadness of his death. He and his readers had become one in his fiction. Today we bury that both.
Goodbye.

BY : Afsan Chowdhury.