Hirok Rajar Deshey: Ray's allegory comes true |
Dhaka had gone crazy over hosting the thirteenth annual Saarc Summit.
Bangladesh's accomplishment in hosting this summit seems to function as a yardstick to the current regime's success, given our late president Ziaur Rahman's pioneering role in initiating this regional cooperation. As a child, Saarc meant nothing more to me than watching a bunch of TV programs, extravagant parades, and big paintings of state officials going up all over the streets.
As a grown up adult the summit seemed to bring alive nothing short of Satyajit Ray's allegory of Hirok Rajar Deshey (In the Land of the Diamond King).
For those who have not seen the film, I shall summarize the story.
Hirok was a land blessed by the abundance of natural resources such as coal and diamonds. Hirok remained prosperous until the King became morally corrupt. Hiroker Raja or the King of Hirok appointed a wizard to run experiments in the Jantar Mantar room until he discovered an unique machinery capable of Mogoj Dholai or Brain Wash.
The King composed different mantras, and installed them in the machine for different segments of the population.
For the students the King wrote: Jaanar Kono Shesh Nai, Jaanar Cheshta Breetha Tai (There is no end to learning, thus learning is pointless) or Lekha Pora Kore Jei, Oonahaar-e More Shei (Those who educate themselves will perish in hunger).
For the peasants he wrote: Bhor Pet Nao Khai, Raaj Kor Deeya Chai(Though you may go with an empty stomach, you must pay tax).
Finally, for the entire population the King wrote a common mantra: Jai Jaabe Jaak Praan, Hiroker Raja Bhogobaan! (We hail the King of Hirok even if we lose our lives!).
Statecraft became that much easier in Hirok due to the clever usage of the Mogoj Dholai machine, and the King decided to hold a conference with all the neighbouring heads of states to show off his success in reforming the country. So the preparations went on in Hirok for the conference, and it looked very similar to Dhaka preparing for the Saarc summit.
Hiroker Raja or the King of Diamond Land appointed his armed forces to push out of the city all the poor and hungry in ragged clothes into an area out of sight from the conference guests. Roads were cleared, schools dismissed, those not brain washed hunted down and killed or chased out of the city. Hirok, just like Dhaka, was being carefully constructed to depict exactly what the King wanted to hold up as the placard of their success story.
Restricting the beggars from certain zones, abruptly demanding people to stay confined in their homes, putting a curfew on people traveling into Dhaka city, pushing rickshawallahs to the margin, sealing off busy market places like Kawran Bazar, and closing down of major roads no doubt create a hindrance for our already struggling economy, especially for the working class, and small traders. Thousands of poor people had to go days without earning, especially as everyone rushes back into the city after the Eid holiday.
The hunger and suffering of our people rendered invisible by the colourful portraits and flags, the flashy cars of our state officials, and the few glimmering roof tops of Dhaka city. The Saarc guests did not see the real Dhaka, but one that was carefully constructed. Moments like this, we are forced to notice the widening gap between the mass, and the elite in the already problematic landscape of South Asian nationalism.
Nationalist politics during the British period, and the post 1947 development schemes of sovereign South Asian nations have been criticized by the contemporary historians of South Asia, especially those in West Bengal organizing under the banner of the Subaltern Studies Collective with the philosophy of unraveling the active involvement in the nationalist politics of peasants, workers, women, and other marginalized groups.
As the Subaltern Studies Collective points out, nationalist politics is inherently problematic in South Asia, since it fails to acknowledge the contribution of the masses. The historians argue that the result of such elitist interpretation and operation of the nationalist movement ends in a historic failure of excluding the masses from the centre of nationalist politics, and subsequently from the contemporary development agendas.
Recent historiography of South Asia, therefore, attempts to mitigate the gap between the mass and the elite in intellectual terms, as the ideological gap between the mass and the elite is identified as one of the most prominent stumbling blocks in our current development process. However, in present day Bangladesh there is no noticeable effort, either in the intellectual arena or in the government programmes to bridge the gap between the elite and the masses. Moreover, our status quo is limiting the sky, and the preparation for the Saarc Summit stood as a monument of the ocean-wide gap growing between those in power and those without it.
If the Subaltern Studies Collective is to question the elitist involvement of leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, and Jinnah who literally traveled the length and breadth of South Asia, then what has to say about our recent leaders, who are in power just for the monetary gain of remaining in politics?
Partha Chatterjee wrote, in the case of South Asian nationalism, the intellectuals led and the masses followed, but unfortunately in today's Bangladesh, not even the intellectuals like Gandhi, Jinnah, or Nehru are leading, but it is a group of emotionally and philosophically barren power-hungry, aggressive, and violent men and women who are leading, and some of us who are brainwashed are following, and others fleeing the country.
The four-party alliance is very similar to the happy engagement between the Jantar Mantar wizard and the egoistic King from Hirok Rajaar Deshey. However, the day seems far off when the mass people of Bangladesh will be able to brainwash the King back in joining hands with them to raise the slogan of Dori Dhore Maro Taan, Raja Hobey Khan Khan (Pull down the leash and the King will be in pieces) and in bringing down the ivory tower of power and greed that has been mounting up in our land.
Rubaiyat Hossain is a freelance contributor.