Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 5, Tuesday February 6, 2007



Reader’s Chit

A citizen’s quest

Never an avid TV watcher, I can honestly be one to put up my hand and say that I have been left behind by the latest revolution in television programs. Reality shows like Big Brother/Big Boss leave me befuddled, I scream at the non-necessity of Kaun Banega Crorepati, and I have honestly yet to discern the mystery behind MTV Roadies. Not that they bother me, but sometimes I tend to believe that I am falling behind.

So it was with a great deal of circumspection that I sat down to watch Close Up Tomakey Khujchey Bangladesh on the 16th of December 2006. Believe you me, it wasn't voluntary. Us newspaper folk, being the unfortunate lot that we are, had to work on a public holiday and thus the Bangladeshi spin-off of American/Indian Idol provided us with what little entertainment we could be satisfied with. Citing safety in numbers, I decided to sit through it.

The show proved to be exactly what I had thought it would be, although a highly emotional program was rendered due to the presence of the widow of Bir Shrestha Matiur Rahman. And it was she who provided me with the point of this elongated commentary.

During a segment of the show, she asked one of the judges, Bulbul, who was a freedom fighter in the Liberation War, to narrate an incident from the war for the audience. The shaggy haired composer duly obliged and told of the fourty-three young men whom he had gone to war with. Only three had returned home he said, “One is me, the others were two boys by the names of Manik and Mahbub.”

It was at this point that I stopped short. Time stretched almost to the point of nothingness and the only feeling I was aware of was my rapidly beating heart pumping blood that was at that moment full of pride and love into my body. Pride for the name mentioned and love for my country. Because you see, Mahbub is my father.

I remember well the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction and above all, the sense of importance that drove me for the next few days. So do my friends; at least one of them who was lucky enough to be on the broadside of the emotional and nationalist outpouring. I was proud of the war, proud of Bangladesh, proud of our freedom and proud of my father. And I let her know it.

Growing up with a father who had participated in the War of Liberation, I had always found myself to be one up than most of my classmates in issues pertaining to 1971. To me it was not just the year of the death of Jim Morrison or of the Manson murder trial. It held a much more significant meaning. It was the year when my nineteen year old father went to a war he understood little of, but felt for with all his heart.

And it was as a nineteen year old that I first asked myself that question. Born in the middle eighties beyond the optimism of the early years of a just born nation, the Liberation War has always been something of a dreamy fairytale, (even to me) stories for bedtime or for gatherings of eight year olds. Stories that told of a band of youngsters cheating death at every corner; who needed the Three Investigators or the Hardy Boys?

I was as interested as every other child. I read about our Bir Shresthas and tales of such blood and thunder in the mint green pages of Amar Boi. And I came home and asked my father why he had never won such a title? Had he done any less? He had smiled in reply and unbothered really, I had moved on and begged him to tell me the story of just how he had escaped from the clutches of the Pakistan Army just that one more time…because it gave me that tingly feeling down my spine.

And then it stopped.

Somewhere between the O'Level preparations and the Champions League and Wasim Akram and Andy Flower and U2 and Fight Club and The Lord of the Rings and the Internet, the novelty of the war was wiped out. It remained as a statute of a past that we knew of only through the mouths of a forgotten generation a past we relived by proclaiming our freedom on the 26th of March and our victory on the 16th of December. Visits to the Shaheed Minar were a part of days that were, the Sriti Shaudho did not even figure. Feeling Bangladeshi fell out of vogue and patriotism dissolved into a sketchy ideal.

My father said hardly a word as I like so many others got caught in the wave of globalisation and privatisation, reaching a state where idealism ceased to exist.

In our defence there was good reason for it. The promised golden land of Bangladesh we had grown up hearing about failed to materialise. We grew up amidst a slew of pessimism, in a country where corruption was rampant and the security of the individual hardly guaranteed. Where was the Bengal that our fathers had fought for? Was this it?

It was perfectly natural to feel bewildered and betrayed. We had the misfortune of not being here before 1971 and were therefore unable to compare. The stark reality was that the surroundings we grew up in hardly made us feel proud of our identity and history.

Ironic then that the answer (for me atleast) came through the words of John F Kennedy who once said, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.' It was then that I realised how selfish we were being. The fact that our fathers could be selfless enough to lay their lives on the line to buy us freedom and aid the birth of a nation; a nation that could never give back to them what they had given it; should be example enough.

They never complained. Why should we? They did what had to be done. Why shouldn't we? Because at the end of the day it’s not about what Bangladesh can do for you but what you can do for Bangladesh. That is what true patriotism is all about. It is a lesson I have learnt the hard way over the years through the process of trial and error. And when I expressed it to my father all he did was smile.

By Quazi Zulquarnain Islam
Photo: Munem Wasif

By The Way

Place a shallow dish of baking soda behind the toilet to absorb bathroom odours. Keep the work-pressure off the air freshner…

Under A Different Sky

By Iffat Nawaz


I am an escapist. I look for holes and blankets to hide in and under; I look for fast moving trains and high flying planes to jump into to take me away when the days become too clichéd and bounded. When the air becomes to cold to bear or too hot to breathe in, I escape.

I plan my year around mini escapes and following that I flew somewhere warm and sunny this Christmas, away from the cold winter of East Coast U.S.A. And it was as I planned. My winter vacation was warm and beautiful and every morning I woke up with all the energy the world had to offer until it was the day to return, when I could hardly move myself to go to the airport with my post vacation blues hitting early.

When I arrived back to my hometown of Washington DC, I realised I wasn't feeling the chills. It was the 2nd of January but the coolness in the air was of October. When I got home I saw my flower plants had started to bloom again, as if we had skipped winter and they were ready to come out early to welcome spring. It was strange; I didn't know if I should be happy or sad, but most of me felt good about it. Born and raised in a hot and humid country, I am forever in love with temperatures other people call hell.

The days passed and the first weekend of January brought in more warmth and sun. It was so warm that I decided to go to the driving range and shoot golf balls and when I arrived I found the place packed with people in shorts and t-shirts. Like me most of DC had the same idea, so I enjoyed an early summer day in January, swinging golf clubs, feeling lucky still, and the post vacation blues ran away before settling in.

Two weeks went by and sure a few cold days came sporadically, but mostly I was still in my short sleeves walking around the green streets, drinking chai in restaurant porches, thinking of breaking out my sandals.

I was about to do so, but then I had a work trip to Austin, Texas so I thought that would be an even better place to break out my sandals. So I packed cute springy clothes because everyone knows the winters in Austin are mild and beautiful. I was looking forward to more humidity and spring flowers in bloom.

But something went wrong, and I never arrived in Austin like I intended. A huge snow storm shut down Austin airport and this sort of weather is so unusual that Austin was pretty much shut down for a day. My friends there had two days off from work and when I finally arrived, the streets were dead and my summery clothes let in every shiver and I was freezing in Texas more than I did in DC! It was as if the weather decided to flip completely this year, the warm places covered in ice and the cold places getting unexpected sunlight.

And they talk about global warming- the earth's average temperature increasing, slowly but surely, something this decade has been experiencing. But a girl like me, selfish and self absorbed never truly worries except when the coolness of the air and the heat rising from the ground makes you numb and burns you unexpectedly, you think. You think about the future just for a bit, maybe about your unborn children, or about a future which might burn or freeze you, or your present when you might wake up to a earthquake or a tsunami, because it's happening, in smaller and bigger scales, just not to me.

I am not a philanthropist, or a thinker, or a genius, I only worry about myself. I worry when clichéd days don't seem so clichéd and I end up missing the comfort and security of clichés.

As Washington DC is finally showering in snow and freezing in winter wind, I am happy. My temporary worries are slowly going away, a month from now I won't even remember why I had this thought and even if I do, I won't remember it's intensity because like the rest of my generation, I am not looking for a solution until everything around me is burning.


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