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September 19, 2003

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A Question of Time

Aly Zaker

A glorious past travelling through a promising present toward a formidable future.

This is not a sentence originally composed by me. It is, shall we say, an adaptation of a similar sentence written by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, on the river Ganges. He had imagined Ganges to have done the job, bringing the past to the present and able to carry it across to the future. Nehru was a great believer in the past. I remember having been overwhelmed by his narration of the world chronicle in his "History of the World Civilisation" at the impressionable age of fourteen. The way he took pride in being an Indian--the India that had one of world's oldest universities--the great university of Nalanda. Incidentally, this university was also graced by a Bangali scholar from Bajrajogini in Bikrampur. A gentleman by the name of Sriggan Atish Dipankar. I remember having seen an almost innocuous road in remote Kamalapur named after him. A road that leads you to the Buddhist monastery there. As if Atish Dipankar was only a monk. As if naming of an inconsequential road was an adequate honour for him.

That Atish Dipankar is perceived in such a limited connotation, is in itself a logical indication that we in Bangladesh would, probably have very little, if not at all, to do with history. Good, that! For, if we did, we would probably not be very pleased. Because there are possibilities of our being plagued by questions we do not wish to address. It transpired the other day when some politician had said in an international convention of the historians that we should bury the past and start from the present. This alone, the politician said, can assure us of a bright future. Ignorance is bliss! More ignorance is more bliss!! Therefore, tearing away from the past may seem expedient to some people notwithstanding its implications.

Every nation wants, to the best of their abilities, to own their past because every nation, generally speaking, has some past of significance. I remember when Greece had presented its case to be considered as a host to the World Olympic its main selling point was that it is Greece where the Olympic was born. And after being awarded the opportunity to host the games, their slogan was “Olympic comes back home”.

When we were within Pakistan and were constantly reminded by the Pakistanis that we Bangalis were all Hindus and idolaters because our food, our culture, our social customs, our day-to-day behaviour and, above all, our heritage smacked off idolatry, the power that be in Pakistan were busy marketing their historic sites of Mohenjodaro and Harappa to the world and took enormous pride from the fact that they had a glorious past. Islam wasn't intimidated by this 'claim to fame'. Communist China never shied away from bragging about the great wall built during the Ming dynasty.

It is obvious that a nation enriched with the glories of the past can hope to have a future worthy of its heritage. Strange though it may seem, since the gruesome political massacre of 1975, we have been told of a new beginning of the history of Bangladesh with the ascending to power by every new ruler. History of Bangladesh began anew with the drop of a hat or bat of an eyelid. As a result, though twenty-nine, we are still a moronic toddler! Someone along the line has to come to terms with the fact that if a nation remains perennially infantile it is bound to grow up as a retarded child in the comity of nations. The signs of that retardation are seen, all over.



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