<%-- Page Title--%> Nothing If Not Serious <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 147 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

March 26, 2004

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Dreams and Reality

Shawkat Hussain

"I believe nothing happens unless first there is a dream." This is Dave Whatmore, the Bangladeshi cricket coach philosophising from a huge billboard on Road No.2 in Dhanmandi. I happened to see this billboard for the first time the day after Bangladesh beat Zimbabwe. Well, things sometimes do happen when you have a dream. Maybe, if we keep on dreaming we will win again five years from now, and then another win in a decade. That's cricket! It's funny how words from an advertising hoarding can remind one of similar sentiments expressed by an Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano: "Though we cannot guess what the world will be like, we can well imagine what we want it to be like. The right to dream is not among the thirty human rights that the United Nations proclaimed at the end of 1948. But were it not for this right and the waters that spring from it, the other rights would dry of thirst." This is about more than cricket!

Dreaming about winning cricket matches and dreaming about how we want our lives to be like are two different things. In Bangladesh, the waters springing from our bigger dreams seem to be drying out, and all our other rights with it. The reality of our everyday lives makes the cynic edge out the dreamer. For the cynic, it is difficult to dream in these times. For the optimist, dreams make life livable under present circumstances, dreams of just winning another match soon. It is the old question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. For many it is more than half empty.

In March 1971, Bangladesh was just a dream. This dream really took shape on the night of March 25, the worst night in the living memory of over seven crore Bengalis. It was because we dared to dream after the nightmare of March 25th that a new nation was born. I cannot think of any experience greater in the life of a people than the birth of a nation. What did we then imagine this nation would be like? The dream of millions of Bangladeshis was to establish a nation free from communal violence, a nation based on principles of democracy, justice, and freedom, a nation free from the exploitation of one region by another. This was the dream of the nation. National dreams are big, and big dreams require big words; these big words were the only way we could imagine what we wanted our nation to be like.

In March 2004 these words begin to sound so empty and meaningless, only 33 years after the nation was born. Rhetoric is all we seem to have.

I remember that the first thing I heard on the morning of March 26 1971, was that the Imam of Baitul Mamur mosque on the corner of New Elephant Road and Mirpur Road, had been shot dead by a sharp-shooting Pakistani soldier. The Imam was just opening the door of his small bamboo-hut opposite the Science Laboratory to wash himself before Faz'r prayers when he was shot down. I had my first lessons in Arabic at the hands of this man. Later, I remember, when the curfew was lifted I walked to Iqbal Hall (now Sgt Zahurul Haq Hall) and saw about a dozen dead bodies of students laid out in rows on the grass. I heard there were more dead students in Jagannath Hall. My teacher Dr Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta had been dragged out of his university, shot, and left dying in a pool of blood. He later died in the hospital. These personal memories and many more, and the memories of millions of other Bangalis have now become part of the collective memory of the nation. Collective and fading memory, I might add, to be ritually remembered every year. The only point of this exercise is to remind ourselves of how far we have moved away from our original dreams.

I had one small private dream. I was a university student during the nine months after the crackdown of March 1971. Three options were available to me and others like me: to take up arms and join the liberation war that begun almost immediately; to go to your village home or escape to India; or to stay put in Dhaka, not knowing how long the land now only free in our dreams, would really be free of occupying Pakistani forces. I stayed put. I remember reading Dr Zhivago, and reading about Zhivago reading a book in a park, a free man in a free land. My dream was to read a book in a park as soon as Bangladesh became a free nation. Nine months later I was able to realise my dream.

In March 2004, thirty-three years later the reality is very different. Have we succeeded in making the world that we imagined? I would have to think several times before venturing to go out to a park with a book. I don't think I would do it. A different kind of darkness envelops us now. A darkness bred of intolerance, greed, violence and bigotry. Instead of a common dream of nation-building, we are driven by personal dreams of self-glory, self-aggrandisement, and visions of vast and lasting power. In a way, we are mimicking the bigger world out there, the world we see on TV everyday.

The only ones who are laughing and dreaming now are young men with little or no knowledge of the experience of March 1971 and the nine months after; and a few older men for whom the cup had become fully empty when Bangladesh was born, and for whom the cup is now almost full. We have come almost full circle.

Dave Whatmore succeeded in making something happen not only because there was a dream. He applied some of the no-nonsense principles of nation-building practiced in Australia to the task of building a cricket team. Can we take some lessons from our cricket team, and begin to believe again?




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