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     Volume 4 Issue 48 | May 27, 2005 |

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In Retrospect

Storm in a Teacup
at the Mall

Azizul Jalil

If one was looking for a relaxed morning, but prepared to weather an occasional turbulence or even a severe storm in a teacup, then the place to be was the Nordstorm's café at the Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland. The tea sessions started in 1989 with "the gang of four" as its core members. At that time, they were all mature people, but by 2005, they were verging on the geriatric. Occasionally, teatime would extend into the lunch hour, particularly if there was an out-of-town guest, when they would have lunch together. Until the time of writing of this piece, the tea club was going strong.

Originally, the meetings would be only on weekends. Since the early nineties, when most members had retired, it could be during the week- day or the weekends, depending on the availability of an agreed but unwritten quorum of three persons. By a process of natural selection, Dr. Abul Siddique, became the Chairman/Convener of the tea sessions (really adda) due to his low profile and high public relations skills. The other members were Dr. Nurul Islam, Dr. Rashid Farooqui and my humble self. Dr. Raisuddin Ahmad soon joined the group as its fifth regular member. It was clear from the very beginning that I was at a serious disadvantage in the discussions, being the only one without a PhD. I was losing self-esteem in the animated discussions when I recalled my year as a post-graduate student at the London University. In desperation, I even considered designating myself as an A.B.D. (All But Dissertation). Instead, I invoked the nuclear option, which was available to me- the genuine three-letter designation of 'ex-C.S.P.' That point on, I gained a modest foothold in the august gathering and it became more or less a level playing field.

At the beginning, the spouses also joined and seemed to enjoy a cup of tea together. However, the dry and what to them seemed irrelevant subjects soon turned them off. Thereafter, they gradually drifted towards their natural habitat -- the shops in the Mall. Later they formed their own walking club earlier in the morning. As we got ready to go out for our tea, the spouses returned home from their walk. Meanwhile, the news of availability of undiluted 'adda', spread like wild fire among Bangladeshis who were already hungry for it. New and semi-regular visitors like Nazem Choudhury, Abdul Baten, Hasan Imam and Azmat Ali joined us, some from the neighbouring state of Virginia. Friends visiting Washington from Dhaka were welcome to attend. Some of those who had joined us were Syeduzzaman, Late Obaidullah Khan and Rahman Sobhan. They filled our information gap about Bangladesh and attempted to elevate the level of our discourse.

The sessions started as a clearing-house for information about personal and other important or unimportant matters. Then the discussions hovered over a range of other subjects like Bangladesh and international news, economic developments, trade issues and war and peace around the globe. There was absolutely no order; interruptions were quite frequent but the 'adda' moved along merrily. The Chairman, by inclination or choice, would not cramp the style of others. He would join the discussions, but his role otherwise was limited to one of benign neglect and ordering more tea and snacks, often at his own expense. Being in such high position had its costs! Most of the members, who knew each other for at least a few decades, had allowed a little margin for idiosyncrasies. Some members would try on occasions to introduce some discipline and set an agreed agenda, but to no avail. Bangladeshis are freedom loving and individualistic people. They had suffered silently in the past until they fought against oppression. Those days are over and now, as citizens of an independent country, they like to believe that they have all the rights and few responsibilities.

With steaming cups of tea in hand, members would go round and round, arguing about Bangladeshi politics and economics, past and present, along what appeared to be partisan lines. One would have thought that due to the vantage point of Washington and the passage of time, dispassionate recounting of the past and analysis of the present would be possible. Strangely, that was not the case. Every event of the past and present embroiled the group in controversy and divisiveness. It seemed that the great political divide had travelled all the way from Dhaka to the Washington beltway. People argued with great vigour, even those who should otherwise be deficient of it.

Good old common sense and patriotism did show up sometimes. On such rare occasions, there would be an effort to put heads together to find solutions, instead of emphasising differences of the past and present. Problems would then be analysed objectively and progress that Bangladesh had undoubtedly made, despite all the adverse circumstances would be recognised by all.

Azizul Jalil writes from Washington.


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