What is Happening in Bangladesh?
It's been almost eighteen years that I have left Bangladesh. After leaving Bangladesh, my first visit was after almost four years. This trip was very busy and hasty. During this trip in 1992, I was only able to visit or contact very few friends. My trip was marred with numerous obstructions. There were Immigration interview at the US embassy, health issues, lack of a car, and a lack of working telephones, etc.
Since that trip, my next visit to Bangladesh was in 2003, after more than 10 years. The country had changed a lot in the last ten years. I was not even able to recognise Shantinagar, where I grew up. There were high-rise buildings everywhere, and the green lawns and flowery gardens had disappeared. There were more vehicles on the streets than people. Despite these changes my trip to Dhaka was a very pleasant one. During this trip I was able to trace many of my friends. My school friends were scattered but I found them. I was able to get in touch with all my writer friends from the 70's, with whom I had lost contact for 25 years. All my friends hosted get-together parties. Many high-rise restaurants had opened in Dhaka, I was invited to several of them.
I always love to eat while I travel. Different foods can be bought anywhere around the world, but the taste of the food won't be same everywhere. Food will taste unique in its own region. So, to take advantage of the opportunity, I ate a lot of 'mishty' and 'pitha'. I ate a lot of fish and vegetables, vartas, kababs, biriani, roasts, etc. I wasn't worried about gaining a few pounds.
There's no place like home. People are relaxed, life is easy, there are social and cultural gatherings. What life do we have in US? It's all work, work and work. Our time is measured. We have to do everything on the dot of the clock. Everything is inter-related. If we miss one thing, our whole day will collapse. We have to rush everything. Even on weekends, we have to do a lot of work, take care of lot of things. Not only do we work at our jobs, we work at home too. There are no servants or relatives to help us out. Women especially have a very hard life here. We do our own laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, paperwork, and much more. It's so hard to squeeze in a little time for ourselves. When I have a little time, I'm left with no energy. I can't even sit in front of the computer to write. Day by day, month by month, year by year, we're getting older. When I'll be really old and disabled, I will be unfit to live in this country. I will not be able to keep up with this busy life.
Moreover, I feel lonely. I have a very few close friends here. People around me are busy, and many of them seem phony. I have stopped going to the cultural programmes because they have not changed since the very first time I have seen them. Despite many new immigrants and artists, they lack sincerity and originality. Nothing attracts me anymore. My life is lonely, depressed, dull and busy. During the blistery cold and harsh winter days, life seems more difficult. A glimpse of Dhaka and a contact with dozens of long lost friends, made me laugh again. I felt it was the happiest time of my life. I did not have to cook, shop, drive, serve, wash, launder, or go to work. All I did was shopping, chat, eat and laugh. Not to mention, during my leisure time, I wrote a lot of articles, which would have been impossible to do while living in New York. Unless I am highly motivated, I cannot write more than one article a month or so. My creativity is suppressed by my busy life style.
I have decided to come back to Dhaka in a few years and settle down. Settling in Dhaka will be the most fulfilling and happiest thing for me. I have told everyone that I will be back forever in a few years and everyone seemed to be excited about the idea.
That was in September 2003. Two years have passed since. I made another trip to Bangladesh in the summer of 2004. Despite the traffic jam, and the bombing of Sheikh Hasina's meeting, and strikes, this trip seemed to be the happiest one, too. I spent a quality time with my relatives and friends. I published a book, I wrote many articles, I did television interviews, I ate more foods, I bought more sarees and many more. This trip strengthened my desire of returning to Bangladesh.
Since then I kept in touch with my friends and family on a regular basis. I have been spending long hours talking to them. Everyday I read the internet editions of all the Bangladeshi newspapers. But recently, my desire return home is getting weaker. Everybody, even my friends and relatives in Bangladesh, are discouraging me about returning to Bangladesh. When I read the newspapers, I feel scared for the safety of my friends and family there. My mother was hospitalised for one problem. That was treated and got cured. But the process of treating made her sicker than ever. My sister loves to go to cultural shows but she has stopped going to any gathering. People are fearful of their safety. Parents are scared for the safety of their children. Businessmen are scared of their safety. Strikes, or hartals, have made business come to a standstill, and more importantly, the recent bombings have made life come to a standstill. Foreign and local investors are afraid to invest in Bangladesh.
Bit by bit, the bombings got out of hand. The bombers were targeting many locations and situations. First it was the cultural programme of Pahela Baishakh. Then they bombed the cultural organisation of Udichi. Then they bombed various theatre halls and political meetings across the country. The British High Commissioner came under bomb attack. Nothing has been done about these bombings. The bombers got fierce and strong. They displayed this fearlessnes through 500 coordinated and simultaneous bombing all over Bangladesh. Now there are incidents of bombing everywhere. There are remote control bombs, there are suicide bombers. These people have recruited, brainwashed and trained numerous people all over the country. These 'jihadi's are killing innocent people while getting killed themselves. They are threatening lawyers, journalists, teachers and government officials. They are killing people in order to go to heaven. Bangladesh is at the mercy of these militants. Politicians were their targets before, but now they are targeting police, judges, lawyers, journalists, performers, educators, students, and many others. A bomb was even planted under a bus, just to kill innocent people.
The newspaper headlines give me the shivers, especially when I read that fifteen people, including judges, lawyers and police, have been killed since the banned Islamist militant outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) started terror attacks. In the latest wave of strikes by JMB, there were suicide bombers in Gazipur Bar Association building and at a police check-post at Chittagong court building. Seven people, including two lawyers and a police constable, were killed, and 78 others were injured. On November 14, JMB killed two senior assistant judges and wounded three people in Jhalakathi. On October 3, attacks on the courtrooms in Chandpur, Laxmipur and Chittagong districts, killed four people and injured 38, including a judge. On October 18, militants hurled a bomb at the vehicle of judge Biplop Goswami in Sylhet, leaving him injured, He later died. On August 17 simultaneous serial blasts at 459 spots in 63 districts across the country killed two people and injured many others.
During my childhood, my friends and I used to go out a lot. We had no fear for anything. Our parents were not worried for our safety. We would take a rikshaw and roam around the city aimlessly without any problem. Now, can anybody, male or female, adult or child, go out and roam freely in the city? Not only are there hijackers, muggers, robbers, now there are suicide bombers. Nobody feels safe in Bangladesh anymore. My friends and relatives envy me for staying in a country where despite the latest Homeland Security Acts and others terrorist acts, I can go anywhere anytime of the day or night. I can eat fresh and healthy food, get proper medical treatment and say or do anything I wish to without any fear. When my friends discourage me about returning to Bangladesh now, I stay mum. I do not know what to say to them.
In my mind I keep hoping that maybe someday, somehow, things will get better. These militant mujahidins will be uprooted. Law and order will be restored. People will have no fear for their safety. They will feel free to go anywhere. And may be then like many other expatriates, I will feel free to return to Bangladesh and live a happy, peaceful life.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006