Conversations with Suleman
Shrabon; pp 35
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August the barley grew up out of the grave.
'Requiem for the Croppies'
The birth of Bangladesh has been the result of a bloody and ruthless civil war in which thousands died, millions were rendered homeless. The country's war of independence, the vanguard of which have mainly been rural proletariat and urban middle class, promised a state based on the bourgeois principles of social and economic justice. The war has primarily been against the Punjabi-Sindhi dominated ruling class of Pakistan, and immediately after the emergence of the new nation an army of lumpen bourgeoisie quickly replaced them. Bangladesh became a textbook example of the Post Colonial mess that sometimes follows the so-called national bourgeoisie coming into power “or plotting for power, the instability of arrangements, the unappeased crowds of long suffering natives…” that Elizabeth Hardwick has said about VS Naipaul's A Bend in the River.
Through Suleman, who lost both his hands in our great war, in his first book of poetry, Afsan Chowdhury brilliantly depicts this transition; Conversations with Suleman is an extended poem, at the same time, it has the scope and vastness of an epic. Like the other National Bourgeoisie Revolutions, Bangladesh's Muktijuddo has a progressive aura (or to be precise a dash of socialism) attached to it, but the 'revolution' was soon betrayed: hordes of transnational and multinational companies, against whose vested interests ordinary Muktijoddahs so valiantly fought, were soon welcomed by the government; the help of the World Bank, the bastion of Imperialist power, was sought; collaborators of the Pakistani junta, some of whom helped to kill and rape millions, were socially and politically rehabilitated. It is a little wonder, then, that Suleman's words will be bitter, harsh, that the sentences which he utters will be soaked with the blood of the martyrs like Havildar Jamal.
“Were you frigging with your filthy hands
when I rolled down and fired and fired?”
Where were you?
Yes, where were you?
“Doesn't World Bank lend fingers and hands
at low interest rates anymore?
What is Grameen Bank doing
about useless, landless hands?
Beg Golam Azam the Lord
for my two shrunken hands.”
What is so curious about our Muktijuddo is its class character. There has been an intermingling of the aspirations of the masses and the middle class; the urban and rural proletariat were led (perilously) by the urban middleclass, most of whom have petit bourgeoisie ambitions. Afsan Chowdhury has been a minute observer of the change in the social anthropology of our region. Read:
“…Did your zamindar father
buy the bullets?
They belong to the desh,
not you, you swine.
Feel, feel with your
dirty soft hands,
you bastard from the city,
the patriotic deshi soil.”
Chowdhury masterfully makes use of angst as a leitmotif, this is a violent poem; it is meant to be so. The hate and violence in the language that Conversations with Suleman is so infested with is the inevitable by-product of a sense of helplessness and decadence we more often than not find in every Post Colonial society. Suleman refuses to remain a mere individual, torn and mangled by a savage war and its treacherous aftermath, the “Crippled. Freedom. Fighter.” becomes a life symbol for a nation, a revolution thoroughly betrayed, Suleman, here, becomes the nation itself.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007