Take the Serious with the Light
Shah Husain Imam
Before the British East India Company transformed from the mercantile to the political it decided to strike a difference and awe with the native people as a matter of policy. They felt unless they carried themselves with an obvious degree of pomp and pageantry, they wouldn't be taken seriously. With no obeisance paid, so they suspected. Actually, this stemmed from a feeling of insecurity, hardly of strength. They had also to keep up with the vestiges of the Mughal pageantry and outdo the other maritime powers trying to hitch their wagons to skies in the twilight of the Mughal Empire.
This colonial temper would permeate the Pakistan era. Much worse, this was to get reinforced with feudal-military-fanatical ethos down the stream. As a result, populism of the vote that created the new state on the professed ideals of economic emancipation for the Muslim masses met with an outright betrayal.
Moreover, Pakistan took to a sartorial éclat of a dress code that Jinnah unconsciously popularised to finesse, somehow with a veneer of the pompous taking hold of the upper-end of society with a percolatory effect. It was and has been a razzle-dazzle that couldn't have been missed by visitors to Pakistan from time to time.
The semblance of an East Pakistani elite that looked up to the Punjabi-dominated Pak establishment for sustenance would get swamped by the surging currents of the self-deterministic political and civil society leaderships that emerged championing the rights of the Bengali masses to their ultimate vindication. Came Bangladesh, but somehow the proclivity to pomp, ostentation and splurge continues despite all the populist vote-catching rhetoric that is increasingly seen through by the common people.
Like it or not, pomp, grandeur and exhibitionism are like the symphonies to a hierarchical order with each layer singing to the tune of the other as though in a concert of power play and self-promotion. But high office or social position by itself radiates power, authority and clout. It should have little use for being demonstrative and self-advertising. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. The elites are like self-possessed and self-charmed society unto themselves. Of course, there are exceptions and their numbers are growing, too -- thanks to the democratisation of the information media and cohesion among the facebook generations broadening the outlook across the board.
After independence of the country, most educated people expected to see not just an equal opportunity society but also a leveling down of fanfare, paraphernalia and prerogatives that are inconsistent with the very spirit of the Liberation War. To be candid, I thought at independence, like many others of my age, that the different categories of office space, entitlements to residential house, different sizes of table and chair will yield place to uniform standards as a marker of break with colonial traditions. How naïve we were!
The hang-ups of the colonial swagger are still in evidence, sometimes openly, at times under guises. See, the traffic tail-backs along the routes taken for VIP journeys and the accompanying motorcades in different sizes.
Then we have our mini-lords utterly insensitive to high decibel speechifying through mikes networked widely to cover all nooks and crannies often disturbing office work, hospital care and functioning of schools. What of the songs played on torturously high note for our delicate eardrums, again completely oblivious to neighbourhood peace and going about their daily chores? What is the point of enjoying, celebrating and observing an occasion if it is to only irritate and torment others?
On a different plane, an air of formality and certain distance are supposed to be the markers of discipline in an office. But there was a nonconformist in former US president Jimmy Carter. With his untied collar and open-door Oval office, he liked to sport an air of informality as freed up accessibility to his clutch of officials made good productive communication. It went well with his disarming smile and endearingly intoned words.
A typical modern office is open, see-through as far as eyes can go; and even though it may be compartmentalisd in sections, the visibility is almost ubiquitous, connective and communicative. The idea is to facilitate team work, supervision and productive connectivity. Whether you are given a personal space or not, you create one for yourself. This is because we are as much private persons as official in a work place. Besides, the chief repository of personal privacy is guaranteed by our PCs which not only connect you with others but also give you the autonomy of feeling you are in charge.
The writer is Associate Editor of The Daily Star.