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|Volume 11 |Issue 40| October 12, 2012 ||
The Autumn of Discontent
"This is the autumn of our discontent!" After writing this opening line I realise how easily we are led by the indomitable influence of great people who have always, almost as a rule, shed a spell over our lives. Therefore, unknowingly and uncannily, I fall back on Shakespeare when in dire needs. His Richard III transcends winter, goes a full circle, and quite easily settles in our autumn. I remember, years back, when Roger Croucher, my friend and the Director of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic art was here, courtesy, the British Council Dhaka, looking into the possibility of directing a co-production of Macbeth, there was a chance meeting with the late Ahmadul Kabir, Editor of the Bangla daily Sangbad and an erudite parliamentarian at the then hotel Sheraton. This was in the early 80s. In reply to a query when he was told the purpose of Roger's Dhaka visit, Kabir said, "That is a huge play where will you stage it?" Roger said that he was looking at various options. Kabir suggested that Macbeth should best be staged within our parliament building as its dark chambers would be very suitable for the intrigues that this play entails. He hastened to add that there were some truths that were symbolic and did not necessarily have to be the whole truths. We understood where he was coming from and had a hearty laugh. Kabir is long gone but his wit remains alive and kicking. Anyway, that day we had a laugh at Shakespeare's expense.
Autumn is here! This is one of my most favourite seasons. I am absolutely possessed at its advent every year. The deep blue sky, the fluffy white cloud sailing across, the morning mist, chirping of the Bulbul, the Monsoon enriched plants still with myriad of the shades of green, the inimitable Kashph swaying in the wind are more than enough to drive me out of home. I forget that I am a town-bred person and run amuck through the muddy path of the villages all around the city I live in. But this autumn came with a kind of weather that usually is not known to accompany the season. It 'now shines' and 'now rains' which is not known to be common in autumn. I have seen from experience that nature can somehow pre-empt the happy or distressing days that await us in the future, more importantly, in the 'near future'. Therefore we were taken aback by this ambivalent overture of nature. Did we know that such distressing and distasteful days would ever come in our lives as have been witnessed in the last couple of weeks? Well worth recalling the fact that we are a nation born out of a protracted war which saw millions of our people mercilessly obliterated by an army of occupation in the name of religion. We thought that we had learnt enough from experience to fight against communal discord, against sectarian violence and for democratic accommodation and pluralistic compassion. All that we had learned from the spirit and values of the liberation war seem to have fallen flat. We had perhaps conveniently forgotten the spirit that was given birth to amongst the inhabitants of what comprises Bangladesh now from the early days of Pakistan starting with the language movement, through the communal strife of the 60s and finally our decision to discard the so-called 'two-nation' theory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
A premeditated onslaught was unleashed on the most law abiding and gentle section of our Bangladeshi community, the Buddhists, in the pretext of a hearsay of an insult meted out to the Quran. There was no basis for such a rumour and perhaps the most docile of our communities had to pay for a conspiracy hatched for politically beneficial end. Their places of worship were defiled. And historically significant statues of Gautam Buddha were disfigured. We saw the same aggression when the Babri mosque was destroyed by the fanatic Hindu zealots in India. We went out and destroyed the Hindu temples in Bangladesh. Burned down the dwellings of the Hindus and caused them such sufferings that they had never known. And again after the elections of 2001 the hoodlums of the winning party went on a rampage and again meted out inhuman sufferings to the Hindu community in many places. I am in a position to recount these outrages because I, along with many other members of the civil society, went and saw for ourselves the signs of such transgression. Strange though it may seem, since the Muslim League started the movement for a separate homeland in India the non-Muslims in this part of the world seldom had a chance to live peacefully here. I heard from my father about the so-called 'direct action day' of the 40s, a black day that was unleashed on the innocent people of Kolkata at the command of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Many heads from both Muslim and Hindu communities had rolled. Subsequently, once Pakistan was born, Jinnah had said, "From now, in Pakistan the Muslims would cease to be Muslims, Hindus would cease to be Hindus, Christians would cease to be Christians and we will all become Pakistanis". And this, after the terrible price the people of the subcontinent had to pay! What hypocrisy!
Since then we have never needed an excuse to go berserk on the aspect of religion, most of which, needless to say, is misinterpreted. And worst of all, the excuses given in the name of religion are all a hoax reflecting bigotry, hate, intolerance, self-seeking agenda, political expediency, blatant lies and what have you. If all of us agree that we cannot let this go on unabated, then it's about time we come out of this quagmire of inaction and start a dialogue. And I must admit that we have, in whatever limited capacity, started to speak however feeble they are at present. The mishaps of Ramu haven't gone unnoticed.
As I look out the windows this morning, the sky is getting ready to welcome the cheerful blue of the autumn. The raft of snowy white clouds is sailing across the sky. The nature is smiling.
Our sincerest apologies to our Buddhist friends. We promise to set things right.
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