A Brave New World
This goes out to everyone, everywhere, who can call themselves Bangladeshi.
Today, we stand a good half a decade into the twenty-first century, and we've got a few things to take pride in about how we've got through the first thirty-odd years of our nation's life. There are those of us who were there at the beginning, and then there are those of us who're only half as old as the country itself. Regardless of how old we are, or where in the country we're from, or what places of worship we visit, we share this one common thread our nationality.
Which doesn't seem like so much though, nowadays. The old prejudices of race, religion, and status are still poisoning the minds of a lot of us, and while most of us claim that we're solidly and immovably Bangladeshi, it doesn't seem like that one particular adjective means anything anymore.
As the years have gone by, our culture has evolved, and with it, so has our sense of identity and spirit as a collective people. On the outside, we've gone from traditional clothing to designer labels stitched into the sides of our jeans, and enough western hotch-potch all over us to make you think that the average Bangladeshi is actually from a Brooklyn ghetto. The piercings, the gaudy metal jewelry, the penchant to flash what you've got (and the fact that you've got it) and the whole showy air of the people in the upper classes in society is a staple, and permeates as far as can be conceived; the lower classes remain exactly where they were half a century ago, albeit with a little more medicine to keep them alive a bit longer when they can afford it.
No, this isn't some kind of political revolutionary statement piece, before you come to that conclusion. This is something far deeper.
We're going to go back and take one more look at just one of the rich folks we just talked about, the ones with the air. And we're going to suggest to you, reader, that this person is in denial of the fact that he's Bangladeshi, or at the very best thinks of it as an accident of birth and nothing else.
Consider, then, this fellow, with his slit jeans with the label on the back, with his fashion-rebel sneakers screaming for your attention, and with his fitting shirt and the smirk as he looks at you. Pay attention to the near-thousand dollar mobile phone in his pocket, playing out some rock group number from a Billboard chart.
Note his demeanour as he slouches back, with the cigarette in his left hand; note also the John Cena chain-and-lock around his neck. Try and talk with him, and see if you can figure out the faintly Bengali things he says with that overdrawn accent. Or take a look in his car, and at all the gangsta rap, Punjabi MC remixes, and occasional Bangla “underground” rock CDs in the glove compartment (Not that there's anything wrong with having your own musical tastes, no).
We say that this strapping young fellow is in denial of the fact that his passport doesn't say U.S. of A. on it. We say he's ashamed, under the skin, of being Bengali, and more importantly, Bangladeshi.
He eats exclusively at A&W, Pizza Hut, and Movenpick; he has more enthusiasm about Friendship's day and Valentine's Day than the Bengali new year, and the only occasions on which he might wear something accidentally eastern is for a wedding/festival of some sort. He will zoom around town in his expensive car and play at street racing (at great personal risk, of course) because that, my friends, is cool. And a few drinks on the weekend, at some sleazy bar? Oh, come on, he doesn't drink anything other than Black Label.
This, everyone, is one extreme end of the modern day Bangladeshi.
At one of the other ends (of which there are a few) is the starving beggar in front of Bashundhara city, squinting against the gleaming metal-and-glass of corporate Bangladesh and trying to make his meal by peddling “pup-pon” (pop-corn) to rich people in their shiny SUVs.
There is the middle-class student in Dhaka University who got tangled up in student politics and has a bullet in his gut from a crossfire, raring to get up and go back to picketing out there for God-knows-what.
There is the average bloke who goes to school/college/university and has opinions on everything but who's given up on being able to make a difference on anything (without trying), and who's now all talk and no walk. He's rediscovering religion, and growing a beard and whatnot, riding on a bus, merging with the masses, having mundane experiences day by day, and sometimes pitying himself for them.
There's the politicos slinging mud every day, while practical policy changes slide to the bottom of the agenda ditch. While all of the lobbying does eventually get some things done, the constant tug-of-war for power, credit, and each other's throats generally does very little to help the people. Of any class.
And finally, at the other end, in a decisive minority and trying to compensate for it with a vengeance, is the fellow who's run away from home and joined up with some underground group and is at this moment, as you read this, getting trained in the arts of carrying explosives close enough to the center of a crowd to kill a lot of people when they go off. This guy is desperate indeed, and he dons the banner of religion, showing himself as dying as a martyr, with dedication and fervour. We don't pretend to understand these people there may be a million and one reasons for their craving for attention. We do say, however, that we believe most religions don't advocate suicide/homicide under any circumstance, so their motives appear dubious. More often than not, we do not know their real reasons, and we do not care.
Everyone lives in his/her own world and has his/her own agenda, and our country doesn't seem to be on it.
Fifty-four years ago, people died so that we could speak our tongue today without corrupting it. Another nine hundred thousand people died thirty-four years ago to put the red circle on the green flag, and to put the land that they fought for on the map as their own. They died, not for themselves, but for the people who'd live in their country since. Our country, today. They died for us.
Some of us might dismiss that as being ancient history. We say the families of those who lived, died, and fought in the war would beg to differ.
We ask that all of you who read this today take pride in tomorrow, and rediscover the thread that binds us all. We ask that you take pride in being Bangladeshi, the way you do after we win a cricket match, every day, with everyone you know, and that it be genuine pride, as opposed to some air you put on. And we ask that you stand strong, in these troubled times, and unite against the terror that threatens to extinguish the spirit that our people died for; we ask that tomorrow, on the 16th of December, 2005, you remember and salute the brave men, women and children who died so that we could be where we are today, and help make Bangladesh the land they fought and died for.
Photo: Hasan Imam Shiplu