Bangladesh: A habitat of strange people

Part 2.

 

A synopsis of what the country got from its leaders

                                              By Mohammad Asghar

After Part-1...

 

At an airport (probably Dhaka), a plane is parked on its tarmac. On the plane’s tail is written “World Ass Rehabilitation Center” in Bangla. An ass is about to board it, when a gentleman, in a black business suit, shouts at him: Brother, please do not leave the country.

The ass turns his face, and shouts back at the man: Where ‘gardhavs’ (the ass; in a reprove and taunting sense) enjoy more respects than me, I am not going to live in that country any more.

A Brief encounter with Gen. Zia

I was scheduled to travel to Dhaka one afternoon. I arrived at Chittagong Airport and found it heavily guarded. It was also very crowded for the time of the day.

I was met by one National Security personnel at Biman’s check-in counter. He wanted to know who I was and why I was traveling to Dhaka “with the President of the country.” I was amused by his interrogative questions. 

A Biman staff told him who I was. The Security guy seemed to be satisfied, as he stopped asking me further questions. 

Asked as to why the President was in Chittagong, the Biman staff told me that he was in the city to inaugurate a-one mile long road that was broaden recently to facilitate movement of vehicular traffic from Dewanhat Bridge to the city’s Station Road. 

While sitting in the departure lounge, I was wondering why the President of the country had to come and inaugurate such a small road! I also wondered who was that great person who had inaugurated the elevated railroad that runs from Tokyo to Osaka (two great cities of Japan), and on which moves the “Shinkenshen,” (also known as the “bullet train”), once the world’s fastest commuter train? 

A quick reflection convinced me that what the President had done was fully justified; had he neglected to live up to the people’s expectation, he would have lost their love and adoration, and these are two most important things that no politician in Bangladesh can ever afford to lose.  

His action resulted out of a political culture that runs deep in the Bangladeshi society. It is because of this political culture that requires all the Ministers of the country to gather at the airport to see off or receive their President or Prime Minister every time he or she sets off on his or her domestic or international visits, forgetting the colossal loss the country suffers due to their absence from offices, and from the amount the government has to spend on their security and transportation arrangements. It is this culture following which, Bangladeshi people welcome their Head of the Government by erecting gates and arches, even though the visitor is one of them, and he or she is visiting a part of his or her own country.  

The aircraft we were about to travel in was an F-27. Usually I used to get a set by its large emergency window, but today, this seat was allotted to the President of the country. I was made to take a seat that was located just in front of the President’s seat. 

After about two hours’ delay, we were taken to the aircraft. Next to my seat sat a little girl, who was traveling without a guardian, hence the tag, reading “unaccompanied passenger,” dangling from her neck. 

The President arrived at the door of the aircraft, and all of us stood up to show our respect to him. He waved to all of us, and then walked in and took his seat. 

After we were airborne, I saw Gen. Zia trying to talk to the little girl. I asked the girl to unfasten her seatbelt and to go to the President. Seeing her close to him, he extended his hand, dragged her closer to him and made her seat next to him on the seat that was deliberately left vacant for his convenience. 

I looked back and found the President pleasantly engrossed in a delightful chat with the kid. He was all love, and it showed up from the words he was speaking to the girl. The twinkle in his eyes proved that he was a human being first, and then a General or a President.  I was deeply impressed, and it continues to occupy my mind even to the present. It is a memory that I would remember till the last day of my life. 

About fifteen minutes into the flight, I asked the stewardess, if she had something to take care of my headache. She listened to me attentively and then said: Yes sir. Give me a few seconds and I would get something very effective for you.  

In few minute’s time, she came back to me, holding in her hands a nice looking tray. On it she had a glass of water and a tablet. Highly impressed, I remarked: what a beautiful flight I am having today. Thank you very much for your help.

The President brought his head close to the gap that exists between the plane’s two seats, and whispered: was that not a wonderful example of a wonderful service? 

Without hesitation, I replied back: Yes, Mr. President. I wished you traveled with us every day! He straightened himself up on his seat, and said nothing in response to my comment during the rest of our flight. 

At Tejgaon Airport, Ujjal, the famous film star of the time, was waiting in the tarmac to receive me. When we were inside his car, I narrated to him what had transpired between me and the President during the flight. He was not amazed at all; rather he went to a great length for explaining to me how he himself knew the President treated young children. His narration confirmed what I myself had thought of the President: he was a kind man, and he also had a loving heart for kids!

 

My unpleasant interaction with Gen. Ershad 

I was one of the Executive Committee Members (now known as Directors) of Chittagong Chamber and Commerce. One day I received a call from the acting Administrator of Chittagong Municipal Corporation. He wanted me to receive Gen. Ershad, who was coming to the City the next day morning on behalf of its business community at the airport. I obliged him and reached the airport on schedule (it was the same day in the evening of which, Bangladesh TV had broken the news about the discovery of oil in Haripur of Sylhet, prompting Gen. Ershad to dash to Sylhet to see the discovery with his own eyes!).

Despite the assurances given by one of the recent American Ambassadors to the people of Bangladesh that it, like Kuwait, is floating on oil, the oil well of Haripur has not been able to produce more than 3,581 barrels a day, versus the country’s daily consumption of 70,000 barrels a day (See World Factbook-2001). 

Is this situation with Bangladesh’s lone oil well due to conspiracies hatched by the Jews in collaboration with India? Could it be possible that India has been diverting the flow of oil from Haripur to its own oilfields in Maharastra or in the Indian Ocean? Bangladeshi pundits must think deeply on the issue, and try to find a solution, if they wished to free their country from the clutches of the Jewish and Hindu conspirators as soon as possible. 

The tarmac was packed with security people. You could see them everywhere you went. I was led to the spot where the aircraft with the President was due to park. We were requested to line up, and to shake hands with him when he disembarked from the plane and walked through the reception line. 

When he came to the spot where I was standing, I extended my right hand and said: Mr. President, my name is Asghar and I welcome you to Chittagong on behalf of its business community. Before I could say any further, a security person elbowed himself in and stood in between me and the President. When I looked at his face with displeasure, he nodded his head side to side, implying that I was exceeding my limit by trying to engage the President into an undesirable conversation. 

The same President, whom the security forces of the country protected so jealously, when he was in power, became his tormentors and executioners after he became powerless; some of their own members stripped him naked in the Central Jail of Dhaka for fulfilling the desire of those leaders, who had become their new political masters. I do not know if there is another nation on earth that can beat the people of Bangladesh on this historically unprecedented act they performed on their own former President! 

I am one of those few people who believe that despite his waywardness and sexual indiscretions, Gen. Ershad was a fit ruler for the people of Bangladesh. He spoke in the same language people understood the most; he behaved in the manner they appreciated; he played the tricks they enjoyed and he took them for a ride they have always wanted to be taken on. Had he not been a fit ruler, what else had enabled him to remain in power for almost ten years is a question that needs to be answered by those who wish to differ from the views I have expressed in this paragraph. Is there anyone out there to come up with a sure answer to the question? 

Gen. Ershad was the most effective administrator of placebos; he promised them whatever they wanted him to promise, without ever caring to keep any of them. He was a very good actor, too; when that little girl, Ishita, enacted a sad scene on the stage, he had his eyes turned moist and wiped them with a handkerchief. His cohorts robotically repeated after him in a fashion, the purpose of which was not to impress the audience with the expression of a genuine feeling, but to please their mighty boss by their farcical act. 

Gen. Ershad had all the necessary qualities that all Bangladeshi leaders must possess in order not only to become an effective leader, but also to perpetrate his rule for almost ten years. He fully used the country’s student community to further his causes, and it was this gift of his that has turned Bangladesh into a home of one of the most militant students of the world. His inspirational legacy still guides many students of the country: Give them money and they can bring to you the severed head of your enemy; give them money they can turn you into a prominent leader of the country; give them money they can make you a winner in the election, no matter how popular your opponents might have been among the voters. In short, there is nothing that they cannot do in the political and social contexts of today’s Bangladesh.

  

Face to face with SK. Hasina

Following the devastation caused by tornado and tidal surge to Urir Char, I was in Sandvip with three other colleagues of mine for distributing relief among its affected people on behalf of National Bank Limited. Though Sandvip had not suffered as much as did Urir Char, yet we were there to perform our humanitarian duty, as one of the Directors of the Bank was from this island.  

In the second day of our “operation,” I decided to leave Sandvip, and to return to Chittagong. One of the bank officers brought the news that a BIWTC vessel was anchored in the Bay and that it was scheduled to depart for Chittagong in a couple of hours’ time. Instructing him to procure a ticket for me, I proceeded to the site where the boat was anchored. 

The site was in the occupation of a mob; they gathered there to have a glimpse of Sk. Hasina. She came to the site (ghat in local jargon), but had difficulty in boarding the vessel, as it was anchored a distance away from the shore. 

Seeing her predicament, her workers lifted her on their hands; negotiated the water; put her on a sling, which was made of tarpaulin, and then had her hoisted on the deck of the ship. I followed other passengers, climbed the monkey ladder and occupied a seat that was allocated to me in one of the ship’s few cabins. 

The ship heaved up her anchor, and started moving. I peeped out of the window and lo! There were two of my well known acquaintances, who were moving briskly to the cabin in which Sk. Hasina was lodged. One of these two gentlemen became an Ambassador, first, to South Korea, and then to Moscow; the other became a very powerful Minister in the cabinet of Awami League. 

They took me to Sk. Hasina. She was nice and warm. She wore a simple white saree, with no discernible pretensions. She asked me what I was doing for a living, and if I had any inclination for politics. I stayed with her for a few minutes, but when I was about to leave, she reminded me to call on her, if and when I happened to be in Dhaka. 

The same simple looking Sk. Hasina wore a different look, after she became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. In her new position, she lashed at her opponents with a sharp tongue; displayed a rare quality of intrigue and a disdain towards the very people who had swarmed the Sandvip Ferry ghat to have a glimpse of their beloved leader. 

She had also become a good dancer. The ‘golden boys’ of the country had won their first ICC Cricket Tournament in Penang, Malaysia by defeating the non-cricketing nation of Kenya. This ‘golden feat’ of the golden boys turned the whole country upside down. People celebrated the occasion in any way they deemed fit. In their fit of excitement, they sprayed a young mother with colored-water; pulled down to ground her one year-old baby (am I right with the age of the victim?) from the rickshaw she was riding on, and sprayed the baby with the holy water they were blessing all the passer-byes with. The baby eventually succumbed to the holy spirit of the holy water, and died.  

Sk. Hasina mounted the platform that was erected in Dhaka to welcome the golden boys, and showed the whole grateful nation as to how people should celebrate their victories by performing a dance that even the best female dancers of Bollywood would have found extremely difficult to perform in their professional career. Many people were heard calling Sk. Hasina the best dancer of the twentieth century. 

Before leaving her Official Residence in Dhaka, Vishwa Natri (world leader) Sk. Hasina created another world history: she had her former official residence allotted to herself for the entire duration of her remaining life! 

She was believed to have inspired many other world leaders by her world class performances. She received many honorary degrees for her leadership from many universities of the world. The Cambridge of the East (Dhaka University) also bestowed on her its highest award. 

One of the world leaders, who was said to have been greatly influenced by her patriotic deeds was President Bill Clinton of the United States. Indian leaders also owed her a great deal of thanks for guiding them on the issue of Kashmir. Had it not been for the Vishwa Natri, India would have had a hard time in dealing with its nemesis, known as Pakistan (“pak” means pure or holy, “stan” means place!).  

Rumor mills had it that emulating the noble deed of the Vishwa Natri, President Bill Clinton, too, had planned to have the White House allotted to him for the duration of his life. But the American Congress, under the influence of the Zionist lobby, prevailed and defeated his nationalistic ambition. It was a shameful act on the part of the Congress, to say the least! 

During her tenure as the ruler of Bangladesh, Sk. Hasina earned for it, among others, the title of World Champion in the race of Corruption. Of course, she had tried her best to “wipe out” corruption from the country, but she failed. After all, her party-men had remained out of power for a long time; during their unemployment, they subsisted on donations from those who saw their own wellbeing in their existence.  

Compelled by the unavoidable circumstances, she allowed her ‘good colleagues’ to do whatever was necessary for them to compensate for what they had lost during their long hibernation. Many among them used their opportunities to the hilt. 

I knew a long time Awami Leaguer, who has been living in Chittagong for a long time. He was fully dedicated to the party, as result of which, he was barely able to lead a decent life. 

Soon after he became a Minister, he turned his crumbling house into a huge housing complex; his son became a business magnate of the city with two cell-phones in his hands. A one-term stunt at the ministership of the country did to him what many businessmen could not have done in their entire business career; had he had another opportunity to ‘steer the country to the position of Singapore,’ I do not know what position he would have acquired for himself by ‘shedding his blood’ for the preservation of the interests of the nation, we all Bengalees believe, is the envy of the entire world!

 

A glimpse of Begum Khaleda Zia

 It was a sultry afternoon in Chittagong. My wife and I decided to spend some time in the house of one of our friends. When we reached his home, we saw a large number of people loitering around his house, and its driveway. We thought something was amiss in the house.

We pushed our way through the crowd, and stepped inside his unbolted living room. In it were seating a lady, clad in a white saree, and a host of people, many among them were well known to us. My friend was seated close to the lady, to whom he had been talking almost in whispers. His attention diverted by our intrusion from what he had been saying to the lady, he looked towards us and after recognizing who we were, invited us to take our seats just across the lady. 

Seconds after we were seated, the lady turned her face towards us. The lady was none but Begum Khaleda Zia, the uncompromising leader of the Bengali nation. My wife and I said salam to her, which she acknowledged with a nod of her head, and then turned her attention to what our friend had been telling her before our intrusion. Our friend was none, but the first physician who became Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to London after BNP had come to power, following the political demise of Gen. Ershad. We sat for a while and then excused ourselves from the august gathering. 

The sight of Begum Khaleda Zia from such a close quarter refreshed in my mind the memory of Indira Priyadarshani Gandhi of India. I saw her most of the times in newspaper photographs in a white saree and a white blouse. She wore a pair of sandals, and almost no makeup. She looked elegant in her outfit. Her sense of dressing made her instantly identifiable; many ladies in the Indian sub-continent found themselves in line with what Indira Gandhi represented by her simple way of dressing. 

But we Bangladeshis are different from the Indians, are we not? Because our standard of living is much higher than that of the Indians, we dress in the way that we believe is necessary for exposing our affluence. We build palatial homes, even though a large number of our people do not get two square meals a day. We import and drive expensive cars, despite the fact that a large number of the people cannot afford a ride in most of the country’s public transportation systems. 

Opposed to us- the Bangladeshis- Indian leaders are still using the Indian made Ambassador cars, despite the fact that their country has been producing modern looking and expensive cars for a number of years. They still prefer to dress themselves up in their home-made clothes. Many female leaders wear coarse sarees and shalwar kamizes, not because they cannot afford to buy expensive varieties of them, or that they are forbidden from procuring them from across their borders, but what prevents them from indulging in apparent excesses is, perhaps, their sense of affinity with their people. Not that this perception of theirs feeds their hungry masses, but it definitely creates an image that is indisputably representative of the conditions that prevail today in most of India’s societies. 

Very often, we compare the untenable aspects of our lives with that of the Indians. We hold the view that since this or that thing is also obtaining, or is being done in India, why can’t we expect to have the same thing in our own country as well. How valid or logical are such arguments is beyond the pale of my present write up. However, my write up would remain grossly incomplete, if I did not ask myself the following questions: 

  1. Why the people of Bangladesh do not use the good things of India as examples to better their bad things?
  2. What Bangladeshis wish to achieve by relying on the bad things of India? Do they wish to adopt them in their own lives?
  3. Why Bangladeshis are incapable of thinking about what India has already achieved in certain aspects of its national life? How about India’s launching of its own satellites, and manufacturing of various industrial equipment and gadgets? Why Bangladeshis measure their failures with the failures of India, and other countries of the world?

There are numerous questions I can go on asking, but this is not what I would always like to do through my write ups. I want readers to put their own minds to work in order to find out for themselves the probable causes that had been impacting adversely the wellbeing of the Bangladeshi people for hundred and thousands of years. In my view they, instead of launching personal tirades against those who dare poke their fingers in the eyes of those who have shut them up in order to avoid seeing and recognizing what has been happening to millions of their own people for so long, should also rise up and face the truths. The sooner they do this, and help others open their eyes and minds, the better it would be for them, their future generations and their nation. 

What legacy Begum Zia would leave for her nation cannot be fully discerned at this stage of her governance. It has to wait until the time she completes her present term in office. Should I manage to live until such time, in that event, I assure readers that I would definitely come back to them with an abridged account of what she was able to contribute to the nation she says she loves so passionately, and for which, she has vowed many a times to give up her life, if circumstances so demanded, to protect its interests. 

Before closing this segment of my article, I wish to share with readers a message cartoonist Shishir once wanted to give readers of Bhorer Kagoj, through one of his beautiful cartoons. 

At an airport (probably Dhaka), a plane is parked on its tarmac. On the plane’s tail is written “World Ass Rehabilitation Center” in Bangla. An ass is about to board it, when a gentleman, in a black business suit, shouts at him: Brother, please do not leave the country. 

The ass turns his face, and shouts back at the man: Where ‘gardhavs’ (the ass; in a reprove and taunting sense) enjoy more respects than me, I am not going to live in that country any more. 

To continue>>>>>>

August 1, 2004
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Mohammad Asghar writes from USA. 

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