August 2006


Islam took centuries to travel all the way to our part of the world and farther east. I hope the recent discussion about re-analyzing and reliving the teachings of Islam that also has started in Arabian peninsula will not take that long time to spread to Bangladesh. Here is video clip (via Rezwan) of Arab psychhologist Wafa Sultana debating different Islamic clerics.

This is heartening to see that Arab society and Arab TV are now accepting this sort of open remarks and discussion about Islam.

But our Bangladesh society still far from that open. It is incomprehensible that this sort of debate can go on in any Bangladesh TV channel.

I don’t understand why someone has to feel so insecure about Islam. Islam is a great philosophy and a major religion. Definitely it is very powerfully embedded in people’s mind and heart. What one poet/ author says, what question he/she asks should not be able to put a dent on people’s belief in Islam. The threats of fundamentalists to gag forcibly or kill everyone who tries to question some decree of Islam, only demean the power of Islam as a religion. The God’s religion, which has a strong follower should not fear one human being. Let people raise their questions, let them talk.

Despite being stabbed at the age of 82, Nobel lauret Naguib Mahfuz lived till the age of 94 before passing away yesterday. He was stabbed because his questions and frank approach while discussing religion Islam was not liked by Islamic fundamentalist.

This same fundamentalists recently threatened Writer Hasan Azizul haq to death. I hope he doesn’t have to endure what Naguib Mahfouz had to go through. I hope Hasan azizul Haq lives a productive literally life without fear.

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In the early days of current BNP government, in the pre-RAB era, a crime drive called “Operation Clean heart” was initiated by the government. However this operation clean heart was popularly called ‘operation heart attack’ as those who were killed in this operation were all declared dying of heart attack.

Similarly another heart attack death occured yesterday, involving, this time, a member of police. During picketer-police hustle, a brick hit the police constable, Narayan’s forehead and later he was declared dead at Heart foundation hospital.

And spin regarding this death started even before the death was declared. State Minister for home immediately ceased the opportunity of this killing to put the blame squarely on opposition leader Sheikh Hasina’s raucous remarks.

And a counter spin was staged by news outlets like Daily Star, Prothom -alo etc. Their stance is that it was right that Narayan got hit in the forehead but he also had a heart attack at the same time.

All the party involved quoted the physicians at heart foundation hospital at their own sweet will.

The home minister’s vile efforts to politicize the unfortunate death against political opponent must be condemned.

At the same time conscientious souls should also condemn the double standard of media outlets like Daily Star or Prothom-Alo. These outlets claim aristocracy by preaching against Hartals, at the same time when this unfortunate death’s happen, they can’t hide partisanship while trying to undermine another hartal casualty by promoting it as a mere heart attack death.


The Daily Star photo declaring the death as heart attack death.

And again this incidence exposes our non existent trauma system. At many as 20% of head injury/ intracranial bleed patients may have presentation similar to heart attack, abnormal ECG, abnormal blood test that are usually found in heart attack etc. These kind of patients need CT scan of the brain to rule out bleeding and if there is a bleed, evacuating it and decompressing the brain becomes an urgency. As far as I could dig out from different newspapers, heart foundation doctors, being trained only in heart problems, and lacking significant exposure to head injury patients, naturally inclined to treat heart problem, which they know how to treat. But they probably didn’t know that the apparent heart attack like presentation may be the result of bleeding in the brain.
For the sake of truth, the country should know the exact cause of the death. I hope autopsy will reveal the truth.

Lately when I visit Bangladesh , an increasing number of visitors come to greet me, known, fairly known, somewhat known, less known, hardly known or even unknown. They all have one thing common to them. They all carry a CD with them. A CD, very carefully cased, then wrapped in clothe, handled very respectfully and carefully, gets out of the hand bag or shirt pocket and unwrapped in shaky hands. Then the CD is handed over to me with a body language similar to when the British Monarch hands over the Victoria Cross to the recipient.

I can’t cite any data, because there are none. But recently, chest pain caused by coronary artery disease followed by coronary deaths have taken a epidemic proportion in Bangladesh. Every death news I get coming from bangladesh, a middle aged man, women, an elderly, or a young man; there is 90% possibility that the death was due to heart attack.

With rapidly developing cardiology service in Bangladesh, people with chest pain are now getting an angiogram to confirm some blocked coronaries. After the angiogram, these women/men, with the CD of the angiogram are left wth the decision on how to treat the blockage. Thus they start their journey to solve the unsolvable arithmetic.

They are often told, without giving any time to elaborate or Q &A, ” you have block, you need stents. If you put the regular stent this will cost you 1.5 lac, but if you put the medicated stent, it will cost you 4 lac taka”. In most cases I saw, they have no clue what a stent is, what is the benefit of a medicated vs a non-medicated one.

Most cases they have some money left in providence fund they thought of using for daughters marriage or sons foreign trip.

Now they start debating how to better use the money. Should they go to NICVD at Dhaka where it will cost less, or Heart foundation or other new hospitals in Dhaka, or go to India or Singapore.? They get a price quote for life from all these places. Medicated stent …Taka, non medicated stent…taka.

They keep on bracing the madness of Dhaka streets, in search of a solution to the riddle. Is it worthy paying 2 lac for a renewal of life, how to renew it, with medicated or nonmedicated stent? Where to go, NICVD, India? Or rather to save the money for daughetr’s wedding or son’s possible opportunity for a job in malaysia.

With pain in the chest and a CD in their hand, they keep calculating with a resolve to solve the unsolvable riddle.

There are a lot of worry around that Bangladesh is becoming Afghanistan and Bangladeshis definitely take the remarks as very offending to Bangladesh.

However with the recent renewal of consistent post independence Bangladesh sporting debacle, Afghans may take it demeaning to be compared to Bangladesh at least when sports is considered.

Here is a table taken from the daily Star which shows the medal standing of this SA games and the ranking tally of all the SAF games.

I wrote this piece for different yahoogroups on the day Ivy Rahman died, several days after 21st august attack on Sheikh Hasina. Although this reflects my immediate rage and shock and may be faulted to contain premature conclusions, most of the concerns still remained valid today.

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Ivy Rahman

I grew up hearing of Ivy Rahman as a political leader. She had quite an unusual name for a politician of her generation. Ivy Rahman died early this morning. She was grievously injured on the bomb attack on Awami league meeting this week. That’s what always happen. The better ones always go early. In our nasty/corrupted political culture, and unlike many of her political colleague, Ivy Rahman or her husband or any member of their family have never been implicated in any sort of corruption or terrorism allegation. She spent her life in one ideological politics, and just ended it with the same idealogy.

Not this Time

With the injury and later death of Ivy Rahman, at least one stereotype could not repeat itself this time. BNP couldn’t blame the bombing on AL; no one would believe AL will kill a senior leader like Ivy Rahman for political gains.

Why BNP is to Blame

There would be a lot of finger pointing now of who did it. I, like Sheikh Hasina, don’t want to say that BNP did it, but I believe all responsibility goes to BNP. If BNP can spend highest national resources to pave smooth fun by Tareq Zia and gong in haowa vaban, I believe Sheikh Hasina deserves at least part of the security. It is quite plausible that if a portion of security measures was taken for the meeting as it is usually taken for Tareq Zia and his friends, this incident could have been prevented.

There are more. BNP is creating examples for others to follow. Only several months ago, whole nation watched how BNP openly harassed it political opponent Dr B Chowdhury and Mr Abdul Mannan. Wasn’t it a green signal for the groups who carry a little more extreme opinions?

Madrassa grown extremist groups of Moulana Amini kind has been issuing death threats to many intellectuals, journalists. Moulana Amini is a partner of this government and he became an MP with BNPs election symbol, sheaf of paddy (Dhaner sheesh). As BNP bears responsibility for the activities of any of it’s party members and MPs, BNP also bears responsibility for any activity/speech by Moulana Amini.

And again. What BNP did in the history to restrain these zealots? The BNP government went against calls from UN, USA, EU, Amnesty international etc. to comply with the demand of Amini and madrassa movements to ban Ahamadiya books. Will it be grossly wrong if I connect the dots in the following way. We all know these madrassa movements don’t like mazaar–they bombed Shah Jalal mazaar, they don’t like pohela boiushakh — they bombed Romna botomool, they don’t like Bengali culture– they bombed Udichi, they don’t like Communist party– they bombed CP meeting. I know I should not blame someone without proof, but I am allowed to suspect, isn’t it?
What BNP did? They arrested NGO workers(Proshika), Journalists( Selim Samad), Opposition Political leaders, intellectuals. In the meantime they keep on patronizing these Madrassa movement led by Amini, Azizul Huq etc.

So why BNP will not be held responsible?

Nature of Protest

We can rally, protest, blockade to express our anger. Why do we have to burn innocent peoples cars, or public buses or public property? Why can’t we leave behind the culture of sixties when protest used to mean anarchy? Can’t AL or Sheikh Hasina come up with a statement urging people to protest without burning property? How many more years we have to wait to become civilized?

The dead and the injured

As you will noticed, there has been a fundamental difference in Bangladesh media and international media on the media coverage of the events . BBC, CNN etc. website gave very high priority to this news. But none of these media outlets showed any picture of any dead or injured. Instead, e.g. BBC showed a much powerful picture of a wailing man in a barren Dhaka street. See what Dhaka media are doing. They are showing picture women-men lying on the streets and mingled bodies in the morgue. Even they are publishing the picture of some leader and asking in the caption is she alive or dead. Bangladesh newspapers are independent and maintain a high standard of journalistic excellence. But when they will understand that privacy is a part of journalistic etiquette also?

Ambulance and the the rickshaw van

A big part of international coverage mentioned that injured or the dead were being carried to the hospital with tricycle carts. It was a big niche in the story to show how savage we still are. After such an incident in the heart of Dhaka, police car or ambulance don’t show up. In this 21st century we still carry the injured with a manual cart, untrained passers by pull and hold badly injured bodies. And journalists take pictures of them.

Pizza Hut

We now have pizza huts in Bangladesh, people are proud to show that off. “Fast Food” courts are mushrooming everywhere, people are spending a fortune in those places playing pools and bowlings. We, the chattering Bengali, are talking relentlessly with our fancy camera cell phones. And those mingles bodies head towards the emergency room on a rickshaw cart.

Live newscast from Bangladesh has been integrated in my daily routine lately.

Thanks to the news shows from different channels, I was having a live commentary of poet Shamsur Rahman’s illness.

There was a progressive decline in poet’s health over the weeks preceding his death.

I saw an ill health, disheveled poet lying in his ICU bed. Over the next several days I was shown an unshaven poet struggling to breathe. Following days the world saw a confused and improper poet lying restless in his bed. Footage of semiconscious poet trying to remove his oxygen mask, pulling off IV lines and other tubing was telecast by different channels with great pride. Then we saw a hole in poet’s throat through which he was getting mechanical breathes.

I am glad that no news camera was around when poet breathed his last. Otherwise I probably would have to endure the commentary and live transmission of poet struggling for his final breathes.

However our TV channels made up for their missing of poet’s final breath during the four and half our long live telecast of mourning and grieving of poet’s immediate family, occassionaly with closeup of wailing family membes.

I find this sort of TV coverage is overzealous journalism. When as a nation we will comprehend the concept of privacy?

There may be many people around who has met or visited poet Shamsur Rahman at his home or office when the poet was in good health. Every time you will visit him, poet will show up, very well dressed, hairs are nicely done, a nice shirt and a nice sandal on, wearing his trademark glass. When coming to public programs, or TV, you would have seen him in his starched, ironed “panjabi”. There was no way he could come out in public or in TV or even in front of his friends in the unkempt condition or improper dress as we all saw the poet in last couple of weeks.

One might argue, well, poet was sick, there is nothing wrong in showing a sick man look sick. But we should understand that what the poet would not have allowed to happen when he was in control, why would we do that when he lost that control? Why should we take the opportunity of sickness to invade the privacy of this pristine poet ? Be it poet , be it anybody else, the privacy must be respected at all time.

I grew up in the residential quarters in Sher-e-bangla Nagar around the Ganavaban. We used to play in and around the unde- construction Ganavaban, the future official residence of the prime Minister of Bangladesh. Later when the building was commissioned, we were not too happy as our free playground went off limit for us. Unlike children of these days, we were hardly confined to home, rather quite independently; we used to roam around the adjacent areas with gangs of boys and chatting with the guardsman posted at different gates of ganavaban. We also learned different kind of salutes from these guardsmen and were very much eager to test our salute skill on the dignitaries.

On one Eid day, probably that of 1974 or 1975, our chance came. Ganavaban was open to public; anybody could go and meet the prime minister. We also went in, me, Hasan and Shiblee, all of between 6 to 7 years of age and easily entered the huge hall room and walked straight where bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was standing and greeting people. We went forward and promptly resorted to our much practiced salute. I still remember the affection mixed surprise in Bangabandhu’s eyes. We hoped we could do ‘kolakuli’ like others, but we probably were too nervous and was intimidated by his tall stature, and as smart Hasan showed the way, we all bend on his foot and did “kadam buchi”. Bangabandhu promptly shouted to some of his aid to feed us with ‘shemai”.

Not too long after, bangabandhu was killed along with all his family members. I was immensely saddened. It is more than 31 years, we lost this legendary leader. I still cherish my memory of meeting him in person. So far he is the first and last ruler of Bangladesh I ever met in person.

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There was a tree lined road between our house and ganavaban. At the end of the road, a two story red residential building was part of an army base. A high ranking army officer lived there with his three daughters. After visiting bangabandhu, our confidence was sky high. So we decided to visit his home to “salute” him. He also took us in and introduced us to his wife and daughters. This man was colonel Jamil. Most of us don’t know who he is. In 1975, he was the military secretary of the President. On august 15, when Bangabandhu was under fire, his sons were already killed, he desperately called maj general Shafiullah, who declined to help citing his inability. Bangabandu then called Col Jamil, who immediately responded to call of duty and was killed in Sobhanbag area on the Mirpur road, while trying to resort command and control on the unruly soldiers.

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Maulvi Sheikh Abdul Halim was the Imam of the mosque at Tongipara at Gopalganj who was asked to burry Bangabandhu without namaj e janaja and public viewing. But he boldly declined, on the face of the scary looking blood thirsty army personnel, to burry without namaj e janaja. About public viewing, he replied, “We can. But only if you declare him a `shahid’ (martyr).”

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Also today, our prime minister celebrated her 62nd birthday. She, with a queen Victoria kind of attitude, received greetings and flowers today at her official residence. Chhatra Dal, the student wing of Khaleda’s party also celebrated the event at Madhu’s canteen with a 62 pound cake.
There is something called civility and courtesy. Does our prime minister have any of this human quality in her? May be it is her real birth day, but why can’t she show the minimum civility by keeping her celebrations subdued? After all this is the same day when all the close and extended family members of her political colleague were killed brutally. What kind of role model she wants to be for young Bangladeshi citizen??

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