I can make an easy assumption here. If one does a quick poll on how many people knew of film star Manna, I am pretty sure, 90% would have answered they never heard of Manna. And I am pretty sure the numbers would have been respectively 99% and 100% negative if the questions were how many saw a Manna film and how many of them were Manna’s fans.

On February 17, Dhaka film star Manna died of heart attack. For me, I heard of Manna’s name as a Dhakaiya film actor but never saw any of his movies. (Even If I did, would I confess it in this forum? Mere knowing of Manna, forget about watching his film or becoming his movie, is a blatant sign of cultural backwardness and social downwardness among the members of my class).

When I was watching TV footage of the crowd at United Hospital where Manna died, I thought, OMG, Manna must have been a popular hero. It was a surprise. But that surprise was nothing compared to what I saw the following day, again in TV news footage. Tens of thousands men, young and old, from all over the country, gathered in front of FDC (Dhaka version of Hollywood Film Studios); only to have a glance at Manna for the last moment. Failing to enter FDC campus, those gathered got involved in a pitched battle with the police. E-Bangladesh posted a story on this event. The body was supposed to be taken to Shahid Minar for public viewing. Another mass, tens of thousands strong, also gathered there. And more people were thronging along the way from FDC to Shahid Minar. The clash between police and the mourners got ugly. Fearing people power, the military government forced the FDC organizers to cancel the Shahid Minar viewing.

The spontaneous gathering of people was remarkable. Dhaka has not seen such spontaneous gathering in many years. Even during the peak days of recent anti government movement, all the organized gatherings were not as big.

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This event should be a reminder to us- the vocal minority, the culturally upward, urban-NRB elite class; of our disconnect to a vast and very excitable section of our society. I can challenge all my readers and give you three days time. Go and find out one, just one person, who is a fan of Manna and who will travel long distance to see Manna’s body for the last time. I can tell now, hardly any of my readers will be able to achieve that feat. This should be another indicator of the seclusion we live in. We are totally failing to understand the pulse or even identify a big section of our society who will not hesitate to gather in the street and fight the police for their passion. If tens of thousands of people can gather within several hours by words of mouth (There was no public announcement regarding the timing of Janaja and Shahid Minar showing), the real proportion of population nationwide belonging to this group must be very high. They are not the students we traditionally depended on for street agitations against autocrats. Probably this is the group who took over the movement of 22nd August in Dhaka University and spread it all over Dhaka.

Earlier this week I wrote a piece on football star Nannu. Many of present generation youth did not know of Nannu because Nannu belonged to a different temporal generation. But these youth fighting police after Manna’s death or after DU incident, belong to same generation as most of the young activists in the vocal minority are in. Still few among us know who they are. This is probably a class gap. With ever widening rich poor gap, the classes are drifting farther and farther apart. This is also a telling sign about the secluded utopia we live in and our lack of knowledge of the realities in the real ground. May be that’s why the chatters in online forums, news paper op-eds do not always reflect the ground reality. My be this is about the time; we try to understand the life on the ground and reassess the situation.
One other reason we must know this group is that probably this group will lead the upcoming street against an autocratic government. They already have flexed muscle in Kansat, Fulbari, Mirpur, Shanir Akhra, Shewrapara etc. And they have not lost any battle yet.