Spirit of Bangladesh

প্রকাশিত: ৯:০৭ পূর্বাহ্ণ, এপ্রিল ১৭, ২০২০

Spirit of Bangladesh

Dr. Mamun Al Mahtab (Shwapnil)

It happened to be the guest at a live talk show on DBC TV in a recent evening, not too long back. The title of that show was enough powerful to left an impression on me. If translated into English, it would be something close to “Prescription of the Corona days”. ‘Corona days’ – perhaps this is how the present time will be referred to, when someone will write newspaper articles or novels or poetry or discuss about the many different aspects of the current times sometimes in the future. Our miseries and sufferings are no doubt boundless during these corona days.

What needs to be done and what not to, to stay safe during these corona days have been discussed and written on numerous occasions by so many from so many different platforms and propagated to the general mass by so many different ways. One positive outcome is that we have seen many new writers and also many fresh but promising performers in TV talk shows during ‘corona days’. And surely they have added newer dimensions to the many dimensions of the ‘corona days’.

To me, it often seems that the corona days have given us the unique window to take time travel down the lanes of history. Take for instance the Japanese city of Nara, which is for long on the tourist radar of Japan because of the numerous deer that roam in abundance in it’s vast parks, but hardly can the residents of Nara recall, when these deer last took to the streets of their city. Forget me, I can bet that none of my forefathers could recall seeing dolphins off the coast line of Cox’s Bazar city had they been here in this mortal world today.

And one thing is also sure, none on the face of today’s world has any experience of how our environment was five hundred years back. It is now being suggested that not only the skies over the Chinese cities are clearer than ever before, the world’s environment is also returning to how it used to be five centuries ago. Even the glaciers in the two poles may even cease to melt, thanks to the lowest level of utilization of fossil fuel across the globe in our recorded history, since we started burning these fossil derivatives.

And off course ‘corona days’ is also allowing us to look back and experience the more recent history as well. I was 5 years old in 1975, the year Bangabandhu was assassinated with his ill-fated family members. Me and my generation have learnt about the events leading to 15 August, 1975 by reading, listening to and interpreting to whatever was available in printing and otherwise. The same goes for the generations that follow. The famine of 1974 is not unknown to my generation.

The same goes for Basonti. Photograph of Basonti, trying to cover her body with fishing net, got published in national newspapers during those turbulent times to dent the reputation of Bangabandhu’s government enormously. It was only discovered much later that Basonti had posed in the fishing net for mere taka fifty only.

We have grown up listening to so many myths of corruption by Awami League leaders of that time, especially in distributing relief to the marginal people in need of food, but hardly did anyone point to the fact that it was the diversion of the ships carrying food grain for Bangladesh under PL-480 programme from the mid-seas that led to this man-made catastrophe and not corruption by a handful of Awami League politicians.

Similarly no one ever raised the question why, having no money to buy a cotton saree, did Basonti opt to buy the fishing net, given the fact that fishing net remains much more expensive than cotton saree then and now.

In 1975 Bangladesh yielded bumper crop with ‘Zia and gong’ reaping benefit of it in 1976, sitting at the centre of power illegally. The fact remains that the newspapers of that time bears no reference of this other side of the coin. Had Bangabandhu not been assassinated in 1975, it would never have been possible in 1976, simply because of the fact that the country’s economy had stabilized by then due to this record crop production. The circumstances were so designed in 1975, that things eventually went out of the government’s grip to some extent.

Coming back to these ‘corona days’, there are certain things that simply don’t seem to me to fall into place. It remains a big question mark to me why, Bangabandhu’s assassin Captain (dismissed) Majed, whom our agencies and the Interpol have been hunting for decades in every nook and corner of the globe, suddenly decided to return home from his safe exile in Kolkata? It is not that they have COVID there and we don’t have it here. Was it COVID or something else that brought him back? Was he a pawn in a much more complex game of chess?

It is also disturbing for me to see stories of corruption by Awami League leaders and elected public representatives with relief goods, flooding all the different media platforms, be it electronic, print or social, where we gather information from. What I gather is that till 14 April, 2020, twelve elected representatives of different local government bodies have been caught red handed with misappropriated relief food. You can also add around 10 leaders of different ranks of the ruling Awami League to this list. Now I will request you to get a calculator before reading this article any further.

Do you know how many elected representatives are holding public offices in this country? Just let me give you the numbers. We have 350 elected Members of Parliament, 330 elected Mayors, 492 elected Upazilla Chairmen, 984 elected Upazilla Vice Chairmen, 4571 elected Union Parishod Chairmen and 54,852 elected Union Parishod Members in Bangladesh, which makes the total 61,579 elected public office bearers.

Now coming back to Bangladesh Awami League, starting from the Central Committee to the Union and Ward Committees of Awami League and it’s different member and associate organizations, the total number of office bearers is no less than 5 million. Now is it ever possible to calculate the percentage of corrupt elected public office bearers or Awami League leaders in Bangladesh without a calculator?

I know very well what the response of the critics will be to this argument. They will argue that actually the numbers are much higher, but the government is strangulating voice of the free media. However all will forget to add the corrupt food dealers and businessmen to the list, who are very much involved in polluting the government’s generous move to supply food to the door steps of the marginal millions.

For these non-believers, I have a simple answer. In this country, not in the too distant past, we have seen people sacrificing their lives in Bogura and Borhanuddin believing that Mr. Saidee has been sighted in the moon or that someone has posted a blasphemous status in facebook. So in a country like Bangladesh with more than twenty five electronic and hundreds of print media and above all with over five crores facebook users even in the remotest corners anything, but blanketing corruption with food relief is possible.

These are the reason why I sometimes get bit puzzled, whether some quarters are busy setting the background for another 1975. And then I realize that things have changed a lot since. It is 2020 and not 1975 – now people are much more aware. They can now compare their situation with that of their neighboring countries and even the developed ones. They have enormous access to information, unlike never before. And so I relax.

I realize that no matter whatever may be made possible, it is simply impossible to take the ‘corona days’ back to those ‘Basonti days’! By the way, want to know what happened to Basonti? None inquired about her wellbeing from 1976 to 1996, although many had made fortune out of her fishing net wrapped photograph.

It was Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who built her the first home after assuming office in 1996 and then again the second one after taking to office for the second term in 2009. Unfortunately both her homes were washed away by river erosion. Basonti now stays in her new home with her brother enjoying monthly grant from the government – thanks once again to Jananetry Sheikh Hasina!

Dr. Mamun Al Mahtab : Chairman of Hepatology, BSMMU, Advisor of redtimes.com.bd

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December 2021