Tuesday, August 19, 2008

an evening with a lunatic

My wife and I spent an evening with a lunatic. We didn't realise he was barking mad until it was too late to extricate ourselves. After all, the seemingly sane chap was a very senior bureaucrat. His wife sat with us, knitting, not looking up, in a long skirt and top. The two kids – for the lunatic had sired two children – played in a corner.

"I don't believe in the god of Islam or Judaism. This god wants loyalty, and I don't like that."

My wife and I listened without interrupting: that is usually the wisest strategy with someone who's not all there.

We expected him to be against all religion, since he was a vigorous nationalist, and kept a picture of Sheikh Mujib in his office when it was mandatory to keep only the prime minister's picture there. When the nation – and its language – is your god, other divinities must be anathema. But we were wrong.

"I like Apollo – and Siva." In fact, he only liked Siva, because he was a Hindu deity. Curiously the Bengali nationalist loves Hinduism and all things Indian. He's non compos mentis, you see.

"I use the seal of Siva on my pads."

He asked the servant to bring his seal. It was a metal contraption, and looked as though it had been designed for torture or circumcision – or perhaps both.

He placed a sheet of paper inside the machine, pressed down the lever, and looked delighted (as schizos and psychos do with their handiwork).

"Look!"

He handed us the sheet and there was an embossed print of Siva.

We smiled appreciatively. We were dying to get away.

I have heard of nationalism that rests on one's own religion РIreland and Israel come to mind Рbut nationalism inspired by an alien religion, a religion not of one's own people but of foreigners, must take the recherché biscuit, to use James Joyce's expression.

The lunatic, as you will recall, was a bureaucrat. And he was a (covert) member of the Awami League, the nationalist party that hates Islam and the Muslim world, and loves Hinduism and India.

A bureaucrat is not supposed to engage in politics – yet he kept a photo of Mujib in his office even when the other party was in power (of course, after the rebellion of the bureaucrats in 1996, loyalty to party has replaced loyalty to the state even among civil servants).

Before an election, the caretaker government had sent him out of the country and told him to stay out until the polls were over.

A senior bureaucrat like him was bound to try and help rig the election in favour of the Awami League (in the event, it was rigged in favour of the BNP!).

When the lunatic finished, we ran.

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