Saturday, March 26, 2011

At Lawacharra

It was good to get away to Lawacharra Forest in the north-east...away from the news, the noise, and the pollution. There was only a generator and that sputtered for just part of the night.

Right after dinner, my wife and I were left alone in silence and darkness surrounded by the bending trees and the glowing stars.

Orion was plainly visible, and its belt pointed to the brightest star, Sirius. After sunset, the zodiacal light bathed our bungalow.

Sometimes, a firefly seemed a deceptive star.

For the first time, I saw Saturn, rising at azimuth east 94 degrees, and situated by ten just above the areca palm. It glowed majestically through my binoculars.

The moon rose promptly at 8:33 (well, we assumed it did) and we saw its progress across the sky on the vernal equinox (nowrooz) till midnight. We tried to stay awake till after midnight to see Anatares, but our eyelids revolted, and we turned in, to the music of numerous night-creatures...crickets, frogs, tuctoo lizards....Or sometimes I preferred to read Jalaluddin Rumi indoors while the generator was on.

Fortunately, the sky wasn't draped, as on nights before, with the altostratus translucidus, a thick transparent cloud that reveals the moon but not the stars. And the wind was everywhere and the night was cold.

The expression 'azimuth', so important for star-gazers, reminded me of Arabia: al-sumut, the directions. The Arabs were master astronomers, and my favourite character is Tusi. After he helped Hulegu Khan destroy Baghdad, his patron built him a giant observatory. From that observatory, some of his sightings and insights made their way to Copernius, and we have the Copernican Revolution.

In a forest, one can muse on these things....

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sayyid Qutb and Bangladesh

Sayyid Qutb has been described as the father of Islamic fundamentalism, but that's inaccurate. Islamic fundamentalism has several progenitors, but he was unique in his advocacy of violence. He was also innovative in his use of the term 'jahiliya'. Jahiliya was the period before Islam, a period of unknowing and iniquity.

Qutb felt that the contemporary Muslim world had ceased to be Muslim, and he described this as jahiliya. Clearly, this was an emotionally powerful slogan. Here I am concerned with how the term (as used by Qutb) would apply to Bangladesh.

Clearly, between 1971 and 1975, Bangladesh belonged to the period of jahiliya (Jahiliya 1). Over these years, we were concerned with what Arnold Toynbee has called "the worship of our collective selves", that is, nationalism. Nationalism, for a Muslim, is idolatry.

After the killing of Sheikh Mujib, Islam was reestablished in our constitution and in practice. Jahiliya had been overcome: not by fundamentalists, mind you, but by military officers, especially General Zia. This was the reverse of the experience of Egypt, Qutb's homeland, under Nasser.

General Ershad carried on this post-jahiliya period over nine years.

However, after the election of December 2008, jahiliya has returned with a vengeance (Jahiliya 2). Islam has again been disestablished: the democratic government hasn't dared to wipe Islam from the constitution, but it clearly would have loved to do so. The clause expressing our solidarity with the umma has been erased. The country is now a vassal of India. Language-worship and Mujib-worship are back.

Who will take us out of the present jahiliya - military officers or fundamentalists? Let's wait and see.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Tyrant and the Mountebank

Between a tyrant and a mountebank, Bangladesh has displayed quite a spectacle. By the former I refer to the prime minister, and by the latter, Mohammed Yunus, formerly of Grameen Bank.

We know that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded purely on political - and politicised - considerations. Yunus had lobbied hard to get the Prize. And the west wanted to blinker the world to the fact that they were not going to do anything for the truly poor of the world - there would be no more export-led growth, as in East Asia. So some kind of opium was necessary, and microcredit came along. We also know it doesn't work. Indeed, microfinance has been known to kill the poor. The model is not only useless, but dangerous. In fact, gouging the poor has not been a recent story. And, as the Norwegian documentary has shown, the original borrower died in poverty and her children are beggars.

But that's not surprising: even Elie Wiesel won the Peace Prize. As did Barack Obama (we'll never figure that one out).

What is shocking, then, is not Yunus getting the Prize, but Bangladeshis feeling that he's done them proud. We claim that he brought us dignity and prestige. Can a bauble really do that?

Dignity and prestige comes from honesty, fair dealing, uprightness, equity, compassion...not from foreigners and their tinsel.

Al-Ghazali said that any work undertaken with equity and compassion is ibadat. Where are equity and compassion in Bangladesh?

Our intellectuals are hired liars, as has been obvious from the exhibition on both sides of the farce. Self-respect comes from the self, not from others.

One has but to consider one of Yunus's closest drinking buddies, a rogue known as Bill Clinton. This unconscionable man coldbloodedly murdered 1.7 million children in Iraq through sanctions; and his lackey, the secretary of state, went on prime-time TV equally coldbloodedly to defend the indefensible.

A man is judged by the company he keeps, or should be: and this is the kind of man we consider a hero in Bangladesh. That says a lot about Bangladesh.

This whole circus has revealed nothing but our moral bankruptcy.

S&R Fiction – “Sahel” by Iftekhar Sayeed | Scholars and Rogues

S&R Fiction – “Sahel” by Iftekhar Sayeed | Scholars and Rogues

(click above for story)

This story is set in Kuakata, in the south of Bangladesh, where two men and a woman arrive from the Middle East by sea in a boat on a moon-lit night to join Zafar Shah for a deadly venture.


"The sun sank under the cirrocumulus clouds that draped the sky in sheets of muslin while low, cumulus clouds appeared blue-back. I pushed off to a discreet distance so I could only hear the surf and the wind, and not their conversation, although it was carried on mostly in Arabic, with a few English words and the name of the petroleum company distinctly audible. I wanted to know as little as possible about the three locals in case I was tortured. I wish it had been dark when I saw their faces.

The moon had risen hours ago, but only now came into its own. Sirius twinkled, and soon Orion appeared in majesty. The wind grew cooler by degrees. The sputter of an engine-boat reached me as it floated down the Andarmanick, then grew quieter, decibel by decibel. The tide had turned, and it would come further up than before, being spring tide."