Home | Columns | Poetry | Opinions | Biography | Photo Gallery | Contact

Thursday, July 24, 2008

In memory of Rafiqullah

This great son of Bangladesh, my best friend, was a remarkable man with the qualities which are rare in present day world. May beautiful birds sing on his grave and fresh, clean grass guard it.

The Bangladesh Today

I was 19 when I landed at Dhaka University. It was fall of 1967.East Bengal had always been land of my dreams. Topped in Government College Rawalpindi in graduation with roll of honor, I brushed aside Punjab University's scholarship and jumped over an advertisement floated by the Federal Government announcing Inter-wing exchange Program. I competed and was selected.
Lodged in room 367 of Mohsin Hall (Neel Khet), I overcame initial fits of homesickness, and started enjoying life at Dhaka University. I was one of very few West Pakistani students who felt at home with Bengali dress and food. I used to wear Lungi just like other fellow students. (Even now, after 38 years, I wear it. What is more, my 25 years son who is teaching at one of Islamabad universities also uses it- though both of us cannot get hold of that quality here). My Bengali friends would take me to their homes on Eid and other holidays. The hospitality and cordial regard with which my friends' families treated me is deeply imprinted on my heart. I visited Comilla where my friend Sohail's father was Registrar of Comilla Education Board and Mahmood's father was Circle officer. Kazi Khalil ur Rahman took me to Ghorasal where I had famous Bengali Rasgullas. With Baqir I traveled to hinterland of Mymensingh and went as far as village Jogni Mora. I can never forget those fabulous lakes covered with lilies and ponds with bricked stairs going down into water on all four sides, surrounded by thickly grown mango trees birds chirping on them. The mysterious mystic aura at Baba Jalal's mausoleum ,the glorious landscape of Rangamati ,the magical cruise in Kaptai, the stunningly beautiful tribal women at Cox's Bazaar and the lonely tree in front of Chakma chief's palace under which I stood and got snapped------every thing is unforgettable !.
Two and half years stay at Dhaka University is one of the best periods of my life. Dhaka University's was the only Library in the then Pakistan which would remain open twenty-four hours. I still remember that sweet silence dominating the inside of library, discussions in whispers, lengthening shadows of evening getting darker outside and reflections of leaves of Tamarind and lychee trees floating on window panes!
In the evenings we would wait eagerly, in the hostel, for the cham cham seller .The super quality mangoes were six in one rupee and the modus operandi was that we would throw the rope down from the third floor and the vendor would tie the shopping bag with it and we would pull it up. Enjoying a drink of "daab" at the back of New Market, costing four anas, was a daily ritual. It was commonly believed that one had to consume a certain number of samosas and cups of tea from Madhu's canteen to pass the examination.
It was this angelical atmosphere in which I came across Rafiqullah, my best friend, whom we have lost recently. Hailing from a respectable religious family of Chaumuhani (Noakhali), he was doing his Masters in English Literature. We were residing in the same hostel, Mohsin Hall. He was always dressed in impeccable white shirt and pantaloon of the same color. I do not recall now as to how and by whom we were introduced to each other, but very soon we became inseparable. Somehow a schedule got crystallized. He would come straight to my room after dinner. We would study, have tea, and sing songs till small hours of night. He was rather a heavy smoker. Unfortunately, in spite of his efforts, I could not give him company in consuming tobacco. Many a time it happened that on our way to my room after dinner, we came across some friends and stopped for exchanging niceties.

Soon the conversation would switch over to serious topics like disparity between East and West Pakistanis, Agartala conspiracy and other burning political issues of the time. We would be immersed in arguments to the extent that only azaan at dawn would make us realize that we had been standing in the corridor for the whole night.
Rafiqullah was not studying English Literature just in order to pass the examination. He had deep penchant and commitment for literature and it was a way of life for him. He remembered many lengthy paragraphs of Shakespeare and Sophocles by heart. It was under his influence that I decided to do masters in English Literature as well after attaining the degree in Economics. Unfortunately on returning to Islamabad, Civil Service examination took precedence and my plan to appear in Masters in English Literature fizzled out which I regretted throughout .
Then occurred the inevitable. The final examinations were over. We had to part. I can still see him standing at the barrier, wearing green pullover with stark white pantaloon waving his hand.
He started teaching Literature at Chaumuhani College and I Economics at one of Islamabad Colleges. Correspondence was regular. His letters were marvelous pieces of literature and always source of learning for me. I am still preserving some of them. The titanic 1971 war came with all its miseries and execrations. The arena underwent a metamorphosis. We did inform each other about joining respective civil services but somehow soon we lost contact.
After almost a decade, one day a letter landed on my table. It was from Rafiqullah. He had scolded me for being out of touch and had explained at length as to how he had taken pains in locating me. He was now in United States and was doing some type of business in Omaha (Nebraska). After another few months, a gentleman brought a packet full of shirts, neckties and other gifts for my wife and kids. He had come from Omaha and Rafiqullah had sent all this. It is strange that whenever we lost contact, it was he who undertook the hunt and traced me wherever I was.
In 2004 my daughter got married and joined her husband at Rochester (Minnesota) .The following year I and my wife had to be there to welcome advent of our first grandchild. I rang up Rafiqullah from Rochester and he commanded me to visit him. I tried to convince him that we could not travel with a seven days old baby but he would not listen to any reason. On his unrelenting insistence we finally ventured to undertake the journey. It was seven hours drive. We crossed Iowa and reached Omaha where Rafiqullah; holding hand of his lovely grandson was standing outside his house to greet us. We were seeing each other after thirty five years. We laughed and we cried. He was clad in typical Bengali Kurta and Pajama and was looking divine. He had taken two days off his job especially for us. Owning an impressive house, he and Bhabi were living happily with their sons, daughters in law and grandchildren. After two days when we parted, his grandson Zubair, who called my wife dado, was crying.
Whenever I was in Washington for my official business, he would urge me to visit Omaha but somehow this could never happen. Once when he was on his way to Dhaka, I pleaded to make a stopover at Karachi but he was in hurry to reach his ailing father. In November, 2006, he announced his program for Hajj. I wrote to him that according to an Urdu phrase a cat would go to Hajj only after gobbling nine hundred mice. On his return from hajj, I demanded my share of holy dates and Zamzam.
One more year passed and then came that frightening ,ugly email .It was like a nightmare to me, "I have been diagnosed with cancer cells in the liver". This was his last mail in my inbox. His son Ishrat kept on informing about his condition from stage to stage. Then came Najmu's mail. Rafiqullah had breathed his last on 11th January 2008 in Omaha hospital.
This great son of Bangladesh, my best friend, was a remarkable man with the qualities which are rare in present day world. May beautiful birds sing on his grave and fresh, clean grass guard it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Are Bengalis missing Pakistan?

Have Bengalis missed anything by breaking away? The answer is: No, they haven't because they made a Nation-state out of themselves.

The Bangladesh Today
Some of the Pakistani newspapers have quoted a particular news agency stating that according to a recent release by World Health Organization two hundred sixty two thousands people had got killed in 1971 Bangladesh War of independence. Although I could not get hold of any such report on internet, yet the news item provides an opportunity to do some stocktaking.
Emergence of Bangladesh draws an analogy at least in one aspect with 1857 upheaval. What for Sub Continent was a war of independence was mutiny to British chronologists. Pakistanis term 1971 event as "Separation of East Pakistan" whereas all and sundry, especially Bangladeshis, term it as war of independence.
Today when we look back, tragic paradoxes dominate the scene. Take for example Muhammad Ali Jinnah's Speech at Dhaka in which he declared Urdu as the one and only national language of Pakistan. Whosoever drafted that Speech was either unaware of cultural and linguistic history of East Bengal or was not sincere with his leader.
What West Pakistanis could not appreciate, or perhaps could not comprehend, was the fact that Bengali was a language richer and older than Urdu and was, since centuries, being used, unlike Punjabi, as medium of instruction and communication. This speech sowed seeds of permanent distrust between two wings. Adoption of both Urdu and Bengalis as national languages was the only logical solution of the issue. In Canada, for example, only one province is French speaking but French is accepted as national language, besides English, by the entire country. Switzerland has three national languages. The irony is that in the leftover Pakistan, even today, after sixty years, Urdu is yet to occupy its promised seat at Centre as well as Provinces. Bengali, on the other hand has been treated with far greater reverence in Bangladesh.
Ayub Khan's ten years despotic rule, played to the gallery, unfortunately, as Decade of Development, had eroded much of the already decomposed national integration. He was followed yet by another general. I remember during my student days at Dhaka University, Bengali class fellows used to ask sarcastically as to when the turn of a Bengali General would come to rule the country from the throne of Islamabad?" not even in remote future". The never ending military rule diffused a deep, irreparable despondency all over in the eastern part of the country.
There was no light at the end of tunnel. This turned the intelligentsia hostile and cynical. I can not forget the taunt with which my hostel-warden at Mohsin Hall Dhaka University regretted to accept the cheque for university fee telling me "we are small people - we don't deal with cheques."
Variance in land ownership patterns was another decisive factor. There were, practically no feudal in East Pakistan whereas West Pakistan was a vast green pasture for land Czars including privileged members of the notorious Unionist party who, one fine morning at the eve of partition, had found themselves safe in the Sanctuary of Muslim League.
The majority province, ultimately, seceded. This was unprecedented in history. Small chunks always had been bidding farewell to the mainlands but here it was a unique case. The biggest province which had struggle and achievement of Pakistan to its credit was breaking away after waging a war of independence.
It is a pity that no soul searching is being carried out in the leftover Pakistan. The million-dollar question which deserves reply is whether the objective for which Pakistan was fought and won has been achieved? There is a complete lack of consensus as far as objective is concerned. The upper crust maintains that Pakistan was created to provide opportunity to Muslims to live without economic domination of Hindus. The masses, however, claim that the chunk of land was broken away from the mainland to implement Principles of Islam.
Not withstanding the fact that the Poet, Asghar Sodai, (he breathed his last recently), who had coined the popular slogan, "Pakistan ka matlab kia - La-ilaha illalah," was neither a member of the then Muslim League nor the League officially owned this catchword. We assume, for the sake of argument, that founding fathers, indeed, had intention to make it a state wherein Islam, in letter and spirit would be practiced as a way of life at national as well as individual level. Unfortunately the present day Pakistan has no compatibility with cannons of Islamic State. The "Sirdari" system of Baluchistan, the fiefdom prevailing in Sindh and South Punjab, the heterogeneous and chaotic education system, based mainly on class-distinction, and the dynasties monopolizing the elected bodies are some of the features of present day Pakistan which can hardly be accepted by any version of Islam. But the most unfortunate is the sectarian strife which has completely destroyed the fabric of state as well the society.
If, at all, Islam is being implemented, it is confined to a particular brand interested only in size of beard, colour of turban, length of shirt, visibility of ankles, burning female education institutes, blasting barbers' shops, destroying video centers and slitting throats of fellow-Muslims. Those who attribute creation of Pakistan to the cause of establishing an Islamic State must do some soul searching whether the alleged objective has been achieved.
That the country was created for economic emancipation of the Muslims is a more shattered dream. Pakistan's economy is in shambles. The well-fed baboos, fortified in permanently under-renovation glass-houses of Planning Commission and Finance Ministry, have been aping Harvard and John Hopkins models and parroting phantasmagoria of per capita income and growth rate. "Brains" behind cotton policies had never seen cotton crops in their entire careers and architects of wheat policy believed that wheat plant was as high as a tree. What fruit the common man is reaping?
A massive dreadful load-shedding program throwing the country in utter darkness six times every twenty four hours, a virtually non-existent purchasing power, thousands of roofless Public Sector schools where students bring their own empty sacks of jute or plastic to bottom themselves on hard ground, the lowest literacy rate in South Asia, women forced to march naked in streets every now and then, an anachronistic but free jirga system running parallel to the shackled judiciary, an ever rising poverty line and teeming millions of youth running from pillar to post to get hold of jobs even if they are below their qualifications. Above all, the country has turned into a huge slaughter house.
Anybody can be slain any time anywhere on parochial, linguistic or sectarian basis. Car jacking, cell phones snatching and kidnapping for ransom have been accepted by all concerned as order of day. A small but all powerful minority is enjoying a life style known only for despots of Middle East and criminals of Latin American banana republics. This is one country where your jet-set living will never be probed into whether it is off shoot of Commission in Arms purchase or some other crime hidden behind the fortune. So much for emancipation from economic hegemony of Hindus!
Reverting back to emergence of Bangladesh, whether it was outcome of a war of independence or a separation movement , the basic question which every Pakistani must ask himself is:Have Bengalis missed anything by breaking away? The answer is: No, they haven't because they made a Nation-state out of themselves.


powered by worldwanders.com