Jalal Uddin Khan

Beauty of Bangladesh: The Obverse

(This is the first of two contrasting poems the second of which is the shorter “Beauty of that land: the reverse,” which describes the opposite/positive side.)

Jalal Uddin Khan

I

That’s no land either.[1]

Its beauty lies in the state

Of fair is foul, foul is fair,[2]

In the principle of having no principle

Except that political power comes

Out of the bullets and barrels, boots and batons[3]

And that all animals are equal

But some animals are more equal than others.[4]

I know not if the governing group ever knew

How to thank those writers

For the lessons it’s been benefitting from.

 

II

Its beauty lies in the predicament

That is the deeply adulterated parliament

Too innocent to debate any argument

Too loyal to refrain from ready-made compliment

And the equally obliging judiciary

Regardless of how dubious its conduct may be

Both perceived to be working cooperatively

At the service of certain quarters only

All out of the complete criminalization of politics,

Dire dearth of transparency and accountability

Banished under the dictate of irrational responsibility

Conjoined with the shock therapy that is the police

And their Gitmo[5] remand and terror tactics.

 

III

Its beauty lies in Crusader 100, targeted assassinations

Forced disappearances, indiscriminate arrests

From shoot to kill to ban on right to assembly

Useless talk-of-the-town talk-shows

As divided over the issues

As the prime time from the late night

Empty intellectualization, print or visual

Around the table round or rectangular

Like poetry makes nothing happen.[6]

 

IV

That beauty lies in the crowded streets

Chronic traffic congestions

Wormlike resident density, bricks upon bricks

Corrupt public service

Rot educational institutions

Hoodlums and hooligans, miscreants and sycophants

Progenies of Mammon and Moloch[7]

Flaunting big and bombast

Boxed into their topsy-turvy notions

Shrunk into their own contractions

As if the Big Bang’s ever expansion

Reverted into implosion, all in confirmation

That power and money are the roots of all evil—

In violation of the ethics Aristotelian

That a tainted source

Is held in a good man’s aversion—

That the looters and lackeys know it too well

They may never have to face

The fate of the Ancient Mariner or Tantulus[8]

The possibility of being outcast

Even by a Skype tribunal or a kangaroo court[9]

When they know they are in, as fish in water,

The all-sector moral bankruptcy

All-consuming corruption

With no strata spared

Water, water everywhere,

Not a drop to be shared.[10]

 

V

That beauty lies in the gluttonous prostitution

Of a pack of un-tellectual coolies

Mainly of the local breed

Tendentious by the buffoonery of their creed

Less than semi-secular

But more than pseudo-virtuous

Inwardly tempted by the right

Outwardly, fashionably left

Grapes are sour their stereotype answer

Well-matched by some womanish males

Who, rainbow’ing their ornate ear’ings aglow

In the room come and go,[11]

Talking of their musical muscle

Of modern fusion, deco and nouveau

Perhaps too compulsive to exclude

A trace of the filthy homo,

Which, for fear of Sodo’ and Gomo’

Bravo, many countries rightly against spoke.[12]

 

VI

That beauty lies in the paucity

Of gas, water, and power

The desperate middle class

Squeezed between the filthy rich

And the dreaded number of the destitute in the ditch

Inhuman child labor and drug addiction

Subhuman slums of overpopulation

Little brown pre-teens and early teens[13]

Tortured into growing up without childhood

Ruinously slipped into the ruptured society

Flooded with formalin food and fish and fruits

Drainage and sewage, open or blocked,

No wonder the nuisance that is

The nocturnal mosquito aggression

Reinforced by dry and dirty lakes and rivers

Only the tip of the environmental pollution

To the pleasure of the greedy land grabbers and

Their accomplices in the government members

And the geopolitics of the un-neighborly neighbors.

 

VII

That beauty lies in the loose obscenities everywhere,

Like the flies over the rubbish all over

Both pre-and-extra marital affair

Lust of the flesh conspiring against

The joy of generative wedded love,

The dastardly evil that is

The golden cup of social disaster[14]

Tearing apart the fabric of the family

The very core of the civilized community

On the screen here, screen there, big or small

That paints a picture of the goatish erotica

Heroin, Phensidyl, Hunter Beer, yaba

All teeming like milk and honey turned into gall.[15]

 

VIII

Their deadly sins, all together

More than just seven in number

As often described in arts and literature,

Continue in endless procession

Making that land a replica of

London’s Madame Tussaud’s subterranean chamber.

 

IX

That beauty lies in the fascination for the feudal

Class-ridden colonial forms of address

In the sense of inferiority syndrome,

Preponderance of ubiquitous cliché encomiums

Useless overuse of nominative epic epithet descriptions—

Flattering prefixes for an empty embellishment

Weird, gaudy and queer

The same as the boring, long-winding, back-and-forth

Exchange of greetings, terribly uncouth

Made by all three on a cultural program

The external caller, whose most frivolous fun it is

To start out as a fervent fan of the duo on the set—

The presenter and the singer—

Over the course of the musical session entire,

Replete with ridiculous redundancies,

All a custom of dull repetition unseen elsewhere.

 

X

If the bogus anarchical sound-bite

(Like the one in the atheist existentialist philosophy

That if God were dead or not existed,

All is lawful and permitted)[16]

That there may never be a last word in politics

Is right, it follows, all is fair game,

Why, then, talk sense

And signal moral and ideal at all?

 

XI

If the talk of the law taking its own course

Remains a mere talk, an empty rhetoric

As it suits the party or the person

Never quite reaching the neutral and nonpartisan

Free from intervention

Why, then, talk of justice at all

And the court as the last resort for the one

Who thinks, as popularly perceived,

Justice has not actually been done?

 

XII

If the rip and loot,

Both local and national

Individual as well as institutional

Right and left and under, deep and wide

Predatory system loss, an euphemism

For all kinds of money—black and brown

Spawned and spewed from the dark pall of fumes,

Are allowed to be turned into the alchemical white,

Letting the cow pee into her bucket of milk,

The corrupt stamped with the seal of legitimacy,

Why then to call it by any color at all,

Why not stamp out the color words themselves

And be color blind instead

And declare the land free and clean and utopian

To be Number One

On the index of Transparency International?

 

XIII

Why then the mockery of this committee, that commission?

Law commission, election commission, pay commission

Public service commission, anti-corruption commission

Commission after commission yet more of commissions

All commissioned to commission “yes” to a Bhaban

All a possessive, selfish pebble

None a giving clod of clay[17]

None’s the kind king of the golden river

All’re his ugly cruel brothers,[18]

None is the Hamelin pied piper

All’re first class hypocritical promise-breakers,[19]

None is the happy prince, feeling, caring, tearful

All’re self-seeking town leaders,[20]

Aligned with the ruling axis

All’re a tool against the democratic opposition

Imperviously passive, subverting agents.

 

XIV

If this commission is happy to be

As toothless and clawless as that Indian tiger,[21]

All a piece of old and rotting gum

Parroting, chewing, swallowing only

At times pretending to have some loose dentures

To cover-up for their clownish overtures,

That commission is happy to serve

At the pleasure of the above,

Past master at being slavishly his master’s voice

To be a firm election engineering firm,

All commissions, then,

Already a good stuff for cartoon caricatures

Gladly willing and wishing to be swimming

With their hands and legs tied

At their conniving convenience.

 

XV

Beauty of that land lies in bronze

(Forget about gold and silver)

Which is “more hard of nature,

Bent to cruel wars and rage

Yet not wholly past all grace.”[22]

Then the question is,

If bronze comes, can iron be far behind?[23]

Why not then drown and dwindle,

Diminish and dissipate,

Into the seaweed of

Something nonhuman?[24]

 

[1] Echoes the opening line of W. B. Yeats’s Sailing to Byzantium.

[2] Alludes to the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

[3] Refers to Mao Tsetung.

[4] Refers to George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

[5] Refers to the American military prison and detention camp in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on the Cuban shore.

[6] Refers to W. H. Auden’s In Memory of W. B. Yeats.

[7] Refers to two of the Biblical or Miltonic angels known for their savage material greed and rash or hot-headed decisions.

[8] “Tantalus is a Greek mythological figure, most famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

[9] In Bangladesh, a judge created a scandal by secretly discussing the potential outcome of a trial with a certain lawyer abroad over Skype.  “A kangaroo court is a judicial tribunal or assembly that blatantly disregards recognized standards of law or justice…a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

[10] Alludes to the plight of the mariners in Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

[11] Echoes T. S. Eliot’s ironic Prufrock’s description of modern merely fashionable women.

[12] Philip Sidney in his Renaissance poetics Apology for Poetry describes homosexuality as “abominable filthiness.” India, Russia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Brunei have recently declared it a punishable crime. The holy Semitic scriptures mention the destruction of the cities of  Sodom and Gomorrah for the vice of homosexuality.

[13] Invokes William Blake’s The Little Black Boy.

[14] The way the Biblical seven deadly sins are described in medieval and early modern English literature by Gower, Langland, Spenser, and Marlowe. In the Bible, the whore carries a golden cup in her hand full of the filthy abominations of her fornication.

[15] According to the holy scriptures, the paradise is full of nutritious drinks such as milk and honey.

[16] As Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and Sartre contended.

 

[17] Borrowed from William Blake’s The Clod and the Pebble.

[18] Alludes to John Ruskin’s classic fairy-tale, The King of the Golden River.

[19] Alludes to Robert Browning’s children’s story in verse, The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

[20] Hints at Oscar Wilde’s popular fairy-tale, The Happy Prince.

[21] Refers to Saki’s (Hector Hugh Munro’s) well-known short story Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger.

[22] As described by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod in Works and Days, early Roman poet Virgil in his 4th Eclogue, and Ovid at the beginning of Metamorphoses, the first age, that is, the age of the reign of Saturn and the goddess Astraea, constituted the Golden Age (of peace, justice, and abundance) followed by the subsequent ages of decline such as silver, bronze, and iron.

[23] Echoes the optimistic concluding line (“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”) of P. B. Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind. Unlike Shelley’s note of optimism, here “iron” strikes a note of pessimism.

[24] As Eliot’s Prufrock does, at the end of the poem, out of boredom and frustration.

 

Beauty of Bangladesh: The Reverse

(This is the second of the two contrasting poems, the first of which is the longer “Beauty of that land: the obverse,” describing the opposite/negative side. This one is rather about the positive side, the last stanza devoted to a young political leader of the land.)

 Jalal Uddin Khan

Amid a bottomless list of ills—knotty, disastrous,

There is a fine exciting beauty of that land

Like thorny yet healthy, sappy plants

In the stony, rocky desert sands

A variety of relieving, refreshing possibilities

That lies in her choice cultural and religious programs,

Her selected pretty women

And their well-done performances.

 

(Happy to hasten to exclude here

Of the peculiar sort a large number

Of both the genders together,

Of the multitudinous miscellaneous host,

Dull and unimpressive most

In their talks as in their looks.)

 

A special saving beauty of that land

With a potential for making history

Lies in some of her wonderful persons,

Of civil society, active politics, and other professions

A few to be cherished as national treasures

Or even as the heroic conscience of the nation

Who cultivate their mind with the risk and rigor

Of a clear and committed reformer.

 

The greatest beauty of that land lies, however,

Not in the too idealistic souls’

Too innocent, utopian neutrality,

And their third option advocacy,

But in the reformed views of many a leader

Here and there, out of power

Scattered everywhere,

(Than cutting off the evil altogether

Reform is better),

And their enlightened strategy, as necessary,

On which has missed out, miserably,

The ruling party, drowned in violence,

Drenched in partisan divide,

Corruption-ridden, openly,

Paving the way for the opposition’s winning popularity.

 

The nation can’t wait for you,

The young man of broken bones in exile

Forced to be away

As many in history before you

From the wrong-headed listless terror

And horror at home,

To be at the helm,

The land’s ready for your leadership to overwhelm.

The Failing Rule of Digital AL

I

For morns rolling into noons, evens,
Circling back to morns,
No knowledge of BDR massacre,
Well, we’re going digital.

Tagore would have renounced
His title of knighthood,
But we’re busy collecting many more.
Yeats would have written another “Easter 1916,”
Mir would have turned Pilkhana into another Karbala;
Alas! Our one-eyed laureates and semi-untellectuals,
Their idle Muses lying carefully careless
About writing out the victims’ names
In red odes of memorable verses
Or elegies of mournful incantation,
Are gleefully bemused
By the prospect of flattering greens only
Lest there runs short the chlorophyll of sycophancy,
(Hopefully not so false
As the green of medieval “Sir Gawan”),
Raising the bandwagon of consensual slogan
In our all-confusing cultural revolution,
We got to move forward and go digital.

II
Forty-eight hours extending into days and months,
Darker than the Saharan desert,
No clues yet to Shagor-Runi murder,
No apprehension of the gang, under the shelter
Of hands longer than those of any other,
Call it Prime Minister or the police commissioner,
All evidence in, only the leading laptop missing;
Was it a humongous corruption scandal containing?
Shrouded in mystery baffling
Or suppressed in conscious calculation, meaning?
Well, we’re trying to go digital.

III
Killings and kidnappings,
Both targeted and indiscriminate,
Domestic or state, as the fate
Of many an Ilias Ali or Alam Chowdhuri
Many an innocent pupil or forgotten
Members of society civil suggest,
Have become a scary everyday affair,
At home and road and border,
In broad daylight and in the dead of night,
No traces of the white godfather and the follower,
No justice anywhere, insecurity everywhere,
Well, let’s be patient,
We’re taking a little longer than usual
In putting things in order and going digital.

IV
Courts and offices and classrooms
Scarce are any tops in sight,
Be it desk or lap;
Crammed with old and grey folders
On shelves after shelves, piles over piles,
In use are only the pen and the papers
Tired staff, trusted or not,
Through their oversize logbook entries,
Somehow trying to serve,
Half-eagerly, half-anxiously,
Both the master and the customer,
Old colonial times,
Good stuff for Dickensian style,
Well, regardless of total manual,
Let’s not be afraid to go digital.

V
Boats and launches and steamers
Defective and dysfunctional,
Rendered worse by the overweight of the ruling blockade
As if Caesar’s soothsayers returned to warn us
About the twelfth being our Ides of March,
Common capsizes in the land of rivers,
Yet in readiness are taken no measures,
Slow as the snail, yet worse is the paucity of divers,
A single turtle-pace rescue vessel,
Arriving days later,
Like Coleridge’s phantom ship without its speed,
At the stinking but heart-rending scene
Of hundreds of casualties,
When there are no more left
To raise the number for Death-in-Life
And Life-in-Death to fight over;
Well, we’ve no choice but to go digital.

VI
Below the luxury condos and five-star hotels,
Slums here, slums there
As many as traffic jam intersections;
No gas, no water, no power,
Hardly any physical infrastructure
To support the subhuman localities,
As His Majesty aptly describes,
Awamis are “Nai, nai, ha-ha-kar” Shorkar;
Well, we’re determined to go digital
Together with Shako and Summit,
New banks and the old Bolaka Limit,
Remaining strictly loyal.

VII
Oppression of the opposition,
Big brother’s strangulation
In every strategic location,
Share market collapse, certainly suicidal
Railways’ “Gupta Dhon” scandal,
All are a bargain price for going digital,
We’re willing to make sacrifice
No matter how material and psychological.
April 20, 2012

Us & They: Split Bangladesh

I

That’s no country for the healthy, wealthy and wise,
That’s a country for genetic divide,
Like no other of its kind.
A country of endless possibilities
Born of congenital calamities and cacophonies,
Ever divided between the much-vaunted
Ideals and personalities, much-flaunted,
Descended down into mere and brute clash of power,
Degenerated, from the flight of eagles,
Into the low whirls of vultures,
Divided then, divided now,
More pure, however, then;
Alas! more mixed now.

II
Forty years on, still divided
Irresolvably, dissolutely,
Over the elections, national institutions
Some alternately named and renamed,
Some routinely twisted and tempered,
As who is there in the seat
To play the fox, hawk or cat
To take on the poor lamb in limbo,
Sedate dove or mouse also.

III
All lawsuits against us,
(By all definitions of the in/dependent anti-corruption,
Yet soft and supple to entertain and accommodate,
To the accolade of our own quarters,
The conniving dictates of our masters)
Considered weak and without merit,
Politically motivated, recommended,
Therefore, to be withdrawn.
IV
To be fair,
That is N/A, in the law of the land,
To those against them, who, against us,
Must indeed face the consequences in time,
For, though mocking it seems, yet sublime,
Such is the administration of justice,
According to the universal principle,
Those in power more equal than others,–
For those out of power the law takes its own course,
For them the process actually,
Though perceived to be absurd or manipulated,
Yet justified by us to be the safest route resorted.
The demonic ‘otherizing’ continues unabated,
To be recycled, often quite promiscuously,
To coolie-conform to the way
Constantly considered power-craze friendly.

V
If with us, regardless of how odd and strange,
They are fine political partners,
Without the anti-liberation card;
If with them, they are just criminals, raw and hard.
Divided over our national identity,
“Bangalee” or “Bangladeshi,”
Just as so over our national anthem,
As sharply as the red and green,
Or, let’s say, the white and green,
Perhaps the only two things—the flag and the flower,
Over which, paradoxically, we come closer
To objectify our symbolic national unity.

VI
If in favor, CTG had to be in place,
If not, it’s now a disgrace.
When in favor, CTG voted us in, we say;
If not, CTG may not make their return
As easy as “koley tuley,”
Our sadistic psycho-sexual image
That we love to use to keep them at bay.
Did then the two CTGs of the past
Cut and paste in patronage our mandate,
Ninety-five and two thousand and eight,
As cozy as “kole?,” we and they cast.
We’re good in kicking off the offensive
We started the filthy adult invective
They picked it up from there, no wonder.

VII
The democratic West is the best,
Staying mindful of exploitative interest,
Otherwise, it’s to be locally made,
To be determined case by case
By all benefit of doubt, isn’t that safe?

VIII
It is, therefore, my police to serve me and us,
Who I would, of course, use to “see” the other,
And to serve my boss and my prime minister;
When, press and public whisper
Loud enough to be heard,
A change in the personal pronoun registered,
Our police and our prime minister,
Not a bit better?
Still neither of the country nor for it,
But, to state the obvious, all that is a permit
Of the party, by the party and for the party.

IX
Killings and kidnappings dismissed away,
Be these on the border, in the bedroom or the open street,
As isolated incidents, not to be brought to book,
Rightly forsaken,
Unless they’re our own kind brethren
“Bangalee” men and women,
Our close cronies, comrades care,
A chronic disease, yet we know too well,
Birds of the same feather flock together,
When we must be up and doing
To deal with the perpetrators,
Especially if that offers an opportunity
To harass, hack or witch-hunt
The dethroned, unexpectedly disappointed
That we face in “Bangladeshi” community.

X
The sacks of money we receive,
Reports the weekly Economist reliably,
Is certainly too holy,
Too neighborly, too candid,
We know too well,
A friend in need is a friend indeed.
But, oh, “Haram” is the little, however untrue is that,
Let’s keep hammering on it, shamelessly,
Too bad for them to have touch’t the denied dirt,
A good strategy to make lying our duty,
We know too well, us and they,
We all live in “Hirok Rajar Deshey.”

XI
Us and they, continues on, thus,
The magic show of friend and foe,
The sickening art of Bangladesh as such.

 March 26, 2012