Thursday, May 31, 2007

(6. Cricket) The Next Level: A Layman’s Eventual Foray into New Possibilities

A Layman

Test cricket for me has always been a layered novel that unfolds at its own pace and reveals the truth underneath, often about myself. An ODI is like a well knit short story with a beginning, a middle, and the end – and a 20/20 match is something akin to watching a crappy sitcom because there’s nothing better to veg-out to. I prefer novels to short stories, but then again, there’s always Haruki Murakami, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. Never had much time to veg-out.

Having grown up in suburban DC and Paris, and later having spent the most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was happily preoccupied with other pastimes such as surfing, baseball and ice hockey. Cricket was slowly fading out of my life like a forgotten lover’s kiss, until THE event of 1997 when my cousin Renata told me what just happened, and what was happening on the streets of Dhaka and every other place in Bangladesh. That unforgettable jolt resurrected a family tradition and I haven’t been able to turn away since. I am not a cricket expert and do not claim to be one. Like countless other Bangladeshis living and dying with the fate of our Tigers, I’m learning to love the game - perhaps a little too passionately. Like most other Bangladeshi Tiger fans, I too am exasperated with the lack of temperament and consistency that prevent our cricketers from becoming what the best they can be in both forms of the game, and stagnate the development of our young cricket culture at this high level.


The first test. The Boishakhi rain strikes again and the high anticipation has less time to become anything other than a draw. Wasim Jaffer is unlucky again, Mashrafee gets him with the first ball. Shahdat settles into the better line and becomes a handful. Ganguly, our beloved Dada from the other Bengal gets a 100. Tendulkar joins the festivities. Some good bowling from Zaheer Khan and the top half of our batting order collapses again. RP Singh surprises us all with his balanced bowling, despite the somewhat unsightly hairdo. The inevitable follow on looms over the horizon. Enter Mashrafee to reaffirm our manhood. His skillful 79 saves the match. Apprentice Shahadat Rajib supports him with the bat. Oops, here comes the last day. The rain assisted draw. Then Dravid declares. A sporting declaration. Rohan Gavasker is baffled. It’s safe for us to go for it. The chances for actually pulling it off? Almost none. Almost. But we should try, right? Wow, it looks like we’re going for it. The heart starts to beat faster, impossible thoughts saturate the mind. Those glorious uncertainties. Then it stops. We are baffled, and a lot more than just a little PO-ed. It was safe to go for it, so why didn’t we? Sure we couldn’t have won in all likelihood, but WHY DIDN’T WE TRY??? It was safe to go for it. So much for that manhood. Then the consolation. Mashrafee Bin Murtaza, Man of the Match. Manhood salvaged somewhat.

The second test. Shahadat and Enam out, Sharif and Rasel in. Dav and Bashar try to defy WG Grace with a little persuasion from the curator. Where did they find this guy? Wasim Jaffer unlucky no more. A ton, then retired hurt. Pretty wife, sweet smile. Karthik close to a ton, then retired hurt. He’ll be back to get his. Supportive wife. Dravid, a ton. Tendulkar, another ton. Dead pitch, wickets not falling. Records galore. Then Dada falls and misses out on the party, unlucky. We’re done for and it’s only day ONE. The pitch was never alive, and starts to decompose before we were told it would. Our turn to bat. Zaheer officially gets his form back. We collapse. Follow on. Looks like another collapse. Nothing impressive about the crane-like Sharma yet, except the freakish height. The heat starts to open cracks on the pitch. Joy. Here comes the lanky Kumble and the portly Powar with those red Oakleys to finish things off. Enter the skipper to be to set the tone, not if Kumble can help it. Early flight back home, all nice and reassured? Maybe not as soon as they think. More on this later… Pilot can’t deliver the other century. Here comes Mashrafee, ready to shoulder what’s left of the fight. More heroism before the inevitable defeat. Zaheer MOM. Tendulkar MOS. Umps, worse than ever. India wins series. Dravid shows his class. Bye neighbors, thanks for the lessons. Still two days left.

Anyway. Now to other observations.

Our top five batsmen in particular have a history of not harnessing their compulsions, whatever those may be, and nurture their natural talent through the disciplined cultivation of sound technique. They do not seem to value their wicket as much as they need to, all too often collapsing into the grim realities of yet another broken promise, and dragging the top half of the batting order with them deep inside the proverbial hole pretty much impossible for the lower order to claw out of. Yet Mashrafee fights on – another story for another time.

The question is why? Are our expectations too high, too unrealistic? Are we being too impatient? Being a younger cricket culture, are our players too inexperienced at this level, especially when it comes to the all important psychological aspects of the game? Or are they, if we focus only on the young guns of the team, too young and too far from the expected peak of their careers, say around the age of 28? Possibly, maybe.

Are they simply not good enough? We know that they are.

What if the question instead is how? How does for example, Muhammad Ashraful Matin, by far the most talented batsman we have produced to date, play a flawless knock and then can be duped into throwing it all away, again? Being as experienced as our young captain-to-be is, does he not value his wicket? Does he not care? Does he need a shrink, or two? Before going any further, I’d like to skip back and revisit his delicious and heroic 41 ball 67 from the last test match.

With time already ticking towards the inevitable familiarity of yet another innings defeat, and perhaps motivated by not having the opportunity go for it during the dying moments of the first test match – irrespective of the slimmest to possibilities to actually snatch victory from the jaws of high improbability – he brushed aside Zaheer Khan’s great delivery from the nightmarish first innings, and played a short yet operatic knock composed of twelve beautifully controlled 4s and two better executed 6s that told the world that we will NOT fade quietly into the evening sky, because that’s simply NOT what Tigers do. He left the ones that should have been left alone. He defended when he had to. He rotated the strike. He put away the bad ones and manufactured strokes from the not so bad deliveries. His deft aggression that afternoon will not be forgotten, and the ecstatic gamut of pure elation and pondering the impossible will come back to reverberate and linger deep inside our collective heart, every time it is remembered by those of us privileged enough to witness the little epic while it lasted. The well deserved swagger vanished from the body language of Indian bowlers faster than raindrop on the scorched concrete walkways just outside the stadium. Just when the promise of the early flight home seemed just a few more moments away, our crown prince appeared and they unexpectedly found themselves lost in a field of lost children – all except one. The great Anil Kumble. Ever the relentless artist of incessant calculations, he kept on thinking, planning, probing, and making little, critical adjustments until that perfectly ambiguous 50-50 delivery to a batsman who’s seeing everything early, and has ample time in his hands to do whatever he desires with whatever that’s bowled at him. Ashraful could have nudged it along for an easy single, or drive it hard with the lower percentage shot that may get him out. Trapped by the master into overestimating himself just that little, he made the other choice went low and hard. The shot didn’t dip as fast as it could have, and Tendulkar’s acrobatic catch just millimeters above the dry Mirpur grass bristling the back of his able hands did the rest. The classy Rahul Dravid and his mixed bag of genuine promises, revitalized by excellent performances all around, got to return home early from the much needed morale boosting tour. The wounded pride was licked well as all hard work paid off once again.

How does Ashraful get induced into making the wrong choice when he has to make the right one for himself, the team he is going to lead into that better future, and the 150 million Bangladeshis waiting for their hero to deliver the impossible? Maybe, just maybe because: 1) we don’t play enough 4-day and limited over matches, enough matches to teach our batsmen the finer points of staying out there in the middle long enough to build a useful innings, playing each ball according to its merit, and learning to value their wicket by making higher percentage choices; 2) the domestic cricket we do play, does not have the quality to sufficiently prepare our batsmen before they face bowlers from obviously better quality cricket systems from older, more seasoned cricket infrastructures and cultures; and most importantly, 3) our selection process needs a better, more systematic and transparent approach to identify talent, allow it to evolve and grow in confidence through a series of incremental steps, and help turn that talent into consistent performances.

Batsmen with technical limitations and slash or irreversible compulsions – without the quality domestic cricket that can create better opportunities to make small yet tangible improvements – often create extra pressure on the more talented ones with better grip on those issues. Misconstrued conventional wisdom, such as the one obviously prevailing in the minds of our veteran selectors – namely, the idea of temperament somehow meaning strokeless, slow, and hardly venturing out of the shell like a turtle if turtles could bat – only add to that pressure as those strokeless, slow and dot-ball prone batsmen without the demonstrable ability to rotate the strike, do not, cannot put enough runs on the board before more talented batsman take their guard, typically a bit too late in both forms the game. Or, if they don’t manage to successfully hog the crease, as is the case most of the time, the more talented batsmen to follow find themselves in the game too early, with fewer wickets in hand, and having to play roles someone else was supposed to play. Tough to rebuild the innings before it has a chance to start. Tougher still to rebuild, consolidate, and anchor the type that gives you a chance to win. One plays to win or lose trying the last time I checked. More often than not, it’s mostly about those runs on the board by the end of the day. I fail to see why a 50 ball 50 is somehow worse than a 100 ball 50 if it adversely effects the outcome of the game, nor not effect it at all. The best openers and anchors in both forms of the game are not turtles. Bite and grab hold of that wicket and bite hard, so that they’ll have to shoot you before prying those jaws open industrial power tools – scoring not required. Hayden, Ponting, Dravid and Sangakkara wouldn’t be where they are today with that cute little mind-set, and no, we DON’T need to go as far as Jayasuriya and Kevin Petersen. The play not to lose, lose-lose mentality only leads to losses, often embarrassing ones. Tamim Iqbal Khan and Aftab Ahmed should not be penalized for their aggressive, positive ODI performances despite having comparatively good 4-day averages, and the versatile talents of Alok Kapali should not continue to get the selectors’ shaft despite back to back centuries in National cricket. The grapevine has it that Nafees Iqbal Khan is set to return to the international stage, and I say not a moment too soon.

Then we have the bowlers. Let’s look at Muhammad Sharif. It is true that Muhammad Sharif, taking Shahadat Hossein’s place in the second and final test match against India, has the stats from our domestic cricket to somewhat justify the call-up. The comparatively poor quality of our domestic cricket – when compared to those of our South Asian neighbors in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka – is also a fact. It was sad to see the young man trying his very best during the recent test match against India, and simply not making the grade. Then again, it's not the first time a questionable selection has possibly ended the international career of yet another young Bangladeshi bowler slash all-rounder. I don't think better bowlers like Dollar Mahmud, Tapash Baisya or even the tamer Talha Jubair would have, could have faired any worse than the 5' 6” seamer delivering invitations for Indian batsmen to play with at will, despite playing out of his skin under difficult conditions and circumstances. His gentle slow to medium pace, and sincerely attempted grit with the bat couldn’t do anything to mitigate either the realities of the weirdly misread, dead, and poorly constructed pitch – or his limitations as a cricketer. The quality opposition was as unforgiving to him as others have been to the likes of Mushfiq Babu from our not too distant past. Our veteran selectors have never taken responsibility for questionable selections while gleefully accepting questionable credit for the better ones. Hit or miss. Hit, they win. Miss, they don’t lose anything. There's no reason to expect that they will before their too long a reign as national selectors come to an end. Not unfamiliar to the morbid realities of public discontent, they still don’t get it. Perhaps the higher ups in BCB need to reassess their performance and take stronger measures in order to provide us with the best possible team for the upcoming Sri Lanka tour. We have come expect more from our cricketers, as we should, and BCB must stop assuming liabilities our cricket can ill afford at this juncture.

Maybe the Better Way to Select

Given the quality of our domestic cricket, only those performing in international matches for the BD U-19 (batsmen and spinners only, not fast bowlers – two words: stress fracture), U-23, and A sides against quality opposition from other test playing nations should be considered for the senior side. Those players must meet predetermined performance standards, including playing a specific number of matches, before given the opportunity to carve out a place for themselves under the limelight. Since it may be better for their confidence levels to face weaker opposition initially, they should debut against the likes of Zimbabwe, Kenya and even Ireland before dealing with the big boys of world cricket.

Predetermined, well-defined, and duly contextualized performance standards also need to be balanced and adjusted according to individual ability and realistic expectations in light of the realities of our domestic cricket. The bar for a Junaid Siddique or Dollar Mahmud needs to be set higher than say, a Nadif Chaudhury or Muhammad Shahzada. Talent and ability need to be specifically defined and measured with regards to: 1) natural hand-eye coordination and other bio mechanical attributes; 2) temperament and other psychological attributes; and most importantly, 3) the ability to learn in terms of specific, realistic, achievable and time-phased batting, bowling and fielding performance measures. Needless to say, exceptions to the rule can always be made for genuine talents like Mashrafee Bin Murtaza, Muhammad Ashraful Matin, Tamim Iqbal Khan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan, Alok Kapali, and Nafis Iqbal Khan as they have been in the past. Having said that, those exceptions must be made with a degree of sobriety we haven't seen so far from our selectors. We don't want to witness talented young teens like Talha Jubair suffer major setbacks before having the chance to shine, anymore.

Players selected through the tougher, better, more reasonable new process should be given a predetermined number of chances to acclimate themselves at the senior level – say, up to 15 ODIs with 3 consecutive appearances and up to 5 test matches with 2 consecutive appearances – tied into a set of predetermined performance measures for each time they take to the field. We should be wise enough to remember that it's not all about the number of matches the individual players play for the senior side, or we have played over the past 7-odd years as a test playing nation for that matter. We must also take into consideration: 1) the quality of our evolving cricket infrastructure; 2) the typically counterproductive and stagnating challenges faced by that infrastructure; and most importantly, 3) the negative impact all of that is bound to have upon our nascent cricket culture. Before measuring the success and failure of its players, BCB must face up to its mission responsibilities, and objectively assess with absolute transparency whether or not it has done its very best to set them up for success.

A Professional League of Our Own

The long awaited development of a better cricket infrastructure, culminating in well-compensated, well-marketed, and well-merchandized professional teams, can only enhance the quality of our domestic cricket and strengthen the overall selection process. Following the Australian, South African, English and to a lesser extent, the Sri Lankan examples, coupled with the best practices from successful professional leagues from other sports around the world, such as the English Premier League in the United Kingdom and the Major League Baseball in the United States, the BCB can set up six such professional teams, one in each divisional capital and start the processes without further ado. The teams will play both versions of the game, on a variety of sporting wickets, in separate 4-day and limited over leagues throughout the year. Each one of the six teams will have: 1) a nationwide, extensive network of trained talent scouts; 2) state of the art training facilities managed by qualified Australian coaches and physios mentoring locals with the right aptitude; and most importantly, 3) several age-based junior sides such as U-15, U-17, U-19, U-23 and A sides. Such a league will add real value our existing cricket infrastructure, accelerate the meaningful growth of cricket and cricket culture in Bangladesh, and begin to meet our more realistic expectations without selling ourselves short as cricketers and cricket fans. The unrivaled popular passion for cricket will pretty much guarantee the easy availability of corporate sponsors to cover any financial shortfalls. A separate cable TV channel, dedicating itself to the sustainable development of cricket in Bangladesh should be set up by BCB and its strategic allies as an integral part of the league to broadcast all games, and cricket-education programs from all over the cricket world. Moreover, nobody should be surprised if such an investment starts to pay faster and better dividends for all involved with cricket in Bangladesh, least of all to most of the 150 million Bangladeshis for whom the sight of quality cricketers competing to qualify for our iconic national team, a team that has come to represent more than what it simply is, will add much needed spice to the otherwise work-laden lives without much else to do. In due time, the league could qualify for an IPO and be traded in the Dhaka and Chittagong stock exchanges as a publicly held company.

The Bangladesh National Cricket Team has come to symbolize what we, both as a nation and as individuals can do on the world stage under the critical gaze of older and wiser eyes, and brings us closer together as a people more than anything else in our history since the Liberation War of 1971. Team victories staring from the 1997 ICC Trophy championship, and individual accomplishments of Bangladeshi cricketers are deeply interwoven into our collective psyche. Ashraful’s match winning 100 against the mighty Aussies and 87 against the top ranked South Africans, his defiant 92 against England, the inaugural, maiden test hundred in Colombo at the tender age of 16 something, the memorable 158 not out and the more recent awe-inspiring, quick fire 62 against the star studded Indian test sides, have become integral to our national folklore. Mashrafee Bin Murtaza’s never say die attitude continues to snatch hope from the confines of utter despair every time the ball comes flying out of his grip – and with every ferocious swing of his increasingly safer bat. Shahriar Nafees Ahmed’s ton against the Australian test side, and the fearless athleticism coupled with a can do attitude of the Iqbal brothers, Aftab Ahmed, Alok Kapali and Shahadat Hossein tell us that it is indeed possible to become what we aspire to. Our beloved young Tigers reinforce and enhance our self esteem, and despite the often skimmed over challenges they face everyday, and the heavy burden of sky high public expectations, these young men deliver, and they continue to inspire us into feeling better about ourselves as Bangladeshis. Cricket has indeed become our only true national pastime, and it is no longer a game of the urban, affluent and English-medium elite. As the less affluent, small town and rural background of some of our best young cricketers clearly demonstrate, cricket belongs to everyone, and the larger, deeper pool of players are beginning to produce raw talent the likes of which we simply didn’t see in the past. The professional league must be based accordingly, and not be Dhaka-centric the way such things have a way of being, if we choose to do right by the tens of millions all over Bangladesh playing cricket. The tens of millions dreaming to become the next Mashrafee, Ashraful, Shakib and Mushfiq – hailing respectively from Narail, the dark and narrow streets of Bashabo in Dhaka, Magura and Bogura.

Looking Ahead to the Brave New World

The Dav Whatmore era has come to an anti-climactic end. Rumor has it that Richard McInnis is all set to take us to the next level. His track record and intimate knowledge of our players give me ample reason to be optimistic.

The writing has been on the wall for Habibul Bashar for some time now. Much has been written about Bashar’s Captaincy and compulsions, about his personality and attitude, and about his docile body language and the visibly lack of athleticism. I will not add more fuel to the fire anymore. As captain of a team that has given us some unforgettable moments, he deserves appreciation just for being at the right place at the right time, irrespective of his individual contributions, period. His recent performances as captain and player should make way for Muhammad Ashraful Matin and the new generation of more talented cricketers without delay. As the new skipper with the inspirational presence of Mashrafee Bin Murtaza as his deputy, he needs to stand and deliver that better tomorrow we have been privileged to glimpse on occasion, with greater frequency. His remarkable abilities as player and captain – be it for the Tigers, Dhaka Division or Sonargaon Cricketers – need to come full circle and open a new chapter in the annals of Bangladesh cricket.

A new chapter in the annals of Bangladesh cricket. What does that mean?

As a Bangladeshi and a layman, I just want to see a test win or two, well-fought draws, and losses where we go down fighting. I want to see back to back wins against the big boys of cricket in the short version of the game. I want to see our young Tigers learning from their mistakes and making visible improvements, however small they may be, over a shorter period of time. I want to see innovative thinking on the field balanced with traditional wisdom. I want to see the predatory instincts of a tiger creating opportunities, and the cohesive effort to seize positive results, and deliver that coup-de-grace when those opportunities present themselves. I want to revel at the electric joy of victory more often than I ever have, I want to feel the indescribable warmth that resonates deeply inside my Bangladeshi soul. I want expiation, and I want to hear monsoon winds rustling brittle autumn leaves in my sleep, and the soothing waves of the ever so loving whisper of a raspy voice that tells me: you too my child, you too belong in this world.

Sohel N Rahman, May 28, 2007, Dhaka.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

(5. Cricket) Bangladesh V. India ODI Series: A Bangladeshi Journal

I: The Day Before

The new day yawns and stretches out of its slumber across the early morning horizon. The sharp, muggy sunlight glides right through the tightly drawn curtains with the easy arrogance of a familiar marauder, the one who comes and goes as he pleases. Too hot for unseen birds to announce the day with a riot of sounds from cooler seasons. Where are they now?

Semi-asleep, I feel my eyelids getting warmer, adding strange hues of light to the serene darkness within. The buzz from the ceiling fan begins to seep into my consciousness. The draft. Those curtains being gently sucked in further towards the center of the room, before pulling themselves back to the window like docile children. Convex, concave.... movement along the z-axis. The contemporary grillwork all skewed in those clear, high res shadows. Shifting shape like thick, metallic, malleable liquid. It’s so nice and cool in here, so far from the promise of another scorcher outside these walls. Time to face another day… anytime now. What will I see? How clear are those shadows? How distorted? Tomorrow’s Match day in Dhaka, and I’ll be there… WOW.

How will they do? Will they keep it as tight as they can, and let us catch another glimpse of the very best that all of us can be? Or will they just wilt early and wither away? I'd remember them either way. I remember our novices being manhandled by Grandmasters - being pinned, forked and mated as we found ways deal with the added humiliation of being at the wrong end of getting too much, too soon. I also remember our guys rising out of those episodes with the youthful gleam of an unexpected optimism and eloquence - willed and fabricated purely out of the collective consciousness of the Bangladeshi experience - and turn the table on those idols. I’m partial to those good times, however rare they may be, because they add to that Bangladeshi experience by bringing all of us together.

Time to tuck ourselves back into the power of positive thinking I think, with all the data on placebo effects and psychosomatic suggestion, maybe it’s not all that hokey after all. It’s not everyday you hear the wise old men of cricket bully the new eight-year old in the block because he’s afraid to lose gain.

II: First, Second & It’s Over Before The Third

First the heat, then the legitimately raised expectations, and finally watching our very own captain duckworth handing it to the opposition one single at a time... talk about exhausting - physically, emotionally and what's left of the intellectual faculties.

Kudos to Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al-Hasan for keeping the faith... Ashraful, Aftab and Rafique for doing whatever they could with the little time they had. Making Mongia look good isn’t that tough when time is not on your side. The seamers, despite being belted around the park for a few, fought back well against the hostilities, and did alright given the limitations beyond their control at this particular stage in their development as international cricketers. The spinners, especially Razzak and Shakib, were stellar despite the bland, soulless wicket. We missed Mashrafe and his sheer gumption. We missed out on, I’d say at least 20-30 more runs and a couple of early breakthroughs because of his injury. How many more runs that’s hard to say with Javed Omar finally hogging the crease with success. The customary complacent captaincy and other flubs and fumbles here and there did the rest, and the day's luck opened a door for our guests. Dinesh Kartik helped M.S. Dhoni rise to the occasion and hobble right on through, and there we were: one zip India.

Let's just hope that they learn from their mistakes ...this time around, I thought to myself as always. I didn’t hear the fat lady singing yet…

… Until the second ODI: India win best-of-three series two zip… early post mortem.

India was the hands-down better team in the last game and deserved to win for once. Piyush Chawla is quite a find. The rotation and deceptive nature of the flight when it’s there, alongside an uncanny ability to turn the ball and make it dip right before a possible contact with the bat, make him one to watch. It may be a bit too early to tell, but I won’t be surprised if the comparisons to Shane Warne are not deemed too premature before long. The straightening dip bamboozling Ashraful was a thing of less than subtle beauty. Gautam Gambhir, the latest edition of the sensible Indian opener in the tradition of Wasim Jaffer, delivered the goods with his well-timed ton. The question remains, as always, will he continue to do so, and for how much longer? Yuvraj Singh, Muhammad Kaif and now Dinesh Kartik add the type of Chamara De Silva-like youthful, positive burst to the overall Indian game at least I haven’t seen before. Irfan Pathan going back to his bowling roots, and his brother Yusuf waiting in the wings to have a go at opposition bowlers, add to that youthful dynamism. Last but not least, Manoj Tiwary, though we haven’t had the chance to see him in action yet, is the other real deal whose aggressive batting will take India to a brighter future.

Mashrafe Bin Murtaza remains the lone bright star in our team who shines no matter how overcast the day may be otherwise. The sheer ferocity of his belligerent sixes lifted us higher than we thought possible in an otherwise dismal Bangladeshi performance. Still very young and injury-prone, he shouldn’t be goaded into the all-rounder role like Irfan Pathan for obvious reasons. He needs to grow into that role at his own pace like an Imran Khan. We hope that others like Ashraful, Tamim, Shakib, Mushfiq and Razzak learn to glow just as consistently and brightly and make Bangladesh the world-beating young Tigers they can be before long. It’s not everyday that Bangladesh has a real chance to defeat its evidently more formidable and experienced neighbor and take the ODI series, yet we did after the World Cup. We missed a great opportunity the minute our team selectors decided that a continued Bashar inclusion not just captaincy, and Javed Omar’s painfully palpable limitations as a batsman are liabilities the team could shoulder without terrible consequences. They were wrong and we lost. The phrase honorable loss is readily embraced as the word oxymoron is not in their vocabulary - the word moron, some of us feel should be. Maybe such an honorable loss is not considered such a terrible thing to a has-been generation who don’t share the more positive attitude of their nephews, perhaps because as cricketers they never had that kind of talent themselves. I hope the likes of Alok Kapali, Nafis Iqbal, Nadif Chaudhury, and Junaid Siddique in the not too distant future, don’t continue to get the shaft because of their complex-laden minds.

The writing was on the wall when Bashar, a man who’s always waiting for things to happen, rather than trying to make them happen, let the first ODI drip away from our grasp. Once again clueless, defensive field settings leaking more singles at critical junctures, and adding to early Indian hostilities cost us the second and decisive one. His weirdly gleeful come-back after a string of failures, meaning 43 from 88 balls chasing 280 plus after the team’s big guns have fallen by the wayside, just add to the frustrations, and pretty much exemplify the kind of ODI Captain slash self-centered batsman Bashar is. His dot-ball buddy Omar with a shaky ODI strike rate of 52 point whatever percent, went right back into that familiar shell and wasted the time that nobody except the Indians had in the match. To his partial credit, he did play out of his skin in the first ODI during one of those once-in-a-lifetime flukes that, unfortunately for the rest of us, introduced Ashraful and Aftab a little too late in the match with reasonably predictable results. Enough said.

With the last ODI still to come in a few days, I was eager see if our young Tigers could salvage the only thing they could at that point, and once again promised to give us a glimpse of our own bright future...

III: The Rained Out Third


The opportunity to salvage something, anything out of the series couldn’t be supersopped out of the stadium. The ever-present potential of a Mohammad Ashraful century or Mashrafe Bin Murtaza rampaging through the opposition’s batting order before hitting a few out of the park, always gives us a chance to dream, and win games we need to win. Maybe we were spared another painful rerun.

Anyway, I found the weird elation and bravado in the Indian camp’s a little scary. Let ‘em have their moment I say. Being hopelessly lost in one's own media-hyped delusions of grandeur can be as deadly as it has been to indian cricket and its pathetic record outside the comforts of home. A little disturbing to see the wise old men of world cricket go all gaga over being allowed to win by a young boy of eight-odd years. Fabricating a false self-image due to deeply buried, unresolved issues, believing in the hype, and finally having the media perpetuate the myth, does not mitigate the need for the mask to confess and come clean before real positive change can do what it's supposed to do. I weep for the Piyush Chawlas, Manoj Tiwarys and Yusuf Pathans if the powerful simulacrum of Indian Cricket doesn’t learn to ease up a bit on the jubilation before putting things in proper perspective. Time to grow up guys, growing into senile old fools is easy. We at least have youth as the excuse.

Doesn’t matter anymore. On to the tests, a different cup of tea all together. I, along with a hundred and fifty million more, anticipate pleasant surprises.

Sohel N. Rahman, May 2007, Dhaka.

Monday, April 30, 2007

(4. Back & Forth) Muslims on the Net

Special thanks to Tanzeen Doha, now living, learning and teaching in San Francisco, a fellow traveler.

The Rant: Isaac and Ishmael. Is'haq and Ismayil. A somewhat literary interpretation of the traditional Jewish version of the story is interesting. First the story: Abraham wants to leave an heir to spread God's revelation to his people. It just wasn't happening, so with his wife's permission, he marries another and has Ishmael. Then quite unexpectedly, his first wife gets pregnant and Isaac is born months later. Abraham treats them equitably and passes on the revelation, yet Ishmael and Isaac do not get along that well for a variety of worldly reasons. Both kind and responsible men, they firmly believe in the revelation as but have very different approaches. They both understand man's greater responsibility towards one's fellow man as desire for justice. Justice is love and love is what God requires to reward us with the blessings of unconditional love. Ishmael fights for a justice that is desire as sensual tremors of the soul, while Isaac fights for one that is desire as manifested in the letter of the law. Ishmael emphasizes faith, intent, the esoteric, the essence of Dharma, spontaneous difference and is therefore flexible with the established rituals. He is the ecstatic poet/philosopher artist, similar in some respects to a kind of Abrahamic Achilles and Karna. Isaac on the other hand emphasizes faith through cohesion, diligent adherence to established rituals, and other socio-cultural manifestations of the essence of Karma, much like Japanese martial artists (more Aikido and Jujitsu than Karate) who believe that repetition of the Katas lead to higher states of Ki-consciousness (consciousness of God's grace and will) and enlightenment. He is the statesman/preserver in the tradition of Hector, an Abrahamic hybrid of Hector and Arjuna. Their father Abraham represents the ideal balance as well as the symbiotic relationship between the two. The half-brothers, the primary archetypical duality of the Abrahamic tradition, our own Yin and Yang in search of balance, come together to bury their father and all is well again… bliss.

Ishmael, the father of the Arabs, the Cabalists, the Muslims, the Sufis and the Alchemists breaking the chains of man's law to submit himself to the will of God. Isaac, the father of the Jews submits himself to the will of God by embracing those very laws also embraced by his father and because his father - the ideal man blessed by God's divine revelation for his people - embraced them also. Isaac does not ponder too much whether the laws lead to that perfection, or it is the perfection leads to the construction of such laws, he simply follows, obeys, and occasionally improvises and gently transfigures the meaning of the laws when he has to, in order to preserve their sanctity and purpose. Laws that keep the peace amongst his people, fabricate happiness out of that peace, and enable him to find happiness in theirs. He is the noble King of Kings and like Sisyphus one must imagine him happy without too much difficulty. Isaac preserves while Ishmael challenges with identical goals in mind. Isaac the utopian architect (The Matrix ), utopia meaning both good place and no place in classical Greek, stabilizes while Ishmael the anti-utopian oracle destabilizes the equation that can neither be solved nor remain unsolved because it, like all manifestations of God through all of His divine creation, is in a permanent state of transformation and flux. Isaac the easily recognizable epic hero, believing that love is the way of God, is always ready to make the supreme sacrifice (like Hector and Arjuna) for all the good things he loves in a world that loves, cherishes, and honors men like him. Ishmael the anti-hero, also believing that love is the way of God but in an absurdly Godless world, sacrifices himself for a glory he knows he cannot live to see. He doesn't care about the ways of this world as the hereafter as the world to come where all is reconciled in divine unity, awaits him at the business end of God's will. Like Achilles and Karna, he embraces that divine will and becomes its instrument. A confrontation, a dance between the hero and the anti-hero locked in cosmic embrace, an eternal battle devoid of permanent victory or defeat. Siva and Vishnu conjuring Brahma out of the universe in hopeless hopes of seeing the unseen, not as an expression of arrogance or in the spirit of blasphemy, but as the apparatus of capture that only offers salvation through the very act of engagement in the struggle, the Jihaad to balance the opposite values attracted to the same field. The travels of an ultimately anti-utopian, nomadic war machine that desires neither territory nor pure adventure, but the ecstasy of God's grace by traversing the thousand plateaus of his creation, the infinite yet deliberately engineered universe within, without and beyond all things known, unknown and unknowable. I wonder why some fools like me think that the coming together of the Abrahamic traditions and all things compatible to those traditions as one, can only lead to good things?

You feel me my brother?

E-mail 01: There are some significant differences between the Judeo-Christian take and the Muslim interpretation. The Judeo-Christian take never considered Hajara (Haggar) as Ibrahim's second wife (they call her the concubine), and once Is’haq (Isaac) is born approximately 13 years after Ismayil, both Ismayil and Hajara are instructed to leave the family due to Sara's insistence and be in the desert. Also, the story of the sacrifice according to the Bible, where Ibrahim is instructed by God to sacrifice his "only" beloved son - the Judeo-Christian view this as a command to sacrifice Isaac not Ishmael. Obviously, this is vehemently debated by the Muslims, because they think the only son at the time of the dream was Ismayil because Is’haq was not born yet. Ismayil was at the time of the prophet Ibrahim's dream - the "only" son. The bible clearly says that it was Is’haq who was to be sacrificed - of course, in that case, the term 'only' son is applied to Is’haq. So, the bottom line is, after the birth of Is’haq - Ismayil becomes unimportant - he is not even Ibrahim's son anymore. Given all the similarities between Judeo-Christian thought and Islam, this remains a foundational/fundamental difference between the two traditions, and thus, in Hajj, a lot of the rituals are about establishing the Muslim story of Hajara and Ismayil.

Even though there are plenty of symbolic similarities in both the interpretations, there are some elemental textual (literal) differences, which give rise to diversity of thought, which then requires interpretive work to unearth the multiple levels of meaning. Therefore, dissolving these differences can only happen through forceful imposition.


Reply: Your take on the Judeo-Christian take on the matter is accurate. I don't claim to be a specialist/scholar, but perhaps an archaeological/linguistic/cultural (more scientific?) approach to investigating such things can shed light on less-biased facts that by definition are a bit more complex than they appear. The rabbinical view is less cut and dry anyway. I met some Reform rabbis, renegade Catholic priests, and Moroccan muftis who encourage such erudite revisionism, not only because they think such endeavors add to the scholarship, but because it helps internalize the intellectual elements of faith and subsequently can enhance the spiritual experience in oneself and eventually the community as a whole. Well, such important erudition is your passion, calling and in the near future, profession.

I just saw a purely creative way to draw parallels that can be drawn, perhaps out of an instinctive urge to draw our stories together. Such musings are nothing but additional insights into the "mythologies" our common origin as sentient beings attempting to describe experiences in order to harness their power for the common good, and further disciplined intellectual forays. The nature of the discipline is bound to change as our fundamental perception of how things work, what things are, how those "organic" multiplicities relate to the simpler, more binary way we investigate those questions through mathematics and language, how we measure the necessary margin of error when we arrive at temporarily answers, and develop systematic discourse as a strategic toolkit rather than yet another "truth" more intellectually interesting and valuable as the object of genealogical inquest. I think that after the advent of post-Newtonian perception of the universe, and in light of Einstein's the Special Theory of Relativity, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Bohr's Quantum Mechanics leading to Chaos Theory, the Human Genome Project, and evidence of the genetic trail left behind by our ancestors from Africa, traditional ontology needs to be more attentive to the spiritual/poetic/elliptical free associations and elements of its less popular methods, rather than the stoic/Platonist/Newtonian parallels that have influenced those methods in the western (except Nietzsche, Emerson and Kierkegaard from my limited readings), non-Cabalist, non-Islamic, non-Buddhist world of modern thought. Don't get me wrong, I love the symmetrical intelligence of Hegel and Heidegger, and acknowledge that Bach’s immersion into reason can produce the musical inducement of the purely ecstatic - but still find verses from the Qur-aan, and transcendental notes from Gnawa music more accessible to the heart and soul, and more annihilating of the false truths and distinctions that distort the fundamental oneness, unity of life and existence. My musings come from that place. I don't expect them to be taken seriously, just understood, and if I’m lucky, experienced similar to the way I’ve experienced them in the same ball park.


E-mail 02: I think I agree with you on everything you just wrote about the revisionist view. We were coming from two different perspectives. We were essentially talking about two different things - while you were describing the symbolic/allegorical textual as well as spiritual hermeneutic of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic self, and its relation to the Deen (way), I was speaking of the political divide, which is an important difference given the contemporary sense of revivalism in the Islamic front. At the end of the day, you and I have a lot to share with each other. Your valuable thoughts constantly make me think... ponder, and I get to retake my Shahadah (oath) every time and emphasize - why! For me the ‘why' is answered through a constant decentering of the self, but ultimately, building coherence through a serious indulgence in Salaat (prayer). In the end, it is a matter of just being a believer, where 'thinking deeply' is not a choice but a requirement.

For us - thinking and using the intellect is pre-determined.

Sorry for re-emphasizing the disorder of universe, but it is this disorder, Jahiliya that makes the ethical and the aesthetic all the more important. After all, all children are born perfect as believers, and it is their "human nature" (not in the western Platonist sense) to be Muslims (broad definition of 'Muslim' applicable here). Duniya (the world of man) ruptures that perfection, and therefore, when the adult finds Islam (broad definition again) he reverts back to that original state, where he is one with nature (the world) again.

End... for now.

PS: Islam is to Al-Quaeda what Christianity is to the KKK... the lamest possible cover to conceal one's debasement of himself in a world alienated by hatred, because he allows cruelty to destroy the love that leads to salvation.

Sohel N. Rahman, Dhaka, April 30, 2007

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

(3. Cricket) Case for the Possible Ashraful Captaincy

Common objections to a possible Muhammad Ashraful Matin ODI Captaincy are all too well known: too inconsistent, too emotionally charged, too young, too inexperienced to be Captain. Hmm... I'm not as sure about the prospect. His captaincy in domestic cricket showed a lot of passion, vision, flair and instinctive innovation that will mature over time. NO, I don’t think he’ll attack the likes of Alim Dar if he doesn’t like the call. Being the most exciting match-winner in the team along with Mashrafe, he has the talent, ability and charisma to inspire the best in others. He is an effective communicator and the players listen to him. Consistency-wise, I think he has turned a corner in the World Cup and will give us great things between his 100th and 250th ODI.

Why must we wait so long for talent to blossom into regular performance? Well, domestic cricket in Bangladesh is not exactly up to par when compared to cricket in Sri Lanka, even India and Pakistan where young players learn to harness their talent with better consistency. So, until BCB starts to put its money where its mouth has been, talented kids like Ashraful have to learn on the job. Ah the T-word again! I’d say the word talent for a cricketer primarily indicates superior hand-eye coordination as well as the ability to match desire with appropriate biomechanics. For a bowler hand-eye-mind coordination specifically refers to the ability to gauge the right line and length, and to accurately deliver the ball there with appropriate torsion. Good Captaincy utilizes that talent for victory with innovation, appropriate aggression, and killer instinct. Given the current state of our domestic cricket, we, in all honesty, should not expect any one of our young talents to deliver on their potential with desired consistency before they play at least a hundred or so games. They should be appraised on the basis of small, but substantial improvements and not dropped as easily as they have been in the past by selectors who themselves never had that kind of talent. Being young, time is on their side. I don't think cutting appropriate slack to supremely gifted guys like Ashraful, Alok Kapali, now Tamim Iqbal, and Junaid Siddique in a year or so, can do us much harm in the long run. Purile banter, thoughtless impatience and the insatiable urge to gratify one's ego as instantly as possible, hallmarks of the politicized BCB of old, as well as some in the overly emotional elements media where excessive adulation and vilification are too easily interchangeable, can and will continue to stagnate growth of meaningful cricket and cricket culture in Bangladesh. I mean really, why did Alok Kapali not play when other non-performers with neither his talent nor his youth kept getting rewarded for reasons beyond the grasp of reason? Such real OPOSHONGSHKRITI or harmful culture is not beneficial in any way, shape or form for the steady development of Bangladesh cricket. Think process not event, I say. If anyone has SMART, meaning Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-phased alternatives, HUGE emphasis on Realistic in the BCB context, I’m sure we’d be thrilled to hear about it. Anyway, back to the captaincy issue: Mashrafe and Sakib bring their own cards to the table, and perhaps even Nafees Iqbal at some point in time. Maybe I'm getting carried away here, but I see Ashraful as potentially the Ponting-type, Mashrafe the Imran-type, Sakib the Flemming-type, and Nafees Iqbal as the Atherton-type captain if all goes according to our pipe dreams in the future. They can all make good Captains despite different leadership styles, and new coach like Steve Waugh can further mentor those leadership skills and take us into the next World Cup with better chances of winning the games we should’ve won in the last one. We’d like to be more optimistic about the speed of their development, as well as the overall development of the inevitably bright future of Bangladesh cricket, if the current momentum of national change catches up to the BCB… and speaking of pipe dreams, maybe Mashraful Hassan Ponting is the answer to all our prayers! Oh well...

The intent here is to provoke lively, thoughtful debate on the very important issue of ODI Captaincy against a team we can beat consistently with better leadership, as our cricket finds itself at a critical juncture where a bold new generation in the field has taken us where we have never been before. That better leadership must come from one of their own with the next World Cup at home in mind. I nominate Ash. I know that many people have jumped on the Ashraful bandwagon and later called for his head when he couldn’t deliver. Some of us however, never came down since his phenomenal debut in Sri Lanka. We stayed on not only because how rare such a debut was, especially given the general context of BD-cricket, but also because the exasperation of failure, though understandable, is seldom thought all the way through, and therefore can only be as it has been - counter-productive for our nascent cricket culture at this level. Ash’s individual accomplishments, their impact on team performance and positive PR for Bangladesh cricket, and the sheer joy slash the deeply resonating pride those deft, eloquent performances generate in our hearts as Bangladeshis, are simply head and shoulders above all other individual performances as they should be. He is by far the most talented and accomplished batsman we have produced to date despite the niggling inconsistencies he has demonstrated in the past. Inconsistencies, in my opinion, that could be fairly chalked-up to his youth, and the quality of the domestic first class cricket in Bangladesh. I’d like to know which other Bangladeshi batsman has been more consistent than Muhammad Ashraful Matin over similar number of games that he has played? No one. I’d like to know how much more experience did Habibul Bashar have when he was made Captain? Duh… Not a rocket science to figure out why. Skip back to the newness of our cricket culture at this level, and skip back to the discrepancy between BCB’s insinuations and deeds when it comes to developing a real cricket infrastructure as opposed to the half-assed system based on talent and talent alone. A real structure provides real opportunities to develop the talent before facing the real music, so to speak. Sure a lot has been said about that and Ash’s time and place in the way things stand now, and a lot more need to be said until things change as times and situations do and produce new opportunities for meaningful discussion. Think and speak-out my cricket-loving brothers and sisters!

Test Captaincy? I'm not as comfortable yet. Ideally someone needs rolemodel the young guys into an altogether different set of leadership and tactical criteria, I too am searching for the Caretaker slash Interim Captain until Ash, Mash, Saks, Nafs or even Mushi can take over in a few years and lead the team on a slightly longer road ahead. The trouble is we're still too new at this and finding that someone. That someone - all DESHI emotionalism notwithstanding - should not be Hablu. Maybe that'll put a short leash on some of his customary compulsions and give us a few more 50s without the pressure of being the type of meek, unimaginative, and the play-not-to-lose nihilistic Captain he was. Maybe he has nothing else to give. He's a better writer anyway. Bringing back Pilot, despite the fact that he's the better keeper, will create problems in the dressing room again. His alleged people skills were legendary enough to get him into all kinds of trouble. So, by process of elimination: Muhammad Rafique, anyone? Intelligent, experienced and young at heart... nah, I'd go for Ash, he's got youth on his side.

Sohel N. Rahman, Dhaka, April 25, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

(2. Cricket) Bangladesh Cricket after the World Cup: What Now?

It seems our very own kokhono bagh, kokhono bilai boys in the Caribbean just can't seem to turn that proverbial corner of winning two in a row after whipping one of the big boys of world cricket. The less said about the self-destructive, peculiarly dismal, for lack of a better word batting display against England, Ireland and the West Indies, the better. What an appalling way to needlessly dissipate the linger of the India slash South Africa high brought into our lives as Bangladeshis! Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Maybe they need a full time shrink, or maybe they need a less nattering, negative, ethereal Captain who can at least lead from the front with whatever he was expected to do, and better selectors who can select such a leader for the upcoming India visit. Better captaincy and selectors, elements that should have been foregone conclusions a while ago but were not. Now the fat lady’s finally singing loudly enough for Habibul Bashar and his patron saints in the BCB, and higher cricketing powers that be need to hear that falsetto with the rest of us.

Habibul can't-bat-no-more Bashar and his stoned stiff brand of lethargic and close-to-zero charisma cannot lead anybody anywhere good. Lack of talent, form, athleticism and vision notwithstanding, the complete lack of aggression in his consistently bland and unimaginative field setting, decidedly when the so-called killer instinct was called for, has finally become exasperating to all. His mysterious mind always seems to wandering places other than the ground he’s standing on with a weirdly clerical, insecure, and clueless air. The smiling automaton needs to prove that he has been doing more than just appease the big bosses in order to ride the success of others in recent Bangladesh victories.

He won't because he can't.

His contribution to those remarkable victories, with the exception of the freakishly unusual, typically rare performances once in a long, long while, is not much more than just occupying space at the right time. That is just about as significant as well, you fill in the blank. If repeatedly sending Aftab Ahmed at 3 and 4, a talented and hopeless swashbuckler better suited to bat at 6 or 7, before gathering up the courage to drag himself, the supposedly more responsible top order batsman, to face the music is nothing short of absurd – then sending Muhammad Ashraful, by far the most talented batsman we have produced to date, to bat at 6 and 7 is nothing short of imbecilic. Dropping Bashar for good is the obvious and perhaps the much needed slap across the back of his nihilistic head to kick start a cricketing evolution he can write about full time, preferably far way from our young, fearless and more often than not, can-do boys. Bad apples are a luxury we cannot afford anymore, because our passionate young Tigers have come to symbolize the best of what we as a nation can achieve, and transformed cricket into the indisputable national past time it has become. Gone are the days of celebrating victory against the likes of Zimbabwe and Kenya with a lap of honor. Gone are the days of trying to swallow the loss to an associate team of amateur and semi-professional cricketers without real repercussions. We must no longer lose to the likes of Ireland without the type of cold, hard introspection to rectify such shame in the future with appropriate action. It is safe to say that Bangladesh is ready for consistent, back-to-back performances our young guys have demonstrated the talent to deliver against the big boys world cricket. Bashar must go if only to spare all Bangladeshis the beijjoti of being lumped together with the same kind of gutless apologist for mediocrity. His revolting performance coupled with the passionless, sterile brooding cannot possibly do our cricketing PR any good anymore. Alok Kapali and Nafis Iqbal deserve to be back in the team on the basis of recent performance, talent, youth, and/or the fact that they can't do any worse than our once known as Mr. Fifty. Khaled Masud is still the better man behind the wickets, and his batting seems no less productive as the prematurely selected Mushfiqur Rahim’s. A couple of more years in the Bangladesh A-side can only help this young prospect develop the wicket-keeping skills to match that remarkable temperament and enthusiasm. Shahriar Nafees can accompany him there, and come back to where he belongs when he’s capable of delivering his very best against better teams.

Watching our boys finish their World Cup the way they did, was an act of unbridled masochism I shared with millions of other Bangladeshis. Before the rant however, we must yet again, take our hats off to Mashrafe Bin-Murtaza and Sakib Al-Hassan for their gumption throughout the tournament when the chips were down, and they were down quite a bit. I fail to why we’re not looking at our own, taller Chaminda Vaas and shorter Daniel Vettori if they get the investment and structural support they deserve during this particular stage of their promising careers. On a less optimistic note, Tamim’s inability to learn from recent mistakes, and Ashraful’s less frequent but still bizarre relapse into well-noted compulsions, especially in the last match, can still be sighed away and chalked up as youthful slipups of genuinely talented youth, things time and structural support can take care of without too much difficulty. Really, without the quality first class structure we have been promised for over half-a-decade now, they do need about a hundred or so games to learn to be their best with any palpable degree of consistency. Without that consistency, Muhammad Ashraful and Tamim Iqbal will never be the Arvinda De Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya-grade batsmen they certainly have the talent to blossom into. They have talent and time on their side, but them veteran batsman? I was at a loss as to what was more painful, watching Habibul Bashar prolong our agony by clinging on to a salary he hasn’t deserved for awhile, or watching him share the crease with a shakier and even less talented Javed Omar Belim trying to chase down a moderate West Indian target in yet another game we could have, should have won? Maybe talent cannot be the word to describe these has beens of Bangladeshi cricket who are still playing not to lose and stagnating the overall team effort move forward to the next level. Such wretched ineptitude, now gleefully presented to a much-baffled cricket world, cannot be allowed go unchecked just because of a few runs awkwardly edged out of the bat here and there. Sadly, our current batch of selectors probably will as they have since landing the job.

We need paid professional selectors who tolerate neither traditional bias, nor an unhealthy fetish for their own complete lack of accountability for making awful selections. No, we haven’t forgotten the Al-Shahriar, Mushfiq Babu, Hannan Sarkar and Mehrab Juniors from our not too distant past, and Farhad Reza from the present. We need Australian-type selectors who are either professionally trained, or were talented enough cricketers to spot real talent at this level and not give up on the talented, impressionable young men without providing real structural support for improved performance in the near future. Talented former cricketers like Raquibul Hassan, Minhazul Abedin Nannu and Aminul Islam Bulbul should be sent to Australia to learn how the Aussies do it so well. Such professional selectors can dramatically increase the odds of selecting a better team that can grow into the championship side we know they can be, maybe by the next World Cup at home. Until the money is actually spent on developing a real first-class, well-compensated, better-merchandized professional teams with age-based Senior, A, Under-23 and Under-17 selections playing on a wide variety of wickets, we'll have to depend on our young Tigers from the HP program selected on the basis of talent, technique and temperament who have no choice other than to learn on the job.

BCB must do its best in setting them up for success and allow them to learn from their mistakes by investing in solid structural support. They’ll do the rest, led by an inspirational young Captain who can inspire them with his performance, growing wisdom, and positive body language. Sakib Al-Hassan, Muhammad Ashraful and Mashrafe Bin-Murtaza, they all have that infectious quality and the spark that can ignite a hundred and fifty million fires to show the way to that inevitable future.

Oh, and Dav Whatmore? We must all thank him for helping our young tigers achieve what they have, and send him off to more lucrative pastures he’s looking at elsewhere. A little verifiable self-esteem every now and then can’t hurt us all that much, can it?

Sohel N. Rahman, Dhaka, April 20, 2007.

(1. Essay) Letter from Dhaka, Bangladesh

A personal matter. I’m sure that’s how I responded five plus years ago, or used words to that effect. I gauged the crowd with passable accuracy, and decided not to explain why I came back to perhaps the only place where I shouldn’t be asked such questions. I didn’t need a visa to get here, so why ask a question that you don’t really want the answer to? Hence the use of a typical phrase without playing too many notes not too many people have the time for. At least not with the casual verve of dinner party chitchat before the so-called conversation waltzes over to better, less demanding pastures across the room a couple of awkwardly stretched minutes later. Conversations certainly easier on the fashionably inattentive mind, minds perhaps also a little on the tipsy side, are always on menu around here and a real answer to the question, let’s just say, will complicate matters a little.

Strangely, that’s what I’m still saying five years after moving back to Dhaka. Ambiguous enough to be a good answer, and loaded enough to be a conversation stopper in a pleasant, gentle, uncomplicated sort way of course. That’s important, now even more so, because there seems so be something different in the air around us nowadays, and nobody thinks that they’re just making all this up anymore. Something much anticipated yet somehow a little unexpected now that it’s finally here. Something that tells us that the time has finally come for the input to match the expectation, meaning what’s in the local news these days may actually be the beginning of the much anticipated reversal of our misfortune. The misfortune of being led by the iniquitous and the wretchedly shortsighted for the past twentysomething years. These are exciting times because the proverbial chicken of our collective discontent has finally come home to roost.

So, why did you move back? was the question and it continues to be despite the five plus years since the first time I heard those exact words. Five plus years in a wild place where you have to tame the beast yourself before daring to ride him off into that picturesque tomorrow. Definitely not a place for those wish to simply walk into an air-conditioned showroom with a bag full of credit – deserved, ill-gotten or inherited, doesn’t matter as long as that bag is full – and drive off in a comfortable vehicle of their choice. I knew that when I decided to come back. After ten plus years of surviving in the American corporate jungle, spending money after work and waiting to spend more on the weekends, and feeling hurried into savoring the last few drops of squeezed-out freedom on Sunday afternoons before plunging into the next workweek just around the corner – I felt ready for the new frontier that I owed to myself to come back to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing my career there. I learnt a lot about the job, about myself, and my ability to like, even feel passionate about the job in order to keep my sanity not too far from where it should be. I felt it was time for me to try and apply my professional skills here, where they can make more of a difference. I watched a couple of decades pass by in suburban DC, Paris and Northern California, and it was time to come home. In retrospect, I was not entirely delusional despite some setbacks, now chalked-up as a weird sort of culture shock you overcome easily ­– it’s your original culture after all. Good things also happened, and an unbreakable optimism, quite common amongst my fellow Bangladeshis, kept re-igniting hope whenever that hope seemed extinguished, blown away by the wide variety of unexpected gusts of the local wind that no longer surprise me as much as they used to in the beginning. It still does with the promise that this optimism will always accompany reasoned faith in God, and willful submission to God’s will. No, like most Bangladeshis, thank God, I’m not one of those guys who wants to silence other voices in Islam, or deny non-Muslims, a tricky concept indeed, justice and equal treatment under the law. Playing the intermediary between God and man’s salvation, exercising unilateral power over others without the possibility of a role reversal, not understanding the inherent indignity in speaking for someone else, and using religion as cover to avoid treatment of neurological disorders – definitely not my cup of tea. Just wanted to clear that up.

If anything, those unexpected moments and easy deceptions ultimately led me to that honest look in the mirror of one’s own limitations. A little detour, though unwanted at the time, I’m glad I took the time to take. The hustle, the bustle and not a single dull moment since, I’d say. Maybe not too many sweet moments in there either. At least not the kind of sweet moments that fall on your lap on their own, the kind that don’t require peeling, plucking and more often than not – decoding and deciphering. I’m not really bitching about life here in the Dhaka Metropolitan Area. Far from it, I like living with the extreme contrasts teeming with people everywhere, each one of us with a story to tell. I’m talking about a question that continues to find new life in small talk whenever I, or other returnees like myself are around. The question, much to my annoyance, doesn’t seem to get old. That’s rare in my neck of the woods right here in the Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara ghetto for the obscenely privileged and sadly, the equally irresponsible to nation, community, and ultimately to one’s own existential essence. Five plus years and still not old in a place where trends and the average attention span fluctuate with greater frequency than electricity in less affluent neighborhoods in Dhaka. Now that’s really something.

Dusty, clogged up streets overdressed with gas-guzzling SUVs and posh European, or European-type, Luxury Sedans and turbo-charged Sports Cars with nowhere to go and flex their muscle, more often concealed than exposed nowadays – fear rather than a moral epiphany at work here – among other gloating, grotesque examples of personal inadequacy and blissful ignorance of fundamental social graces. Not a bad first impression of the mean streets that don’t take too much time to render things passé, or God forbid, uncool before they invariably make their comeback in the not-too-distant future as something new and improved. The mantra seems simple: what we don’t know can’t hurt us, and what we do know we can simply ignore until we believe that it’s getting bored, and will soon fade away and out of our busy-being-busy lives. Besides, why think when you’re local cable operator is taking care of that little function rather affordably? So why did you move back? is perhaps a more polite way of asking, how come you’re still here when we don’t wanna be?

Interesting, I can’t see them living in such deskbound, careless, and easy black money-steeped lap of luxury anywhere else. Definitely not in the US, being as far removed as we non-WASPs are from the Mayflower elite discreetly tucked away in pretty little resort towns named after their ancestors, or people their ancestors knew intimately before killing them off after Thanksgiving dinner. Relegated to a second-class, minority status no matter how White you train yourself to be, or how carefully you try to paint and breed that Whiteness into your own life. US of A – a place like most places where, with the colossal exception of the Junior Bush, you still need minimal qualification to take over the family business, including running the country.

Fact: no other place will be as hospitable to the spoilt-rotten party crowd returning to Dhaka with nothing other than an inexplicable air of superiority to show for their academic hiatus abroad – perfectly termed in Bangla as FUTANI – as our good old Dhaka. Mind you, FUTANI has nothing to do with the comical zeal of the Romanized barbarian back to enlighten the hordes. It is the air of shallow superiority for its own sake, displayed more often than not, to conceal the ugly truth about oneself buried not too deep inside a riot of attitude and flash. Often entertaining once you’re in a good mood, irritating when you’re not.

I suppose it doesn’t matter when you’ve got the job no matter what. Blood is thicker than, well, anything else when it comes to inheriting the sins and accomplishments of one’s father. The story is simple enough: he’ll learn on the job, thinks the father who, to his credit, remains entrepreneurial despite the darker alleys he must now navigate across, again by trampling over his own moral, ethical and civic sensibilities. Our boy, however, has different priorities before learning to do the bare minimum in order to keep his nose above water. His credo: party as hard and as often as you can, come back to a place where the dishes are done for you, and lord over a low glass ceiling keeping men and women more qualified than you at bay. Men and women who even without having had the chance to squander great opportunities to study abroad, are still better suited to take the Company to the next level if what daddy built for me was in fact a Company, and not just yet another family fiefdom slash soap-opera masquerading as one. I guess it’s easier not to care too much whose money it is or where it is coming from as long as you’re the one signing the cheques now, and from a variety of accounts with more money than you know what to do with. Brave new habits like hard currency gambling and other types of upscale debauchery beckon, as always, just on the other side of the workday’s tedium filled with deftly executed spacing-out, paper pushing, and the occasional micromanagement of a crisis that real corporate accountability could prevent without too much trouble. This is the life, you think – I have arrived. Easy thoughts as long as you’ve trained yourself not to think too much. Easy thoughts as long as you can hide behind a wall of Deshi-style Corporate Culture of suits, ties, magnetized nametags and somewhat embarrassing, for the rest of us that is, adulation for the crown prince runnin' daddy’s little store. A store now big enough to warrant arrogantly managed scams that fatten those Caribbean, Swiss or Southeast Asian bank accounts where money is hoarded for the sake of hoarding and hoarding alone. Before long, our boy too easily fits into the moody non-chalance that casually blurts out: to hell with the country’s foreign currency reserve, let the Bangladeshi Taka perish where it has been around the bottom of the foreign-exchange pond while we swim around in five-star waters both here and abroad. Let the twenty million or so at the cusp of the middle-class stay behind that carrot, and let our annual growth stagnate at five and a half percent when it can easily be eight plus. We don’t care because we’re getting ours. Crypto-feudal moods light years away from bourgeois refinement of everyday life, and the enlightened cultivation of those refinements because we don’t gotta farm no more, we don’t gotta row that boat, or cast that heavy net.

Such moods are not entirely unexpected once you think about it. Quite the contrary, they should be anticipated in a community where class is something to be simply purchased, rather than the refined practice of kindness in everyday life that defines it. Purchased, among other outrageously priced places, in sub-standard English medium schools where the better than thou environment of thoughtless style thrash the substance out of our real roots with its the grass must be greener on the other side lure, right out of a hip new lifestyle channel broadcasting from the emptiest recesses of the easily malleable mind. Those roots are buried under other things we are conditioned to hate about ourselves without understanding what they really are in our own terms. Therefore, before an alarmingly obese, rudely class-conscious and sulky little Bangladeshi child, often seen gorging on imported and outrageously priced junk food, has had the time to consider whether the ability to speak English and Bollywood Hindi as first languages in a culture where they traditionally are not really makes him the better, more modern human being that his complex-driven parents so desperately covet – he develops a distaste for most things Bangladeshi. Can’t blame him much when his parents, oblivious to the effect of MSG, mono saturated fats, and self-contempt will have in the life of their little BABU, cannot quite connect the dots between driving ultra-luxurious gas-guzzlers – in an unemployment slash underemployment saturated, road and space-challenged city like Dhaka – and being simply vulgar. Talking consumer rights with a pocketful of money from highly questionable sources of income in an economically polarized society, in order to somehow justify those choices is the type of dodgy, lame, delusional, macabre excuse that needs to be treated with serious anti-psychotics, not the Y by any other name being passed around like candy in the weekend P'RDEE. A lie, semantics and deep philosophy notwithstanding, doesn’t become the truth just because you’ve managed to get yourself and others to believe in it. SHALINOTA is a great Bangla word that can be roughly transliterated as the ability to demonstrate good taste reflective of a kind soul. So much for SHALINOTA and good traditional values.

Such infuriating moods in fact should be quite expected in a community where class is not the gentle cultivation of time-tested ethics and social behavior, but the ability to get away with whatever ethical two-step one finds himself dancing by pretending that the ever-convenient exception to the rule is indeed something other than the bullshit we all know it to be deep down. A community of appearances where this class can be sipped from outrageously priced goblets in smoke-filled rooms, or from inside duty-free bottles filled with socially more acceptable chemicals before sending one’s once spoilt, now rude and hormonally charged child off to one those classy, and outrageously expensive rehab-joints abroad for trying to find a similar kind of class and misguided physiological solace in socially not-yet openly acceptable kicks. More often than not, we reap what we sow no matter how unpalatable the fruits of our efforts – and that goes for everyone irrespective of intent. Another story for another time.

You know who you are. Show a little gratitude I say, and not only because your ass is finally on the line. In no other city of twenty million miraculously packed inside this city built for perhaps less than two, can your mind stay so blissfully uncluttered of justifiable mob violence and the wrath of the chronically exploited. Be thankful that the don’t have a lot in our city convey a nobility in their desire for peace that is perhaps beyond your grasp. Maybe you just don’t get it because the it is not a pill to be popped, or an outrageously-priced choice to be purchased to instantly gratify your avid need to escape the truth about your otherwise empty self, filled only with the pursuit of overcoming self-induced boredom, and a mundane life scheduled around banal shopping trips to overcome that boredom while the so-called excitement of a new purchase lasts. An arrested existence keeling over with the boredom of passing time generally devoid of moral and social responsibility. Making way through the daily torrent of smiling garment workers, and clusters of homeless children lost in their own joyous laughter should inspire you to rediscover what you’ve lost, and realize that Dhaka is not boring after all, maybe you are. A town without glitzy casinos and glitzier brothels sucks only to those who’ve never been ashamed to show-off in a culture where showing-off, by all reasonable accounts, is not a virtue. Because showing off, like vanity in general, is nothing but a rather unbecoming glorification of an inflated ego born of deeply buried inadequacies, and a pathetically low, leg-shaking, accent-faking self-esteem.

You know who you are. God gave you wealth, power, opportunity, and in some cases, even talent. What you do with those wonderful things is what you give back to God. You can break the pattern and do the right thing not because of state induced fear – but because you want freedom from such fears in your heart and mind. Keep your profit margin on a short leash, and you can actively invest in meaningful national development and socio-economic empowerment of our people through education, wealth creation and equal opportunity without waiting for executive directives, or tax subsidies and other incentives to do so. You can fix those roads and build those schools with quality teachers, and give our marginalized working compatriots profit-and-loss-share based interest-free loans to supplement their income through small and mid-sized enterprises of their own. Be proactive in the success of those enterprises by providing your business expertise, rather than waiting for them to fail so that you can put away the targeted equity. Give those who work for you a fair wage and the training that gives them the chance to move forward. Do the right things, go public, and make your overnight millions when you’re listed in the Dhaka Stock Exchange. Give your employees performance-based stock options and a real sense of ownership, so that they’re as committed and productive as an owner should be. You can stabilize and enhance the value of the DSE by increasing people’s participation in it, and let that stable DSE and not banking scams be the primary source of capital for Bangladeshi business. Bring ordinary Bangladeshis into the stock market by creating and managing small portfolios at a price the average Bangladeshi can afford – a great business to get into instead of robber-baron private banking – and start building a marketplace of hundred and fifty million, about half the population of the US, densely packed in a place the size of just one of their smaller states, and watch them line up to invest in our future. You can bring your money back to Bangladesh where it belongs and dramatically increase the power of the Bangladeshi Taka. You can invest in our culture and traditional values that have stood the test of time, and make them evolve by having everyone freely participate in that deeply enriching new dynamic, instead of rejecting and being ashamed of what you never tried to understand like a moron – because your spiritual dysfunction, despite all the spectacles to the contrary, comes from that rejection and apathy alone. In the immortal words of a great American President known more for his potential than actual accomplishments, start fulfilling your potential by asking not what your country can do for you, but by asking what you can do for your country. You’ll be wealthier than you possibly can be now, and sleep better without those pills and misguided prayers devoid of faith. Without Autobahns or the wannabe X-gamer’s death wish for actual off road adventure, SUVs and other such penis-mobiles are the eyesore they should be in a country like ours. So wake up and lead from the front by driving a fuel-efficient, eco-friendly vehicle. Come clean and grab that opportunity to leave a legacy hoarded money cannot buy even if you’re buried with it. Come clean and give yourself the opportunity to die with a clear conscience.

Whether or not the regular and always beautifully metrosexualized people of the hood, as opposed to the now on the run and burnt extra crispy people of yesterday’s bravado, choose to see it that way is not the point. The point is that cosmetic upgrades and scratching the ultimately interminable itch to gratify oneself as instantly as possible, are not sufficient to bring about peace and real joy in one’s life, even in a world defined by appearances and surface values more than they perhaps should be. I, along with I’m sure, many others – whichever little bubble they may be residing in at this moment – have been trying for years without anything other than an unhealthy fetish for the futile act of trying for its own sake to show for it. Why? Simple because we were raised that way by men and women who never made that deal with the devil no matter how temping the offer was. We are grateful not to have fallen too far from the tree.

As flawed as we may be, and as readily accepting of those flaws as we are, we have their example to guide us through difficult times, and give us the wisdom to learn from our mistakes and accept expiation without shortcuts. The current government, we pray, is made of the same right stuff.

We pray that they’ll include the disenfranchised, give voice to the silent, give opportunity to the victims of greed, and start building a future in our lifetime where everybody can dream of a better day because everybody has a fair shot at bringing his or her aspirations to life in a Bangladesh we want Bangladesh to be. We want them to ensure that the producer and the consumer, not the middlemen, benefit from fair commerce, meaning a maximum 30 rather than a minimum 300% profit margin. We want them to take a firm, proactive, biased position on public housing, utilities, and meaningful education for the poor and the middle classes. We want them to firmly deal with the unholy trinity of corruption, involving corrupt lawyers, Sub-Inspectors, and Magistrates in the lower echelons of law and order so that they can move on to bigger and better things, and leave a legacy for all the generations to come in the future. Easier said than done, but looks like we may have the right people in charge since 1971, give of take a few years here and there before 1981.

As proud citizens of Bangladesh, we want this government of brave men and women to do away with our political culture of pathological liars and run-of-the-mill, disposable heroes, all too often stewing in the type of intellectual mediocrity that flatters no one, and lead us to a vibrant and unassuming new culture of genuine democratic practices in all levels of national politics through an innovative structure born of our own historical realities and cultural fabric. We want leaders who ask for solutions from those who actually face the problems, and make those solutions more feasible with their genuine leadership abilities. We want politicians who represent their constituency at the national level by actually having their lives inside the borders of that constituency, as opposed to the usual suspects in Dhaka and Chittagong, venture capitalists waiting to get theirs in the business of politics. We want internally democratic political parties of community activists who run sustainable community development projects – not the thugs, goons and opportunists posing as political activists in order to extort the limited resources of those communities like Soprano-styled, or the crass FDC version thereof, Mafia earners who want to be made into media kingpins, bank directors and land development supremos in the not too distant future. We want our education institutions to be cleared of machinations of “traditional” politics that make a mockery of those institutions. A student can always join the youth wing of a political party – an additional student wing, as clearly demonstrated by the Bangladeshi experience of the last three decades, is a perversion whose time has come to be shelved and preserved for posterity inside the glass cage with other such painfully terrible ideas.

We want runoff elections so that nobody can win with 35% of the vote anymore. We want local governments to be genuinely empowered by establishing them as a separate and equal branch of our government. We want the nomination and the recall process of the local government representatives to be petition-based for grassroots development of authentic democratic culture and public accountability. We want to see them further empowered by directly giving them, not Parliamentarians, the responsibility to manage the resources allocated for the development of everyday life in our communities.

We want Parliamentarians who advocate and legislate what they were elected to bring into national focus. We want nationally televised, multi-party Parliamentary Committees that scrutinize all government functions not in the spirit of adversity, but in order to bring public transparency and accountability to those functions without compromising operational efficiency. We want Parliamentarians courageous enough to speak out against the anti-democratic Section 70 of the Constitution, so that as elected representatives of their constituency rather than the shameless, ass-kissing financiers of particular families, they can vote their individual conscience on particular issues.

We want a Government of real checks and balances where additional and necessary separation of powers is a reality. We want the future President to be a permanent extension of the Chief Advisor during the Caretaker, now Caretaker slash Interim government. Like the CA, he or she must be an impartial person of good repute as determined by the elected representatives of the people, and exercise executive power over revamped and modernized civil, defense, and law-enforcement services so that those essential services, along with the Anti-Corruption and the Election Commission, can never again become the tools of corruption or the means to that end. How about a well-trained, well-paid, all-officer National Police Force that can publicly police itself? How about National Civil Servants who can stand tall with the best of them all over the world because that’s how they’ve been set up for success? How about a National Defense Force that is allowed to participate in our lives as proactively it does around the world for the UN? We want a charismatic President who can lead such endeavors in the future, and we still have many such qualified persons in the ranks of the Civil and Defense Services, the Civil Society and amongst Social and Community activists to assume that important responsibility. We need to continue to develop more such leaders in the future not by osmosis or personal charisma, but through institutions and value-added, compulsory national education and other development services that manufacture the traits, attributes and skills necessary to do the job right. Institutions created perhaps away from the seat of traditional money and power, and in small towns and rural areas where our parents grew up being proud of who they were and never let ephemeral trends, or greed dictate what they should become. A hundred and fifty million is an amazingly large number that once empowered, can only bring amazing benefits.

We want a Prime Minister leading all other government operations with the right number of ministers who are strictly technocrats and professionals motivated to do the right thing because it is the right thing, rather than because it may be the politically expedient thing to do in order to get re-elected. We are tired of being driven by the moral flexibility of political expediency so aptly demonstrated by our politicians over the past fifteen years of transgression, or the so-called good ones tolerating that transgression for the sake of a rather more dubious political expediency not entirely lost on those of us on this side of the divide. These merchants of our national infamy must not be allowed to chuckle, charm, spin, wink and wiggle their way out of their betrayal of the public trust, and escape indignation of the law. The long-overdue wrath of the humiliated people of this country must be allowed to bear-down upon those who believed themselves to be above the law, within the bounds of that law.

And last but not least, we want an independent and qualified Judiciary that protects individuals from the tyranny of the majority by upholding their fundamental rights as human beings and citizens. We want a system where the law is neither subverted nor undermined by the frivolity of money, influence or hearsay without probable cause in order to settle personal scores, and thereby further plundering the public’s faith in a system already in desperate need of restoration – but a system that is characterized only by diligent adherence to the letter, the spirit, and the due process of the law that attract the best, the brightest and the most public service-minded to its duly modernized institutions. The law must guarantee freedom from those who wish to deny us of what is not theirs to give, and not take that freedom away for a few bucks here and there.

Quite a wish list. We should be ready to do our part.

You can beat ‘em, or join ’em if you can’t. We can always choose to survive trying to beat them and die trying, because that’s what we owe to the silent and the unseen, without whose generosity of spirit, we’d be busy trying to crawl out of the dark, deep well of being held to a higher standard, perpetually being dug deeper by the pre-1971 Punjabi cultural arrogance and the ruthless military violence that sprung from that arrogance. Being a sideshow of a sideshow would not have presented the opportunities we have been blessed with. We must play our part and give something back. If we don’t, we’d never be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and like what we see, because we’ve turned our back on the people whose supreme sacrifices have given us the choice between doing the right thing and floating aimlessly upon the murky waters of ethical relativity and moral bankruptcy. If we don’t do the right thing, we’ll live with the knowledge of bailing out when the going got tough, and the illusion that the selfish time away from that responsibility is anything but borrowed time ticking, before it explodes as the kind of unhappiness that no matter how skillfully glossed over it may be, will haunt us in our nightmares. The shock of being rudely awakened to a justifiable indignity no extra sessions of purely ritualistic, faithless prayer sessions can possibly mitigate – is desirable by no one. Those nightmares are always increasingly more difficult to live with, so why on earth should we want to?

So, people still asking that question with a freshness-coated mock surprise totally undeserved by something with five years of soot on it – makes one think how annoying something like that should be but somehow isn’t. Maybe I should go back and miss this incredible drama unfolding right before our eyes, and along with the show, miss the opportunity to be a part of our nation’s history at such a critical juncture.

Perhaps it’s genuine concern I’m simply not seeing. Perhaps my predictable setbacks are things that need to be dusted off like unsightly specks scattered across an otherwise perfectly solved puzzle, with no pieces of the jigsaw missing. Perhaps I should go back to Northern California for the next 20 years of feeling like living in someone else’s house. I’m grateful that I don’t pay more rent there than I have to, but that’s only because the landlord’s a really swell guy, like a foster parent who decides to adopt you after a while. The trouble is you didn’t think you were up for adoption, yet now find yourself having to make a choice that is only as difficult as you make it to be.

Sure I can go back and tune myself back into the American Dream and the daily, remarkable human decency that nurtures that dream. I can go back and hangout with my dearest friends and bask in their genuinely multicultural human warmth once more – not too difficult for an inbetweener such as myself – while knowing that there is a path to deeper intimacy we can never be on together, and we would want to. Knowing that Lalon’s transcendental words and grooves coming alive in Farida Parveen’s layered, soulful, deeply nuanced vocals can never stir them the way it stirs the best I have to offer to my fellow man, and that the descriptive magnificence of Tagore can never enrich their breath quite the way that breath can add to the meaning of my life, and the ever-present potential of a Mohammad Ashraful century in the Cricket World Cup, or Mashrafe Bin Murtaza rampaging through the opposition’s batting order, and the endless possibilities in Ornob’s music and Sahana’s poetry can never intoxicate them the way they can gently spray priceless blessings into our lives simply because we are Bangladeshi, and cannot be, do not want to be anything else. Knowing that is a burden I don’t want to be strong enough to bear anywhere except here. Those things that make us Bangladeshi and make Bangladesh the best of what we have to give, bring us closer to our God from the depths of our collective soul.

Being a global citizen, other things move me too, but not like this. Sure they strike different cords inside and reverberate just about as deeply, but the sound of Bangla and the timeless comfort of belonging to certain ancient moods and everyday gestures because we speak Bangla, our language – is in the blood. Our people’s at times absurd refusal to give up on a national triumph, any national triumph, despite having nothing but hope renewed from an indomitable spirit to hold on to, and the easy ability to be gracious, kind, not at all in a hurry, and make noble sacrifices for their families with a smile that battles back all that is unfair in life, and laughter rising wholeheartedly from the margins of despair – are things I could no longer pretend didn’t matter, because they do. They do because it, the very thing that makes us Bangladeshi, also makes Bangladesh what we are and what we want to be. It makes us whole, and that mattered to me personally more than anything my gracious, but nevertheless adoptive community in Northern California could ever offer.

Off course I miss the places where I grew to become who I am now. Jazz, the easy availability of meaningful conversation and great music and books, the great education, the doomed youthful first marriage to a native, the great Fortune 500 career, the trophy girlfriend at the back of my KZ1000 snaking along Highway 1, tearing across the muffled ferocity of the sound of Pacific waves lashing against the ancient rocky cliffs of Big Sur, the unconditional love of friends, and the agile, effortless grace of my trio of cats who loved me just the way I was – were hard moments to leave behind and store as only memories, however cherished they may be. But never an economic refugee, I couldn’t simply morph into a spiritual one by turning my back on something that continues to give more than what it’s capable of taking away. I came back not to brood over what has been left behind, but to embrace what is to come. Besides, if we really want all the good things that the world outside has to offer, shouldn’t we at least make the effort to start building our own visions of those things right here, if only to look ourselves in the mirror without the uncertain comforts of the mask that conceals the truth of our wrongdoing and slack?

Like most of the Bangladeshis I’ve met since I’ve been back, all too often outside my ghetto where I pray things black can no longer turn white with the simple stroke of the pen, I like myself here, and this is where I want to pursue happiness not at the expense of my fellow Bangladeshis I can effortlessly share those experiences with, but with them. Like them, I am here because this is home, and this is where my heart has always been. So, why did I come back? Like I said before, it was a personal matter.

Sohel N Rahman, Dhaka, April 2, 2007.