A ‘dialogue’ about the dialogue

Mumtaz Iqbal

Between two past Bangladesh Presidents Bangabandhu Seikh Mujibur Rahman (SMR) and Ziaur Rahman (ZR) at an undisclosed location. Wiretap, courtesy US National Security Agency (NSA) and Edward Snowden, NSA’s exclusive news distributor.

SMR: Zia, your wife and my daughter don’t talk to each other much or often. But on the rare occasion they do, incendiary sparks fly like fireworks on Independence Day. Do you agree?
ZR: Absolutely, Bangabandhu. I’m really impressed by the wide range of topics they discussed on 27 October 2013. Aren’t you?
SMR: I am. Hi-tech communications; red alert; dinner invitation; birthday celebration; swearing-in ceremony; mayhem; chicanery; even murder. You name it. Astonishing virtuoso duet.
ZR: Do you think that Khaleda’s red phone was dead?
SMR: Not sure. But I’ll give Khaleda the benefit of doubt, considering the T&T’s legendary efficiency (!) and the limitless vindictiveness of all political cadres irrespective of party, whose vocation is to be more
holy than the pope, and usually say what they think their leaders want to hear!
ZR: But why the emphasis on the red phone? Couldn’t Hasina have called Khaleda on her mobile? Millions of Bangladeshis do.

Khaleda uses Grameen phone!
SMR: Good god, no! Khaleda uses Grameen Phone. Hasina would never stoop to call her on that network. You know, bloodsucker Yunus and all that! Besides, Khaleda’s telephone is black. Hasina’s a red phone addict, having a soft corner for red. A hangover from the days when she took part in May Day rallies. After all, the AL fights for the working man—despite Rana Plaza—and despite the pretensions of the Workers Party, Volkswagen model.
ZR: I note your comments. One should always respect a lady’s choice of colour combination. (Pauses. Clears throat). Bangabandhu, can I speak frankly about Hasina’s strategic mistake?
SMR: Of course. BAKSAL doesn’t operate here. What’s it?
ZR: Well, Hasina should have told Khaleda that she was going to cook the dinner, as she did for Joy on his birthday. Khaleda loves home cooking. She would have accepted the invitation in a flash, especially as Hasina’s kitchen is the only one in Bangladesh awarded the coveted three stars (***) by Guide Michelin, an honour those in the know—the cognoscenti—consider far greater than the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2012, there were only 58 such restaurants worldwide. There have been 125 Peace winners since 1901.

‘Hasina quite modest’
SMR: Interesting. But, you know, Hasina is really quite modest even shy and doesn’t like to blow her own or family trumpet though, for political reasons and filial love, she does. This deification embarrasses me no end, especially when some South Asian leaders especially Indira Gandhi and Zulfi Bhutto make snide remarks about my divinity and mortality.
ZR: Yes, this must be awkward. Are you as upset as Hasina that Khaleda celebrates her birthday on 15 August, the day you were killed?
SMR: Mixed feelings. 15 August is also birth date of Pakistan, Napoleon, Walter Scott, Julia Child and other celebrities. So, if Hasina’s logic were to apply, should there be no “celebration” by people in Pakistan, France, England, USA or elsewhere over these birthdays? I don’t think so. Nevertheless, I believe Khaleda’s decision to cut cake shows poor taste. It’d have been better if she had done this privately without fuss, respecting Hasina’s sensitivity. But I’m also aware, as Hasina is or should be, that public opinion in Bangladesh is divided and polarised over the AL’s performance 1971-1975 and my death. So if I were Hasina, I’d grieve in private with family and friends and not make it a political or national issue or vendetta. That’s counter-productive. We should move on and give the past arest. But I’m curious about two things, Zia?
ZR: What’s that, Bangabandhu?
SMR: Can Khaleda really blow out all the 68 or so candles in one breath? Why would she want people to know how old she is?
ZR: First question. Don’t know. But she’s no longer a demure housewife and may have developed strong lungs since entering politics. Second question. Your guess is as good as mine.

Cagey answers!
SMR: Cagey answers, Zia! But you are right. We men throughout history haven’t been very adept at understanding powerful women (such as Boadicea; Czarina Catherine: Dowager Empress Cixi; Cleopatra; Rani of Jhansi). Let’s not get bogged down on this fascinating point when there are more interesting questions to ponder about the dialogue.
ZR: I agree. Let’s do that. About the date for the dinner, there was quite a tug-of-war, ping-ponging, yo-yoing, wasn’t there?
SMR: Yes. This reminds me of the adage: What’s in a name? Nothing yet everything. Both the Begums had their own logic and self-interest to insist on the dates (27 Oct by Hasina; 30 Oct by Khaleda) they were prepared to have dinner. But I wonder if Hasina was being too clever by half in inviting Khaleda on 26 October for dinner the next day, when the 60 hour hartal was to start, on such short notice?
ZR: We don’t agree on many things, Bangabandhu, but on this point, I believe you may have a point. Also, if my wife is right, getting permission at about 11 pm on 25 October to hold the 26 October rally with a few mikes appears to be classic guerrilla skirmishing by the government against political opponents. Give a little to avoid the charge of muzzling public opinion but place conditions and hindrances to make the permission ineffective. It’s not cricket! Even the Pakistanis in 1971 didn’t do this to you on 7 March 1971, did they?

Things have changed
SMR: Well, Zia, things have changed a lot since the relatively halcyon days of 1947-1971. In my time, Bengali politicians would criticise each other in public but break bread and talk civilly in private despite their differences. But then we didn’t have any women politicians around! We’ve become like US politicians, behaving nastily with opponents publicly and privately, as the recent US government shutdown and the last US presidential election suggest. Are the frosty and divisive Tea Party politics of the sole superpower resonating in Shonar Bangla? Or is it the other way round? If the latter, we should be flattered: the hyper power imitating Kissinger’s “basketcase” Bangladesh! Both US and Bangladesh public hold politicians in utter contempt.
ZR: Even though I’m a political neophyte, Bangabandhu, your observation is astute. As you’ve already stated, the charges hurled and topics discussed by the two ladies are incredibly eclectic: sweet double-talk; hearing deficiency; sleep patterns; stubbornness; and reciprocal gory accusations of homicide, all the while going round and round in circles, getting nowhere. Everything under the sun except elections!
MR: Interesting points, Zia. The ladies covered impressive ground in just 37 minutes. We men would still be talking or would have ceased talking after five minutes or so. Fish or cut bait, I say. Perhaps the intellectual make-up of the “weaker” sex is more formidable and durable when it comes to discussing matters of state, especially when compromise is considered a sell-out. No quarter is given or sought. It’s a gladiatorial fight to the death, like in ancient Rome. I hope this doesn’t sound like gender discrimination on my part!

‘Hell hath no fury’
ZR: Not being a sociologist, I can’t answer that, Bangabandhu. But the English playwright William Congreve wrote in The Mourning Bride in 1697: Hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned! Perhaps this saying may explain the bittersweet much-ado-about-nothing nature of the dialogue. There is near universal unanimity in the media that the telephone chat was an exercise in banality and futility, a high-class crass farce that ill-serves our people. They deserve better, don’t they?
SMR: Your observations are not without merit, considering it involves two bitterly antagonistic females. How do you think a contemporary Congreve would deal with two scorned women turning on each other?
ZR: With extreme delicacy. Probably stop writing; retire to the lovely English countryside to navel-gaze, do some Freudian analysis and contemplate possible options.
SMR: A pox on both parties?! Commendably neutral. The two ladies could do worse than emulate this latter-day Congreve. This might just save the frustrated Bangladeshi population, a hostage to their irrational, emotional and self-serving whims and fancies, from further bondage and outrage. Right is might but might is not right.
ZR: Aameen! But who will bell the cat?

Source: Weekly Holiday

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