My Grandfather’s Diary

Making us pay with our lives

‘Could you get a small size pizza and some French fries for Zafrullah and send to GK? He is not eating and maybe a change in menu will help.’  It was our very own freedom fighter Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury that Shireen Huq, his wife, was talking about, and I wasted no time in my search for the pizza.

Rahnuma Ahmed being tested for Covid-19 in our flat in Dhanmondi. ─ Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

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The Humble Bishop

It was an unusual mix. Two priests, a nun, two devout Catholics, and me, a heathen. We cooked and cleaned and shared small tasks, and important for me, I paid a rent of only eight pounds a week. I was never sure on what criteria I had been accepted into the ‘community’ but as I was working my way through university, I was happy to accept. We lived in the Catholic chaplaincy of Liverpool University, just opposite the Students Union Building. Living smack in the middle of campus also meant I had no transport costs.

There was no way my schoolteacher mum and government servant dad, could pay for their son’s overseas education, so I was on my own and money was always tight. I worked weekends, holidays, and evenings to pay for my student fees and my keep.

Vincent Malone (11 September 1931 – 18 May 2020) the Auxiliary Bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Liverpool. We used to know him as Vin. He was the chaplain at the catholic chaplaincy of Liverpool University when I was studying there.

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করোনাকালের করুণা খান

এই গল্পের সাথে কেউ কোন চরিত্র মিলাইবেন না। যে মিলাইবেন দায় তার… কয়া দিলাম কিন্তু….
করোনার প্রকোপে আর কিছু না হোক আমি যে পাগল হইতেছি এইটা তার বড় প্রমান। সো পাগলে কী না বলে…🧟‍♂🧟‍♂🧟‍♂🧟‍♂
Nahida Ashrafi_ by rahnuma ahmedNahida Ashrafi. Photo: Rahnuma Ahmed

করোনাকালের করুণা খান

নাহিদা আশরাফী

-আপা, শইলডা বালো?  একখান কতা ছিলো।
করুণা খান চোখ বড় বড় করে চম্পার দিকে তাকালেন, শইলডা কি চম্পা? বলেছি না ঠিক করে কথা বলবে? বলো শুভ সকাল আপা, আপনার শরীর ভালো? বলো বলো। কষ্ট হলেও সময় নিয়ে বলো। তবু শুদ্ধ বলবে। যাও চা নিয়ে এসো, আর রান্না শেষ করে আবার আমাকে শুদ্ধ করে কথাটা শোনাবে। তোমাদের নিয়ে আর পারি না।
কিছুটা বিরক্তি নিয়ে বিছানা থেকে উঠে এক ঘন্টা বাথটাকে বডিশপের শাওয়ার জেলে নিজেকে ডুবিয়ে রেখে রেডি হয়ে নীচে নামলেন তিনি । আড়াইটায় তার ওয়ার্কারদের সাথে মিটিং ফিক্সড।যদিও তা ভিডিও কনফারেন্স এর মাধ্যমে। গতকালের সিদ্ধান্ত নিয়ে দারুণ খোশমেজাজে আছেন । নিজের আপত প্রতিভায় নিজেই মুগ্ধ!
খাওয়া শেষ করে ডাইনিং টেবিল ক্লিয়ার করতে করতেই চা নিয়ে ঢুকলো চম্পা। কাচুমাচু করে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকতে দেখে নিজে থেকেই চম্পাকে কথাগুলো শুদ্ধ করে বলতে বল্লেন৷ চম্পা গলা কেশে শুদ্ধ করে বলার চেষ্টা করলো –
-আপা, আপোনার শরীলটা ভালো?
– উফ! আপোনার নয় চম্পা বলো আপনার। আর শরীলটা নয়। বলো শরীরটা৷ বলো, আবার বলো
চম্পা এই দুই লাইনেই আটকে রইলো টানা পনেরো মিনিট। তারপর খানিকটা খুশী হলেন মালকিন৷
– ওকে, এবার পরের লাইন বলো। তাড়াতাড়ি বলো। আমার আবার মিটিং আছে৷
– জ্বি আপা বলেছিলাম কি আমার পাঁচদিন ধ…ধ… ধইরা।
– উহু ধইরা নয়, বলো ধরে। হ্যাঁ বলো। পাঁচ দিন ধরে কি?
– জ্বর। গলায় বেদনা।
– আহা বেদনা না। বলো ব্যাথা।…  কী!!!
ব্যাথা শব্দটা উচ্চারণের সাথে সাথে ভয়ংকর শীতল এক স্রোত তার শিরদাঁড়া বেয়ে নামতে লাগলো। তিনি চিৎকার করে উঠলেন,
– তুই আগে বলিস নাই ক্যান? বেয়াদব কোথাকার।
– আপা ক্যাম্নে বলবো?  সকাল থেকে শুদ্ধ শুদ্ধ খেলায় আপ্নে আমারে যে ধমকের উপ্রে রাখছেন।
এই চম্পা তার বিছানা ঝাড়পোঁছ করেছে, রান্না করেছে, কাবার্ড থেকে শাড়ি নামিয়ে দিয়েছে, শাওয়ারের পর চুল আচঁড়ে দিয়েছে। আর এখন চা ও বানিয়েও খাইয়েছে৷ উফ!  আর ভাবতে পারে না করুণা খান। এক দৌড়ে বাসা থেকে বেরিয়ে ডাক্তারের কাছে যাবেন বলে গাড়িতে ওঠেন। চেনা পরিচিত সব ডাক্তার কল করে ফেলেছেন ততক্ষণে। হল কী এই মরার দেশে। কেউ ফোন ধরে না। ভাবতে ভাবতে অফিসে ঢোকেন। কী আশ্চর্য!  কেউ নেই কেন? ফিরে গিয়ে ড্রাইভারকে জিজ্ঞেস করতে যাবেন দেখেন ড্রাইভার নেই চম্পা ড্রাইভিং সিটে বসে দাত কেলিয়ে হাসছে। তিনি ভয়ানক আর্তচিৎকার দিয়ে গাড়ি থেকে ছিটকে  রাস্তার দিকে যান। গেটের কাছেই ড্রাইভার কাসেমের দেখা পান। কাশেম তার জন্য লাশবাহী গাড়ি এনে তাতে  উঠতে বলছে। সব কী পাগল হয়ে গেল। লাশবাহী গাড়িতে তিনি কেন উঠবেন?
তিনি দৌড়াতে শুরু করলেন,
দৌড় মিইয়ে এসে জোরে হাঁটায় রুপ নিলো।
জোরে হাঁটাও মিইয়ে এসে একসময় বসে পড়লেন।
পিছনে তাকিয়ে দেখলেন একদল মানুষ তাকে অনুসরণ করে হাটছে। হাঁটছে তো হাঁটছে… সামনে গোরস্তান, ডানে চম্পা,বায়ে কাশেম মিয়া ও তার লাশবাহী গাড়ি।
সরো, সরে যাও। দূরে যাও। আমার কাছে কেউ আসবে না বলছি। আমাকে ছোঁবে না। সাইকিক পেসেন্টের মত ভয়াবহ চিৎকার করতে লাগলেন তিনি।
– কই যাবো ম্যাডাম ? ডেকে এনে চলে যেতে বলছেন? একবার এলে আর তো যাওয়া যায় না । এটা তো একমুখী রাস্তা। তাই ঠিক করেছি সবাই একসাথে এই লাশবাহী গাড়িটাতেই থাকবো৷ ভালো হবে না ম্যাডাম?  কী বলেন?
তিনি হাতপা ছুঁড়ে মানসিক রোগীর মত চিৎকার করতে থাকেন। দিগবিদিক ছুটতে থাকেন কিন্তু বুঝতে পারেন না কোন দিকে যাবেন।
এগিয়ে আসছে চম্পা…
এগিয়ে আসছে কাশেম মিয়া…
এগিয়ে আসছে একদল পায়েচলা শ্রমিক…
আর তিনি একটু একটু করে এগিয়ে যাচ্ছেন গোরস্তানের দিকে …
দূরে কোথাও কৈলাশ খেরের গান বাজছে,
’জয় জয় কারা জয় জয় কারা সোয়ামি দে না সাথ হামারা।’

The virus doesn’t but the powerful do

LOUD and angry, the child’s voice reverberates along the Dhanmondi streets. Unlike the other cries, this one quickly recedes before I can turn on my audio recorder. The incessant pneumatic horns, the screeching of brakes, the dust spewing up from potholed worn tarmac that bedraggled buses bump their way through have gone. With factories and offices closed, load sheddings have also gone down, though the transformer blowing up as the kal boishakhi storm hit, did lead to a power outage. Above the cawing of a crow that has built its nest close to our verandah, we can hear other birds sing. Sounds interspersed with calls of small time vendors, trading what they can, selling what they can. While they can. Despite the other sounds, the child’s cry keeps echoing in my mind.

Hungry woman walking the streets of Dhanmondi, in search of food 280039Running down the street as she cries for food, Dhanmondi. — Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Continue reading “The virus doesn’t but the powerful do”

The Gonoshasthya Kendra’s Corona Test Kit. Cui Bono?

Cui bono is often a good starting point in an investigation. Literally meaning ‘who benefits?’ Whoever appears to have the most to gain from a ‘crime’ is probably the culprit. Stepping back from the ‘whodunnit’ nature of the drama that is playing out, we could be less dramatic and just look at the meaningfulness or advantages of carrying out an important function.

At this point in Bangladesh, as in many other countries, there are few things more important to do, than to detect whether or not one has been infected by the Covid-19 virus. For many, it could literally be a matter of life and death. It is beyond dispute that an efficient, accurate and affordable kit that could be made readily available would be of immense value to the country.

Zafrullah Chowdhury 6506Zafrullah Chowdhury (born December 27, 1941) is a Bangladeshi public health activist. He is the founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra (meaning the People's Health Center in Bengali), a rural healthcare organisation. Dr. Chowdhury is known more for his work in formulating the Bangladesh National Drug Policy in 1982. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

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The journalist who got too close

‘REPEAT a lie often enough and it becomes the truth’, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. The Bangladesh government seems to have studied Goebbels’ book well. The lies generally come in the form of denials. ‘No, we have not been involved in “crossfire” and “disappearances”.’ ‘There is no political motive.’ ‘No one will be spared.’ ‘The elections were fair.’ ‘The judiciary is independent,’ the list goes on. The lies are repeated ad nauseam in political rallies, in talk shows, in press briefings and through social media trolls.

Shafiqul Islam Kajol photographed by his son Monorom Polok

‘We do not condone any such incident and will bring the responsible officials to justice’ said the foreign minister Dipu Moni at the Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 4, 2009 in response to accusations that the government was involved in ‘crossfire,’ a Bangladeshi euphemism for extra-judicial killings. She added that the government would show ‘zero tolerance’ to extra-judicial killings, or torture and death in custody. Indeed, doing so was part of the election campaign for the Bangladesh Awami League when they were in the opposition. As often happens however, once elected, their position changed, and ‘crossfire’ has become so integral to the Bangladeshi lingo that MPs now use the term in parliament, ‘You are allowing crossfire as part of a fight against drugs. Then why aren’t you doing the same in case of rape?’ Continue reading “The journalist who got too close”

The Price of Social Distancing

Rahnuma forwarded me Laily’s wrenching FaceBook post. Her father is dying, far away in a UK hospital. Heart breaking, holding back tears, she and her family watch from afar. Unable to touch, to hold, to caress the person who is dearest to them. This is what Corona means in real terms. It was through her research on one of my heroes, the peasant leader Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, and later through them staying at the Pathshala Guest House, that we got to know her. Bhashani’s principle of putting nation before self and his simple lifestyle is a very distant reality from the ruling politicians of today. Despite its pain, Laily’s post reminded me of my own dad and my childhood. I remembered dad resting in his easy chair. His belly just the right slope for us kids to use as a living slide. We used to call him bhalluk (bear), and every day as he rested after lunch, my cousins and I would line up behind the easy chair, clamber up to his shoulders and slide down his belly. Mum would freak out, as my dad had osteomyelitis as a child and had never fully recovered. His shins were always exposed and very fragile. Quite apart from wanting him to rest, the idea that we might aggravate his injury worried her. Abba was unperturbed, happy to be teddy bear to a room full of kids. We’d run back to the end of the queue to slide down again. We were always tired before Abba ever did. We didn’t think of it as physical contact in those days. When Abba died, I remember feeling the stubble that had grown on his soft skin, as I stroked him before we laid him down.

Newcomers to Bangladesh are overwhelmed by the generosity of our village folk. They love it when strangers clasp their hands, but are somewhat unsure when seconds, sometimes minutes pass, before their hands are reluctantly released. Years ago, when we at Drik were trying to improve our English skills, we struck a deal with the local office of the British Council. Unable to pay for the expensive English classes, we negotiated a barter. We would do their photography. They in turn, would teach us English. It wasn’t just language skills though, it was learning English culture. One of the first things our English teachers told us was to release the hand quickly! Prolonged physical contact could make the English squirm.

Workers sleeping in shipbreaking yard in Rahman Yard in Chittagong. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Continue reading “The Price of Social Distancing”

Looting in the Time of Corona

The Jamuna TV report was disturbing. The CNG drivers are desperate. Rikshaw driver Nazrul from Kurigram waits forlornly for a passenger. Another waves the 30 taka he has earned. Face taut, eyes glazed he stares from his perch. ‘Will this 30 taka feed me or feed my wife?’ he asks angrily. The roadside shopkeeper doesn’t have customers, but there is no respite from the rent, or the ‘chanda’ (protection money) he has to pay the local ruling party thugs. Roadside restaurants feed these workers. Yes, close contact is risky, and the far from ideal washing arrangements, signals a high risk of contagion. But they have little choice. Death by starvation is no better a choice than death by virus. ‘God will save us,’ one of them says, ‘what other hope do we have?’ The kids who work in the restaurants get ‘food for work’ in a very literal sense. They draw no wages. When there is work, they get fed. He’s a plucky kid. Putting up a brave face to the fact that today he’ll go hungry. No promises for tomorrow. Lockdown, hand wash, drinking lots of water, social distancing. I recognise the importance of these fancy terms. But what does that mean for the 67 million day-labourers of Bangladesh to whom water itself is a luxury?

Early in the morning a day labourer waits for work, near Dhaka University Campus. March 2020.

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Obituary of a Democracy

In an interview with Shahidul Alam from his hospital bed, Chief Coordinator of Ganosamhati Andolon, Zonayed Saki, talks about the attack by police which left over fifty of his comrades injured. General Secretary of Biplobi Workers’ Party Saiful Haq was also injured. They were protesting the rigged elections on 30 December 2018. Opposition activists remember 30 December  for the ‘Death of Democracy’.

I am Zonayed Saki. I am the chief coordinator of Gonosamhati Andolon.
Gonosamhati Andolon is a political party in Bangladesh working for the rights of people.
You all know that in Bangladesh on the 30th December 2018, the election that took place was a vote robbery.
There has never before been an election like this in Bangladesh. Most ballots were stamped the previous night, and they filled up the ballot boxes.
And the entire state machinery was used towards this vote robbery.
There has never been a previous instance where this has happened in Bangladesh, because the Prime Minister had, prior to the election, had discussions with all political parties of Bangladesh. Continue reading “Obituary of a Democracy”