Where’s your bicycle? The Uber driver asked me jokingly. Yes, I had been known in photography circles and it is true that I did know a few Nobel Laureates. Given that I am a public speaker, and wear several hats, I do also come across the odd head of state, or celebrity. I’d be overstating it if I said they all knew me well. I have featured prominently in a film produced by Sharon Stone, but the long conversation on the phone, after my release, was very much an exception. But now that I have Uber drivers recognizing me, and people stopping me in the streets for selfies, I need to be careful I don’t trip over my own ego. Maybe I should be thanking the same person that everyone else thanks for everything that ever happens in Bangladesh.
I flatly deny making payments to the Bangladesh government for running a media campaign on my behalf. Neither is it true that I deliberately planted the inconsistencies in their fake news, making it appear they can’t tell a Kaffiey from a tablecloth. Let’s not get too technical. It started with me being a Mossad agent and taking money from Israel. Now I’ve been placed in the Al Qaeda farm, and definitely anti Israel. Considering that Israel is the one country that my government does not have diplomatic relationships with, and the only country my passport is not valid for, being anti Israel should theoretically make me a pal. My enemy’s enemy is my friend and all that.
It’s not all bad news. While I seem to have lost my status as a Mossad agent, I seem to have gained ISI status. The multiple affairs, plus the love child that I am said to have sired, does bring romance into this thriller, but I’m disappointed they don’t yet have a dance sequence. Arundhati Roy and I doing a Bhangra down India Gate would have given Sharukh Khan a run for his money! Besides, in the macho world of Bangladeshi politics, at least my virility is not in question. Given the phenomenal powers I am meant to have in the media world with Al Jazeera, BBC, Time Magazine et all, all dancing to my tune, we could do a modern day version of Citizen Kane. Even he hadn’t attempted regime change in the UK. While we are on the subject of world domination, a side role for Spiderman wouldn’t go amiss. I’d better secure distribution rights for this sure fire box office hit.
Perhaps I’m misreading it all. My free stay in the Keraniganj retreat, a secure government approved facility, with detox from mobile phones and Internet thrown in, could well have been a sign of their love for me. The language of love is not easy to decipher. All Bangladeshi governments have expressed their love in different ways. The ‘Freedom’ Party held a loaded gun to my head during the Ershad regime, I received eight stab wounds in streets guarded by the army during BNP rule, and now this exclusive retreat in Keraniganj, far from the madding crowd.
Playing hard to get, I hadn’t always responded appropriately to these overtures. I had critiqued the autocratic General Ershad with my exhibition, “The Struggle for Democracy”. When all the galleries in Dhaka turned down my show, we hired the National Press Club. Symbolically, the show had opened on the 10th November 1989, commemorating Noor Hossain’s death, exactly two years after the democracy-loving protester had been killed by police bullets. My open letter to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on the 27th March 1992 protested state media’s denial of the people’s demand for the trial of war criminals. Sadly, the opposition then, had chosen to stay silent. The present government’s closure of my show on extrajudicial killings “Crossfire” was done to ensure safety for the foreign guests, they told us. Such unrequited love is unfair, and now that they have yet again come forward with gift of a holiday in Keraniganj, surely I need to be a bit more grateful.
A few facts get in the way of this carefully written script. Mohammad Monirul Islam Kabir, First Secretary (political), Bangladesh High Commission, London, in an email to Drik weeks before my arrest, asked if they could use the photographs of Bangabandhu Sheik Mujibur Rahman from the Drik archives, that we had lent to the high commission, free of cost, for an upcoming event. He ended the letter saying “I hope and believe your contribution will enrich our National Mourning day Souvenir.” The Prime Minister herself inaugurated the exhibition outside the Bangladesh House of Parliament,
I am tormented by guilt however. Do I deserve this love? If I could have ‘paid’ Desmond Tutu (we have been co-speakers in the past), to write in my support, surely, with the rich in Bangladesh growing faster than anywhere else in the world, many mailboxes should have overflowed with letters of support from the good priest. If I could have paid Time Magazine for making me “Person of the Year 2018” every poster boy and crown prince from this delta should forever adorn the magazine’s cover. Why this unfairness? Troll farms and PR machines must be so incredibly busy with elections loomings, yet they make time to discuss me and produce content. And still I remain ungrateful. I shall turn over a new leaf. The sun rose in the east this morning. I remain ever thankful.