I have often written about my fantasy of having a hotline to your Prime Minister, and being able to give my opinion any time I choose. I once (in those internal dialogues of mine) even suggested that she go hunting with onetime US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin! Now, thanks to her attempt to communicate directly with the people, I (along with every other lunatic on earth) actually have her phone number and email address.
I’m not going to call her.
However you consider the gesture, one thing’s for certain. The Prime Minister’s intention was to speak with you all. Her private information was meant for Bangladeshis. So, that’s one reason I wouldn’t call her. Also, if I do call her, and she’s not in and? She would have to call me back.
See, I keep losing my cellphone.
Imagine placing that call. The Prime Minister, the actual Prime Minister, calls you back and you’ve misplaced your phone? You’d be kicking yourself for a very long time. Still, it’s fun to speculate on exactly what you’d say if you were to speak with the Prime Minister. What would any of you all say? Is there one among you, my Dear Readers who has already dialled the number?
What would I say? Would I ask her to walk to the border and erect a monument for those innocent young Bangladeshis who are killed every day on the border because they lack the bribe money to pay the Indian border guards? Would I suggest my idea of canals instead of roads to move goods inside Bangladesh, an idea that might make some sense in a floodplain? Would I talk about the dozens of crazy ideas that I’ve already shared with you all over the past seventy-one articles? And if I did have the opportunity, I would have to ask myself, “Would she listen? And … what would it change?”
So here’s the email I’ll never send-
Dear Madam Prime Minister,
Before I begin my missive to you, I just need to ask, do our words count? I mean, I know mine should not. This is an invitation to a domestic dialogue, and I’m an American halfway across the world. A foreigner’s words should not count so much as the will of your own people. I am not worthy to be spoken to — until you speak to the hundred forty-nine million people you really gave your number and email address to. I am not worthy to say “our”, when I speak about Bangladesh, because though my contact with Bangladesh has moved me and changed the way I see things, I only travel virtually to your shores. So when I say “our,” I really mean my readers and me.
Madame Prime Minister, your people have provided me tremendous insight in their commentary over the course of my involvement with bdnews24.com. From afar, I stand back and watch. I write, and I read the accounts from Bangladesh. The eloquence and common sense of those whom I have “met” in the commentary section replying to my articles make me understand why you might be compelled to publicise your number and email address. Your people have good advice to give, and are not afraid to call a friend to task when need be. Their words should, by all means, count.
My prognosis, at least from all that I have read in their commentary, is that many of these learned, accomplished individuals believe that progress has been stymied by politics. I would say that the theme I hear most often is that Bangladesh can be better than the sum of its politicians. Two admirable women have been reduced to fighting like two cats, who fighting in an alleyway, disrupt the peace and quiet progress of the whole neighbourhood. Honestly, no offence intended, but when I first read the translation of Azam Khan’s song, “Alal o Dulal,” I thought it was a political metaphor for the current political situation. I quote Mr. Kabir, who commented last October, that “Unless they (you two) have some common enemy, there is no way that they will sit or seriously discuss something together.”
Madame Prime Minister, Bangladesh actually does have some serious issues that two bright women can take on together. Any bridge is an important goal, both metaphorically and actually. The fact that the accusations of corruption slow the progress on the Padma Bridge, well, how poetically does that sum up the whole crux of the political problem in Bangladesh? Is it possible that the behaviour of the World Bank towards Bangladesh mirrors the behaviour of the AL towards the BNP and vice-versa? I know you believe that you must prosecute corruption, but national unity trumps even that. After all, even if a bridge begins to be built on only one shore, it eventually does have to span both sides of the river, or it will be useless.
The World Bank has now provided you a “common enemy”. So issue a challenge to your opponent to a friendly competition to the benefit of the whole nation — let her partisans start on one bank, and yours on the other (metaphorically, of course) and build this bridge with your combined industry, so when it’s opened, both sides can share the credit equally. After all, who cares who gets the credit as long as the thing gets built?
One final point, Madame Prime Minister. As a father, I believe that one of the most important, pressing issues of all has to do with the very roads you seek to expand. I can’t help thinking of how many horrors I will have to continue to read about, the untold human suffering and sudden loss of life because of car crashes on your roads. When the bridge opens, how soon before I read of some preventable tragedy on the bridge? Could you ally yourself with Khaleda Zia, to work on improving traffic safety, which should be the common goal of all politicians? That would be so much more productive than political squabbling. Your opponent wants a role, couldn’t you invite her to be “traffic czar”, and allow her the accompanying credit when she succeeds? You’d work together to save lives — is that such a pipe dream? If she accepted, it would be way better for the country than the endless hartals. I sometimes dread getting online for fear that the news will include the avoidable tragedy that plays out on the roadways of Bangladesh.
Traffic tragedy is made all the worse by the fact that it is preventable. My readers will undoubtedly label me naïve to even hope that the two of you could join forces in order to do some greater good for your people, especially over a civic issue that affects everyone directly. I, myself, am sceptical that it wouldn’t simply break down into finger pointing and sabre rattling. Still, you are a woman of great accomplishment. Perhaps detente for the sake of your nation is not beyond your skill set?
In any case, I’d like to think that now that Khaleda Zia has your number, if she does give you a call, you ladies could put aside your considerable and hurtful differences and work together. Perhaps I’m misreading my readers, but I think that most of them would agree that of all the people whose phone call you could answer, hers could do the most potential good.
I ask again, do our words count? The seat of government often isolates a leader from the people she serves. You may find yourself surrounded by people who tell you what you want to hear, or are so removed from “life on the street” that they cannot offer you the kind of advice that comes in the form of a wake-up call from everyday people. Even if your gesture was politically motivated, I urge you to let the words of your people reach not just your heart, but your calendar and To Do List as well.
In any case, thank you for your time. If you ever need anything, feel free to drop me a line.
Oh, and maybe I can arrange that hunting trip for you and Sarah Palin…
…As soon as I find my cellphone.
Frank Domenico Cipriani writes a weekly column in the Riverside Signal called “You Think What You Think And I’ll Think What I Know.” He is also the founder and CEO of The Gatherer Institute — a not-for-profit public charity dedicated to promoting respect for the environment and empowering individuals to become self-taught and self-sufficient. His most recent book, “Learning Little Hawk’s Way of Storytelling”, teaches the native art of oral tradition storytelling.