Feature Img

gavel-judgeHumayun Ahmed has been advised by the High Court to follow actual history in writing his new historical novel. Apparently that sounds logical. I hate sci-fi stories that distort established and deeply entrenched scientific concepts – such as the constraint on travelling back to the past, which would allow one to go back and kill one’s grandfather before he marries, creating a paradox resolvable only by an alternative “parallel universe”, where the grandpa he kills may not be actually his own, etc. But Humayun had already written another historical novel, on his namesake, the Mughal emperor, with no outcry about lack of historical accuracy. His famous TV serial “Oyomoy” was also declared to have been based on some historical characters. This case, obviously, is more alive and touchy, and quoting from Tagore about the poet’s imagination being more real than the real Oudh where Rama is believed by some to have lived, would not do. Disappointingly, a weakened Humayun has capitulated.

When Humayun was not as big a celebrity as now, but still well-known enough, he wrote a TV play where a judge was shown to fall asleep in the court. While we laughed out loud, we also expected a summons from the court for the young playwright, and it arrived faithfully. He was already too famous, and got away with a simple “sorry”, as far as I remember. Our effervescent PM also received only a polite warning from the court in her earlier novice term for talking without due respect for the court. No such luck for the poor traffic policeman who had the temerity of stopping a black-flag car at a traffic signal.

* * *
Dr Kamal Hossain recently expressed his displeasure when Prof. Nazrul Islam, a.k.a. Asif Nazrul, was kept standing in the court for more than an hour. For a teacher, standing for an hour is routine business, because he has to give so many lectures every week standing up anyway. But I suppose Dr Kamal Hossain was questioning the intention. A man is innocent until proved guilty, and cannot be punished in any way until the case is proved against him.

In Hollywood court room scenes we regularly observe the accused, even when the case is murder, seated beside his lawyer, and rising only when giving testimony or hearing the judgment. Not here in Bangladesh. Our institutions have retained both the good and the bad of the colonial days, partly because of inertia, partly because it gives somebody a sense of power.

* * *
What power? Quite a few years ago, and I do not recall who was in power then, one of my Physics thesis students appeared at the BCS Exam after his MSc and got a job as an Assistant Commissioner. He came back to see me in less than two years.

“So, how are you enjoying your work?”

“Actually, Sir, I want a recommendation from you for a scholarship. I want to go to Japan to study Physics.”

“That is not a bad idea. It would be nice to have a bureaucrat with a PhD in Physics.”

“Sir, I am giving up my job”.

I stared at him. “Why?”

“I can’t stand it any more, Sir. I am ordered to give decisions that are manifestly unjust.”

We stood in silence for a minute and then I took the papers from him. I felt nostalgic. So many decades ago, Abdus Salam, a top Bengali bureaucrat, gave up his secure government job to join the “Pakistan Observer” with an uncertain future, because of the environment of dominance created by non-Bengalis in the government services. I also remembered a cousin who had secured the top position in the CSP Exam and after many years of varied assignments, got out disgusted and joined the Grameen Bank, to serve as its Deputy MD. There was no place for him in the plane to Sweden, because that was filled up by carefully chosen showpieces for the foreign audience, not the people who worked in the background day and night, under a larger than life shadow.

* * *
Only one of my school friends remained with me all the way from grade 2 to the final MSc Examination of the Physics Department of Dhaka University. He was a good student and extraordinarily mature. While studying for MSc, he also completed the law degree and joined the bar. Later, he was appointed a Justice of the High Court Division. I was so glad that we had a rationally thinking physicist as a Justice. In course of time, after some hitches, he was promoted to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court and gave some very important verdicts in favour of restoring democracy during the two-year army rule. After the general election I told him jokingly that I was looking forward to his becoming the Chief Justice and then the Chief Adviser of the next caretaker government, and that I would not mind becoming an Adviser working for him. He sighed: “No such chance, I have the wrong brother.” I remembered then that Brigadier Hannan Shah had gone back to BNP. Justice Shah Abu Nayeem was twice superseded by junior justices for the position and then resigned. The last retiring Chief Justice gave such an ambiguous verdict about caretaker governments that the ruling party found it easy to dispense with the system of caretaker governments altogether.

* * *
According to Islamic belief, after death everybody would be questioned by two angels, and if anybody fails the test he would have to suffer miserably. I have been trying in vain to get an answer from enlightened religious leaders as to how one can be punished before the Judgment Day. It might be convenient to have Dr Mizanur Rahman, our energetic and outspoken Chairman of the Human Rights Commission in the next grave when the time comes at some distant future, even without his suspenders. But nobody can force him. That would be a violation of human rights, dead or alive.

Ahmed Shafee is Vice Chancellor of East West University.

20 Responses to ““Your Honour” and mine”

  1. Ezajur Rahman

    Very nice article. I am sure the honourable deputy MD of Grameen Bank deserved to be on the plane to Sweden but I am also sure that he did not begrudge those who went in his stead.

    This is a fine reflection on the mess our country is in. More please. And the more salt and spice the better.

  2. Syed Imtiaz Ali

    Dear Sir,

    You have passionately written a very nice and ‘readable’ piece. The picture drawn makes it a beautiful reading material, with wit, humour, fact and fiction.
    Well, what had prompted you to allocate this time is understandable and invokes some unsettled feelings. The title given to this article is very insightful and meaningful.
    We are only ‘bystanders’ to see the course of events, hopefully nice and nationally commendable solution is given. Let there be no inner conflicts in any quarter. Rather, let there be light!
    Thank you again; please do write on our national aspirations, etc. One day it might change into food for thought and positive action.

  3. Ashraf

    GM food is bad. Why? The seed itself is genetically modified, isn’t it? Between the seed and the paddy tree whom do we have to blame? Hope the writer and readers know better.

    ‘According to Islamic belief, after death everybody would be questioned by two angels, and if anybody fails the test he would have to suffer miserably. I have been trying in vain to get an answer from enlightened religious leaders as to how one can be punished before the Judgment Day.’-writer.

    I would just love to remind the writer ‘pure water can only expand as the temperature goes + and – from 4 degC’. Why, if you aren’t a scientist?

    So nice article, as usual.

  4. Golam Arshad

    Professor Shafee: Fine piece with a Killer “Doosra”? Your conclusion reconfirmed your Faith in “Nothingness”! Any comment Sir?

  5. Fuad Hasan

    Dear professor, I’m really impressed ! It’s my first reading of your article . To me you are one of the few who can enlighten the society with impressive writings. Please don’t stop raising your voice against those ghouls . We really need you. Thank you.

  6. Tasbir Ahmed

    This is a world class write-up. Thank you Mr Shafee.

  7. Mamoon

    The way the high court acted as regards Humayun Ahmed’s upcoming historical novel, is just plain and simple strange.

  8. lily alam

    Institutions get politicised, but if and when the judiciary of any country becomes politicised, it’s the worst thing that can happen to any nation.

  9. Trina

    How i miss Shafee sir’s class in Dhaka University! Whereever he is, may god bless him. He is one of the finer human beings and one of the few brilliant sons this country has produced so far.

  10. alaxpaul

    Ahmed Shafee is undoubtedly one of the best writers in this opinion page, also probably in the country. He really should write more.

  11. Alam Khan

    Finally someone has raised the issues as sensitive as these.

    Thank you.

  12. russel

    Thank you Mr.Shafee for raising your strong voice on those issues.Unjust has already occupied the whole nation.We are “Bystanders” only. 🙁

  13. notime

    Nice of you to discuss the classic “grandfather paradox” concerning time travel and affiliated science. Quoting you, “sci-fi stories that distort established and deeply entrenched scientific concepts – such as the constraint on travelling back to the past, which would allow one to go back and kill one’s grandfather before he marries, creating a paradox resolvable only by an alternative “parallel universe””.

    There are other ‘real’ and simpler twists. Can an android being a test tube baby or a robot kill its grandfather? Then what happens to the paradox? Let real scientists manage the time.

  14. Mohammad Zaman

    Not sure of the main thrust of this opinion piece – pretty disjointed; being a physicist, he possibly is looking at things at its discrete quanta level without averaging for average readers!!!

    But it does capture the mood of the day.
    Good read.

  15. afsan chowdhury

    One of the best posts in recent times. Since I could identify the persons mentioned, I felt it even more deeply.

    It’s a coward who doesn’t despair in today’s world of ours. The brave goes on but not necessarily with hope.


    • Bangladesh generation

      Agree with Mr. Chowdhury. I also can remember the persons he mentioned. Feel really pity for Khalid Shams whose brilliance was not utilised by the then government and misused by the G Bank head. And with the sudden death of his son, he is now totally out of touch. The great hero Abdus Salam was a civil servant was an unknown fact to me. I at times also think of leaving the post in civil service but again think if I get a chance once in future. Believe me the civil servants can reverse the situation provided they think critically and remain less corrupt. Corruption which is an outcome of poor compensation package and poor policy package and lack of knowledge of the political leadership has destroyed our civil service system.

      Thanks Prof. Shafee again. Wish we’ll have a better future once.

  16. Golam Arshad

    Professor: The moving tone of despair whisper the truth in digression. Be it another Day, with a tinge of gloss painted in hue of glory. All in Praise of Nothingness… slighted in jokes of pain.

  17. TJ Ahmad

    Good post, enjoyed through and through. If only more of your examples were present in our modern day Bangladesh!

Comments are closed.