“There's a natural mystic blowing through the air;
If you listen carefully now you will hear.
This could be the first trumpet, might as well be the last:
Many more will have to suffer,
Many more will have to die - don't ask me why”..…Bob Marley
We have been hit by a gust of very ominous winds. On Wednesday the 15th of October 2008, (World White Cane Day) here in Dhaka, Bangladesh, religious extremists ‘blinded’ by hate demolished the first ever monument built to ‘honor’ our bAUL ancestors.
In what clearly was a pre-planned and organized act of anarchy, a group whose intentions as of now remains unclear quietly got an approval from the Government to erect the structure opposite the Dhaka International Airport and work commenced without much noise? On the other, extremist groups who in no way represent the aspirations of the vast Muslim majority were mobilized to justify their actions by saying eerie things that we are historically familiar with.
The five sculptures being erected were 'idols' and thus it was 'kosher' to demolish them. It was apparently bruising their by now well exposed, ill-intentioned and very fragile 'religious sentiments'!
The above is a gist of what really happened but the mayhem borders not only in constricting the very limited liberal space some of us citizens profess to posses in urban Bangladesh, it is a blatant and unprovoked attack on the general widely held belief system of the masses, who have remained by some tragedy of fate, a silent majority.
The incident therefore merits a deeper thought, for more than being a political, cultural, or religious issue – it has spiritual overtones of far reaching consequences.
To begin, we can cite no instance that the bAUL fraternity ever requested or ‘demanded’ any such Monuments or Sculptures to 'honor' our ancestors. Indeed what is unknown to many is our belief system does not permit us to identify 'with any organized religion nor with caste systems, special deities, temples or sacred places.'
Having said that and because we have a pacifist agenda, we are not opposed to any body's belief and even as obscure as they may seem - everybody is entitled to one, as long as they do not seek violence as a mean to expound the same, and their actions do not cause societal unrest. Exploitation of any kind is of course SIN in our pantheons.
As a sequel to the above incident, we have been left to the prospect of all hell breaking loose with many people up in revolt demanding overnight amends in what is probably going to turn out to be a very violent situation, and one we can ill afford.
Enough blood has been shed in our sacred homeland, and it is a matter of deep regret that on Monday, the 20th October in Khulna, several protesting cultural activists angered at the demolition of the under construction monument were bodily harmed by the police.
We condemn any form of violence and abhor use of the same by the State, when it is its sacred duty to offer protection which it failed, and by looks of things have actually exacerbated the situation.
We as a fraternity do not wish this incident to escalate any further. Violence begets violence and blood begets blood. Any further violence will no doubt lead on to bloodshed and will ultimately derail us as a nation. Civil unrest of any form is indicator of civility getting wasted and opens avenues for embracement of evilisation.
Thus if civility be our avowed and cherished intention in seeking solutions, it is time that we own up to a sense of responsibility, as irresponsible protest actions based on tokenistic ‘militancy’ is not only dangerous – it imperils the life style and belief of the bAUL fraternity and perhaps even our very existence.
For instance, as much as the myopic Mullahs, our Politicians and/or their covert ‘cultural fronts’ have already jumped in and are trying to Piggy-back on the issue, for very narrow political expediency - the capture of state power, made all the more complicated given the prevailing situation in Bangladesh.
We do not ascribe to that vile mindset nor are we a party to the same, and in as much as we are opposed to interference of religion in politics, we also oppose any interference of divisive politics in culture, especially those involving spirituality.
Over all, what matters to us and is of deep concern and regret is that the messages from Fakir LALON SHAH (sHAIJI hereafter) has gone amiss in the well intentioned protests and demonstrations and the usual 'big noise' unleashed since the fateful event.
Some newspapers perhaps to provoke the situation, or maybe because they themselves are unwilling accomplices to the disquiet - have even gone as far as to say that among five sculptures being erected, one was that of our venerated sAGE!
Insensitive Editors who wrote fictional stories about sHAIJI’s ‘sculpture’ have not offered an apology – in what we bAULs believe was a SIN committed and that they have a sacred duty to atone to their conscience.
Newspaper headlines do not necessarily have to bleed, to convince people to read, therefore if the fourth estate wishes to consider that they are part of the National Thought Process they will have to work to preserve peace.
The irony is, neither do these Muslim extremists nor our ‘activists by default’ involved in the 'movement' have an iota of knowledge on either bAUL Music or really what our stand on such situations can be or should be. Thus the ‘Fogs of War’ has by now enveloped to where it torments us the most – our sOUL which weeps silently yet inconsolably to the depraved insult and ignominy caused to the living sOUL of our sHAIJI.
To get to the core issue and where we disagree on moral grounds: there is historically NO known image of shAIJI in existence anywhere in the world and a lithograph going about (and often seen in Posters/Tee shirts/Google Images and even Newspapers) is NOT that of our sHAIJI. Indeed if at all - it is a representation of bAUL's - any bAUL for that matter!
Also, there is no such thing as a ‘bAUL sculpture’ and it comes to us as a shock, for contrary to popular misconceptions - in all his living years sHAIJI stood up against any and all forms of deification and or raising ‘man’ to a pedestal for ‘worship’.It has perhaps escaped everybody’s notice that bAULs are the worlds most economically disadvantaged people - yet are holding on precipitously to a tradition which the UNESCO in 2005 declared as one among ninety-four Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
It therefore seems very unusual and numbs our sensibility – as how can a creative art work or sculpture be commissioned without a ‘reference point’ to be considered as aesthetically sound, and why we as fraternity have been entrapped into a controversy that is not of our making and we are no part thereof?
To imagine that the 'poorest' in Bangladesh are custodians to mankind’s richest wealth is in itself humbling, but it also makes us wonder in our abject simplicity, if this sudden, and unqualified interest in the bAULs, is a precursor or a smokescreen to the eventual loot, plunder and destruction of all that we hold as most precious?
Recent events and provocations leads us to believe that sHAIJI has been deliberately dragged into this sinister controversy, because there is simply no other charismatic figure that we as a nation, cherish, admire and venerate more, given the immensity of his powerful messages that have stood up to all forms of Oppression over the last two centuries. We are more than certain that his messages will give a humane direction on the peaceful way forward not just for Bangladesh - but indeed to all Humanity in today's deeply divided world.
We as a fraternity aspire for peace knowing fully well that peace is one of the most difficult weapons to wield, yet is the most powerful and certainly the most effective. In today's world of 'instant everything' - from instant coffee, to instant noodles - time has arrived to further a principled and peaceful mandate if we are to see light at the end of a dark tunnel, getting even darker, given our arrogance and ignorance.
We do not aspire for an ‘instant solution’ but seek serious studies, discourses and rationale understanding of our ancestor’s grounded belief which makes us who we are, the Bengalee nation.
The easiest thing for anybody is to mobilize a hundred people around a gun - the hardest is to get five sincere people to back or support a good idea - a moral cause. We are keen on taking the harder option – because bAUL Music is similar to reggae – and as the late Bob Marley once said: “You cannot be in a rush to reggae”.
On a Global perspective, in Marley’s ideal we find reflection of our sHAIJI’s message – in his music and lyrics a similarity of spiritual views, and in the peaceful fight, he has set aside many shining examples for us to emulate.
A 'pEACE missive' directed at the sOUL of mANKIND is the need of the hour and we all have to collate our ideas with the limited time and resources available to do the same.
Lastly bAUL Music being an intangible heritage of all humanity - the challenges and threats that we face in Bangladesh today is not directed against the aspirations of our people - but indeed against all Mankind.
It must be resisted.
Monday 27th October 2008
Niketon, Gulshan, Dhaka