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|Volume 11 |Issue 42| October 26, 2012 ||
Sushmita S Preetha
Kodom Ali finishes his lunch and lets out a big satisfied belch. What a fulfilling meal, he thinks to himself, and thanks the stars that his mother had chosen such a brilliant cook as a wife for him. In a day and age when women rattle about in the workplace and the political arena, it is a relief to have some remnant of peace in the home. Alhamdullilah, he utters, and reminds himself to place an order with New Jaroa House for a ruby neck-set an Eid gift - for the madam. After all, it takes a different kind of woman to still make his meals from scratch even after having five different kinds of servants in the house.
His train of thought is broken by the arrival of his secretary, Meherban Kha, a wiry man in his late forties, with a wiry beard that gives him a deceptively wily air. “Sir,” he stutters, “sorry to bother you before your nap, but we have encountered a problem with the Beauty Forest project. It appears that some miscreants are protesting the construction of nuclear power plants along the coastal belts. Sir is on the line.”
Kodom lets out a sigh. Turns out he wouldn't be able to get out in time for cow shopping today either.
“Sir,” he says apologetically.
“Kodom, I thought you had taken care of it,” the mighty Thor thunders. “Why am I getting phone calls from reporters who want my comment on the protests by environmentalists and locals? They are asking uncomfortable questions about how the gobhment can approve a project that would lead to 'irreparable damage to biodiversity and local communities'.”
“Sir,” says Kodom, in an attempt to comfort the Thor.
“Listen, I am paying you a whole load of tax-payers' money to keep this project hush-hush. I even gave up buying a new Pajero for my son-in-law for Eid this year. I don't want bad publicity and people holding hands and chanting in front of the national museum to demand the removal of the plants. I thought you were the best; that's why I employed you.”
“Sir,” begins Kodom again. “Sir, don't worry. One or two protests in the beginning of such projects are expected. Some people have nothing better to do than talk about the trees and the tigers. They don't understand progress, sir, they don't understand that nuclear plants signify national debhelopment. But don't worry, sir, they will soon tire from their protests. Pretty soon they will go back to Dhaka to write columns in newspapers and recommendations to the gobhment, which you will most respectfully ignore. Sir. They can't touch you.”
“Kodom, you are sure?” asks Thor, beginning to calm down from his hysteria.
“Of course I am sure, sir. I have been in this business for years and years now. Has the construction of the Tipaimukh badh stopped because of any protest? I'm telling you, sir, you go and enjoy your Europe vacation.”
“But what do I tell the annoying reporters till then?”
“Well, sir, tell them that the gobhment has the best interests of the nation at heart. Tell them that 'Infrastructural, economic and regional development are the plus points of the plant' and that you will do whatever is necessary to minimise the damage to the environment and local communities. Tell them you have a proper resettlement plant for the people from whom we will be snatching the lands convince the papers that resettlement plan, adequate compensation and employment opportunity will make the locals 'cooperative'.”
“Meanwhile, sir, I will make a few well-placed calls to the media houses to ensure that they don't ask you too many difficult questions,” Kodom assures.
“Well, then, Kodom, don't let me down,” says the Thor, sounding relieved. “God bless and goodbye.”
“And oh, sir, we have people who can make sure the locals don't make too much noise in the future,” adds Kodom as an after-thought.
Kodom hangs up the phone and chuckles to himself. Oh, these ministers and advisors! Such melodramatic newbies, having nervous fits at the most minor of incidents! If only they knew the amount and nature of work Kodom has to take care of on any given day!
Kodom is a visionary, a do-er and a shaker. Fifteen years ago, he was a mamuli landgrabber in his village in Barishal. Using his well-oiled connections with the local administration and a trusted group of musclemen, he acquired (read stolen), a vast amount of land from the Hindu as well as landless populations in the region. In the process of silencing resistance, making false property deeds and paying off the pulish and proshashon, he realised he had a knack for land grabbing. He was, in fact, brilliant at it.
So he left his small village to make a name for himself in the big bad D-town. He opened a consultancy firm, Kodom's Konsultancy, to provide high-end professional service to a wide range of clients from local elite in small villages to corporate giants and the gobhment itself. Say, for instance, if a shrimp firm owner wants to seize the adjoining lands to his already vast property, but the local landless people, who live in those state-owned lands, initiate a movement against it, Kodom ensures that all resistance is quelled in a timely and efficient manner. Or if a local elite wants to get the deeds to a land owned by some other family, Kodom sends his musclemen to lay siege on the land while simultaneously getting his inside men at the land records office to change the title deeds.
On a broader level, KK works to enhance the access of multi-national corporations to state-owned lands and resources. It also conducts advocacy on behalf of vested parties to promote large-scale privatisation, environmental degradation and inequality. In addition, KK provides top-secret advice and technical support in the state's covert endeavours to sell-off national resources.
Along with his incredibly successful consultancy unit, Kodom also oversees some programmes of his own. Particularly booming has been the Monkeyforest and Others project, where, thanks to the blessings of the Royal Guards, he has acquired a variety of hills, mountains and plain lands at little to no cost to himself (and irredeemable cost to the adivasi populations).
Just as his mind dwells on his other joy and pride, the Wreck-the-River project, the phone rings.
"Kodom shaheb, I need a mountain ASAP, and two rivers too," says a demanding voice on the other side.
Kodom is annoyed. Don't these people realise that he is a Mogul, a godfather in the land of the lands, not a regular cleric?
"Please hold. One of my employees will process your request. You will need to fill out the appropriate paperwork and give specifications on what sort of property you desire. Also, please mention the extent you are willing to go to obtain them."
“What do you mean... to what extent?” asks the voice.
“I mean, how badly do you want a given piece of property? Are you comfortable with a little bit of bloodshed? Loss of lives and livelihoods of the common people? The more bloody the coup, the costlier it will be for you.”
“Price is no factor.”
Assured, Kodom transfers the call to a different department.
It's time to think of a new project, he decides, something grand, something really challenging. And as his creative mind hustles at 130 km/hr, it suddenly dawns on him. Yes... yes... he can see it quite clearly now.
Cox's Bazaar, the longest sea beach in the world, cut up in a hundred pieces, sold at extravagant prices to the highest bidders. In fact, why not sell each square kilometre of sea water to the high and mighty so they can build floating castles on the Bay of Bengal?
“Meharban, come in with pen and paper,” he buzzes his secretary. “I have a dream.”
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