Beef cheaper than chillies
The way the captain of Bangladesh national men's football team was intendedly or unintendedly humiliated during the World Cup-winning goalkeeper's short visit to Dhaka made me think of the proverbial three-second memory span of a goldfish. Only a couple of days earlier, Jamal Bhuyan and his men led us to believe that a slot in the final of the SAFF Championship was not impossible. His team won our hearts by playing superbly against Lebanon and Kuwait, and winning convincingly against two regional contenders Maldives and Bhutan. Special cash prizes were announced to tease the team into the final, but Kuwait pipped our national team to end our dream. The return of our booters was rather unceremonious as they failed to replicate what the women's team did last year. The focus shifted to the visit of the Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez. When Jamal tried to meet the visitor at the airport, there was no one to introduce him. Jamal rued the day saying this was not the way to treat your national team captain. It was an insult to all the professionals who donned green and red to uphold the nation's honour.
And here I was, searching for an answer to the goldfish memory myth. Contrary to the popular saying, this species of fish passed many memory tests with flying colours. In a fish tank, goldfish can adapt to the timing of the food dispenser or even remember the lever that needs to be pressed to release food. So comparing our treatment of the Bangladeshi footballer to that of a goldfish memory would be an anomaly. What was even more wrong was for Jamal to show up at the airport hallway and wait for Emi Dibu like an ordinary fan. Wasn't Jamal signed up for an Argentine club as part of the football diplomacy prompted by the warmth of Bangladeshi supporters for La Albiceleste?
Bangladeshi fans warmed the hearts of the Argentines, who decided to reopen their embassy that was shut down in 1978. There were even talks of the Argentine national team coming to Bangladesh for a friendly match. Instead, all we could get was a 11-hour visit of their Golden Glove-winning player who came for a whirlwind visit to Dhaka before flying to Kolkata, where he received a public reception given to him by one of the oldest football clubs. Martinez took part in a series of interactive events in which he could taste the real fervour of football frenzy in our part of the world. In contrast, Martinez's Dhaka itinerary included a series of private audiences involving high-profile politicians. Decency would have allowed a meeting with our professional booters, particularly the national team that had just fought hard for the country.
These are little things that make a lot of difference. You cannot always buy success. Players are not corporate employees where an announcement of performance-based increments will encourage them to do better. The recognition has to be spontaneous and genuine. The culture of forgetting the contributions of the real actors is not anything new. Earlier, we saw the coach of the women's team, Golam Rabbani, being phased out of his role. We don't know what conditioned the retirement of our national men's cricket team captain in the middle of a bilateral series only a few months ahead of the World Cup. We can only blame our goldfish memory with a pinch of salt.
Martinez gave us a brief respite from the crazy conversations that we were having over green chillies during the Eid holidays. The price per kg of this spicy condiment rose over Tk 1,000, which should not exceed the Tk 100 mark by any count. The rainy season has been used as a pretext to snap the market supply and artificially increase the price. In India, which shares our monsoon weather, the price per kg of green chillies is Tk 21.
Looking at the list of people with whom the Argentine goalkeeper met, it was obvious that the objective of the visit was more personal (or should I say, personal is political) than professional. This is indeed a missed opportunity to incentivise the Bangladeshi brand of football. Whoever was responsible for Martinez's itinerary focused on gratifying their political patrons at the expense of the taxpayers. Martinez left Dhaka saying, "I am the hawk of Bangladesh," a zesty statement with no real beef.
Martinez gave us a brief respite from the crazy conversations that we were having over green chillies during the Eid holidays. The price per kg of this spicy condiment rose over Tk 1,000, which should not exceed the Tk 100 mark by any count. The rainy season has been used as a pretext to snap the market supply and artificially increase the price. In India, which shares our monsoon weather, the price per kg of green chillies is Tk 21. Tonnes of chillies are now being imported using foreign currency to stabilise the local market and control the local traders. Our commerce minister, who came under fire from his parliamentary colleagues for his inability to control the syndicate, admitted that taking action against the market manipulators would further destabilise the system. It is better not to rock the syndicate boat (i.e. ahead of the election).
There were endless memes on the absurdity of meat being less expensive than green chillies. Somehow, it symbolises the national failure of setting our priorities right. There is a lack of planning everywhere. Even if there are, they are not for the ordinary people. Surely, some devious brains have planned the manipulation of the kitchen market all along. Despite the country's claim for self-sufficiency in food, we remain heavily import-dependent. It is one thing to import edible oils, but when local agricultural products like potatoes, onions or chillies are imported allegedly to reign in the market syndicate, there is a problem. The efforts of the hardworking Bangladeshis are dismissed. Foreigners get glorified. Middlemen get benefited. And some people share the limelight at the expense of others.
Chillies can be green and red to become a real symbol of our national plights. We can keep the price real without making it a pawn on someone else's chessboard.
Dr Shamsad Mortuza is a professor of English at Dhaka University.