Reflecting on post-war days
The intriguing title of Rashid Askari’s book The Wounded Land hits one’s eyes as a shooting star, a dart hitting the bull’s eye. It readily discharges an air of sadness, a bit like Shamsur Rahman’s Dukhini Barnamala (Poor Alphabet!). It makes us pry into what our poor motherland finds deeply wounding even more than four decades after her liberation in 1971. The author has put us on top of heaps of the injuries we have faced and are being faced with, though we are an independent nation.
Beyond any doubt, Rashid Askari by now has positioned himself as an author of outstanding merit. Among the Bangladeshi writers after mid nineties, he is easily on a par with the major ones who gained identical and impressive mastery over both Bangla and English. When it comes to matters relating to the emergence of Independent Bangladesh, Dr. Askari seems to be as veritably iconoclastic as Dr. Muhammad Zafar Iqbal on Prozac. He is one of those who were born in what was then East Pakistan amidst the country’s turbulent history in the mid sixties, and grew up in Bangladesh with a murky memory of the war and the days that went awry after Bangladesh won its freedom. His dispassionate approach (although the author has been modest enough to diagnose his discourse as pregnant with emotion, the text advocates otherwise) to dealing with pressing national and global concerns like dogmatism, political intolerance, religious militancy, terrorism and the like is the outcome of a marriage between his passion for freedom and a quest for finding the spirit embedded in opaque memoirs of the Liberation War of 1971 and the disappointment, heartbreak and betrayal amidst incidents that followed via certain acerbic assessments of the present and a vast reading of the past.
This book is an amalgam of the many essays which Professor Askari wrote in a time frame spanning over a decade. What then should we consider as a spine that clasps these ribs made out of multiple subject matters? This reviewer would recommend his love for people of the land, which plunks him on such a plane where he feels called upon to come up with such a book. If the latent messages in his essays are all synthesized and poured down through a prism then at the focal point of the beam we will find the dream of a nation such as the one envisaged by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude, a vision of a group of people living in a landmass free from all social, theological, and political bias. Dr. Askari’s greatness of writing is this: that he could cross the Bangladeshi boundary line by merit of what we may call negative capability. The topics he has touched on are homemade, yet the implications, the inherent issues, the very nature of the mode of action and the thought processes that formulate them, as he demonstrates, are continental.
The Wounded Land, aka bleeding Bangladesh, in this writer’s opinion, is like a cow over-milked and under-fed for centuries while its innocent inhabitants, personified by the calf, has remained devoid of rightful claims. This skinny cow is now left with little flesh and a saggy hide, which is what the enemies, the author and we live with, are after. As the author has advised, these adversaries appear in multitudes in many colours and shapes with a solo mindset (in his language): dissect the cow, domesticate the calf. Orbits of all isms? Terrorism, fanaticism and anti-secularism, which revolve around a single core, International Consumerism, the heart of all darkness, which the author has ubiquitously hinted at in page after page throughout the book. There is a postcolonial undertone in the author’s approach by way of debunking the ugly face of the petty-colonial power in the saddle after 1947 and awakening his people to the realization of their own legacy as well. The book is an eye-opener.
Muhammad Alamgir Toimoor is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of English, Shah Jalal University of Science & Technology