Visiting Dhaka- “We are strangers now?”

The warmth of people and the magic of old Dhaka overwhelms you. Having said that, Dhaka is bursting on the seams with a gushing sea of humanity, unregulated construction and traffic jams defining the urban ethos. Read article here >>


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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great piece Mr. Rumi. And a masterful job as always by the late Agha Shahid Ali. Even attempting to translate this sublime piece by Faiz is no mean task.

  2. That really struck a chord. I remember having similar sentiments when visiting Bangladesh. In Cox’s Bazaar I wandered with a local guide– who took me around the area– pointing out along the way a place where bodies had been massacred and strewn by our ‘valiant’ troops. I was lost for words.

    I hope that the wounds are healing but it will take some time before we forget the pain of our shared past.

  3. Rumi dear ! Brilliant as usual, and thanks for the translation of Faiz the great. Just for my knowledge, did he write the immortal verses “hum ke thehre ajnabi” at the time of Islamic Summit Lahore 1974 ? Best wishes, Sajid

  4. Wonderful piece Raza. I happened to be in Dhaka on 16th December 2001, and the “Victory Day” festivity was all over the place. I was escorted by my friend Ratna, a Dhaka University lecturer. During my two weeks’ stay in rural Bangladesh preceding the victory day, I had developed an impression that Bangladeshi people, in general, are more civillised and tolerant than us. To test my hypothesis I wore a T-Shirt with a picture of K-2 and “PAKISTAN” written underneath in large font size. I sat through a number of recitals and other gatherings on Shahid Minar, Curzon Hall, Ex-Iqbal Hall and canteen. I went into the mobile photographic exhibitions showing a graphic and undeniable record of mass murder of Bengali people by Pakistan Army and of course, the piece-de-resistance, (paper?)Tiger Niazi signing the document of surrender. All this while, people -some of whom must have lost a near and dear one during the massacre, given its scale- would react in a surprised, albeit totally non-hostile, manner. When introduced to some of them by my friend Ratna as her Pakistani guest, they would warmly shake my hand and offer me tea etc.

    I don’t think that I can last an hour in the US wearing a Bin Laden T-shirt. I don’t think I shall be able to avoid (a subtle, at very least) hostility if I go around wearing a Gandhi T-shirt in Lahore, for instance. This does not at all imply that Bengali people have forgotten any of the atrocities their seniors were subjected to. It is just that they have defeated us in the arena of civilty as well.

    A less discussed aspect of Bagladeshi independence is the fact that they had the Indian army packing and leaving within months of their victory. To me, this reflects a great acumen about negotiating a non cofrontational settlement. I said loudly then, and say agin, “Joey Bangladesh”

  5. lovely travel blog and sharing.

  6. MH, Sajid, Usman anad Sabahat: thanks for liking the post. Even though I did not go there as a tourist, it was quite an emotional experience! I will go again to explore the rural areas and the splendours of the golden Bengal.
    Sajid: Faiz wrote this ghazal after visiting Dhaka in 1974. Perhaps this is the only poem by him on this tragedy. Others by and large remained silent.
    Usman: Your story and anecdotes are most insightful. I also felt that there was much more tolerance. After all we have a stronger history of friendship/brotherhood than acrimony and we can get over it as time heals the bitterness of 1971. I am postive about this.

  7. Moving ahead forgetting past woes in indeed a positive sign. I haven’t visited Bangladesh so far but I am too desperate to visit it as well as Pakistan :).

  8. About the ghazal and its temporal context (shaan e nazool), Sibte Hasan writes in his book “Sukhan der Sukhan”, his personal account of his relationship with Faiz, that Faiz recited this ghazal at a formal gathering in Dhaka in 1974. The gathering was presided over by the then president of Bangladesh, Justice (R) Abdus Sattar. Faiz turned his face to address Justice Sattar while reciting the second couplet (kab nazar mein aaegi..). Justice Sattar -apparently well conversant in Urdu language language and with a penchant for poetry- responded abruptly in a deep breath “Faiz sahib! khoon kay dhabbey barsato~ say nahee~ dhultey” (blood stains do not wash away with rains). I tend to agree with the worthy justice. Not rains surely, but tears of repentence can perhaps provide a break.

    Raza, more than old bonds of friendship and brotherhood, I believe, it is the magnanimity of the aggrieved and admittance of the aggressor that is required to nurture the “spring of unstained green”. Bangladesh as a society, have done their part. It is upto us now to take the act of admittance forward, which was initiated by General Musharraf when he “regretted” (at least verbally) the events of 1971.

    I wish and pray that no such “regrets” will be required from the future leaders because I can not vouch for the magnanimity of the future generations of Balochistan and FATA.

  9. Interesting reading! My own impression of Dhaka is not much different. The cycle rickshaws, I hear continue unabashed, despite some area restrictions imposed recently. The generation who lost some dear one would perhaps never forgive & forget, but an ordinary Bangladeshi does not relate to us with those “blood” bonds.

    I took time to go out to Ramna Racecourse Park, as it used to be called in the seventies, and where General Niazi signed the instrument of surrender. My hosts were amused when I expressed this desire. I had to explain to them that this site witnessed a major watershed in our history as a nation, and I do not want to shy away from it. I want to witness the place myself. There is now a podium and a small monument erected there.

    I felt some restored pride when President Musharraf, on his visit to Dhaka, apologised for excesses during that painful period. It is brave to seek forgiveness. I know of at least one person behind the President, who convinced him to do this ultimate act of statesmanship. We can be proud of his likes!

  10. […] Longer a Stranger in Dhaka Published by bhupinder April 1st, 2007 in South Asia. Raza Rumi visits Bangladesh, 33 years after Faiz came back and wrote hum ke thehrey ajnabi… and discovers that he is not a  stranger […]

  11. It was a pleasure reading your piece on Dhaka Mr. Rumi. You have aggravated my quest to see Dhaka. I always felt that we, as Pakistanies, have a duty to pay our apology to them especially when I made these amazing friends from Bangladesh at Rishikesh, India who adored me as a Pakistani (I want to admit, I was ashamed as my ancestral history is not promising enough to earn their love rather the contrary). Your beautiful narration of Faiz’s poetry “hum kae tehrey ajnabi” gave me a new meaning altogether. I wonder how human psyche operates. We just give one message to our brain that this person is no more known and brain registers the message in complete ignorance of lifelong bond. We follow our brain and sit back in complete satisfaction till one day our thoughts are challenged by people like you. Thank you for bringing back the missing link that needs to be included in my life.

  12. My dearest R,

    what a trip down nostalgia. Despite never having been to dhaka I have been mesmerized by Bengali music, its simplicity and innocence through Qurut-ul ain’s novel Aker Shab kay Humsafar. I have this great desire to visit rural Bengal and the great sunderbaan forests and capture somehow its innocent beauty.

    South Asia really needs to move on from the shackles of its tragic history collectively and forge a new relationship paradigm built on shared values and traditions. keep up the good work Jeeves.

  13. What a lovely post Raza.It is said the thought of paying apology to someone is asking for apology in His eyes.May our Beloved Lord accept that .Amen Amen….Praise the Lord.

  14. […] and slow down the industry – thus allowing the local marine wildlife to flourish. Jahane Rumi travels to Dhaka and finds that Pakistanis are not unwelcome in Bangladesh (formerly a part of Pakistan) […]

  15. A brilliant writing on peace, brotherhood and philosophy of culture within which our lives breathe.This is such an introspective journey inwards expressed by Raza in words coming straight from his heart.If only this broken, splintered and poisoned world had more Raza Rumis ????
    sincere best wishes

  16. nice one raaz,
    just wanted to share that we were in dhaka some 12-13 years back participating in a theatre workshop & festival. i’d gone with ajoka theatre as an actor. before our performance, our group gave a synopsis of our (punjabi) play in english, and apologised for the ruthlessness of the pak army. there, we also read out this poem in a rough translation we’d put together the evening before.

    in the audience were some members of the pak high commission, who seemed moved by our performance and quite friendly.

    but when we returned to lahore, we were subjected to an interrogation by our intelligence agencies for the public “apology” and for reading faiz’s poem !!
    and we informed that “files had been opened” against us

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