Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bangladesh in Retrospective-I

Sometimes, or perhaps more often than not, things happen in our lives, which betray all capabilities of foresight one can have. In October of 2004, while writing an essay for a national competition, never did it occur to me that these efforts would be bringing me transnational dividends in colossal proportions in days to come. Six winners were announced and I could not have been happier. The prize for the competition was an opportunity to go to Bangladesh for attending a Human Rights Summer School in December. This was October and I had already started conceptualizing Dhaka as my first ‘foreign destination’. After all the bedlam that took place in our University in November (even Hans Kelsen would have had a tough time if he ventured into the nuances of the ‘regime change’- a State sponsored bloodless coup in which our VC was replaced by an IAS officer for whatever reasons - we witnessed), I was not very sure about the new regime’s cooperation when it came to granting permission for the visit. However, as it turned out, the old rules for project exemption and attendance were not to be changed. So I did not have many things at the back of my head as I sat in the waiting lounge of the Kolkata Airport waiting for what would be my first flight in nine years. When you have boarded a flight after nine long years and have watched programs showing flight accidents on Discovery Channel through out this time with sadistic enthusiasm, then butterflies would inevitably find their place in your stomach as the pilot asks you fasten your seat belt. This together with the rusted screw on the left wing, which I could see from my window, made the take off a highly religious experience. I stopped praying only after the flight had reached the designated altitude. The only thing that caught my attention in this short flight of forty minutes was the nonchalance with which the old gentleman, sitting last in the row was reading his newspaper. There should have been nothing conspicuous about this for a ‘normal’ flier, but I being an ‘abnormal’ first timer (not literally), marveled at his level of comfort.
Dhaka was very comfortable in December and much to my happiness Ashraf Bhai had been waiting for me at the Zia International Airport. He was supposed to take me to Comilla, the venue for the Summer School by a bus which would take us there in two hours. He was kind enough to show me the Parliament building on our way. Vanity overtook his modesty as he showed me this magnificent building dazzling with lights. Meanwhile, Dr.Mizanur Rahman, the Director of the Summer School had called Ashraf Bhai and briefed him about the new plan. Ashraf Bhai was asked to stay back in Dhaka and drop me at Barrister Amir-ul-Islam’s place (one of the framers of the Bangladeshi Constitution and an advisor to the Awami League President, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, and the former PM, Sheikh Hasina).As luck would have it, I was traveling to Comilla in a ‘Mistubishi Pajero’ owned by this living history of Bangladesh. After expressing his ignorance about my law school, he told me about his visit to NLS,Bangalore in Mr.Mitra’s time and his experience with a student from NUJS,Kolkata who did his internship under him. In between the several phone calls he received (confabulated in sublime Bengali), he made sure I was comfortable in the front seat. He invited me to do my internship in Dhaka next time, a move which propelled me in to the world of the ‘vanity struck’ for sometime.

The Summer School was a very academic exercise which made us work at least ten hours a day. However, after two weeks of brain storming sessions stimulated by intellectual giants from Bangladesh, Nepal and South Africa, I felt contended after standing fifth in the test conducted. More importantly, interacting with students hailing from diverse nationalities was a very enriching experience.

I was more than happy to return by bus- it goes on to a ferry in between to cross a river- and reached the border in the early hours of 30th December. We had to wait till the border gates opened. The ‘customs checking’ at the border seemed to be an exercise in cosmetics as people mechanically passed through this dilapidated house where the office functioned. The sense of happiness I got after walking into my country was unprecedented. The new bus would take me to Kolkata in four hours and I would be catching my train to Raipur, the same evening to make sure that I am with my friends for the ‘New Year Bash’…

Details of the Bangladesh Experience coming soon.

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