Eternal meanderings of mind on Politics-Culture-Religion-History-Civilisation-Economy-Science-Language…Questions par un esprit libre sur sa raison d'être, ses souvenirs et pensées sans fin…বাঙালির জানালায় পৃথিবী – সাহিত্য দর্শন রাজনীতি ধর্মে বাঙালির চোখে বিশ্ব আর বিশ্বের চোখে বাঙালি। একই জীবনদর্শনের ভিন্ন রূপ না দুই সমান্তরাল মহাবিশ্ব?
Comics played a large role during my childhood. In the late eighties, I used to look forward to the newest issues of Indrajal Comics. They published stories featuring many superheroes, but the two main characters featured were my childhood heroes Phantom and Mandrake. When Indrajal Comics was in circulation, I used to read them often, but I wasn’t fanatical about them. Then after they went out of publication in 1989, I went through phases of disinterest, to inquisitiveness, to obsessively searching for the books. It was a quest, almost like a pilgrimage to amass all Indrajal Comics strips ever published. Once I’ve nearly finished that, I learned that Hermes Press is going to reprint all Golden era comics of Phantom. A few years later, Titan Comics decided to bring out the other character created by the prolific Lee Falk — Mandrake the magician. The stories I grew up reading were reprints of many later issues, but it was through those stories that I formed an idea about the central characters. Going back where their journeys first started, these reprints of early years’ issues had taught me new things that would not have been very apparent thirty years back.
Reading 1930’s Mandrake is almost a throwback to the society and its expectations of that epoch. That’s why, in the very first Mandrake adventure, we are introduced to Lothar as Mandrake’s “Giant black servant”. He is black, wears a leopard skin or skin printed fabric, calls Mandrake “Master” and speaks broken incoherent English. It was written in the description that Mandrake’s “black slave” Lothar does this or that. Thirty years back, the Lothar I was introduced to, was Mandrake’s friend, like equals, spoke many languages, was a black belt. And he is more brown and less black. He called Mandrake “Mandrake”, not “Master”. The image of Lothar was perhaps how he was perceived in post-depression America — the black slave of the magnificent Mandrake. The Lothar I grew up with is the 1960’s version, on the other hand, is around the Civil Rights Movement and had undergone a major change of character. It just echoed an image of how society started to perceive non-whites as equals. Likewise, when we think about the character of Hojo, the Japanese chef who speaks many languages and heads the Inter-intel, you cannot imagine him being featured in the 1930s. In the 60s comics, the societal lenience on race and colour were reflected in the contemporary comics like Mandrake and Phantom.
A similar shift is noticed in how women were presented in these stories as well. The 1930s versions used terms to describe women we now can’t even think about. The comics were positively sexist, but only branding the artist who created them as sexist would be almost anachronistic. Lee Falk was a common man with extraordinary skills in creating comics. His ideas about women reflected the perception of women in society. They were shown to be fragile, dominated by male characters. Emmeline Pankhurst and Amelia Earhart hadn’t made a substantial change in people’s perspective towards women. On the other hand, the 1960s editions show much more parity in the depiction of women in the comics. They are far more independent, strong and outspoken. In fact, many of the comics around the 1960s started showing women as villains because perhaps there was still no willingness to show a female character as good as the male protagonist, but by showing them on the wrong side, it was inevitable that they will be defeated at the end. Nevertheless, the depiction of female characters in Phantom and Mandrake comics has gone through a major overhaul and the comics published characters whose only role in the story wasn’t about being the weakling in the adventure and throw herself on the central character every now and often. In some cases, the efforts of featuring women, especially the partners of the central protagonist were so intense that at times their qualities appeared as exaggerated as the superpowers of the male characters. They had to be super rich, speak several languages, hold a role of UN ambassador, know martial arts, related to nobility — in short, it cannot be a common woman to be associated with an extraordinary superhero. Indirectly the new generation authors sustained the patriarchy. However, that is a different argument. At least, women were no longer seen as merely a pretty face.
So, when we turn the pages of the first phantom book from Hermes press, where Diana Palmer asks who he was after he saved her and how could she thank him, Phantom just kissed her and said “Like this” and dives back in the sea. The next time they see each other, Phantom is aware that Diana is going out with someone, yet he kisses her while saying goodbye. The word consent probably didn’t exist then in that context. Men could choose their woman and taunt, tease, grab or kiss them, or worse. I guess much hasn’t changed now, but at least we pretend to be more civil now and push issues like this under the carpet. Comics is not an exception. The patriarchy that was blatant in those early years, they became subtler, but never eliminated. That’s why, the first son always becomes the next Phantom, not the first child. I think Frew or the Danish version of Phantom has only just thought about making Heloise the 22nd Phantom rather than Kit.
The storyline during the 60’s comics was also made more informative and less fantastic. The 1930’s Mandrake wasn’t just a magician with phenomenal hypnotising powers, but he used to do magic as well. In one of the first episodes, Mandrake transforms one of his aides into a leopard. On another, he lifted a man froom falling into a fire-pit. He could make things happen rather than just pretending to, like the later stories, more like a Harry Potter than David Blaine. In my view, with changing times, the readers became savvier about science and reality. Whilst Superman continued flying around and melting every obstacle with his X-ray vision, Mandrake became more humane. He became a hypnotist and helped the authorities to fight crime. Likewise, in the later issues, Phantom did not control the thousands of miles between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. He becomes the chief of jungle patrol, the security force that keeps peace in the jungle. It’s no longer down to Phantom to tackle all the miscreants. Although the introduction of Stegy the stegosaurus and Hzz & Hrz cave monsters in phantom stories wasn’t a shining example, on a broader scale, the characters were more down to earth.
During 1930s America, racism was rife, a non-white principal character was unimaginable, and women in comics were merely a pretty face – used to fill up a few tiles and to prove the bravery of the comics heroes. In the 1960s, all social divisions were still there, yet the difference was remarkable. These changes in the society are clearly visible in the Mandrake and Phantom comics of the two eras. As study subject, Phantom may be even more interesting, since not all stories were reprints of the American versions. Team Fantomen, for example, was an entirely different set of stories, written and illustrated by Scandinavian artists. The stories of Team Fantomen may present a different outlook to life, possibly a reflection of the Scandinavian society of the epoch, especially since they have been in circulation for over 60 years.
As children, we saw comics as the world we would like to grow up into and have an idol. As grown-ups, we become a part of the period we are living in, adhering to its societal norms. We learn that heroes have their follies, etched into their persona but their creators. It would have been interesting, if Lee Falk was still illustrating, to see how he would have represented the society and relationships during the 21st century. Will the 22nd Phantom marry someone or will he have a partner? Will there be a female Phantom? Will Mandrake and Narda argue over silly things? Will there be LGBTQI characters? Will they feature interracial couples? Will there be a Phantom who doesn’t like to be Phantom but do it because he/she’s expected to? And going forward, how will the stories shape up in future? These are compelling questions for which we have no answers. Perhaps I’ll leave the task to my children to dissect the stories of 2030 and compare them with 1930 versions. I hope that I’ll live to watch their appalled expression reading that Mandrake had a giant black slave, or Phantom forcing a kiss on Diana. I hope turning the pages of the comic books of the 1930s and 1960s will make them appreciate how far society will have been progressed in a century. And how we are in the need of superheroes, because humans, despite having come a long way on the vices prevalent in the 20th century, have created new evils. Perhaps the Mandrake and Phantom of tomorrow will feature the inequality, terrorism, post-truth politics, environmental catastrophe, the middle-east, religious persecution. Perhaps they never will, if the artist is not bold enough to rise above the societal mediocrity, like Lee Falk in 1930.
While some of the UK population watch in despair that yet another attempt to bring the country back from the brink of disaster is failed by the incompetent bunch of tossers aka MPs, something else happened in a school in Birmingham which probably won’t create enough uproar, at least not for the right reason. I can’t help but link anything is happening in Britain these days to Brexit, and this is no different. However, at the end of this essay, it will be clear why the links are relevant and why Brexit needs to be stopped before it breaks the society apart.
Parkfield primary school in Saltley, Birmingham adopted the No Outsiders, an LGBTQ awareness course. This has caused an uproar amongst the families of the pupils and a few weeks back, the parents threatened to withdraw children from the school unless the course is suspended. After a few days of standoff, the authorities gave in to the protests of the parents and dropped the programme. A few weeks later, today on 14th of March, following consultation amongst the Academy trust, parents and the DfE, it was decided that the course will be suspended until a resolution is achieved between the school and the parents.
When this issue first came in the news, about the protests, we had a debate at home and thought perhaps the four-year-olds don’t really need to understand about lifestyle choices, but it could be introduced on a slightly later stage, say about seven. But then, thinking about the children of non-binary parents who would spend a long time doubting their identity during their formative years, my opinion swayed towards including the LGBTQ awareness right from the beginning of the school age. Also, not knowing how to view someone’s parents who do not fall into a mummy-daddy stereotype, it would perhaps become a reason for the children to distrust/alienate. Nevertheless, we did the rational thing of going through the pros and cons of teaching about relationships from the reception years and acknowledge that there may be more room for discussion on the age of introduction. However, if the school introduced the course from reception as mandatory, although some of us may be slightly uncomfortable about it, we would not oppose the plan vehemently.
So what would you say about the parents who boycotted the school, took their children out of the school and made them protest at the school gates along with the parents demanding the resignation of the headteacher who proposed to introduce the No Outsiders programme? “What a bunch of w@nkers”, right? What would you think of the parents if I add the detail that 98% of the children who attend the school were Muslims and the reason behind the parents’ protest was that the teachings were against their religious beliefs? I’d still think “What a bunch of w@nkers”. I don’t think it needn’t be any more complicated than that.
But is that the reality? The reaction on the social media with supposedly moderate reader base suggests otherwise. The majority of the reactions are in the same vein, criticising the religious indoctrination of Islam and how a school’s curriculum is now influenced by the religious naysayers. Personally, I have been involved in a number of arguments opposing the decision and unsurprisingly enough, the likes and loves were generally from non-Muslim readers, whereas the criticism to my argument and commendations to the school board’s decision were mainly from the Muslims.
So what was my argument? That education knows no religion in particular. The state of UK has no official religion, even though every Tory prime minister likes to mention during Easter and Christmas that Britain is a Christian country. The essential values of being British are individual liberty and respect & tolerance. So whilst the schools need to respect the beliefs of different faiths, it cannot be hijacked by the one single faith. One may argue, what about over-indulgence regarding Christmas and Easter? And I’d fully agree with them, but let’s not meddle into that topic. So, No Outsiders is an essential programme, apt with the increasing bigotry in society. I went in further suggesting that if the religion was of such paramount importance to the parents, why do they send children to a state school with no recognised affiliation to one religion?
Probably my argument seems a bit Islamophobic. However, it is quite the contrary. Allow me to explain. But before doing so, let me present some other findings that I thought would support my perspective. The epicentre of the attention, headteacher Andy Moffat is Gay, he’s been awarded an MBE for the No Outsiders programme that broadened children’s tolerance, and he changed a few schools due to arguments he had regarding his teachings. He was also nominated for an award given to World’s best teacher. In a world where teaching qualities are in decline, Andy Moffat is an exception. The point I’d like to highlight about the details I provided is that he changed a few schools before arriving at Parkfield. The reason? You probably guessed it right, that he told the children that he’s gay, that being gay is normal, that he tried to introduced No Outsiders in those schools. He was forced to resign or abandon the programme whilst being in the previous schools because parents have complained. So you see, everywhere he’s been in the past, he angered the communities with views for schools that broke the glass ceiling. This must be a déjà vu moment for him, being confronted by a group of unhappy Muslim parents that his teachings were against the religion?
Déjà vu? Yes of course. But it’ll be surprising to find out that schools he resigned from before Parkfield were due to parents’ complaints who were Christians as well as Muslims. It was contrary to the Christian values. So, does that imply, that perhaps there was something wrong in Mr Moffat’s teachings if he irked the feelings of parents of two religions? No, absolutely not! And I would brand the parents who opposed to the programme in the other school the same what I thought about Parkfield protesters — “What a bunch of w@nkers”. If the same issue was flagged by 100 other religions, the feeling won’t change. One may argue that it’s easy to pass my judgement being an atheist. There are two points to add. First, atheists don’t have religious sentiments. So something cannot hurt a feeling that you don’t have. Secondly, there may be atheists who are/were opposed to the course. I’m my view, if they are so opposed to it that they had to demand an apology from the teacher, they are probably homophobic. They are a bunch of w@nkers as well, in my view. Now, disagreement on the age of introduction is slightly different, where parents admit that children should be taught about homosexuality in schools but reception may not be the year. This argument doesn’t apply for Parkfield because even parents of students in Year 6 took part in the protests. I do not know the details about the parents from the other school, but citing religious feelings meant that if the children aren’t ready at 4, they won’t be ready at 11.
Education for children should be based on no bias. Schools should be at least one place where the children can learn how not to be bigots. We have the outside world to teach that anyway. They should learn what is right and not discriminate based on race, religion, sexuality. They need to learn to be tolerant. No Outsiders is a course created to broaden tolerance and it’s myopic not to realise how essential it is to be living in a multicultural society. There is already a lot of bigotry related to religious education, with parents unhappy about their children knowing about other religions because they are “unholy” or “violent”. The trust shouldn’t have bowed down under the pressure from the parents. What would be next one to go? Sex education? Teaching about contraception? What about science or anything that questions the existence of God? However, those who are raring to have a go at the Muslim community for the conservative sentiments, please note that before the Equalities act repealed it in 2010, the Local Government Act, passed in 1988 by Saint Maggie herself, prohibited the local authorities to promote homosexuality.
These days, when we are becoming increasingly click happy, it’s easy to pass judgement without understanding both sides of the story. The reports in the newspaper cited a number of protesting parents who said that the course is against the religious belief of the community. Yet, it needs to be understood that No Outsiders is not a new curriculum introduced this year. In Parkfield primary, the programme has been running for at least two years. There was an article published in 2016, how a teacher is transforming communities with his No Outsiders curriculum. The article also cited the reaction of the parents. Whilst some were against the course, some expressed the importance of the course, do the children are not presented a one-sided version of what is acceptable and what isn’t. So, suddenly after two years or more of running the programme successfully in the school, why did the parents realise that it’s wrong and they started demanding the resignation of Mr Moffat? Was it a sudden awakening in the entire community or are there in fact, external influences? Was it the retaliation for the foiled Trojan Horse campaign? The other fact to be borne in mind is that from the previous school, he was forced to resign because it was untenable to continue teaching whereas in Parkfield, although the course was axed until further resolution, Mr Moffat is presently continuing as head teacher. So apart from the meeting with parents, it’s not clear how much pressure was put on him in the previous school, whether it was only from parents or from staff and trust as well. Or is it simply because the Parkfield trust doesn’t want him to resign for personal interests, of keeping an MBE teacher to maintain their Outstanding Ofsted rating?
Let’s now look at the aspect what I mentioned before — the Brexit connection. This news of the LGBTQ course being dropped from Parkfield Primary will obviously be seen in different lights by people from the different political spectrum. Whilst the faction in the left are busy lambasting the trust and the communities for dropping the course for an ideological reason, the ones on the right — Tories, far-rights, gammons, zombies — this news is a golden opportunity for them to peddle their politics of fear. Soon this will be one of the chapters in the next Tommy Robinson book, an agenda on the Britain First campaign to protest outside a school with largely minority students, a reason for Nigel Farage to travel to Brussels to give a lecture on the untenable situation Britain was in. This incident will be seen as the effect of Muslim conservatism on the liberal British society. A further reason why Brexit was justified to limit the influx of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. It’s another red herring to feed the xenophobic minds of the 17.4m who believe that immigrants are the root of their problem.
The utter bigotry of the xenophobic faction of Britain, who is sure to earn a mileage from this incident is blatantly disgusting. People who express their dismay in the intolerance of the Muslim community in Saltley are perhaps the ones who instil homophobia in their children. It’s probably these stalwarts of tolerance who protest at the supermarkets when they make all their meat supplies halal. It’s probably these beacons of liberalism who squirm hearing someone speak a language that’s not English. Where the country would be without these gems of Britain, the only group of people to withhold the true British Values? And that’s why, on the august day of 23rd June 2016, these saviours, the modern day Knight’s Templars finally won the crusade against the barbaric invasion that was the “swarms of refugees” heading towards the UK. The Brexit result was the manifestation of the anti-immigrant and Islamophobic bias of the general public, brainwashed by the profiteering peddlers of the Leave campaign.
It is therefore unfortunate that the after carrying on with the No Outsiders course for over two years, the protests not only meant a lost opportunity for the children to learn acceptance and tolerance towards the LGBTQ community but also, this will fuel the hostility towards the Muslim community. A community that is already branded for harbouring extremist feelings by the nationalist press and media, this will only marginalise the Muslim community, another little hurrah from the Brexiters. Needless to say the persecutions faced by the LGBTQ community in the UK will see no improvements if more and more schools keep dropping it. I don’t know what the future holds for Mr Moffat, not the pupils of the Parkfield primary school, but I do hope that the protesting parents realise the repercussions of their action, not just for the parents, but for the long term future of their children being integrated into the society. Let’s hope that the parents and the education trust will reach a resolution in favour of continuing with the curriculum. Let common sense prevail over bigotry and prejudices.
It was a historic moment. I had seen the photo in many books on Olympics – a fascination of my teens. Most of the photos only featured Tommie Smith and John Carlos in their epic Black Power salute, fists in black gloves, thrust indignantly in air, and their heads bowed down, feet bare. I did not fully understand the significance of the photo then, but it exuded a sign of defiance, just as did the photo of the lone protester in front of the tank in Tiananmen square. Knowing about the Civil Rights Movement, the enormity of the protest became clearer. It was one of the momentous photos of the twentieth century, a photo that makes time stand still, a photo made me speechless, in anger, in solidarity and respect.
But the media is a weird thing. They go at great lengths obscuring the complete picture and only represent the distorted version to suit them and their reader base. And thus, the story of Peter Norman, another legend who was as much part of the protest as was the two Americans, remained out of the limelight. He remained “The other white man” in that iconic photo. Nearly 50 years later, his record still remains an Australian record for 200m sprint. Yet, Norman was shunned in his own country for donning the badge Smith and Carlos wore during their salute, and never represented Australia in Olympics again. It took Australian Parliament to officially apologise for their discrimination that ruined the career of one of their greatest sporting heroes.
Apart from the record books, Peter Norman was not known to me until today. Yet, his enormous athletic achievement during the final race was eclipsed by what he did on that award ceremony. On that day, he stood up for humanity, he stood up for a cause that he believed in, against injustice, only to go back home in ignominy and shame.
Once the famous poet Tagore dedicated this song to the Indian freedom fighter, Subhash Bose:
If they answer not to your call walk alone If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall, O thou unlucky one, open your mind and speak out alone. If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness, O thou unlucky one, trample the thorns under thy tread, and along the blood-lined track travel alone. If they shut doors and do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm, O thou unlucky one, with the thunder flame of pain ignite your own heart, and let it burn alone.
On that epic day in Mexico City in 1968, three young sprinters stood up in solidarity for the oppression of the black Americans. They knew what awaits them once they came off that podium. Smith and Carlos later became a champion for their cause as the USA embraced diversity following the Civil Rights Movement. Norman remained a pariah even after his death, the retribution of the AOC still denying his due respect. But they were well aware of their fate and decided to stand for what they believed in. In the words of Tagore, they trod on the blood-lined track alone, for humanity, for a balanced society, for a better world. They are inspirations to millions, who believe in a cause, yet, don’t stand up for it against the whole world. They made us believe that if we stand by our ideas and beliefs, and if the whole world does not agree, stand firm still in defiance to the world, and it will change, if not in our lifetime, but one day2…So let’s not forget Peter Norman, the unsung hero of the Olympics Black Power salute, so his sacrifice of a lifetime does not disappear into oblivion.
When I was a kid, I often had a fever, and whilst I was unwell, my dad would get me a toy of my choice, and a bag of Cadbury’s Gems, an equivalent of m&m’s. Most of the time, I used to pick up a car for a toy. A bit later, in the pre-satellite TV India, my most favourite programme was Street Hawk, where a masked protagonist fought crimes in his futuristic bike. Since the late eighties until now, cars have been an integral part of my media experiences and like most of the youngsters, I was fascinated by cars. Just like guns, cars probably represented the most widely rendered boys’ toys and I was no exception, marvelling at the Audi R8 Spyder ad, or the Batmobile in Batman Forever.
My tryst with Top Gear is only limited. After settling in the UK, following my MBA, I moved to a flat where my flatmate was a bike enthusiast — always participating in rallies circuits and road trips. I found myself shell-shocked, when I came to know about Jeff’s accident in Germany, that claimed his life, whilst he was enjoying what he liked most — riding his bike on a road trip. It was after moving to the flat with Jeff, that I started to watch a few episodes of Top Gear, sitting down after a long day’s work. After Jeff moved out of the flat, I can count how many times I watched Top Gear since. Then there were the recent controversies and the exit of the original trio that marked the end of an era. It was during the Christmas of 2015, watching an anthology of Top Gear episodes that I reminisced the programmes in 2010, and the lounge overlooking the Thames outside the balcony in the setting sun. And the nostalgia feels even stronger knowing Jeff is not here any more.
The recipe for Top Gear seemed very simple, just as a low-budget Hollywood high octane thriller. Lots of cars, three presenters doing crazy things but most importantly exuding a sense of camaraderie, the burning smell of rubber on the Tarmac — that’s all the show had to offer, but packed with various stunts and laps by celebrities, review of new cars and other snippets. The introduction of Stig, the masked speedster reminded me of the double life of the Street Hawk protagonist, demonstrating extreme motoring skills in disguise. Top Gear struck a chord with the British adult men in their thirties and above. The universal likeness to cars and the interest about maintenance to discounts to spare parts, Top Gear became a holy grail for the ones following an active lifestyle, participating in motor rallies and cross countries, as well as the ones who were settled down in their life, yet the willingness to have a spin with mates was either not materialised or never happen in the frequency as hoped due to other familial and occupational commitments. Perhaps Top Gear, with all its revving the engines and spinning/ skidding round the bends, complete disrespect of the speed limits — the appeal attracted most of its viewer base. To say the show only appealed to adult males would perhaps be incorrect as I know many women preferred watching a real-life entertainment programme rather than the prime-time soppy soaps. What struck out as the most significant contributor to the popularity of the programme was the bond between Clarkson-Hammond-May. It seemed as if three amigos got together testing some fast cars in a multitude of road surfaces with exciting backgrounds, having a laugh in a slightly touché undertone, but above all, they represented an eternal boyhood, the “lad” on the wheels and far away from the drudgery of the daily life. The followers basked into an hour of that virtual reality.
Then there were the controversies. Controversies that avid fans would like to laugh off as mild banter and political correctness has gone crazy. Clarkson had been a tongue-in-cheek personality all along, but perhaps he became too big-headed towards the end. After repeated allegations of racism, prejudiced stereotyping and uncouth behaviours, it reached an all-time low, while shooting the 2015 episodes, when he broke into a fight and punched the producer over a steak. BBC had to discontinue the contract as Clarkson became too arrogant and defiant to the BBC senior management. There were accusations against Clarkson of using racist terms, but he got away with a slap on the wrist. Top Gear was often alleged to have used inappropriate and abusive language, and at times being sexist, as well as promoting reckless driving, road rage, disrespect of the environmental laws. Amongst the mainstream viewers, the criticism came as the show was regarded as the big-boys-playing-with-machines. Also, public opinion was that the show perhaps had run its course, the presenter was a shadow of the past as most of the stunts and challenges have been attempted — leading to the programme either repeating the similar acts or plan newer stunts that are more daring and dangerous. Similar to many Hollywood sequels like Matrix and Jurassic Park, the series hit a stage, where the captive viewership may not drop drastically, but the purpose of the programme was finished. Although the camaraderie amongst Clarkson, May and Hammond was still there, the show already started to give a déjà vu feeling towards the end. So, when the allegations were raised against Jeremy Clarkson, it was a golden opportunity for the BBC to cease the programme and let it end as the most widely viewed factual television programme.
On the contrary, driven by zeal, BBC continued to record new series featuring Chris Evans. With a completely new cast, BBC wants to pretend, quite childishly so, that the past 13 years of Clarkson-era never happened. The expectations are high from viewers, who want to see how the show in its new avatar turned up, whilst most of the Clarkson sympathisers have already defected to other shows. Unless the production team came up with a completely new format, the show is likely to fail. It will fail not because Chris Evans is not Jeremy Clarkson, on the contrary, he is a fabulous presenter, but because the new Top Gear team will not have the same dynamics that the trio had developed over a decade. Rather than a flamboyant farewell, BBC has chosen to give the show a slow disappearance into oblivion.
I believe in absolutism, and for all the wrong reasons – all the casual racism, sexism, insensitive profanities and other allegations, Top Gear should have been withdrawn or moderated by BBC long before the fracas of 2015. However, for the ground-breaking success of the show, the Beeb carried on turning a blind eye, and therefore, passively encouraging Clarkson and the crew to be more audacious, more insensitive. That perhaps kept the TRP high for the show, as the viewers — especially the target audience — preferred it a bit rough, the big-boys-giving-a-toss-at-nothing attitude. Top Gear was the ultimate show for the thrill-seekers, the car-wankers and the placid domesticated men who still in their imaginary world, dreamt of living a lad’s life. The show had been a grand success, with some fabulous illustration of driving, no-nonsense car reviews and some hair-raising stunts. It represented the journey of the three presenters picking up the baton for a popular show in its new persona, and developing it into one of the biggest money-spinners for the BBC. They represented the small-screen version of the Fast and Furious, the ultimate high-octane entertainment. But the Clarkson-May-Hammond trio looked a shadow of their past, their presentation iterative, jokes repetitive and stunts sillier by the day. It became a representation of three haggard-looking men trying to clutch to their wondrous past and failing. It became a dinosaur of our time, a show for pledging unabashed masculinity, a virtue suited for the 18th Century cowboys. In the 21st century world that is more multicultural, interconnected to all corners of the world, more diverse and less discriminatory, Top Gear was too passé, too out of the league.
I’m not a Top Gear enthusiast, and on any day I’d choose a Nat Geo documentary over TG. And this is not a tearful adieu to the Top Gear swansong of the Clarkson-era. Instead, whilst watching the Top Gear: From A to Z during Christmas, I just remembered watching TG in that South-East London flat, when viewing the programme was an experience, and I didn’t pay much attention to the content. The Christmas homage to the past 13 years of the programme showed the highlights of the show, a summarised version sans the controversies. This is an obituary to the programme, which was a massive hit showcasing three men playing with machines, and now its demise perhaps should send out a wake-up call to the wannabe boys to come out of their reverie and brace the world outside…
Prologue: As I am near finishing writing this article, France witnessed the worst ever terrorist attack on its soil. As an immediate reaction, the borders have been shut and there is a public outcry in Europe – not only in the nationalist parties but amongst the general public, to stop Syrian immigrants entering Europe. Rallies held in numerous Eastern European countries as well as in France and the UK, for sending back the refugees waiting to be resettled. The Italian speaking province in Switzerland banned the burqa or niqab. Donald Trump in the US spoke about creating a database for Muslims in the country. Several states in the US revoked the pledge to accept refugees. Greek coastguards were witnessed to be trying to sink boats filled with refugees. The abject discrimination against the Syrian refugees is just one of many examples of the persecutions of the refugees in today’s apparently modern world…
An obituary to Aylan Kurdi
Aylan Kurdi. The entire world now knows the name of this child. His limp innocent body on the seashore of Turkey made us all realise what the refugees are going through, and what losses they are suffering just to give a safe life to their offspring and families. Aylan’s death brought our world to a standstill, and it dawned on us how insensitive our values have become, when it took death of a three-year-old boy, whose last words to his dad was “Papa, don’t die”, for the world to empathise with the miseries of the refugees and react to the crisis. After a few days of online philanthropy, Aylan’s little body will fade away from our memory, the world will become an indifferent, fragmented place again, where we don’t know and don’t care how lives of other human beings are constantly put under threat in other corners of the world. But I won’t forget you little Aylan Kurdi, your angelic smile, and every time I’ll think of you, I will have tears in my eyes, for your death that was so unnecessary, so cruel, and I will be angry at the world, who watched by as your little hands lost the grip of your father, until the waves carried you to the shore. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but I will say rest in peace little Aylan, you are finally safe, to eternity…
I am fascinated by anthropology and a recent visit to the Natural History Museum in London opened my eyes to time — the most important dimension we never have the full appreciation of and the scale of it. When we think that our planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old with geological periods lasting millions of years, during which, dinosaurs have ruled the world and became extinct, and the first human beings only appeared one million years ago — putting that time into perspective, the earliest discovered human civilisation around 8000 years ago means we humans are only a microscopic part of a jigsaw that is our universe. Since the first human beings appeared in Africa, they were eternal ramblers, always looking to voyage for great unknowns and finding pastures green. Driven by the carnal desire for a better habitat, abundance of food or simply evading the conflicts of leadership, these early humans dispersed from Africa to Central Asia, Americas then through Bering Strait into the Far East. The stories of migration and exploration of our ancestors fascinate us and make us marvel at the phenomenal progress of the human civilisation since time unknown. Yet, standing in the 21st century, where mankind achieved exponentially since those prehistoric times and pushed the boundaries of human capabilities beyond belief, on the humanitarian front it is shameful that we have not extricated ourselves from the vices and superstitions characteristic of those ancient times. The shameful manifestation of anti-migration views in the world’s most advanced countries is a stark example, whereby with these malicious feelings, people are denouncing the very existence of their evolution. Rather than wonder and encourage it, migration has become a stigma of our time.
Writing about migration is quite contentious as the public opinion seems to be bifurcated — half the population is usually against it and nearly the other half does not know much about it — only leaving a small fraction of people, who actually understand the situation and care about crises. The definition of migration is the first stumbling block. There are so many different words used in the media — migrant, immigrant, refugee, émigré. Without trying to open the Oxford dictionary, the broad definition of immigrant denotes a generic term referring to anyone living in a foreign country; it does not depend on the reason. On the other hand, popular connotations of an émigré exude a sense of superiority, belonging to the upper echelon of the social tiers of a country, but in real terms, they are opposite of immigrants, citizens of a country emigrated abroad mainly for career prospects. The remainder two — migrants and refugees are the most widely used terms in the context of migration. They both refer to the people leaving a country or region, mainly the places where they were born, to live in another country. Although both of these terms can be classified by the noun Migration, the fundamental differences between these two terms have been largely overlooked or purposefully misused by the world media. Whilst migrants are affected by the present situation of their country, the catalyst to move to another country or another part of the world is mainly economical, driven by their ambitions to achieve something for themselves or provide a better future for their future generations. Refugees, on the contrary, are forced to abandon their habitat and move to another country for a haven, that their country cannot provide. Migrants are driven by an aspirational issue, whilst refugee or asylum-seeking is existential — the survival depends on escaping the habitat — be it from genocide, autocracy, religion, famine, endemic or militias. The burning example of the purposed or erratic misuse of terms referring migration is the context of the Syrian crisis, where the refugees are often referred to as migrants. The bias of right-wing press is obvious, but the liberal media often followed the bandwagon quoting the millions of homeless victims of religious crossfire between the Assad regime and ISIL as migrants, not refugees.
Migration and asylum is an issue very close to my heart as my entire life has circled around listening to stories of migration — forced and consensual, or witness the post-migration impacts on refugees’ lives. Both my parents were born in the Indian provinces in post-partition East Pakistan, to be later called Bangladesh. Threatened by the religious genocide between 1947 and 1971, like millions of other Hindu families, my parents fled their troubled homes to India, then struggled all their life to make the lives of our generation better. Thus, the stories of their struggle and sufferings made one detest the factors that incited the migration, but on the other hand kindled hope and optimism, provided us with a raison d’être to give a meaning to their fight. My parents risked their lives to flee a region becoming exponentially volatile for the sake of their lives and subsequently sacrificed rest of their lives — trying to make our lives free of such trauma, once they found a safe livelihood in India. HOME became a sacred word; my father always wanted to have a house of his own that he could say is home — a sense of belonging to a piece of earth, a dream that has eluded him all his life, and now that I have migrated to the UK pursuing my aspirations, he always asks me to have a home of my own. Like him, I have uprooted myself from the place where I was born, leaving behind everything and everyone known. However, I am a migrant, whilst my father was a refugee, and our account of moving from our country is completely different — I can reminisce the past days through rose-tinted glasses, but for my father, it probably was a time he rather forgot or wished never happened to him. This essay is therefore like a lens, looking through my entire life and building up the hypotheses based on anecdotes, information and experiences gathered along the journey so far.
From time immemorial human migration has been taking place, as our ancestors continuously strived for better living conditions. The modern civilisation in its current form would not exist, had the primordial men and women not migrated. However, limiting our focus only on the twentieth century would show what factors instigated migrations and socio-political unbalance. The biggest contributor to social unrest is two — politics and religion. In most cases these two factors are intertwined, perhaps politics of religion could aptly include the two causes. Regardless of the semantics, politics and religion, the invasive nature of both these factors is incited by wealth. Looking at the single biggest incident that destabilised the entire world — from Middle-East to Americas and Far-East, is Communism. But at the heart of the Communism debate and the Cold War lies the capitalist world’s fear of mass movement of the oppressed to demand their share of the profit. It is Wealth what incited the Cold War and the resultant arms race, that contributed the complete destabilisation of the political system in the Middle-East, the home of the biggest refugee crisis in recent times or the breeding ground for the cause of it — religious fanaticism — through obliteration of any working liberal governance in the region. On the other hand, the fall of Soviet Union saw the collapse of entire Eastern Bloc countries especially the complete dissolution of Yugoslavia, creating religious factions all trying to have a land they can claim their own.
The other biggest component is of course Colonialism — its spectre plagued the entire world. Like politics and religion, colonialism is also fuelled by wealth, perhaps with a more overt correlation. Starting with the Spanish and Portuguese, the hunger for power and wealth soon spread to the rest of Western Europe during the middle ages. In the modern post-Renaissance era, the worst perpetrators are still the British, but not far behind will be the French, Dutch, Flemish/Belgians, Germans. Whilst many scholars recently argue about the benefits of colonialism to the developing countries, it is without a doubt that any such supposed benefits came at a much heftier cost the countries didn’t deserve or choose to pay. There has been mass exodus during these colonial regimes with people trying to flee the atrocities and famines. After WWII, with the cost of running the colonies skyrocketing, the resources thoroughly exploited and depleted and finally the ghost of two great wars haunting the developed world, the rulers left the colonies in ruins having plundered all the resources over hundreds of years. The colonised countries, with the skeleton of infrastructure from their exploited past, became breeding grounds for class division, corruption, nepotism and racial/religious fission. Africa was one of the worst-hit continents picking up pieces together to form countries but managed to be embroiled in bloody tribal wars that have possibly seen the most number of mass migration. Famine, endemics followed suite as a result of unsustainable exploitation of natural and human resources. The Middle-East, already waged into turbulent sectarian conflicts amongst member states were further destabilised by the formation of Israel, and the west’s pledge to sponsor its atrocities later on. On the other hand, the sub-continent was scarred forever with religious conflicts. The wave of religious hatred even engulfed the far reaches of Myanmar, where the Bangladeshi Rohingya tribes are forced to migrate to as far as Malaysia to avoid the violence. The Divide and Rule ploy not only split countries, neighbourhoods and families into pieces, but also fuelled the conflict amongst them, to profit from the arms deals. It is the biggest mockery of our times that the G8 countries are purported as harbingers of world peace, yet all of them are the biggest arms dealers in the world, responsible for most of the armed conflicts in one way or another!
These are some of the underlying factors that coerce people to move out of their homeland, abandoning their habitat and familiar surroundings for hundreds and thousands of years. Looking at the other side of the spectrum on the refugee crises — regarding the rehabilitation and integration of refugees in the countries they seek shelter in — the situation is much worse. Although not for the reasons we see in today’s world, human migration is an undeniable and unavoidable phenomenon — it will never stop, as the end of it will mean people stopped dreaming and aspiring. It will mean that we have become a defeated race on earth and a superior species will rise to throw us down the precipice of anthropological oblivion. Hence, considering human migration is an unequivocal fact, it would be a completely different story, if people at different corners of the world wanted/was forced to move at another region and their exodus did not encounter any resistance. Looking at the legendary settlers, they moved to barren lands and built civilisations. The nomadic nature of our ancestors is completely undermined in the present society, more so in the so-called developed world than the other parts. In an ideal situation, these people need not flee their habitat, but if that can’t be prevented, the next best scenario would be that they all found a safe refuge, and if the countries in the developed world can boast about their social infrastructure, they should be the forerunners in providing shelters for these refugees.
Instead, the refugee crises across the world paint picture completely in contrast with what should have happened. The biggest instigators of the migration crises are the ones who are most vociferous against immigration on their land. The hypocrisy of the US, UK and Saudi Arabia, in mitigating the Syrian refugee crises, is at best shocking, at worst abhorrent. Considering the US is not directly affected by the Syrian migration as is Europe, and their pledge to receive some of the Syrian refugees is commendable, the US foreign policy in the Middle East especially backing Israel in the Palestine conflict has long destabilised the balance of the region. The UK, the sidekick in the US affairs, has become a myopic xenophobic state under the Tory regime, but the roots go much deeper. Against what is commonly purported as quintessential British values, the public psyche has done a complete volte-face and suddenly became nationalist, utterly intolerant and devoid of any compassion or empathy. The Syrian migration crisis was a perfect platform for the government to prove that it there is still a voice of reason within the party whip, but the decision to take a paltry 20,000 refugees over five years simply quashed that expectation. When millions of Syrian refugees fled the country — being caught on the crossfire between the autocratic Assad regime and the ISIL terrorists, the gulf nations played silent bystanders sitting on their petrodollars. On the other hand, rather than taking refugees or at least sending aides, the astounding decision by Saudi Arabia to build mosques in Germany defeats all reasons. Australia, on the other hand, puts any asylum seekers or refugees to other oceanic countries to make them receive financial aid from Australia. With an enormous, albeit not entirely habitable landmass, passing the responsibility to another country is equally brazen.
What the refugees are facing, especially trying to move to a country in the developed world e.g. Europe, US, Australia etc, is extremely inhuman. Their fate is met with the cold calculating political impasse by the countries they seek refuge in or use as an entrepôt en route their final destination. These governments believe in the economy of war, and the politics of fear. Keeping people misinformed and fearful of the refugee situation would then justify armed action, thriving the economy of war. This is why, accepting 20,000 refugees took Britain to think about it for a week, whilst the decision will probably be taken in unison about sending troops in Syria, which will cost millions of taxpayer money. Helping the refugees settle could have made lives of thousands of more refugees waiting to be accepted more bearable after the horrific spell they have been through. During the temporary phase of public outcry to support Syrian refugees, there was one banner that became much circulated — you don’t put your children in water if the land was safer. The desperate situation these people are put into, caught in a complicated web of power, politics, religion and wealth; yet, other than countries like Germany and Sweden, with reference to the Syrian crisis, what the other developed nations are doing can be termed as tumbleweed.
However, there is a more sinister twist in the situation that will need unveiling more urgently. Governments, and on much wider terms, all mainstream political parties, are the mirrors to the public psyche, and they hardly take a stance for the greater good, when the majority of the population is either unaware or misinformed about the actual situation and are against the policy. Looking at the reluctance of the governments to provide help to the refugees, it is merely a replication of the unwillingness or even the antipathy of the public against the migrants. The rising levels of nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment are not only witnessed in my present residence in the UK, but it is observed everywhere else, where there is a migrant influx in the country. In the UK, it has become a very clichéd practice now, to blame the eastern European migrants as the root cause for all problems. Treatment of Syrian refugees in Eastern European countries in recent times was absolutely diabolical. How the men were separated from women and children is a stark reminder of the biggest genocide against migrants in Europe since WWII — Srebrenica — a lesson in history that was pledged never to be repeated. In India, there is a growing voice against people fleeing communalism and religious persecution from neighbouring Bangladesh. Even within the country itself, migrant workers from other states are often targeted by the right-wing local hooligan parties. A common trend emerges from all these snapshots from a wide geographical span — that it is the common working-class people, the majority of the population, who are against the refugees migrating to their country. This makes one wonder, why are so many hard-working people, who are often characterised by the brother’s keeper mindset, antagonise their counterparts from another part of the country?
The answer lies in the panic-mongering of the political parties and migrants often prove to be the perfect red herring, a scapegoat to divert people’s attention from real issues. In very few societies across the world would one find working class keeping abreast of the current affairs and form their opinion on those issues. In the absence of an alternative voice of reason, the capitalist led media diabolically steered the attention to all the crises their economies faced, to migrants. Housing, education, employment, economy — migrants are portrayed as bloodsuckers on all facets, purportedly depriving the citizens of the benefits. This antagonism is served with a twist of past glory — jingoistic nationalism, where everything was hunky-dory when the countries/regions were made of indigenous people of the same colour, language and religion. With a barrage of such twisted media representation, the working class begins to think that their predicament is somehow attributable to the migrants, not the actual perpetrators in their high citadels. These reportings are bolstered by statistics to make them appear more authentic, whereas the figures are at best misrepresentative at worst fraudulent. Duped by these statistical figures, the general public saw the data in front of their eyes, and in absence of critically analysing the information or the lack of time for it, a different and alternative image of the refugees starts to build in the eyes of the working class of the country. Refugees are demonised to let the political parties and their cronies in the high echelon of the society continue to carry out more sinister plots to rob the poor.
There are more to blame than just the media and the politicians. The working-class people in any country tend to show a tendency of prejudices — be it racial, sexual, cultural or lingual. It is the prejudice of the common people of a country — people the refugees are most likely to interact with — that makes the integration of the immigrants into the society much difficult. And here, the difference between a migrant and a refugee becomes starkly visible. Migrants often possess skills to offer to the host country, and with an income source, although social ostracism couldn’t be avoided, they can ignore it and lead a normal life. On the other hand, refugees — although depending on the crisis they can be from any class in the society — consist of mainly the working class to the unskilled class of the population. They are expected to re-educate, retrain and all at the same time whilst they try to resettle in a completely alien land and culture. Remembering tales heard from my dad, to the story of a Hungarian cleaner in London or story of the first Romanian arriving in Britain or the harrowing mistreatment a of the Syrian refugees in Eastern Europe — they all spell the same story of mistrust, vilification and discrimination of the migrant/refugees by the common people in the host country. Apart from being discriminated for being different from the country’s indigenous population, there is also a pressure on the refugees to become like one of the model citizens of the adoptive country — prove their allegiance to the host country at every instant. This is why a Muslim is expected in the western world to constantly denounce and castigate any acts of Muslim extremism, whereas no one heard a similar plea from every Christian during the Anders Breivik massacre. Likewise, all migrants are expected to don a poppy on Remembrance Day, a Bangladeshi refugee in India is expected to say jal instead of paani for water, a Romanian migrant has to declare to the camera that he is there to work and not to live on benefits.
Also, there is another dimension in this conundrum regarding the refugee crisis, which is the racial bias of people — direct or subconscious. The sad and cruel demise of little Aylan Kurdi can never be included for a political justification, but the arrival of Syrian refugees in the doorstep of Europe posed another challenge for the local authorities. In one side there was religion, where communities that are not coherent with people from different religion and cultural background. On the other side, there is a preference for race. This is why Syrian refugees have received a much warmer welcome than the ones still waiting in Calais. One would not fail to notice that despite the threat of extremism, Syrians lack a stereotype image, as opposed to the black African migrants from war-torn East Africa. The fact, that the refugees in Calais have been waiting for asylum much longer in inhabitable living conditions, has been completely overlooked by the populist media and politicians alike, due to stereotyping and character profiling of African immigrants. A similar approach was observed during the last Indian general election when the would-be prime minister Modi proclaimed that the Hindus in neighbouring Bangladesh are more than welcome to rehabilitate in India if they faced communal violence, but the Muslims won’t be allowed in, despite India being a republic. Even in Europe, the discrimination against Roma tribes are well observed and the lack of media/social uproar exemplifies that the media only broadcasts sensationalist news. The undercurrent of racism against migrants became blatantly obvious during shameful veto in EU by the Eastern European countries, during the discussion of the quota of refugees each member state will need to take. Statements coming from Slovak prime minister that they (Muslims) won’t be welcome in Slovakia because there are no mosques or the Hungarian right-wing photographer kicking and trying to trip a Syrian refugee, to Daily Mail likening the refugees to rats as did the Nazi campaigns in 1939, to David Cameron referring refugees to swarms — the hostility of the recipient nations became clear either through action or the choice of words in the context.
There is a counter-argument by various countries against immigration. Why would a country accept refugees? A country has limited resource, living space and social infrastructure that cannot be widely altered within a short period. Based on the resource constraints, a country cannot take more refugees beyond a sustainable number. However, this needs to be measured as a direct difference between the people arriving in the country and the citizens emigrating — not the net value of the immigration. “We are full, there is no more space” may be a compelling argument for the UK for the limited habitable landmass, but certainly not for the US or mainland Europe or the subcontinent. But answering why a country should provide refuge to the immigrants, the focus cannot be based on just geography and economy. The first question to be asked is whether any recipient country is directly or indirectly responsible for causing or aggravating the situation. If the answer is yes then it becomes a direct responsibility of that country to help out the refugees sacrificing their entire life. For example, it becomes a direct responsibility of the US to support the Palestine refugees caused by Israel, empowered by a divisive US foreign policy. Or in the case of Syria, although Turkey is involved indirectly, they are also the home for the biggest refugees with the numbers surpassing 1.5 million. However, beyond such examples, all countries should reach out to helping the refugees on humanitarian grounds alone. Without being directly involved, Germany will accept close to a million refugees being a responsible member of the EU to stop innocent people die. Sweden’s pledge to receive hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees also demonstrates that despite the dismal turn of events the refugees went through, thanks to countries like Germany, Sweden, Turkey or Jordan, a large number of displaced immigrants have found rehabilitation and a new beginning to regain the rhythm of life back. On the contrary, the gross ignorance of the governments of the UK and Eastern Europe, as well as the mistreatments by the authorities in Greece and Hungary, paints a dire picture, where countries either not taking up the responsibility or totally indifferent to the trauma and persecutions faced by these refugees.
However, as mentioned above, there are silver linings in this dreary situation, by looking at the positive message portrayed by the actions of various countries. Apart from Germany and Scandinavia, whilst the government reaction was otherwise abysmal, general public welcomed the Syrian refugees with a lot more generosity. Despite a large part of the population in every country being sceptical about migrants, a considerably large part of the population in every country in Western Europe welcomed the refugees with open arms and went to great lengths to help them. Starting from a welcome message of solidarity across football stadiums to people sending necessity goods to the refugees in their van driving a thousand kilometres — the extent of help received was spellbinding. Apart from the general public, the charities and non-profit organisations have been tirelessly working to provide basic necessities such as water, tents, warm clothes, medicines. In the UK, wherever the right-wing groups attempted to convene a rally opposing the intake of refugees, their malicious voices were doused by considerably large contingents of the liberal members of the society, the #refugeeswelcome movement filled in the entire Trafalgar square with equal spontaneity as it did in the social media. Whilst Western Europe is still ignorant on other refugees waiting for months, even years, in the camps in Calais, the aids extended to the Syrian refugees will certainly provide more impetus on other countries around the world. Despite being in a much weaker economic situation, a parallel could be observed in the subcontinent during past few decades, where the Bengali society in the Indian part of Bengal has long been supporting all the refugees coming from eastern part presently known as Bangladesh. As I witnessed throughout my life, despite the cultural dissimilarities, the members of the society created a space common to all, making everyone equally welcome.
So, what will happen to the millions of refugees, uprooting themselves from the land of their origin, setting off to a far-flung place? Will our ever-expanding horizon of knowledge and humanity eradicate the utterly unfair marginalisation of the unfortunate refugees? Will the precursors to the forced human movement across the globe be eliminated, so the existential migration become an antiquated phenomenon? Part of the answer is held in history. Looking back in history, it paints the most optimistic picture of the crisis. History is the greatest leveller. In essence, it proved the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest, whilst creating a human race superior to the previous generations. The human race, since time immemorial, has fought many battles for survival and it became stronger with every conquest. Old civilizations perish away whilst the new ones flourish. The melting pot of the Syrian refugee crisis — the Middle-East, has once been the prosperous place where the entire western and Indic population originated from – Assyria, Persia, Mesopotamia, Sumer – these places have been decimated to rubbles. The past glory of Roman and Greek empire faded away over thousands of years. Now, Greece is a state asking for handouts from the IMF whilst Italy is not far behind. On the other hand, the rise of the East in the recent past was phenomenal, after a long hiatus. And during all these periods, human civilisation never stalled, and it survived. There is already a tendency for the skilled workforce to be emigrating to the East from the western world, contrary to the trend observed previously. Although this is not overwhelming, the movement is palpable. As for the refugees, who are forced to migrate influenced by other determinants, the biggest obstacle amongst their way is religion and illiteracy. And the lack of wealth. Even in the 21st century, we are divided as we have been 2000 years ago. Unless the UN plays a big part in bringing all countries under one umbrella and have a holistic plan on how to tackle the problems globally, the situation will take a long time to stabilise. The UN motion in recent past to eradicate ISIL was a landmark step forward to reinstate some balance and equilibrium in the Middle-East and North Africa, the source of the biggest refugee crisis. The answer lies with us, the rest of the world. If we play a role of mere spectators, this will take decades if not centuries to stabilise and elevate the living standards of millions of refugees. Those who survived the perilous passage to a safe abode, their life has just begun after passing through the numerous barbed wire fences we call borders, overcoming the threats of sea, deserts and mountains. Their new life perhaps consists of a suitcase full of clothes and a heart full of hope — hope to make a new beginning.
Human migration is a tour de force, an unavoidable phenomenon. This is how the world is shaped to the world we live in — a connected entity from pockets of civilisations sprouting at different corners of the earth since prehistoric times. Migration has taught us to be resilient against all adversities — natural or human. It taught us to be adaptive, to innovate and evolve. We pushed our boundaries with every voyage made, every new land found, every civilisation formed. Remembering a documentary about the Sentinelese people, bolstered the fact that if the first humans did not migrate, we would still be living in Stone Age— being hunter-gatherers. Not blinkered by countries or religions – these tales of eternal explorative nature of the human race makes us proud of our lineage. Although the persecutions suffered by the refugees are inhuman, their stories are not short of a modern-day version of the fairy tales, exemplifying their grit and sacrifice, their courage under fire. As much as their sufferings make us angry, and helpless, their tales rekindle our hope on humanity. It reinforced a belief that the humans will progress, eradicating all evils. Like Huns or Nazis, ISIL will be history, intolerance will be history, boundaries will be history, as will our language and religion — following the path of human development. We will not witness any more lifeless Aylan Kurdi’s floating ashore. This fills us with hope for a better tomorrow, for we are the perpetual nomads. We can stand together for the refugees, as we are the migrants ourselves. Ignoring this would be tantamount to abnegating our human existence.
Post Script: If one ever wonders how they could support refugees in their locality or remotely, the options are limitless. Perhaps the short list below would provide some ideas on how they can be helped and showed solidarity and compassion.
They need essential supplies – food, clothes, sanitation. Send money or buy items they require.
Preferably use charities or non-profit organisations for sending money, and GiftAid it to make the contributions bigger.
Send used clothes through charities.
If possible, do volunteering work in shelters.
Donate books for children, and toys.
Share the spare room to house a refugee until they are offered asylum.
Sign petitions for the governments to act on them and spread awareness on social media.
The last but not the least, if you cannot do any of the above, at least show solidarity towards the refugees as fellow human beings. They might not be aware of cultures and custom of your country yet, and with the trauma of being uprooted, it takes a long time to acclimatise. Be courteous to them at social surroundings when you come across the refugees, and be patient. A smile can make a massive difference in how welcome they feel to your society.
ছোটবেলার কথা মনে পড়লে খেলাধুলোর কথা যখন ভাবি প্রথমে ফুটবলের কথাই মনে আসে। আটের দশকে কলকাতা ফুটবলের রমরমা তখনো জারি। খবরের কাগজ, রেডিয়ো খুললেই ফুটবলের আলোচনা, রিলে ছাড়া কথা নেই। কৃশানু বিকাশ শিশির সুব্রত ছাড়াও নতুন আমদানি চিমা, তাছাড়া বারপুজো, দলবদল এসব নিয়েই বাজার গরম। ক্রিকেটের সাথে তখনো তেমন পরিচয় হয়নি, যদিও ভারত ততদিনে বিশ্ব চ্যাম্পিয়ন হয়ে গেছে। কখনো সখনও ব্যাটবল খেলা (জানতাম না সেটাকেই ক্রিকেট বলে) আর গাভাসকর কপিলদেব অমরনাথ এইকটা নাম, এগুলোই ছিল ক্রিকেটজ্ঞান। এছাড়া ইডেনে খেলা পড়লে কলকাতা ক’য়ে রিলে “রান হয়ে গেছে নয় নয় করে…” বা “বল পাঠিয়ে দিলেন পত্রপাঠ সীমানার বাইরে” বাক্যগুলো প্রায় মুখস্ত হয়ে গেছে। তবে আর একটা ব্যাপার জানতাম যা ছাড়া তখন ক্রিকেট ভাবা যেতো না সেটা হল ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ।
এখন মনস্তাত্বিকরা মনে করে যে আমাদের ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজকে ভাল লাগার পেছনে জুড়ে আছে ঔপনিবেশিক সত্তা, সাদা চামড়ার দেশগুলোর ওপর ক্যারিবিয়ান দ্বীপপুঞ্জের কালো মানুষদের একচ্ছত্র আধিপত্য দেখে নিজেদের ঔপনিবেশিক বঞ্চনার পরোক্ষ বদলা মনে করা। আমার ঐ বয়সে অত গুরুগম্ভীর ভাবনাচিন্তা করার বিষয় সেটা ছিলনা, ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজের তখনকার লাইনআপ আর ফর্ম দেখেই মনে সম্ভ্রম জাগা স্বাভাবিক। ইনিংস শুরু করছে গর্ডন গ্রিনিজ আর ডেসমন্ড হেনস, ওপেনিং জুটিতে যাদের রেকর্ড অবসরের বহুদিন পরেও অটুট ছিল। তারপরে চার নম্বরে আইজ্যাক ভিভিয়ান আলেকজান্ডার রিচার্ডস, চুয়িং দাম চিবুতে চিবুতে একমুখ হাসি নিয়ে বিপক্ষের বোলিংকে তছনছ করে দিতে খুব কম ব্যাটসম্যানই পেরেছে সমগ্র ক্রিকেটের ইতিহাসে। ছিল গাস লোগির মত জাঁদরেল ফিল্ডার আর সবার ওপরে ছিল এক খতরনাক পেস ব্যাটারী, অ্যামব্রোস, মার্শাল, ওয়ালশ যারা গার্নার, হোল্ডিংয়ের বিখ্যাত (বা কুখ্যাত) ক্যারিবিয়ান ফাস্ট বোলিংয়ের পরম্পরা সার্থকভাবেই বজায় রেখেছিল। ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজের খেলা মানেই ছিল একটা কী হয় কী হয় ভাব, আজ কে অন্য টিমকে দুরমুশ করবে সেটা জানার অপেক্ষা।
এই সময়ের ঠিক পর পরই ক্রিকেটের ক্ষমতার কেন্দ্রটা বদলানো শুরু হয়ে গেল। একদিকে আবির্ভাব হল ক্রিকেটের রাজপুত্র ব্রায়ান চার্লস লারার, অন্যদিকে সব বাঘা বাঘা খেলোয়াড়দের অবসরের সময় ঘনিয়ে এল, গ্রিনিজ, হেনস, রিচার্ডস, মার্শাল একে একে সবাই বিদায় নিল নব্বইয়ের দশকে। ক্যারিবিয়ান ক্যালিপ্সো ক্রিকেটকে এগিয়ে নিয়ে যাবার দায় বর্তাল তরুণ লারা, রিচি রিচার্ডসন, হুপার ওয়ালশদের হাতে। ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ তখনো এক শক্তিশালী দল, লারা একাই বহু ম্যাচ জিতিয়ে গেছে, কিন্তু তারা সেই দুর্বার দল নয়, বরং অ্যালান বর্ডারের অসিরা উঠে এসেছে পয়লা নম্বরে যেই আধিপত্য চলবে স্টিভ ওয়া, রিকি পন্টিংয়ের হাত ঘুরে প্রায় বিশ বছর জুড়ে।
ক্রিকেটে অস্ট্রেলিয়ার ক্ষমতা দখল ছাড়াও আরো বেশ কিছু ঘটনা সেই একই সময়কালে ঘটছিল যা শুধু ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ না, গোটা বিশ্ব ক্রিকেটকেই চিরতরে বদলে দিয়েছিল। সত্তরের কেরী প্যাকার সিরিজ দিয়ে যে একদিনের ক্রিকেটের শুরু, নব্বইয়ের দশকে টেস্ট ক্রিকেটের থেকে মনোরঞ্জনের তালিকায় বিজয়ীর স্থানে চলে এসেছে সেই ওয়ান ডে। সমগ্র বিশ্বে সেই সময়ে যে সামাজিক-অর্থনৈতিক পরিবর্তন ঘটছিল যেমন সোভিয়েত জমানার পতন, দুই জার্মানির পুনর্যুক্তি, ভারতের অর্থনৈতিক উদারীকরণ, এবং এই বদলগুলোর সাথে বিশ্ব অর্থনীতির প্রসার সাধারন মানুষের জীবনেও এক স্থায়ী প্রভাব ফেলেছিল। ফলে পাঁচ দিন ধরে সারাদিন ক্রিকেট দেখা বা রিলে শোনার মত সময় আর ধৈর্য্য কোনটাই খেটে খাওয়া মানুষের ছিলনা, যেখানে একদিনের ক্রিকেটের মত স্বল্পস্থায়ী বিনোদন বর্তমান। ফলে আস্তে আস্তে যোগ হতে লাগল রঙিন পোশাক, দিন-রাতের ম্যাচ ইত্যাদি। ব্যবসায় একটা কথা খুব প্রচলিত যে ক্রেতাই ঈশ্বর, যা ক্রিকেটে হল দর্শক, তাই যে পরিবর্তনগুলো আসছিল সবই ক্রিকেটকে আরো জনপ্রিয় করে তোলার জন্য দর্শকদের কাছে।
এই আমূল পরিবর্তনের সময়ে যেমন দক্ষিণ আফ্রিকা উঠে এসেছে প্রথম সারিতে, ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ সেই সময়ে পিছলে যাচ্ছিল প্রধান থেকে সাধারন থেকে নিম্নমানের দলে। বদলে যাওয়া সময়ের সাথে নিজেদের বদলাবার জায়গায় খেলোয়াড় কর্মকর্তা সবাই জড়িয়ে পড়ল অন্তর্কলহে। যদিও জানতাম যে ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ আসলে ক্যারিবিয়ান সাগরে ছড়িয়ে থাকা অসংখ্য দ্বীপরাষ্ট্রের এক যৌথ দল, এটা জানতাম না যে উত্তরে জামাইকা থেকে দক্ষিণে গায়ানা অবধি দ্বীপগুলোর বিস্তৃতি দু-তিন হাজার কিলোমিটার। ভৌগোলিক এই বিশাল ব্যবধান বিচার করলে এটাই পরম আশ্চর্যের যে বিগত চার-পাঁচ দশক ধরে বিশ্ব ক্রিকেটের আঙিনায় এদের আধিপত্যের কী ব্যাখ্যা? প্র্যাকটিস করত কীভাবে, টিম সিলেকশন হত কীভাবে? ক্যারিবিয়ান দেশগুলির অর্থনীতি তেমন সবল নয়, পর্যটন ছাড়া মূল আয় প্রধানত কৃষিকাজ, সেখানে ক্রিকেট টিম স্থাপন আর চালানো এই বিশাল কর্মকান্ডের দায় কীভাবে বিভিন্ন দেশগুলো ভাগাভাগি করে নিত সেটা ভাবলেই অবাক লাগে। এই পরিকাঠামো বিচার করলে ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ দলে যে অন্তর্দ্বন্ধ দেখা দিয়েছিল নয়ের দশকে, সেটা একসময় দেখা দিতই, দলের ফর্ম পড়ে যাওয়া এই বিবাদকে শুধু চাগিয়ে দিয়েছিল।
নয়ের দশকে যে অবক্ষয়ের শুরু, নতুন মিলেনিয়ামে সেই চিড় ফাটলের আকার নিল। এই সময়ের ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ পরিনত হয়েছিল হাতে গোনা কিছু প্রতিভাবান খেলোয়াড় সমৃদ্ধ এক অতি সাধারন দলে। চন্দ্রপল, সারওয়ান, ক্রিস গেইল ছাড়াও ছিল পড়তি সময়ের লারা। একুশ শতকের প্রথম দশ বছরে নতুন আমদানি হল ২০-২০ ক্রিকেট আর ক্লাবভিত্তিক আন্তর্জাতিক খেলা যেমন T20 বিশ্বকাপ, আইপিএল, সুপার কাপ ইত্যাদি। টেস্ট ক্রিকেটের গরিমা হয়তো ক্ষুন্ন হয়নি কিন্তু সাধারন দর্শকদের কাছে এ ছিল আরো একটা সহজলভ্য বিনোদন, তিন ঘন্টায় খেল খতম, আর বেশীরভাগ খেলাই দিন-রাতের তাই কাজেও তেমন ফাঁকি পড়বেনা। এই সময়ের ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ ক্রিকেট লক্ষ্য করলে দেখা যাবে খেলোয়াড়দের বিবাদ, একজন স্থায়ী ক্যাপ্টেনের খামতি, ক্রিকেট বোর্ডের খেলোয়াড়দের মাইনে দিতে অস্বীকার এবং তার ফলস্বরূপ বেশ কিছু প্লেয়ারদের ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজের হয়ে না খেলে ক্লাব দলের হয়ে খেলা।
শেষের কারণটা ক্রিকেটের পক্ষে চরম দুর্ভাগ্যের। নতুন শতকে ক্রিকেটের এই দশা সমগ্র বিশ্বজুড়ে বিশেষ করে ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ জিম্বাবয়ে এই দেশগুলোর, যেখানে আর্থিক অনটন আর বৈষম্য অত্যন্ত প্রকট। এই দশ বছরে আইসিসি পর্যবসিত হয়েছিল রেভিনিউ কামানোর ইঁদুরদৌড়ে সামিল এক ব্যবসায়িক প্রতিষ্ঠানে। অর্থের প্রয়োজন অনস্বীকার্য কিন্তু বোর্ড নিজেদের অস্তিত্বের মূল কারন যা হল বিশ্বজুড়ে ক্রিকেটের প্রসার এবং খেলার মান আর উৎকর্ষতা বাড়ানো- সেটা সম্বন্ধে বিন্দুমাত্র ভ্রুক্ষেপ না করে কেবল উপার্জনের ওপর সব গুরুত্ব দিয়েছিল। সংস্থার দখল চলে গেল ক্রিকেটারদের থেকে ব্যবসায়ীদের হাতে। ফলে শুরু হয় বিস্তর কারচুপি, বিসিসিআই এর মত শক্তিশালী বোর্ডগুলোর নিজেদের সুবিধামত পেশী আস্ফালন, খেলার নিয়মকানুনের বদল যার উদ্দেশ্য খেলার মান বাড়ান নয় বরং আমানতকারী ব্যবসায়িক প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলির বানিজ্যিক উদ্দেশ্য চরিতার্থ করা। নব্বইয়ের সময়ে ওয়ান ডে খেলার রমরমা দেখে যারা কু গেয়েছিল যে আইসিসি ক্রিকেটকে বেসবলে পরিনত করার চেষ্টা করছে, আজকের ২০-২০ ক্রিকেটের বাড়তি দেখে হয় তাঁরা মুচকি হাসছেন নাহয় জিভের তলায় সরবিট্রেট রাখছেন। ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজের নতুন শতকের এই সমীকরণে সফল হওয়া নিতান্তই অসম্ভব হয়ে পড়ল, বিশেষ করে যখন আয়োজক মাঠের আয়ের অধিকাংশই যাবে আইসিসির কোষে। ক্যারিবিয়ান দ্বীপপুঞ্জের দেশগুলির মধ্যে একমাত্র জামাইকা ছাড়া অর্থনৈতিক সচ্ছলতা আর কারওই তেমন নেই তাই ক্রিকেট বোর্ডগুলোর মধ্যে বিবাদ-মতানৈক্য এসবের মূলে যে টাকাপয়সা জড়িয়ে, তা সন্দেহের ঊর্দ্ধে। ক্রিকেটের উৎকর্ষ বৃদ্ধির যূপকাষ্ঠে বলি হল ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ জিম্বাবয়ে এই দলগুলো যাদের শুধু খেলায় অংশগ্রহন করতেই অশেষ প্রতিকুলতার মোকাবিলা করতে হয়। আজকের দিনে এরা নিছকই কোল্যাটেরাল ড্যামেজ।
বিগত দশ বছরে ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ ক্রিকেটের অধোগতির জন্য যে খেলোয়াড়দের দায়ী করা যায় তা নয়। হয়তো আশির দশকের বুক কাঁপানো ড্রিম টিম নয় কিন্তু এখনকার টিমে যে প্রতিভার ঘাটতি আছে তা নয়, যেটা অনুপস্থিত তা হল আত্মবিশ্বাস আর দলীয় সংহতি। তাছাড়া টিম এখন পুরোপুরি ক্রিস গেইল ভিত্তিক, গেইল ব্যর্থ তবু ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ প্রথম সারির দলগুলোর সাথে জিতেছে সেই ঘটনা বিরল। একটা দলকে সঠিক পথে চালান করার জন্য শুধু পনের জনের একটা টিমই যথেষ্ট না আজকের দিনে। টিম ম্যানেজমেন্টও সমান গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ফিজিও কোচ থেকে শুরু করে অ্যানালিস্টরা পর্যন্ত, সেটা যদি বোর্ড সুষ্ঠুভাবে না চালাতে পারে তবে দলের সাফল্যে তার প্রভাব পড়বেই।
এ তো গেল তত্বের কচকচি যা হয়তো উইকি ঘাঁটলেই পাওয়া যাবে। কিন্তু তার বাইরে আমার একটা যুক্তি আছে ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ ক্রিকেটের আজকের দুর্দশার পেছনে, খুব বিজ্ঞানসম্মত নয় তবু বলার প্রয়োজন মনে করলাম। সমগ্র ক্যারিবিয়ান দ্বীপপুঞ্জ হল খুশী মানুষের দেশ, এখানে হাওয়ায় ছড়িয়ে আছে ক্যালিপ্সো, সোকা, রেগে। পেটে টান থাকলেও এখানে ঘাটতি নেই সুর্যের আলোর, নেই সোনালী বালির সমুদ্রতটের। এই পরিবেশে ক্রিকেট খেলাটা ছিল স্বাভাবিক জীবনযাত্রার এক অবিচ্ছেদ্য অঙ্গ। এভাবেই ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ পেয়েছে সোবার্স, লয়েড, রিচার্ডস, লারাদের – এদের ক্রিকেট জুড়ে রয়েছে বাতাসে ভেসে বেড়ানো সেই ক্যালিপ্সোর ছন্দ। এই আবহাওয়ায় বড় হয়ে যখন খেলোয়াড়রা আন্তর্জাতিক ক্রিকেটের দৃঢ় সত্যের সামনে দাঁড়ায় আর বাধ্য হয় তার সাথে নিজেকে মানিয়ে নেবার, তার ফল হয় অত্যন্ত হতাশাজনক। মানুষ বদলে তৈরী হয় রোবোট, তার ভেতর থেকে সব ছন্দ যায় হারিয়ে। ঠিক যেমনটা হয়েছে ব্রাজিলের ফুটবলে, তারা এখন ইউরোপীয় ফুটবলের সিস্টেমের বশ, এদের মধ্যে সাম্বার কোন চিহ্ন অবশিষ্ট নেই। আর ঠিক তেমনভাবেই হারিয়ে গেছে ক্যালিপ্সো ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ ক্রিকেট থেকে, যদি টাকার পেছনেই ছুটতে হয় তবে তো আছেই বেসবল, বাস্কেটবল আমেরিকায় খেলার হাতছানি। সেখানে নেই সেই চোখ ধাঁধানো রোদ্দুর, সোনালী বীচ বা ঢেউয়ের গর্জন, রেগের ঢিমেতাল লয় বদলে যায় চিয়ারলিডারদের উদ্দাম টিনসেলের ঝলকানিতে, যেটা যদিও এখন জায়গা করে নিয়েছে ক্রিকেট মাঠেও।
তবে সময়ের সাথে বদলায় সব কিছুই, অতীতকে আঁকড়ে ধরে সামনে এগিয়ে চলা যায়না। ধ্রুপদী ক্রিকেটের স্থান এক সময় মানুষের কাছে ছিল, আজ সেটা বিরল। পৃথিবীতে কোন খেলাই আজ কেবলমাত্র ভাল লাগার জন্য খেলা হয় না, কেউই আর অ্যামেচার নয়, খেলার সাথে জুড়ে গেছে আর্থিক সামাজিক বানিজ্যিক রাজনৈতিক স্বার্থ। অতীতের চোখ দিয়ে বর্তমান আর ভবিষ্যতকে দেখতে গেলে হতাশা তো হবেই। পেশাদারিত্বের এই যুগে যেখানে এসেছে আরো অনেক প্রযুক্তি, সেখানে খেলার বা প্রতিযোগীতার গুণগত মান অনেক উঁচু হয়েছে খেলোয়াড়দের নিজস্বতার বিসর্জনে, আর খেলার আঙিনা এখন টিঁকে থাকার লড়াইয়ের যুদ্ধক্ষেত্র। এ যেন লামার্কের প্রতিপাদ্যের নির্মম উদাহরণ – হয় অভিযোজন নয় বিস্মৃতির অতলে তলিয়ে যাওয়া।
ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ ক্রিকেট পুরনো সেই সোনালী যুগের পুনরাবৃত্তি করতে পারে কিনা সেটা একমাত্র সময়ই বলতে পারবে। কিন্তু সেই ষাট থেকে আশির দশকের দুর্বার দিনগুলোর সাক্ষী হয়ে থাকবে উইজডেন, আর কিছু ধুলিধুসরিত স্মৃতি যারা সেই সময়কে প্রত্যক্ষ করেছিল, আর সেইসব প্রত্যক্ষদর্শীদের স্মৃতিচারণায়। তাদের মহাকাব্যিক বিবরণে তখনও দাপিয়ে বেড়াবে সোবার্স গার্নার মার্শাল রিচার্ডস লারারা, যদিওবা হয়তো সেই সময় ওয়েস্ট ইন্ডিজ ক্রিকেট থাকবে সেই আগুনে বছরগুলি থেকে এক আলোকবর্ষ বিপ্রতীপে।