Issue: 2017-12-29 | The Daily Star
Consider making a mountain out of a molehill is art
Consider art is not something, but nothing
Consider this mild, foreign scent is art
Consider this speling mistake is art
Consider not having an issue is art
Consider not appearing as a protest is art
Consider what happens now that it is broken? is art
Ghosts of News Past
Cover: E R Ronny

Propping up a hood against a mild December chill, a lone figure strides forward along the train platform. To his left stands an awning which houses a metal bench, the steel wrapped in torn blue plastic and bears the markings of a structure that has been newly constructed but already shows signs of heavy use. Feet weary and mind addled by wandering thoughts, our lonely protagonist sits on the bench and looks out over the deserted platform.

With no immediate calling and no charge left on his phone, he is left pondering the circumstances that now leave him at a train station, with tracks that lead to nowhere discernible. He's a distinguished reporter for a reputed entertainment news portal, with many an exposé and a steady string of juicy celebrity gossip to his name. He's a slick talker—as smooth as they get—regularly rubbing shoulders with social elites and power figures. But this is not an ordinary night for him; far from home and with no dignified way of getting there, he's forced to contemplate using other means of transportation.

Glancing down, he notices a coating of mud on his Oxfords. As he tries to dislodge the caked mud, he notices a tattered news clipping on the ground—“Apu Biswas finally accepted by Sakib Khan”. He picks up the fraying piece of paper, but as he does, the words shift and blend right in front of his eyes, before finally settling down into “Gaibandha MP shot dead at home”. The hair on his arms stand on end as a shiver runs down his spine. Glancing around the deserted platform for a split second and wondering if he's going insane, he reads on. “Four men stormed the MP's home in Bamondanga area around 6 pm and shot him… a group of locals set fire to the home of a Jamaat leader Abdul Gaffar at Sundarganj municipality… Talking to The Daily Star, MP Azad said MP Liton was always vocal against Jamaat leaders.” His eyes wander to the date—January 1, 2017. Oh. It's a year-old news report. Not to mention boring. Why do these newspapers even bother with that stuff anymore?

Uninterested, he drops the news clipping, which clings to his leg as a gust of wind buffets against the side of the bench.

Ghosts of News Past
Illustration: Rafiuzzaman Rhythom

Above the soft rustling of leaves in the wind, he hears a faint shriek. A dog howls somewhere in the distance, but the shrill noise builds into a towering crescendo as our nameless protagonist stands, reflexively taking a few steps back from what he perceives to be the source of the shriek. The sky seems to grow dark with storm clouds, the air somehow feels thicker all around him, and his eyes struggle to make out the shape of a figure in the distance as it moves across the platform. Draped in a billowy garment with some sort of illegible writing on it, the figure walks… no, floats towards him, face contorted into a terrifying O.

What is that thing?

Drenched in a perceptible layer of sweat, he turns and starts running away from the monstrous vision. Glancing over his shoulder as he pants and stumbles forward, he sees the being unravel, parts of it tearing after him in pursuit with terrifying speed. His heart thumps in his chest as the scraps chasing him come into focus and he's able to make out the words.

“Living costs rise 6.47 percent!”

“Year of decline in terrorism and radicalism, operations against militant groups ongoing”

“Banking sector in turmoil as Chittagong-based S Alam Group assumed charge of Islami Bank as part of the bank's 'de-Jamaatisation'”

“Devastation in the wake of floods”

“Seven-murder case convicts including RAB personnel condemned to death in hearing”

“Child marriage allowed under special circumstances”

“Hefazat allegedly demanded national curriculum textbook changes”

“Work starts on coal-fired Rampal Power Plant in the Sundarbans”

“Cases of enforced disappearances continue to dominate”

Confused, scared and out of breath, he keeps running, charging through the scraps of paper and disentangling himself from the newspaper clippings that keep trying to pull at his limbs. The terrible shriek follows, growing louder and louder as its source seems to draw nearer. He grits his teeth and powers forward. The rail tracks to his right seem to come alive in front of his blurred vision as he runs alongside, metal screeching and twisting into grotesque shapes ahead of him, joining the rest of his hellish nightmare in an effort to prevent his escape. Still running, still hoping that this is just a nightmare, he shuts his eyes in the frantic hope that it's all a dream.

When he opens his eyes again, he's back at the bench, awaking from a fitful sleep. He must have dozed off, he says to himself. He's had trouble sleeping properly, but that dream was stranger than usual. Looking to his right, he sees the inter-city train pulling into the station, and he breathes a sigh of relief. Finally.

His compartment is nearly empty, save for a small child selling peanuts, another with a stack of newspapers slung over her shoulder, and an elderly man at a corner window seat. He settles into his own window seat, barely containing his distaste at the betel leaf stains on the floor of the train and the scribbled numbers on the backs of the seats.

With nothing else to do for the half-hour journey ahead, he decides buying a newspaper might be a good idea.

“Country of the Year: Bangladesh was seriously considered by The Economist. Had it not crushed civil liberties and allowed Islamists free rein to intimidate, it might have won.”

As usual, the cover pages contained only what he considered serious drivel for people who want to be miserable. At least they had decent feature sections that he could at least browse. Peeling off the cover pages, he chucks them out the window and dives into the entertainment section as the train picks up speed. Good. He'll be close to home by the time he's done catching up on what his peers in print media think amounts to “entertainment”.

He nearly jumps out of his seat in shock when a shrill noise breaks the monotony of the train's chug-chug. He frantically looks around him for signs of a papered ghost, but then realises he's in a train, and that the sound was a horn at the crossing. His beating heart nearly jumps to his mouth as he sits back down and looks out the window—the ground seeming to fall away from the train as it launches itself into the air. The other passengers seem to have vanished into thin air, leaving him alone as the train flies along on invisible tracks in the air.

What the hell is going on? He runs towards the front of the compartment, screaming, as the windows slam shut and turn into newspapers, headlines floating out of them in big black fonts.

“600,000 Rohingya refugees flee to Bangladesh!”

“Highest number of migrant deaths this year”

“Chief Justice Sinha forced to resign from abroad”

“Corruption!”

“Rape!”

“Murder!”

Why is this happening to him? Is this real or is he having another nightmare? He runs through to the next compartment, which seems to be made entirely out of newsprint, with ugly Titillium and Helvetica fonts, images of distraught refugees and families of rape victims, and numbers that put misery and despair into context. Frantically, he runs to one of the exits, only to find it shut. He tries the lever to open the door, but curses under his breath to find it won't budge.

A blood curdling scream makes him turn around and immediately fall back. As he slumps against the door, the nightmarish creature from his earlier dream bears down on him, that terrifying O-face inching closer and closer to him. He screams out in fear, and again asks, “Why me?”

“Why not you?” the creature howls at him. “What makes you so special? What gives you the right? To be so naïve, so innocent? To think that nothing bad will ever happen to you? Why do YOU get to get away? “

As it towers over the hapless reporter, the creature seems to fill the entire compartment. Cowering in fear and shame, the last strength of our protagonist ebbs away and he blacks out.

When he comes around, he finds himself slumped on his desk, drool hanging out of the corner of his mouth. His head feels like it's made of lead and it takes all of his energy to keep his eyes open.

The graphics guy stands over him, holding a broadsheet printout, staring at him quizzically.

“You all right? You look like you just woke up from a crazy nightmare. Pretty sure you were muttering in your sleep as well.”

“I'm fine,” he replies. “Is that the second edition?”

“Yeah. Made the changes you requested before you took your little nap. Sign off once you're done proofing?”

“Yeah.”

Left feeling groggy and a little bewildered, he scans the page.

“Entertainment reporter admitted to mental health institution after breakdown inside moving train.”

Shaer Reaz is in-charge of Shift, the automotive publication of The Daily Star. 

Back in school, my friends and I had no access to the internet. This was due to our parents' steadfast belief that the internet was the root of all evil in this world. Satan isn't some horned, red dude—he's actually in our computers. This iron rule forced us to write all of our assignments on our own. We did our research in the school library, like the good kids that we were. Days were spent reading encyclopaedias, and nights writing 1,000 words on A4 papers by hand.

Once we discovered the internet, though, life became much easier. I don't think I know anyone who's written even one completely original term paper in their four years of university. If nothing else, they copied from Wikipedia. However, due to some recent incidents considering plagiarism, I have decided to dig deeper into this heinous act. Why do we do it?

Most of us undergraduate students spend the better part of our days scrolling through our news feeds, ironically reacting to nihilistic memes. We're usually given more than enough time to write term papers or make presentations. How do we utilise those two weeks we get before the submission of a 3,000-word report? That's right, we post whiny statuses about how terrible life is, and how unfair it is that we're actually having to work hard in order to get a respectable grade.

That is the number one reason plagiarism is so useful. It's really very handy for us lazy kids to just copy things. I mean, chances are, the person we're copying from has copied from someone else themselves. Originality has no value in this world. Might as well take the easy way out.

Now let us consider a student who genuinely wants to write an original paper. He wants to conduct the necessary research, test his hypothesis and come up with a definitive conclusion. If only it was that easy. In the three years that I have spent in the apparently best school of the country, I have received next to zero opportunities to conduct any meaningful research. Most teachers prefer setting assignments that are extremely uninteresting, and easily available on the internet, instead of original topics relevant to the Bangladeshi context. Why wouldn't students copy from these highly convenient sources?

Even if someone chooses to ignore the internet and carry out the research anyway, who will provide them with the necessary resources? Research requires a lot of logistical support. I once tried to do a survey on the earnings of tong dokans in and around my university, and it turned out to be an absolute disaster, mostly because we were unclear about what exactly our teacher asked for. Students are not expert researchers; they need guidance every step of the way.

Let us suppose, in a perfect world, people end up writing 3,000 completely original, never-seen-before words after finishing the research. But here, the teachers never read those papers. No one ever reads those papers, except that one junior who will ask you for the finished assignment a year later, so that s/he can copy it. Maybe, if the teachers read and gave regular feedback on the papers their students work on, they would have some incentive to not plagiarise.

Trust me, I would put more effort into my term papers than I do into maintaining my Instagram feed if there was any chance of me receiving some recognition for it. Foreign universities publish their students' research work in journals if they're good enough. Here, it'll end up in random print shops. A teacher once told me that she doesn't feel like writing local business case studies because she knows that her paper will show up in Nilkhet the day after it's published, ready for use by anyone and everyone.

Let me end this rant with a true story: a professor assigned 200-page term papers. The deadline? A week. Knowing that he would never read the 200 or so papers, every single student collected the assignments done by the previous batch, and submitted them, almost entirely word-for-word. I hear they even had an Excel sheet to keep track of who was stealing whose assignment.

Plagiarism is really quite addictive. You get away with it once, and you keep wanting to do it. Unless our teachers manage to reward us for originality and the effort it requires, there's no getting rid of our old friends: ctrl+c, ctrl+v.

Snitch eats two shingaras a day to escape the harsh realities of life. 

He was grinning from ear to ear as I headed towards him, his deep-set eyes beaming with joy. All of a sudden, that look of love vanished. He had spotted the man walking beside me, my “bestie”, laughing deliriously over some awful joke I'd just cracked. The look in his eyes changed into a glare, full of jealousy, full of hate.

We often encounter such glares in public places—they are not all the same, mind you. Neither do they all bear the same meaning. We could roughly categorise these glances as such:

Suspicious glares

It was 10:30 pm when I bid farewell to my colleague who dropped me home. As I was entering the building, I was welcomed by the suspicious glare of my neighbour aunty: “Are you new in this building?” she asked. “Yes”, I replied, trying to walk away, but her huge structure came between me and the lift. “Who else is in your house?” she questioned. “My parents and my brother”, I said trying hard to squeeze myself through her side to get into the lift and end the discussion there. “Where are you coming from?” she inquired. I told her that I am a journalist and I work till 10 pm.

But I am sure my answer did not make much difference to her. She insisted that no office in this country runs till 10 pm or later and kept on glaring at me suspiciously as if I was doing something which her generation considers “not nice”. I wasted 10 minutes trying to explain, but finally gave up.

Curious glares

At home that night, and every other night, whenever my Messenger ticks, I see three curious glares coming my way—the three other people in my house are “very interested to know” who I am talking to or messaging with a “sweet smile” on my lips. These curious glares usually come from them because they love to think that I am seeing someone, or that the “unknown person” I am talking to could be a “prospective boyfriend”—and a “prospective groom” in the long run. Alas! It usually turns out to be a random joke from my best friend.

Arrogant glares

The next morning, when I head out for work, I know the rickshaw-puller will give me a “glare of arrogance”. I would keep requesting one after the other to take me to a certain location, and they would all look at me with pity and say “no” as coldly as possible. They won't just stop there; they'd proceed to park their rickshaw, light a biri, and watch me struggle with others. Even if, by some miracle, they agree to go, they won't agree to the fare, thereby ensuring that I am late for work. The same applies to bus drivers when they leave me behind citing “Mohila seat nai” and CNG-pullers who demand three times the fare. Part of life, you see!

Disgusting glares

As I set out for work, I know hundreds of eyes are glaring at me in the most inappropriate of ways, popping out of their sockets, like in those animated cartoons, and gluing onto me, on every inch and crevice of my body, till I vanish from their sight. Sometimes I glare back with anger; and in some cases, it works—but in most cases, it doesn't. In such cases, I try to imagine myself as a celebrity—after all, everyone loves watching what celebrities do. It makes me feel less disgusted. But only sometimes.

Glares of disbelief

As it turns out, I reach work late almost every morning. In most, if not all, cases, my boss reaches the office earlier than I do, only to find my desk empty. Every time I'm late, I have to think of a new excuse. Last time, I told him that the boat I took from Hatirjheel to come to Gulshan had broken down in the middle of the lake, leaving me in the middle of nowhere for almost 30 minutes. Boss, who is always smarter, did not believe my “detailed lie” and looked at me with sheer disbelief. He knows, even though I don't want him to, that I have slept an extra hour. This also happens when I attempt to leave early, citing “some work”. On some occasions though, he smiles, as he knows it's something “very urgent and personal” where he should not interfere.

Sumaiya Zaman is a Sub-editor at The Daily Star.

In October 2016, one particularly astute professor (let's call her VC-aspirant A) received an intel “through reliable sources” that the government would soon appoint a pro-Vice Chancellor at Rajshahi University, where she worked. This was an excellent idea, she thought. After all, how could the second largest public university in the country operate while a post as vital as that of pro-VC remained vacant for years? She then decided to write a letter to the Education Ministry, arguing that time had come for the university to have a woman pro-VC, and that no one could be better suited for the position than her.

The Professor in question collected endorsements from seven persons, whose opinion, she thought, carried significant weight in deciding the second-in-command at one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country. Her endorsers included two ministers and two members of the executive committee of the Awami League.

Since she was vying for a woman pro-VC, she secured support from the president of Rajshahi Mohila Awami League. She did not forget to mention that the president of the local youth wing of the ruling party had backed her. That was also a very important and relevant endorsement. After all, she would work for young students. 

However, all her hard work was in vain; the ministry appointed another candidate as pro-VC, who, supposedly, had the qualification that matters the most—absolute loyalty.

When it comes to absolute loyalty, one particular Vice Chancellor (let's call him, VC B) has set the bar so high that others are struggling to cross it. He left his mark as a hardcore loyal academic when he served at the “youth” wing of the ruling party before ending up becoming the VC. He then created new posts of“special officers” to appoint 12 candidates who are loyal activists of the Chhatra League. “They were the most hard-working activists of Chhatra League; two of them even live in Gopalganj,” he explained.

When asked about whether their appointments might be discriminatory, he remarked, refreshingly truthfully, “There are no general students or job-seekers. Here at J**University, Chhatra League activists are the only claimants of jobs. Being Chhatra League activists is their special qualification.”

His loyalty was repaid generously. His tenure as the VC was extended for another four-year term shortly afterwards.

As a VC, you are inherently a VIP. Like VVIP VC C, you can be filled with such narcissistic self-indulgence that you can make an entire ferry wait for hours for you, even if the health of ailing patients—inside ambulances waiting desperately to get to the other side—deteriorates.

Even when you retire, your entitlement never ceases to end. News has it that a former VC, let's call him D, has refused to vacate the house reserved for VCs—that too months after his seemingly never-ending tenure came to an end.

After having served multiple terms since 2009, he fought—to his failure—to retain his position. During his tenures, he even created new departments to appoint teachers loyal to him, frustrating other loyal contenders who eventually managed to convince the lords that he was not loyal enough. 

Another former VC, named E, was nothing less than superhuman. Whoever he fired was replaced by none other than himself. Last time they counted, he was holding 17 vital posts at the university, becoming the treasurer, dean of three faculties, chairman of eight departments, and director of several bureaus at the same time. Quite a multitasker! And, make no mistake, doing such phenomenal tasks simultaneously required a lot of resources. According to official records, he spent nearly BDT 10 lakh as VC and an additional BDT 2 lakh as the treasurer for “entertainment purposes” during his 165-day stay on campus. He spent money as VC, approved the checks as treasurer, and withdrew the money as himself. When you are loyal enough, interests can never be conflicting.

Speaking of spending and interests that cannot conflict, VC F, of a certain Science and Technology University, outperformed many. He withdrew money against vouchers that did not exist. Under his auspices, officials directly worked on projects (some costing more than BDT 1 core) that he had approved without having published any tender notice.

Furthermore, he never stopped dreaming, of pursuing his passions. For example, he launched a beauty parlour at his house at the campus as an income-generating project. Reporters found him carrying out the challenging but essential job of maintaining serials at the parlour.

Since he was the VC, it was imperative that he looked after nascent loyal activists. He did so by creating a special quota—which he named after his post—for them.

Even then, if you feel that you are not being able to serve your cause actively enough, you can explicitly associate yourself with the ruling party by securing a post in one of its sub-committees, as did four sitting VCs in October this year, hitting a new high even by their standards.

 

ANSWERS:

VC-aspirant A: Mossamat Hasnahena; VC B: Mizanur Rahman, VC of Jagannath University; VC C: SM Imamul Huq, VC of Barisal University; VC D: AAMS Arefin Siddique, former VC of University of Dhaka; VC E: AKM Nurun Nabi, former VC of Rangpur Begum Rokeya University; VC F: Khondoker Nasiruddin, VC of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology

Nazmul Ahasan is a member of the editorial team, The Daily Star.

Do you pride yourself on knowing the in's and out's of Bangladeshi politics? Do you pat yourself on the back for reading all the news headlines on your phone while your colleagues are busy playing Candycrush during those particularly snoozy weekly meetings? Do you take every chance you get to one-up the apathetic boy-next-door on the state of affairs of this ever-so-happening country?

Well then, Star Weekend dares you take part in a contest that has been very unimaginatively titled the “Quote Game”. There are a number of statements and you need to guess the name of the speaker. Consider yourself a “News Guru” if you get more than eight correct. The answers are given at the bottom.

 

"Incidents of forced disappearance are taking place in different ways and many of them are also returning back willingly. Many have been raising voices after every incident of forced disappearance. Why it is happening and where it is taking place? Are such incidents taking place in Bangladesh only?"

 

"Yes, we'll pass the constitutional [16th] amendment in parliament again and we'll do it continuously. Let's see how far the judiciary goes. Will they interfere with people's representatives? We appoint them as judges."

 

"Enforced disappearance is something which we cannot investigate because we don't have the appropriate machineries."

 

"Government is not responsible for primary question paper leak."

 

"But in our country a disease has infected us and the name of that disease is 'myopic politicisation'. This is a virus and unfortunately this has infected our political culture to such a length that many of our policy makers now are hardly able to see or envision a future meant for a nation, not for a person. Due to this rotting disease, they have personified each and everything. For their narrow and parochial party interest they have established a fake and 'pseudo democracy' taking the shameful unfair advantage of our constitution—a constitution written with the blood ink of our martyrs in 1971."

 

"Some partial damage to the environment needed to be accepted and compromised for the sake of the Rohingya refugees."

 

"Farm chickens have infiltrated the Awami League. Local chickens have been cornered by those. Local chickens are needed, not farm chickens. Farm chickens are not good for health."

 

"It's not load shedding, it's load sharing."

 

"Dhaka city will be renamed Zia City if the BNP comes to power."

 

"We are not playing against aliens. We are playing against Australia."

 

"There was no culture of corruption in Bangladesh in the past. Once it used to take place in secret... it was a matter of shame. But now it happens openly."

 

"Development in our country means if BDT 100 is allocated, BDT 40 is utilised and BDT 60 is stolen."

 

"The Anti-Corruption Commission has no friends. It has friends in one sector… they are journalists."

 

"I will not bow down to anyone, and I hope that none of my colleagues will do so."

 

"My request to you all of you is that you will take bribe but take it at a tolerable level."


 

TRUE OR FALSE?

 

Which of these are true? Which one is a trick question? Don't worry, unlike some other settings, these questions weren't leaked beforehand. Answers provided at the bottom of the page.

 

Anisul Islam Mahmud, Water Resources Minister, held rats accountable for the destruction of embankments in the northern areas of Bangladesh that caused massive flash floods.

 

The current chancellor of University of Dhaka, President Abdul Hamid was a student of the Department of International Relations from the batch of 1966.

 

Bangladesh was chosen by The Economist as “Country of the Year”.

 

The Mouchak-Moghbazar flyover was initially made for left-hand-drive cars

 

Actor Apu Biswas said her divorce had become a national issue and as a maternal figure, PM Hasina was best-equipped to settle this.


 
Answers
Quote Game 
1. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina while giving her valedictory speech in the parliament 
2. Finance Minister AMA Muhith as Supreme Court scrapped the constitutional amendment that restored parliament's power to remove apex court judges on
3. Kazi Reazul Huq, Chairman, National Human Rights Commission explained why the commission does not have any information and research on the enforced disappearances grounds of misconduct or incapacity.
4. A K M Jahangir Hossain, Member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Primary and Mass Education, while claiming that neither the government nor the respective committee nor the respective ministry is responsible for leak of the question papers. He said the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education does not prepare question papers of classes one to four.
5. Former Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha on the 16th constitutional amendment case verdict
6. Environment and Forest Minister Anwar Hossain Manju on October 25 after his visit to the Kutupalong Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar's Ukhiya Upazila
7. AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader
8. Nasrul Hamid, State Minister for Power about the ongoing power outages
9. Shamsuzzaman Dudu, BNP Vice Chairman at a discussion at the Jatiya Press Club
10. Bangladesh Test captain Mushfiqur Rahim when asked if it was possible to win the two-match Test series against Australia 
11. Finance Minister AMA Muhith after inaugurating the ACC hotline service in the capital
12. Former Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha at a judicial conference in Tangail 
13. ACC Chairman Iqbal Mahmud
14. Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda
15. Nurul Islam Nahid, Minister of Education, asked the school inspectors to take bribe at a tolerable level and revealed that bribery has become a common practice even among Bangladeshi ministers.

 

True or false Answers

A:            True. He said, “I won't say there won't be any looting [of public money]. We won't be able to stop it... Rats are attracted to these households and create holes on the dams. A small hole in a dam could damage an embankment badly.”

B:            False. He did not meet the academic requirements to sit for the entrance exam. “What a game of the Almighty that I am the chancellor of the university where I could not get admitted! Even I was not given the admission form,” he said during his speech at the 50th convocation of University of Dhaka.

C:            False. Bangladesh was a close contender for its role in taking in the Rohingya refugees, but lost to France because it “crushed civil liberties and allowed Islamists free rein to intimidate”.

D:            True. The design was made by a consultant from the United States. Transport experts point out that the flyover does not have adequate right-turns.

E:            True. Apu Biswas sought the PM's intervention to save her marriage with actor Shakib Khan.

 

Though he thought he had already died, the old poet found himself stumbling around a shady drugstore. Exhausted, as though from a long descent, the poet fell to the curb in a heap.

A scent in the air told him he was back to the City of Crows. But he could not say what year it was. He didn't know how he got there, or where exactly "there" was.

“Gooface”—read a billboard across the alley. A tagline below explained that two social-media giants merged to gave birth to Gooface. In smaller print, it said that the Realm owned Gooface and everything on it. As the old poet tried to make head or tail of these lines, a clicking sound alarmed him.

Unbeknownst to the poet, the billboard had snapped his photo, sent it via Gooface for cross-checking and informed the Realm Protector Battalion (ReProBate).

Soon, two ReProBate officers were seen approaching him cautiously. When they were close enough to see the poet's tattered clothes and defeated jaws, they relaxed. 

“Brown male,” the larger officer called out, “we're ReProBates. How are you today?” he asked in a rehearsed tone.

“Well… my hemorrhoids are acting up, but I don't think you two care much for that kind of a thing…” the poet chuckled. 

The officers suddenly seemed alert.

“Brown male—there is only one acceptable answer to the question 'how are you today?' —and that is 'I am fine. Hope you are too.' Surely, you know this?”

“Yes,” the smaller officer barked, “you can't just take the law into your own hands and make up new answers.” 

“It's the law to be well?”—the poet was surprised.

“It's the law to say one is well. How you are is immaterial.”

“But my hemorrhoids…” the poet began to protest.

“As irrelevant as the moon landings!” the ReProBate officer snapped.

“Listen to us. Our High and Charming King has outlawed all diseases and all reports of it. You may not be ill.”

“But I am a human being—and humans…”

“We can't yet confirm that you're a human,” the smaller officer said, “Do you have a natives' microchip?”

“What?” the poet floundered. “I… I have eyes that see, a mind that thinks and a tongue that speaks… does that not…?”

“Brown male—you have no chip, no Gooface and no respect. That makes you a criminal.”

Seeing the poet's deathly pallor, the bigger man tried to be the bigger man.

“Brown male,” he said, “there are no records of you… strange. How old are you?”

“Last I checked, I was 55 years old.”

Now the officers sighed and looked disappointed.

“What you are, criminal,” the smaller officer hissed, “is a criminal.”

“Everyone knows that only the High King is 55 years old. And no one else! How dare you compare yourself to his majesty?”

“Well…” the poet stammered, “my SSC certificate age is 53 years…”

“Sir—you are clearly lying about your identity. I am afraid you must come face the Gooface Judge.”

***

The ReProBates put the poet in a tiny Pico brand patrol-car. In fact, it was so small that only one person could fit inside. So, the officers activated auto-drive mode, and proceeded to walk alongside the car. The smaller officer complained that their neighbouring nation deliberately made the Pico so tiny.

As they moved along, the City of Crows seemed happening, with glowing Gooface billboards, bonsai trees and digital trashcans. Construction of flyover-flyovers (fly-overs that fly over fly-overs) was on in full swing. “1984: the Action Comedy” was playing in cinemas. On one end of the city, young activists were demanding that—for the sake of Decolonisation—the city be renamed 'City of Krows'. ReProBates were trying to arrest them in the name of a colonial-era law.

As they drove (and walked) down to the outskirts, the poet was engulfed by that familiar, foul smell. Here, shanties lined the narrow road and hundreds of thin, dark figures stomped about in fetid, floodwater pools.

“None of this is real,” the large officer offered promptly, “it's only a preservation of how things were before the High King arose.”

The smaller officer chimed in, “This is a realm-wide, curated exhibit. Only this city is real. You can visit our website greatestrealm.com if you don't believe us.”

The poet didn't feel so inclined. The midsummer breeze was hot and humid, and suddenly he felt drowsy. Watching the officers huff and puff to keep up with the car, he drifted off.

***

When he awoke, the poet found himself in front of a building. The officers escorted him into what seemed like a studio or theatre. They made their way through the dark aisles and took a seat.

There were three characters on a stage—arguing amongst themselves. Soon, the poet realised that the actors were reenacting his own encounter with the officers. The play ended with a ReProBate officer saying, “You must come face the Judge.” And then the lights came on.

The poet squinted his eyes. As his eyes adjusted, he realised he was sitting in a witness stand of sorts. Around him were audience, cameras and screens.

Then a programme host came out on stage.

“Welcome to this episode of Judge,” he began jovially, “brought to you by Gooface.”

A round of applause followed.

“Natives—you've seen this brown male's audacity. In the name of our High and Charming King (HaCK)—launch your 'Judge' app and choose your verdict. Remember: to vote you don't need to know the Law, or anything at all… as long as you can use a dropdown menu.

“Also,” he added, “please give the app a good rating. Go!”

The audience got busy clicking and tapping away on their devices.

“What is this?” The poet demanded, ”what voting? Where is the judge?”

“Tsk… there are no judges anymore,” the host said, air-quoting the second last word. “Human judges are prone to human errors. So, now we crowdsource verdicts, and crowdfund punishments.”

In seven minutes, the poet's fate was sealed. By powers vested by the High King, the audience smilingly handed down a sentence of death by border-crossing.

“What manner of justice is this?” the poet stammered, “I demand to see the High King!”

The entire hall shuddered at the thought.

“Treason!” shouted a ReProBate officer.

“Blasphemy!” cried a young conservative.

“Ignorance,” the scholars shook their heads and murmured to themselves.

But the poet was adamant. “Where is this High King? I will seek justice from him.”

The host scratched his head. Elderly council-men looked baffled.

“Well… the thing is… the fact of the matter—well, the HaCK is not accessible like that.”

“I don't understand—can no one reach the king?”

“Stop talking about our King, criminal…” the smaller ReProBate officer's scream was heard from the gallery. Enraged, the audience began tapping away again, and soon the poet had been sentenced to 21 deaths, and one exile to Pico land.

Finally, an elderly councilman stood up and spoke with composure, “when the HaCK eliminated the meddlesome, old system, and launched his app… city-people were happy. They were told that it was 'progress'. But soon, thousands of ghetto-people from the 'exhibits' began downloading the app, and turning decisions their way. The High King felt compelled to intervene,” the councilman stopped to sigh.

“But digitalisation is hard to reverse. Eventually, in a landmark judgment, the HACK was defeated and sent to the border-crossing to die. In his place, a paid app named 'High King' was launched…”

The host added, “'High King'—brought to you by Gooface…”

“Shut up, brown Seacrest!”—the councilman snapped. “So, you see—all the king's ReProBates couldn't put the HaCK back together again… and that's why you can't meet the High King.”

Some minutes later, a single voice rang out, “Are we killing the criminal or not?”

Days later, the poet was released at the Pico border-crossing, and was promptly shot to death. Happily, this caused him no harm—since before returning to the City of Krows, he had already been dead. As he ascended, he thought he saw a stream of thin, dark figures wading their way up to the glowing city.

Adnan R Amin is a strategy and communications consultant.

Cracking down on time theft by government officials using the excuse of “sitting on committees”, the government yesterday decided to form a committee to oversee all other committees.

“Our ministers waste too much time sitting on committees. They even form other committees to do the job of the original committees, wasting tax payers' money,” the minister of the newly formed Ministry of Committees said.

“Some committees take money. But they take too much money. So we are forming a committee of bribes to oversee that the amount of bribes taken is not too much,” he said, adding that everyone in the country is a thief including him.

When a reporter asked him why he was blatantly encouraging crimes, the minister said he was only joking and that it is not his fault that reporters don't understand his “words”. “I wasn't even speaking in English. It's an entirely different language,” he said, referring reporters to the committee on excuses, another newly formed committee to oversee the bad excuses ministers make to get out of trouble.

The role of all committees came to light following the recent encroachment of canals around the capital. “Take the case of the Dumni canal. It was earmarked to be 120 feet wide but now stands at only 10 feet wide in places,” Srinath Mondol, chair of the Committee of Canals, informed. “There is a real estate developer, very rich, very connected, who actually uses the earth dug from another place to make an artificial canal, to fill the natural canal a few kilometres away,” he explained.

Mondol alleged that the real estate developer in question created many problems impeding his committee's work. “He made baseless allegations of corruption against us,” he said, while wiping his face with the tissue of the real estate developer's tissue company, sitting on a chair from the Real estate developer's furniture company, all the while in his house which he recently “won” in a lottery in the locality of the real estate developer in question.

After the filling of the canal flooded the Pink City residential area, a new committee was formed to oversee irregularities. The new committee met so irregularly that by the time they decided to go check the spot, they said that the city's committee of development had built a bridge over it.

 “When you make things, sometimes you make them over other things. The fact is, it will not harm the flow of water and even if does, it's just water. The Pink City that we have flooded can now act as a canal,” the chair of the committee of development said at the time.

After this, another committee was formed, one comprised of only ministers. The Committee of Ministers on a Mission was also ineffective as the ministers met only to praise our supreme rulers and decided to narrow the canal further. “We honestly did not know what we were supposed to do. We heard canal and development so we thought we must develop the canal, as things go in this country,” a minister said, asking not to be named.

The newly formed committee, though, promises not to waste time and get to work. In order to ensure this, the Committee of Time Theft will be formed to oversee the work of the committee that oversees the work of all committees. But who will oversee the work of the Committee of Time Theft? 

“We will form a committee to discuss these matters,” another minister said. 

Osama Rahman is a Sub-editor at The Daily Star.

I tried breathing in Dhaka and honestly, if you haven't tried it yourself, I can't recommend it to you. It's a waste of your time—simply the worst.

Hanging around outside is an awful idea because, firstly, the dust. Hanging around inside is also a bad idea because of all the dust on the floor and all over your stuff. You can't keep it out. I mean, I suppose you can live with your windows shut all the time, but if you're anything like me, you can stand just about 20 straight hours of your own accumulated body smell. Any more and you'll crave the sweet, cloying, choking sensation brought to us by the rapidly accelerating economic growth of our city.

Why is it exactly that all these construction sites leave all that sand on the footpaths? That's not what they're for. I don't think any civic planner ever woke up in the morning excited to lay out some new areas designed to keep several hundred tons of grey dirt lying around for months on end. (This might just be because no civic planner has ever woken up excited.) If you're a real estate mogul, please just grab all your sand and throw it into the construction site where it belongs. Just store it all in the water tank until the building's ready, it's not like it'll make a difference to the quality of what your tenants end up drinking anyway.

It's not just the private sector that's to blame, of course. We've all seen the massive projects of infrastructural improvement that mostly seem to involve digging up roads, which, if not perfectly good, were at least markedly superior to big holes in the ground. Big holes in the ground are bad for inner-city transport and produce large quantities of dust, in addition to the large quantities of sand piled neatly along these holes. We all had a good breathe on those, I can tell you.

I generally can't see the buildings on the other end of the road anymore. Some will say it is fog and speak romantically of it. They are wrong and silly. It is mostly dust, which, mixed with what fog there is, transforms into a little something we call lung cancer. Respiratory illnesses are very much on the rise, which just adds to the potent mix of heart trouble, diabetes and food poisoning we've ordinarily had to contend with.

One can't really give all the credit to the dust and sandy dunes parked along what remains of the roads, of course. A huge part of the credit goes to the roughly 1,030,864 registered vehicles chugging along between the sandy stretches, trying to avoid the big holes in the ground. At least they wish they could chug along—more often than not, the powers-that-be have other plans. It turns out that 1,030,864 vehicles can't do a whole lot when a lot of the road network is physically unusable at any given time, when the traffic lights aren't worth their weight in metal, the traffic police are generally angry because of all the sunshine and dust and bad pay, and the general approach to traffic management in the case of events is to simply shut the roads down. Guzzling out gas from unfiltered exhaust pipes, there they sit, all these private cars and pockmarked buses and trucks piled high with—quite probably—more sand. The bouquet of motor emissions wafting up from this sedentary mass stews and broils and makes a truly fantastic addition to the foggy, dusty air. It does make for some excellent sunsets and night-time photography, though.

Think and breathe deep as you while away the hours in traffic, horns blaring all around you for no discernible reason. If you can afford to keep the air conditioner running, there's no good reason not to—once upon a time the “real” air outside could have been called fresh and character-building. However, life-threatening illnesses aren't an essential part of anyone's upbringing. Exercise your bourgeois privilege and lead the marginally healthier life the rest of us can only dream of.

What is to be done? Some would say we need to radically restructure our urban planning. Decentralise the government and disperse the institutions across the country. Reduce the number of vehicles on the road and improve public transport. Enforce safe, environmentally-responsible construction practices. Put more money on healthcare and run awareness campaigns on the importance of fresh air. Import large quantities of gas masks—those flimsy things over your face don't really do much. All of these are good ideas, which means they will not be happening in our lifetimes.

We've been breathing for the past four billion years or so, and it's probably time we moved onto something new. Evolution works unusually quickly under pressure and Dhaka life is definitely arranging matters such that respiration is not only superfluous, but actively harmful. Dhaka-dwellers could well go down in the fossil record one of the first mammals to have switched their physiologies to a completely alternate form of energy obtainment. Perhaps we will subsist on casual misogyny instead.

Zoheb Mashiur is an artist and an MA student at Kent University's Brussels School of International Studies.

This year, 2017, has been a very eventful one. Major events of the year have included hurricanes, refugee crises, and the so-called left being beaten and battered so badly that they now have to cheer for Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau as if they, simply for not being overt white supremacists, are somehow incredible public figures to look up to. It also included the editor of this magazine making the terrible, ill-advised decision to let me write words. But for all the mistakes (Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un, Burma as a concept, Jerusalem, Star Weekend editor, etc), there have been success stories. Incredible success stories that can nicely fit into 90-second videos on your Facebook feed. There were many videos of brave heroes fishing animals out of flooded homes this year—and I salute each and every one of you. There were also brave protesters, protesting many things, most of which did not amount to anything (Venezuela, Catalonia), but some did (South Korea, you might yet get nuked, so don't be too happy yet)—and that's better than nothing.

It was particularly eventful here in the US. There was the #MeToo movement, which comprised an incredible number of women who came out with stories of sexual harassment, abuse and assault that they endured. The most palpable of the effects of this was in Hollywood, where you were forced to admit that every one of your favourite male actors, directors and producers is actually a scumbag. To some people, this does not matter, but those are also the same people who would be alright with Roman Polanski directing a movie with child actors.

Puerto Rico remains without electricity for the most part, but that's their own fault for not being a real state. There were, as usual, mass shootings—but for the most part, that's so ingrained as a regular thing in the psyche of the American people that it would be unfair on real events to call this an event. Trump called Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man”, and Kim retorted by calling Trump a “dotard”. While the great Twitter war of international politics was hilarious, it was also accompanied by the real possibility of nuclear war. A week after I moved to Washington, DC there was a very serious article in the paper about how far I would have to be from the White House to not be instantaneously disintegrated upon impact. Since where I work is about a block away, there doesn't seem to be much hope for me. Mind you, the paper claimed instant death was the best possible scenario so I think I'm one of the lucky ones.

But as one news story after another flashed bright red and shouted “Breaking News” under Wolf Blitzer's dead eyes on CNN, there was one that stood out: Robert Mueller named Special Counsel and chief bloodhound of the investigation into Russian election involvement. He was the big event in 2017 here, and as we barely cross the finish line to 2018, panting, sweating, struggling to breathe, he is what we have to look forward to.

There's a bar near where I work in Washington, DC that has a great promotional offer. Every time someone from the Trump campaign or administration is flipped, the bar offers “Moscow Muellers”. Appointed in May as Special Counsel to the Department of Justice, the former FBI director set about trying to prove what everyone already knew—that Moscow had interfered in the 2016 US presidential elections and that Vladimir Putin was actually in Washington wearing a Donald Trump flesh suit to sabotage the US.

In what will no doubt be turned into an Oscar-bait Spielberg classic in the coming years, Mueller and his team set out on the hunt. Of course, in the movie version, there will be multiple swanky Georgetown party-scenes in which Meryl Streep will give Mueller vital information and everyone will be dressed as if they were stuck a few decades before the setting. In October, Mueller had his first big victory, filing charges against human-lizard lovechild Paul Manafort, George “I-don't-think-there's-anything-sketchy-about-meeting-shady-Russian-professors” Papadopoulos and their associate and full-time patsy Rick Gates.

This in itself was enough to send panic through the White House. In December, he flipped disgraced former “National Security” Advisor Michael Flynn—the man whose fame spawns from being very good at leading “Lock her up” chants and lying to Vice President Mike Pence, also known as the most un-fun person in the entire world. Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI. One by one Mueller was working his way up to the top. More and more information began to come out about meetings with Russian officials. Trump son-in-law, also person who promised to bring peace to the Middle East, Jared Kushner had apparently been meeting with the Russian ambassador.

In a political scene that has come to be dominated by overt crazies and unabashed crooks on the right, to sexual predators and wax figures on the not-as-right, Mueller is seen as the perfect go-getter to get behind for progressive millennials. Much like Bernie Sanders, the youth of America place their hopes behind an old white man once again. There are rumours that Mueller will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, although I feel like no one has bothered to ask him and no one will, and Hillary “Literally-lost-an-election-to-Trump” Clinton will run again.

The Republicans have started calling for Mueller to be fired—which the President somehow has the power to do. But the Republicans are taking casualties in the House and Senate—their majority in the latter now cut down to one after the hookworm-addled folks of Alabama just barely decided that being paedophile is not a good thing. In 2018, they look likely to lose more. While Trump's base seems as committed as a nuclear bunker (and just as necessary for him), Mueller remains the closest hope to impeachment. I'm personally hoping to ring in the New Year with some Moscow Muellers.

Bareesh Hasan Chowdhury is a recent Political Science graduate.

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