Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Open Letter To Yunus

The text of your explanation for going to the apex court of this country ached my heart as I read it. My response to it was ambivalent. One part of my mind tells me it was beneath your dignity to have gone to the court to seek ‘justice’. But on second thought I was convinced there was another side of the coin. It is the baby you have raised from a tiny tot to a world figure that has made you knock the doors of the highest court of justice. Its clients, some 40 million women, must know the ‘father’ of Grameen Bank is not a slithering coward, but a hero, who like the protagonist of a Greek tragedy, holds his head high even when slain by cowards. You knew all the way you would not get justice, didn’t you? Yet you followed it up to the highest house with a dome that mocks the neutrality it is supposed to assert in dispensation of justice. Our track record as an ethnic community has not been all that glittery. Look at Rabindranath, what we did to him. Read the filthy lampoons ridiculing him published in the “ Shanibarer Chithi”. This is how the anguished poet reacted in one of his letters – “My countrymen are not hurt when I am publicly insulted, and therefore those engaged in slandering me have no fear of suffering any rebuke or loss. In a sense they act as the representatives of the whole country; they are proxies for the rest. And it is pretty obvious to me why those who are supposed to be my blind supporters and those who are counted allies of mine do not seek public redress for my humiliation. They lack the courage and craftiness of the other group chiefly because they know they do not have the support of the public. In no other country are those who have earned their countrymen’s respect dragged down by slander of this kind; they are never subjected to helpless humiliation in full public view.” (Letters ed Dutta and Robinson, italics mine). It was just a rare stroke of luck that Tagore went to England, translated his own poems that came to the notice of W.B Yeats. It was through the efforts of his English friends that his translated Gitanjali with 103 devotional songs was submitted to the Swedish Academy. He got the Nobel Prize and Banaglis had a change of attitude overnight. They went to him with bouquet and wreaths of flowers. Rabindranath wrote a song on that occasion, and I am sure you know it, – E monihar amay nahi shaje (This garland of gems does not become me). With choked emotion he said I can neither wear it because wearing it hurts me, nor tear it, because tearing it breaks my heart. Tagore too wanted to help the poor farmers of his country. He invested a big pot of money from his Nobel cash and set up an agriculture cooperative bank at Shahjadpur. The result was bankruptcy; the loanees did not return the money they borrowed from the bank. Anyway, you can’t blame him; he was not an economist like you. Talking of economics reminds me of Amartya Sen who also became a Nobel Laureate in 1998. His mind too was preoccupied with the poor, their poverty and famine. But he was a theorist, wrote about the poor and did nothing to change the face of vast poverty in India. But with you it was different; you treated poverty as your adversary, grabbed it by the forelock and you won wherever you took your Grameen Bank. What is important is that you could instill confidence in your poverty-ridden clients that they could change their own lot. You put your trust in them and they in return put their trust in you. That’s how the poor could have their own bank, nearly all of it owned by them. We Bangladeshis never gave you the honour that you deserved. Not until you got the Nobel. I did not congratulate you, but others did and I remember a sea of crowd converging on your residence with the civil society at the forefront. But where are they today? We Bangalis are fond of going with the tide, not against it. And we are also noted for our ignorance and our jealousy. Look at Amartya, he became the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge ( 1998-2004) and Kolkata did not even notice it properly. In my opinion it is an honour much higher than the Nobel Prize. Trinity’s famous alumni comprise Francis Bacon, John Dryden, Isaac Newton, Lord Tennyson, Lord Byron, Allama Iqbal, Jawaharlal Nehru, Raymond Williams, Rajiv Gandhi and at least two Prime Ministers of England and one of France with 32 Nobel Laureates to its credit. An Indian Bangali becoming the Master of Trinity! That’s an impossible dream come true. But he is luckier than you. He had an economist-Prime Minister who was not an aspirant for the Nobel Prize, so Sen had no problem in getting the highest civil award, Bharat Ratna (1999). Had his Prime Minister been a candidate for this award, there would have been a government inquiry against him on count of inciting the Maoists, if not outshining the economist-turned-Prime Minister! Now that you have resigned as the Managing Director of Grameen Bank, I congratulate you heartily. There are millions of others who will miss you as its founding father, but believe you me they would never cease to love you, respect you. Your departure has once again proved the historicity of the Bangali culture. Shilavadra became the Mahadhyaksha of Nalanda Mahavihara and hundreds and thousands of non- Bangalis became his disciples. Atish Dipankara after much persuasion went to Tibet and came to be treated as the reincarnation of Buddha. He is worshipped there as a God even today. Poet Alaol became a court poet in the Arakan royal court. The anxiety expressed by your ‘great’ friends from abroad only reminds me of these illustrious forefathers. Shall I tell you one thing? I am proud of you, really, really I am. It is perhaps an accident of history that I became one of your class mates a little over 6 decades ago. But there could not have been a more welcome thing than that in my life. Should you decide to go to Nigeria and found a Grameen Bank there, you will find me by your side. Perhaps the Africans would understand you better than we do.

The writer, a professor of English, is Associate Editor of The Independent.