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Can a Bengali proverb explain Trump (and others)?

  • Published at 05:11 pm April 27th, 2018
  • Last updated at 11:23 am April 28th, 2018
Can a Bengali proverb explain Trump (and others)?
The old Bengali proverb “khajnar cheye bajna beshi” doesn’t quite have an immediate counterpart in the treasury of English gems of articulating similar sage advice, though perhaps the North American “all hat and no cattle” comes to mind.  Roughly translated, the Bengali saying corresponds to something along the lines of “too much style, too little substance.” It’s a powerful proverb, which, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, does indeed throw quite a bit of light on the rhetorical flourishes of the men and women in power in both Washington, DC and Dhaka.  In fact, when I review some of the more colourful acts of verbosity amongst the powers that be in those two capitals, I am tempted to upgrade the proverb to “joto kom khajna, toto beshi bajna” which would roughly translate into “the style is greater in inverse proportion to the substance.”  You don’t believe me? Let’s start with leader of the free world and head of the most powerful nation on the planet. In his entire life of opulence, President Donald J Trump has never served a day in the military, police, or intelligence services. But his rhetoric would make you think that after Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, and Napoleon, he is the next greatest warrior that humanity has ever produced … his rather comfortable physique notwithstanding.  In contrast, for the record, actual war-hero presidents like Eisenhower and Bush Sr were remarkably reticent to flaunt their military acumen in verbose terms. A remarkably similar, if not identical, picture emerges in Dhaka as well. Men and women who were not within a hundred miles of any battle during the War of Independence have taken it upon themselves to become the arbiters of the history of the said war.  In fact, not quite content with this show of chutzpah, such individuals -- flush with the assurance of state power to  cash their rhetorical cheques -- have no compunction calling into question the patriotism of those who were literally on those battlefields in 1971 and whose very blood colours the red disk in the flag of Bangladesh. 
But his rhetoric would make you think that after Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, and Napoleon, he is the next greatest warrior that humanity has ever produced
Seeing Yahya Khan’s loyal district commissioners of December 1971 lecturing actual freedom fighters on the values of the “chetona” (spirit) of 1971 has got to be one of the most Trumpian acts of politicking in Bangladesh’s modern history. But it’s not the just the high octane stuff of upper level statecraft.  You see it on smaller things and in trivial matters. People with no experience in science heading portfolios on climate, environment, and innovation, and haranguing actual scientists about the scientific method; barely educated but nouveau riche people claiming the title of “educationist” (whatever that means) heading ministries of education and higher learning; hackneyed public relations touts suddenly becoming editors and press counsellors to governments …  and so goes the list. On the most elementary matters, in the most ordinary precincts of interaction -- Facebook, Twitter, chat groups -- you see this phenomenon quite predictably in both Bangladesh and the United States … and in intersections between the two.  Individuals who can barely put together a sentence in cogent Bengali or English suddenly become astute professors of law holding forth valiantly on issues of serious constitutional gravity.  Others, not to be outdone, are folks who likely barely made through their college biology classes but are more qualified than specialized surgeons on matters of athletic orthopedics.  It is almost every day I witness the profundity of people who navigated through their Bachelor’s degrees by the skin of their teeth, but take on the responsibility of solemnly lecturing career teachers about pedagogical skills.  I have wondered why this phenomenon is so acute. And then I was reminded of a few words of wisdom a retired Navy friend gave me when I bemoaned that as much as I wanted a larger truck, I had to settle for a smaller sports utility vehicle due to resource constrains. “Guys who are obsessed with their fancy trucks are probably compensating for doubts about their masculinity,” she explained with a wink. A bit of a broad brush, but makes sense I suppose. When you have no clue about the military, you want to play “general” to compensate in your own mind; when you don’t know the difference between white cells and red cells, you want to convince yourself by pretending to be a hotshot heart surgeon. You get the point.   Wanting to be legends in their own minds is a very soothing thing and that too on the cheap … whether you’re counting in takas or dollars. And that’s where the “khajna” comes into play, no? Esam Sohail is a college administrator and lecturer of social sciences. He writes from Kansas, USA.