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Che’s shadow over a forgotten Dhaka revolution

  • Published at 05:17 pm October 20th, 2013
Che’s shadow over a forgotten Dhaka revolution

Revolutionaries never fade away, they simply adapt!

It’s drizzling. The entire day has seen sporadic rain. Roads are submerged in knee-deep water, yet the erratic rainfall is hardly a deterrent for the avid young men who keep inscribing slogans of equality on the walls.

Posters to be plastered are stacked on a Yamaha motorcycle. Filterless Star cigarettes keep the rain-drenched shivers at bay for revolution, some pain needs to be tolerated.

The area is the university campus, the year is 1988. The young men are university students, die hard followers of a Marxist guerilla who was shot and killed in a Bolivian jungle on October 9, 1967.

Reportedly, that revolutionary, before being killed, said: “Shoot, you will only kill a man, the ideology will live on”.

Whether the guerilla uttered that line or not, these young men carry the torch of revolution with them, believing that Guevara’s philosophy of change, inspired by socialism, would rule one day.

Fast forward to 2013. The night in 1988 now seems long, long ago. When the world changes at a super-fast pace, 25 years is similar to a century.

Indeed, that was a time when cold war was raging, the Berlin Wall was intact, Germany was divided, pop music ruled, mobile phones were unheard of, computers meant Lotus 123 and Word Perfect, and daily entertainment meant switching on the national TV channel.

Almost nothing of that era survives. Almost! Only the image of a guerilla, who inflamed the passion of revolution in the bedraggled young ones on a wet night in the university campus, is still around.

Going past Shahbagh, the street-side makeshift stall selling bags carrying the iconic image of Che Guevara attracts attention. The photo taken by Alberto Korda is deemed one of the most influential images of the 20th century.

It inspired millions of young people imbued with a sense of justice to defy imperial policies. That image was at the forefront of mass rallies chanting anti-Vietnam slogans in the 60s and, come to think of it, during the autocratic rule in Bangladesh between 1982 and 1990, Guevara became the symbol of thousands of young students aspiring to bring down a usurper.

One image of an Argentinian revolutionary brings back many other forgotten memories of Dhaka. This one stands out: one noted freedom fighter returning to Bangladesh after a long exile attended a large rally passing through Nilkhet in 1989.

As he waved his hands, swarthy men in olive green uniforms similar to the ones Che wore walked beside his car. The air was filled with cries of revolution. Che’s spirit mingled with the undying essence of 1971.

Back in the late 80s a large section of youth believed a socialist change in line with Marxism could be possible, and while many propagated a peaceful uprising of the classes, there were others who were tilted more towards Che’s idea of an armed rebellion. Maybe they were romantics but their young hearts harboured immaculate thoughts of social equality.

In 2013, the night in the university campus of 1988 seemed like a page out of a fantasy novel but the presence of Che’s face reminds us; romantics never disappear. They just evolve to fit into a new social setting.

Perhaps the revolution did not happen the way it was envisaged, but today’s social media-driven movements are in a way similar to the uprisings about which the youngsters dreamt on a wet dark night.

Doesn’t matter if socialism as a credo faltered, what is significant is that the core value of the ideology, which involves galvanising the masses, is very much alive.

One of the guys from that rainy night in 1988 now drives a BMW a garment magnate who has hit gold and platinum in a matter of a decade. Che is still his idol but he does not take himself to be a hypocrite at all. If China can embrace all the trappings of capitalism and still maintain a façade of communism then what’s the problem in blending Che with affluence? Che’s fight was to ensure rights for the common working man, and in his garment factory he gives the workers the best wages supported by all the other benefits.

Another from the same group works for a Western government which he denounced in the 80s as a decadent capitalist sham. He hasn’t renounced Guevara either just altered his outlook a bit!

During his free time, he is an active social media user, always the first to trigger an online debate about current socio-political issues. Take off his Aquascutum shirt and underneath is that T-shirt with Che gazing into the distant.

All those urban guerillas of the 80s have evolved. Today they are revolutionaries in a new age. One can say the hard core socialist doctrine has been supplanted by a more practical approach.

Like Che said: “I don’t care if I fall as long as someone else picks up the gun and keeps on shooting.” Well, others have picked up the fight, but guns are not the best option anymore. Why kill, when the clicks on a laptop or a smart phone can bring so much awareness?

As the writer stops to look at the image of Che on the bag more closely, the eyes seem to pass a message: Revolutions never die, their flames remain, and revolutionaries never fade away, they simply adapt!