Ground Realities Faces that are hollow, eyes that are sunken

Ground Realities Faces that are hollow, eyes that are sunken
FINANCE Advisor Mirza Azizul Islam believes the economy is getting better. That presupposes the thought that the economy is at present in a good state. And yet, when you observe conditions around you, you tend not to agree with the advisor. And you do that because of all the realities you live through on a quotidian basis.

But, certainly, in terms of figures and facts, the advisor may have a point. He has a right to his opinion. The trouble, though, is that the encouraging economy he speaks of does not percolate down into our lives.

One place where you find evidence for your position is the market, that forbidding place where, despite all your reservations, you need to go everyday. There is your family after all, a proper middle class bunch, forever and properly worried about its next meal. And these days, it is that meal that seems to be shrinking, in terms of quality and surely in terms of quantity. There is that sinking feeling in you. Is the economy still getting better for you and me?

And all the nightmares in our lives come through the terror we confront in the market today. The price of rice goes beyond the capacity of the common man. Everything becomes coarse, and not just the rice we consume or try to buy in the open market. Our vegetables go out of our reach. Meat is something most of us in this country are beginning to recall within the parameters of memory.

The fish we once loved and ate in an abundance of pleasure, and still crave, are a dream we hold on to. Do not, if you can, dwell on lentils, or call them pulses. They are a rarity, not because you cannot pay to buy them, but because those traders expect you to cough up everything you have if you are in a mood to eat them.

My friends, we are speaking of the horror that stalks us in the market these days. In the footsteps of that horror come all the telltale signs of misery. That misery is in the urban streets, blown about by the dust. It is in the dark corners of your increasingly gloomy home.

In the villages, a few kilometers outside the nation’s capital, you will stumble into what you think are thin, and thinning, men in search of commodities to buy. The emptiness of the bags they carry and the hollowness of their pockets is what strike you in those markets or haats as we knew them once upon a time. Those faces are hollow. The eyes in them are sunken.

Sit back against an ancient tree somewhere in your village, or just outside it, and reflect on all the excuses some good people are coming up with, to tell us why prices have been going up in our shops and in our markets. Prices have been going up in the global market, say these people, and with a straight face. Which is why, you are told bluntly, we have all these rising prices in our own markets. But these men do not tell us if the kind of sharks who masquerade as traders in Bangladesh happen to be out there in the world beyond our political frontiers as well.

Do traders in the United Kingdom or France sell a jar of edible oil for twenty pounds or francs one day and have the price climb to forty pounds or francs the next? They obviously do not, but in Bangladesh that is how prices have been going up.

No one on the perches of authority understands that such an attitude on the part of the government to a price hike only emboldens the dishonest trader, that it offers a defence shield to those who stand ready to fleece the people of this country with impunity. If government speaks for those who cheerfully raise the prices of household necessities in rampant form, who will speak for the huddled masses?

When an advisor informs us, much to our consternation followed by swift indignation, that prices have been going up because the purchasing power of Bengali citizens has registered a rise, you wonder if it is an unreal world you inhabit. Suddenly, you comprehend afresh the entire thought behind that old concept of the ivory tower. You do not see the ground from such heights of grandeur.

Elitism is always a danger to men and women who struggle from dawn to sundown for bare sustenance. You watch all these noble men pontificating at so many round tables and on such a profusion of talk shows on the issues that affect our lives from day to day. How many of these men, you ask yourself, are truly aware of what it means to go hungry?

When powerful men accomplished in the ways of the world suddenly seek to enlighten you on your dietary habits, on the need to discard them in favour of new ones, you are left with that bizarre notion of being part of a world where sensitivities have gone missing.

Must I eat less only because that great man and his colleagues do not have it in them to rein in a runaway market? If I must do away with rice and go for potatoes, let me do so at my convenience. But when individuals in government inform me, glibly and without a thought to the ramifications of their advice, that if rice is going out of my reach I have all those potatoes to fall back on, it is the theme of incompetence that reveals itself before me.

You cannot fix the electric bulb in my room. Fine. I understand. But why must you try glossing over your inability through asking me to use a paraffin lamp from now on?

An advisor takes umbrage with the way the media deal with economic realities. They do not throw light on the positive aspects of the economy, says he. It is time to get real. When your citizens move around in a daze, with nearly empty pockets, constantly needled by thoughts of their hungry children back home, there is nothing positive there. The state may have its foreign exchange reserves. Readymade garment exports may have gone up; and foreign investment opportunities may be looking up.

But then, how do you explain the poverty in the villages, the man in a tattered lungi and the half-naked child beginning to show signs of nutrition-related illnesses? And what response have you to the local swindling that goes on in the name of rising prices in the international market, the criminality that threatens to make paupers of your honest citizens?

You may talk of politics as much as you wish. You may spend days in hair-splitting debate on the upcoming elections. But all these gentle, necessary exercises clearly get submerged in a gathering mudslide of terrible reality if you cannot guarantee each of your citizens a decent meal.

All politics is local. Go a little further, and you will know that politics is fundamentally about full stomachs and contented sleep. History has essentially moved forward every time people have felt those cramps inside the vacuity of the stomachs in them. Do not push that lesson aside.

By the way, does it not worry you that, in these critical times, no one in the corridors of power has so much as whispered in your ears that there is a paramount need for austerity in these days of sadness? That we need to strip an outsize government of all the fat it has accumulated over the decades, and redirect the resources thus retrieved to where it matters?

Syed Badrul Ahsan is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star. | Link posted by Badiuzzaman Khan | original source

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