Archive for May, 2010

In Search of A Remarkable Liberation

A shorter version of the article was published on The Star Magazine (The Daily Star) on May 14 2010 (though written much earlier). The full article is given below, including the uncut interview taken by my colleague on this assignment.

As somewhat of a writer, I’ve often been curious to understand how freedom of speech is interpreted across various media. Whether it is practiced with liberty or constrained within socioeconomical and psychological limitations. It is not surprising that we, Bangladeshis – being a conscience born from a history of bloody struggle towards the independence of our mother tongue – take the issue of free practice of language with acute sensitivity.

In light of a recent article by Mustafa Jabbar, the proprietor of Bijoy (popular Bangla input system), the controversy surrounding the development of English to Bangla computing and infringement towards expression through free language have surged the local blogosphere. The offset was simple – a claim by Mr. Jabbar against Avro – a freeware Bangla input software – being a pirated or hacked version of his patented Bijoy. Following the provoked responses refuting his claim, Mr. Jabbar graciously clarified that he did not have a problem with Avro itself, rather with the keyboard layout UniBijoy (i.e. one of the four layouts used in Avro) which he believes is a pirated version of his copyrighted Bijoy layout. Note, Mr. Jabbar’s claim entailed the term “same”; and thus resulted in an infuriating rush of reactions, facebook notes, blog posts and newspaper articles.

Before we move on, one needs to understand why the basis of Mr. Jabbar’s accusation stands on shaky grounds. Firstly, Bijoy follows ASCII and requires specific fonts which are mapped into Bangla letters; whereas Avro uses Unicode and does not require a physical Bangla keyboard or specifically installed fonts. While the former is limited by the standards of a few characters set by ASCII, the latter has access to a support of innumerable characters and accommodates multiple languages without restrictions. Using the Avro phonetic transliteration system, users can generate Bangla words from Roman typefaces with amazing ease. Secondly, a keyboard layout can be defined ‘hacked’ or ‘pirated’ if it is the exact replica of its competitor. In case of Avro, it shares an 8-keystroke difference with that of Bijoy’s layout. In situations where a single key difference can result in the making of an entirely new keyboard layout, the accusation of the two aforementioned layouts being the same is grossly irrelevant and ridiculous. Thirdly, Bijoy is a closed source software and requires the purchase of license for it to be used, meanwhile Avro is freeware and available to anyone and everyone without spending a dime. The source code of the former cannot be hacked to program the latter. In a nutshell, Avro is certainly not a pirated version based on the groundwork laid by Bijoy and have yet to be proven otherwise. On the contrary, it accommodates the smooth use of our mother tongue with remarkable ease and literally free of cost, eventually making its predecessors obsolete.

However, the response to the said dispute does not end with blatant technical details, which have already been more eloquently elaborated in Sachalayatan (besides other blogging platforms); rather through an analogy comprising of impeding and compelling questions. Why would Mustafa Jabbar – an undoubtedly lauded name in the development of Bangla computing – risk his reputation by making an allegation that he – like any other technically sound individual – knew to be standing on shaky grounds? As mentioned in several articles published online, this was not the first time something of the sort has happened. In the past, Mr. Jabbar has tried to intimidate other developers of Bangla computing, proclaiming his Bijoy a monopolistic medium and has even threatened Avro developers with legal and police actions. Question arises, why does he feel so insecure? Why now? Those being answered, what now? More interestingly, how and why does the whole Bangla blogosphere unanimously controvert his allegations in the absence of a single leader to jumpstart the movement and come together in a matter of days?

Truth is, in spite of our minor differences, we all love the simplicity and vibrancy of our motherland, and share a deep rooted connection with our mother tongue. In every possible situation, particularly in a space where Bangla is not the default mode of expression, Bangalis feel the urge to establish their language and converse with it. We are looking for an outlet that allows us to express ourselves in Bangla across any virtual network in a matter of seconds and without paying a price. In that vein, Avro has truly been groundbreaking by allowing thousands of users to write in Bangla in the largest mass media possible without having to learn complex keyboard codes and spending five grands. It has managed to effectively realize a common dream and have successfully hyped the use of Bangla over the internet and other media.

However, the success of Avro was further boosted when the Election Commission used the software to develop what is yet the largest digital database project in Bangladesh, i.e. the Voter ID and National ID project. In his post, Mehdi Hasan from Avro writes –

The Election Commission initially chose a software that would allow them to input large numbers of data in Bangla; but realized that the software required purchase of individual licenses for individual laptops. Since in the Voter ID and National ID project, hundreds of laptops will be used, buying individual licenses will cumulate into a massive expenditure. To save that money, the EC decided to develop their own software and gave the project to a BUET faculty. The BUET faculty developed the system and kept Avro as the medium to be used to input data. It was easy to use and available for free, so naturally, it came as a preference. In return, I only asked the EC to provide me with a certificate stating Avro was used in the Voter ID and National ID project, and allowed them to use the software without charging any money.

That being clarified, question remains why would someone, twice the age of a new era of Bangla computing bluntly make fleeting remarks. Is it greed, jealousy or insecurity? If the EC – in fact – used Bijoy for the aforementioned project, the system would have earned its proprietor 50 million taka, undoubtedly a remarkable marketing victory. If Avro did not gain its fast paced acceptability, Bijoy (unless someone else came up with something else) would still have been the sole choice for any Bangla input system. The fact that recent developments in a field that was once grasped by a monopoly has minimized that monopoly’s influence is assumedly the only logical reason behind Mustafa Jabbar’s infuriation.

But, how long does infuriation last? There is a great difference between anger out of love and anger out of hate and jealousy. The former is inexplicably powerful, and as idealistic as it may sound, it has been proven correct on more than one occasion. When the country’s most active Google generation comes together at their own will to defend a case they share solidarity with only to establish free practice of language and dispersion of Bangla across every virtual media, its resistance inevitably falls short of allies. Any man-made system – be it mass media, government or free market – thrives on human resources, the ones who effect and affect it. Unity towards achieving liberation is equally empowering and intimidating, depending on which end of the bargain we are.

Bhasha unmukto hobei.

References:

Global Voices Online (globalvoicesonline.org)

Sachalayatan (sachalayatan.com)

saveavro.wordpress.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and does not reflect on the views of the publication, its affiliations or third parties.

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Mustafa Jabbar’s Take on the Issue

Mustafa Jabbar, proprietor of Bijoy shares his take on the debate between Bijoy and Avro. The telephone interview was taken by Hussain M Elius on 2 May, 2010.

We read at various media that you’ve mentioned Avro is a pirated version of Bijoy. Could you please elaborate on that?

I have write-ups published in newspapers and my website on the issue, so you might refer to those. Last Tuesday, an article was published on The Daily Sangabd, which has the detailed information. However, for your clarification, when the keyboard layout used in Bijoy is used in any other software, it is defined as piracy.

To refute your claim, an article was recently published in The Daily Janakantha on behalf of Avro team. In that article, it was mentioned that Avro shares an 8-keystroke difference with that of UniBijoy’s layout.

Law does not understand an 8-key stroke difference.  If you refer to the Copyright Law in 2005 and go through its related divisions – which I have mentioned in my article at The Daily Sangbad, you will easily understand.

Do you plan on taking legal actions?

I don’t want to go through legal actions. I have already complained at the Copyright Office and they have already sent a notice demanding an explanation to Avro. I’ve received a copy of it myself today. There are laws in the country. You can easily write against someone in blogs, websites or newspapers, but that does not mean law cannot be enforced. If you claim that it is not pirated, then elaborate through legal references. The answer does not lie with one’s verbal claims of 8-keystroke or 10-keystroke differences. I did not make the copyright or patent myself. Copyright or patent registrar has given it to me. If you have issues regarding copyright, you can approach the Government and complain that your copyright has been taken. I have even mentioned at Janakantha that you can impose a libel suit against me if needed.

Apart from this, are there any other measures you plan on taking?

Firstly, I’ll see what actions Copyright Registrar takes on the issue. If they can resolve it, I don’t need to take any further steps. According to the country’s legal infrastructure, I can go to court under Copyright, Patent or Trademark Law. I didn’t want to approach the court about these issues since 2003; however given the provocative and defaming language used against me, it seems as though my biggest mistake was simply making Bijoy. Yet, the person who has copied my keyboard and distributed openly in a website has not apparently committed any crime. My crime is mine. It’s my copyright, it’s my patent and in spite of it, I am the one at flaw here.

It seems claims have been that in blogs that Avro is open source…

It is not open source. It’s a freeware. Open source means software’s source is publicly open. Please refer to a copy of Prothom Alo from last Friday. Avro’s Windows version does not have its source open. Many freeware in the world were distributed free of cost initially, and charged for its proceeding versions. It’s almost like creating hype that you’re distributing something for free. I have no problem with free distribution of your own software, but why will you distribute someone else’s work? Bijoy is not his product. He has Avro Easy and other keyboards – I have no complaints against them. Why will he use my work? He, himself has admitted 99% has been copied, and now he is claiming 8-keystroke differences. Basically, the characters used to map Bangla letters using A to Z is the same, and in his said differences, we all know how many times does one use chondrobindu or bishorgo – and those are not related to fingering. In spite of all this, he claims he has not copied.

Thank you for your time, Mr. Jabbar.

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Omi Azad Writes About Bijoy

অন্য একটা বিষয়ে গুগুল করতে গিয়ে অমি আজাদের এই লেখাটি পেলাম। ২০০৪ সালে ভাচুয়ালি প্রকাশিত এই প্রতিবেদন আমাদের এই বুঝিয়ে দেয় যে আমাদের সংগ্রামের শুরু ঠিক কত দিন আগের থেকে। হয়তোবা এই লেখাটির কথা সবার জানা, তবুও আরেকবার পোস্ট করলাম…

Please download:

Omi Azad’s Protest Against Mustafa Jabbar

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Digital Darkness

Dhak kore ghum bhenge gelo. In his semi sleepless state, he fumbled under the pillows and found it. Its blue screen read 2343. In the fragment of an abrupt second, he found himself dragging a near fanatic self towards the restroom. His mind calculated a rough 15 minutes to her arrival. Squirting a forced spray of pale yellow, he zipped and hopped towards his desk. His trepid fingers slapped the computer into an unwanted boot. He muttered something impatiently under his breath and checked the time for the sixth time in the past five minutes. She was going to be here any moment! The desktop blinked into a blue pattern and he double clicked to Gmail. The simultaneous tab logged onto Facebook. He skimmed through the new mails (mostly notifications from his array of social networking accounts) and read through the status updates. Hitting a few ‘likes’, he kicked the machine into a sudden shutdown.

Another time check and he dashed towards the living room. Frenzied, he searched for old magazines in the dark and found something of the sort. Cursing himself for dozing off when she wasn’t here, he flung 120 pounds of his flesh and bones onto the crumpled pillows. His head knocked against the bedstead and landed on the side. At that very instant, she arrived. In the blink of a second, his fan creaked into a stop. Fanning himself with the magazine while rubbing the bump on his forehead, his lips curled into a victorious smile. He was ready to embrace her, embrace her insinuating darkness and humid temperament. Tonight, he was ready to embrace load shedding.

So be it. Surviving routine power losses (or 12 hours of darkness on a daily basis) has become part of our lives. We are more prepared than ever with our productivity and lifestyles reduced to half a day. WASA has little to worry about with forty degrees of humidity in the atmosphere endowing us with three sweaty showers a day. Yes, we are Bangalis – adaptable, adequate and advanced towards 22nd Century technology.

Of course, the joke had to be on. Ever since this whole deal about Digital Bangladesh begun with posters of people carrying transistors (?!), everyone knew we were in for a revolution this time. What better way than cutting down power supplies by 12 hours, eh? No one guessed that and it was the perfect surprise for 2010. Top that with excruciatingly painful traffic congestions and hiking prices of everyday commodities, and new rules suggesting we keep our air conditioners switched off during peak hours, shop only on certain days in certain areas and convert to solar energy. None of those measures would have gone underappreciated if our IPSes didn’t go onto becoming permanently interrupted power supplies (meaning, they don’t get charged enough to discharge adequately and have therefore, died).

But, if we were to take a truly empathetic insight into the scenario, we will realize that none of us are exactly certain about what the term ‘digital’ implies. It could mean one in a million things, such as driving more fuel consuming vehicles (?!), befriending top government officials on Facebook (!!!), changing our middle names online to suit the debated history of our nation in relevance to the ruling party, spending intoxicating amounts of cash to live the ‘advanced’ way only to realize we don’t know how it should be lived, carrying sunlight (Robi) phones and so on. Given none of us really know what we should be expecting; maybe the unprecedented load shedding is actually part of the bigger picture, a digital revolution unfathomable to our mere mortal intelligence.

Maybe, this is a calling for us to become less mechanized and start acting like human beings, not machines locked in a tiny cubicle. Now, who would have thought that, huh? Because we cannot be glued to ‘digital’ boxes otherwise known as computers, televisions and cellular phones, we are forced to interact within a more personal, physical proximity. We get out of our houses to breathe excessively carbonated air and meet our neighbours, people we didn’t even know existed until the day the lights went out… for good. We smack a punch at our friends and say, “LOL, poked!” We shake our worse halves vigorously and scream, “Reply koro na keno? I am nudging you!” We squeeze a stranger’s nose and announce, “iLike!” Truth is, we are being saved from a major phenomenon and when Google and Facebook take over the world to preach GooBookism, we will be the only lot to have conserved what Adam and Eve mistakenly gave us too much of.

Guess who has the last laugh then, huh?

No, seriously with a near 2000 megawatt of power deficit and an economy of approximately 160 million people to run, load shedding is more than just a problem. In 3rd grade science class (that’s way back in the ‘90s), we were often asked to imagine life without electricity and it seemed frightening. Suppose we all exaggerated – life without electricity is possible, not frightening and surprisingly (to date) sustainable. How our newly digitized economy is running is beyond the scope of our Business School professors in college. They say this is no ordinary darkness, this is advanced darkness. This is digital darkness.

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For the Love of God

with Kazim Ibn Sadique

Don’t add metal-esque distortions to a Sufi song! The raging controversies amongst the adrenaline pumping, hormone infatuated generation (otherwise known as ‘youth’) regarding Lalon’s (the band) recent release has already sparked occasional fist fights during discussions. On one hand, people applaud the rejuvenation of classics and a musical genius that ‘youth’ wouldn’t be naturally aware of; while the other remarks disdainfully on pushing experimentation to a level where it can no longer be related to the original composition.
That’s funny, considering Lalon is not the first band or artist who has done it. Bangla’s second album, Prottutponnomotitto – released in 2006 – did something similar on the backdrop of a country going frenzy with religious extremism. The group voiced ten Fakir Lalon classics fashioned with a combination of instruments such as tabla, ektara, bangle dhol, guitars, percussions and even a choir.  Lalon debuted in 2007 with Biprotip where they vocalized three Fakir Lalon numbers and caught up with a frantic crowd soaking in their music. Bappa Majumder brought Shah Abdul Karim numbers into the limelight and ‘Gari Chole Na’ is a favourite tune to hum along today.  When it was okay and perhaps commendable back then, why are frowns and fingers being raised now?
The problem lies in experimenting and commercializing. Bauls, being a community of their own, sing for the love of God. Whatever they write, it’s to that audience, for that supreme entity. There have been various issues with people accusing Bauls of being intoxicated. But anyone who has experienced an actual Baul ashor can testify that the need for intoxicants is not necessary; the music and environment is quite enough. When asked about it, one Baul said he doesn’t agree with the use of drugs and mentioned that the ecstasy and oneness that one feels with God/Universe cannot be compared. That is the ultimate goal of Bauls who follow Sufism, which suggests that the fate of everything is to be Fanaa, as in dissolve into the Nothingness that is Everything, i.e. God. As with the hippies of the west, the idea has been glossed over by focusing only on the negative sides.
One of the things Bauls are very possessive about is their music. The traditional method of learning the art of musicianship is very medieval in a sense. There is a rigorous apprenticeship system, which involves both spiritual and musical teachings. That does not mean that innovation is frowned upon. Bauls and other various kothok-kobi (that’s basically street poets) are famed for their witticisms. They are a dying breed one might liken to the rappers of today’s world.
The modern mixes or ‘revivals’ of traditional Baul numbers consume a change in tune and inane rap, which calls for disrespect. From our talks with a few Bauls, it was understood that most Bauls consider changing the tune an ignorant move and regard it as an affront. While some Bauls have no problems with musicians like Bappa Majumdar and bands like Bangla and Shironamhin – who keep the tune and lyrics true, but use different instruments – other musicians are met with shaking heads, snorts and annoyed comments such as, “they got the whole thing wrong.”
Also, it stems from a sense of copyright and ownership. This is where things get a bit complicated. Bauls are quite lenient about copying tunes among themselves. One can find quite a few songs sung to the same tune, using different lyrics of course. Within the Baul community, they know other Bauls understand the spirituality of it all. The lack of acknowledgement of that spirituality and of the personal prowess of the Baul involved is what’s causing the discontent. The misinterpretation of spiritual ecstasy into earthly love for the materialistic society creates a tension that removes the original score far from its source.
The picture, of course, has another dimension. Today’s mass generation will perhaps be less inclined towards listening to a core Baul song amongst all the electric metropolis vibe. Adding in frills might as well make the composition more acceptable.  The idea is to bring back a religious cultural concept amidst fast paced globalization, and commercialism becomes inevitable. In the more apparent world, Sufism with a dose of pop has become increasingly popular. Courtesy of artists like Khailash Kher, Rabbi Shergill and Junoon, the young crowd has made peace with the idea of Sufi-pop. Shah Abdul Karim and Kangalini Sufia have made prodigious contributions and earned recognition in the promotion of Baul scores, both locally and internationally.
The debate is endless, but in the end (because of column space), what is acknowledged is that experimentation has its limits. In all good intention, a perfectly well-done remix can become a disrespectful indication towards a classic. What was generally felt is the extent one goes with ‘reviving’ and ‘redoing’, where the emotion of the original is best to be left unkempt. Baul or Sufi music comes from within and removing that aspect of devotion for any audience is uncalled for. On that note, the authors of this article pay tribute to the beauty and depth of Sufi music and to the innumerable Bauls out there whose belief in music enthralls us everyday.
Disclaimer: This article does not intend to offend any particular individual. All information and opinions mentioned have been collected from a series of interviews, surveys and online research; and does not necessarily reflect upon the views of the authors.

References:

  • The Star Weekend Magazine
  • Wikipedia
  • Culturazzi.com
  • Bangladesh ShowBiz.com
  • Lifestyle (Vol 3, Issue 40)

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