Tranquillity lost is rarely recoverable, but a sure way to reach it is to make peace with ourselves, our lives and the people who turn our world upside down. Abdur Rahman Chowdhury, like most others, laments our collective loss of tranquillity but has chosen to react to many of these recent, often connected, tragic events by explaining the context in which tragedy unfolds.
While a typical newspaper or television ends up talking only about the culminating tragedy, Chowdhury makes an earnest effort at connecting them to their actual causes - how faraway past misadventures are having far-reaching consequences now in places that were once considered either unreachable or insular.
A lot of what is taking place today in the Middle East, in particular, can be traced back to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Too many drastic changes were shaped by European actors, as so carefully recorded in 'A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East' by David Fromkin. Those initial changes continue to give rise today to newer and unthinkable secondary and tertiary tragedies, lately driven by more recent misadventures by actors from across the Atlantic. Chowdhury's book, 'Reversing Tranquillity', in comparison, examines some of the more recent, apparently disconnected, events that are taking place both in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Almost by coincidence, I came to know of Abdur Rahman Chowdhury (and am yet to meet him in person) and his book 'Reversing Tranquillity'. I finished reading the book in just one weekend and now several weeks later I am jotting down my thoughts. Chowdhury worked initially in Bangladesh, the place of his birth, and then for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) for some 30 years. He has spent ample time in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Eritrea, Iraq, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka-a swath of land that has seen its respective states of tranquillity usurped, it seems, forever-caused by forces from both within and also from far away. The writer was not in the business of writing initially but since his retirement has taken up pen to analyse what he has seen and often experienced and how things have been taking shape on the ground at the source (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, 'Kashmir', Myanmar, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, and Ukraine), and in locations across oceans (Canada, Europe, the UK, and the USA).
Each chapter of 'Reversing Tranquillity' stands alone. They've all appeared in print form in newspapers in Dhaka, Lahore and New Delhi, and each includes not only a specific recent event or political action but also the necessary historical and political contexts.
The author is seriously contemplative and thorough in his historicity, description, and analysis. Because some of these events, each of which is often the focus of an entire chapter, are also connected to an overarching context; the chapters may appear at times repeating some of the same information, especially to one who is chapter-hopping within a single weekend. For other readers, these same chapters will appear both complete and sufficient. There are quite a few chapters that focus in particular on Bangladesh and its current vitriolic political discourse.
I found the language used in 'Reversing Tranquillity' to be lucid and rather easy to navigate. If there is a downside to the book, it is that events in its chapters will give rise soon to other events and tragedies, all reversing tranquillity, by the time when a future reader may find 'Reversing Tranquillity' to be a bit dated.
The upside of the book, however, is that its author is adept at analysing with rigour current events as they are taking place right before our own eyes.
The reviewer is Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, USA.
He can be reached at [email protected]