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February 13th, 2012 / 5:50 pm
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How I Turned My Life Upside Down to Move to Bangladesh and Became Embroiled in an International Fiasco

Update 3/1/13: A former colleague who still teaches at the Asian University for Women reports that the new Vice Chancellor “has put AUW back on the path” that it was on when I enthusiastically joined the faculty. This is wonderful news. Kamal Ahmad is no longer involved in the daily running of the school, and Ashok Keshari is no longer employed by the university. These factors, along with the Vice Chancellor’s very secure position of leadership, lead me to believe that AUW is now able to fulfill its promise of becoming a leading liberal arts university for women in Asia. I have the highest hopes for the future of its students and faculty.

It was definitely an adventure.

This is what I tell people when I don’t have the inner resources necessary to describe what really happened in Bangladesh. Or when I don’t have the time.

Sometimes, I elaborate slightly on the experience of leaving everything behind to teach writing seminars at a small college called The Asian University for Women, with plans to stay at least two years, maybe more, working with some of the brightest students (from 12 different countries) whom I have ever encountered — only to be so emotionally ravaged by the (in my mind, illegitimate) administration of Kamal Ahmad and Ashok Keshari that I left after only one semester (though it felt like much longer), unable to cope with the stress-induced hair loss and the nightly crying jags, knowing that every minute I spent in the classroom was vitally worthwhile but also knowing I would crack if I stayed any longer. I might elaborate like this:

A week after I arrived in Bangladesh, before I’d even recovered from jetlag, my boss, the provost, an academic of international repute who made the school the great place it was, was terminated and barred from re-entering the country. New faculty orientation was cancelled because her replacement, Ashok Keshari, could not be bothered to return to campus early. Two weeks later, the founder, Kamal Ahmad, who had carried out the coup against her, offered me a 20% raise and promotion to a position above the eminently worthy faculty member who interviewed and recruited me (including an incredible Bengali cooking lesson) and became a fast friend, and who was not offered the promotion even though she already was responsible for half of the job description. Clearly, the offer to me was based not on merit, but on Kamal Ahmad’s suspicion that he could manipulate me because I was new and unversed, and, possibly, that he could set me up to take the fall for something. So I declined, against the urging of colleagues who thought I could stand up to Kamal Ahmad from that position. At around the same time, I along with several other faculty members had to take it upon ourselves to organize class registration because every administrator with enough institutional knowledge to do so had resigned in protest.

But no matter how much I elaborate, never have I really felt able to convey what is happening at the Asian University for Women under Kamal Ahmad and Ashok Keshari.

For there is a violence within words, one that can only be felt and absorbed, that narratives can’t expose. One that facts and documents carefully skirt.

Yet I will keep trying, probably forever. With that in mind, I provide below two emails. Before you laugh at the awkward phrasing of the first, remember that Ashok Keshari is in a position of real authority over approximately five hundred young women. What might seem silly in its idiomatic bizarreness seems less so when you consider that Ashok Keshari’s decisions have actual consequences for actual, wonderful people.

Before you write off the second as (stereo)typical of the way South Asian men address South Asian women who dare to speak up, consider that Kamal Ahmad was educated at Exeter and Harvard. Consider that he attracts donors from all over the world — including, potentially, perhaps imminently, tens of millions of dollars from the World Bank — by claiming that the school he founded empowers Asian women to become leaders. Consider that the kind of violence enfolded in his words is by no means unique to South Asia.

First, here is an email from Ashok Keshari, addressed on one faculty member but sent to 42 people. The “Amy” mentioned is me:

Dear Shahirah,
I have been following your series of mails crossing here and there. I will appreciate you that you compelled me to break my patience and write this e-mail, and more importantly for educating me to improve my knowledge to read your mind. Your e-mails establish to believe that you are a classic example of a masterpiece who mislead the people with brutality and vindictive attitude for the sake of her own personal interest and gain. I wonder how do you claim to be a faculty of liberal art, whereas your actions, writing with false information contradict hugely characteristics of a liberal art product! I welcome you to join me and my team sometime to go to the heaven of the Great Himalaya especially in winter time when everything is covered with white marble of truth and spirituality for retrospecting and rejuvenating yourself with the true liberal art!
By using derogatory remarks, abusive language and, false and fabricated information, you want to damage my reputation and credibility. You are blaming me for something which I can not even think of even in the most angry situation, and on the contrary you are claiming that I have done so. But, you have forgotten one basic thing that truth never let a person down and god helps such a person against all sinister designs of evil forces which you are radiating from your own writing. You should not understimate the strength of pen of other person.
You may make whim and fancy stories of false information and your evil imagination, and can write wonderful and inspiring and provocative script to mobilise faculty against me, but you can not defeat the people who gain strength from the truth and honesty and pure conscience.
Your actions and writing do compel me to believe that you write inspirational and philosophical words/sentences for AUW academics just for gimmicks, whereas you never believe and inculcate that in your own life/action. If you would have honestly put the same energy and sentiments in true sense in action, perhaps you would have become great. But I feel sad to see your state of mind and become further sad when I read that [name redacted] thinks of you as a role model for young writers!
Let me give you some very recent facts that become relevant especially when you start writing in this unethical, unprofessional, vindictive manner with ulterior motive and evil designs:
1. You and Amy wrote me mail that both of you are interested to take the responsibility of registration and running writing courses. But, could not provide the course description to me in time. Amy gave the description of her two courses very late, only couple of days before pre-registration causing tremendous pressure on me and encroaching my personal space, time and peace.
2. Amy all of a sudden cancelled her one of two writing seminar courses just on the day of pre-registration when the pre-registration booklet was already out.
3. You never expressed, suggested or did any thing to tell me who else can offer writing courses. It is [name redacted] who wrote to me that [names redacted] should be called for writing courses, and she conveyed them on my request that I will be happy to receive writing course descriptions for them that can be included in the pre-registration booklet and will be available for registration. I greatly appreciate  [names redacted] for their help and they submitted their course description in no time. But, you quickly wanted to took credit and wrote a mail to all appreciating them as if you did something great in this process, whereas the truth is that you did nothing.
4. Now, you disrespect and abuse current writing faculty. What do you want to prove? Who is inferior? Kindly educate me. You may be very superior fellow in writing as you claim, but my question is that what made you to raise fingers on other writing faculty?
5. Amy resigned abruptly without giving any information to me. I could not understand what kind of responsibility you or Amy played in offering writing courses. I wonder how could you be believed?
6. You always say about the registration of writing courses. Let me give you more fact – your second course got very poor response from students, except a few number of students who were interested to take. On the other hand, other writing courses got overwhelming response from students. But, still I tried to keep equitable distribution, which is evident from the enrollment in current writing courses; but still you have concern and grievance. What an amazing state of mind?
7. You have been pretending students concerns one or other in some pretext, and claim that you are speaking after a great deal of discussion with students; but the same students say that you never discussed or looked their concerns. I wonder how you go on writing such false claims in your e-mails. When I ask you what is the concern and who are they and send them to discuss – you simply ignore; why? Where do they disappear?
8. You have claimed that I have threatened students. The students know very well who do what. They are not fool who will listen you and put a blame on me.
9. I wonder why do you discriminate in copying mails to some faculty members.
Anyways, I don’t want to write further as you may be having time for destructive synergy, I don’t have!
With thanks and wish you all the best for restoration and rejuvenation,
Ashok Keshari
The second email is from Kamal Ahmad, in response to an email that clearly outlines some concerns about staffing the writing seminars, which are vitally important to the liberal arts curriculum at AUW. Instead of addressing her concerns, Kamal Ahmad wrote the following, again addressed to one faculty member but sent to an additional twelve people, presumably not to inform them but to implicitly warn:
Dear Shahirah,
What a fine sample of pompous ass writing you have sent me!  Nonetheless, I want to re-assure you that AUW remains firmly committed to the mission of the University.  If you have any other concerns, please let me know and I will be happy to discuss them with you.
Best,
Kamal

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