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For a Bangladeshi

What it means to be Bengali

Every other day a family member will chime in to ask me if I’m teaching Noah (my 14 month-old) Bengali the language and the culture. And every time I silently shake my head.  Continue reading “What it means to be Bengali”

My fellow progressive compatriot …

I’m privy to a lot of conversations, particularly amongst mothers, and women in general from south asian backgrounds. And whilst every one of them is complaining about how rotten the society is, I hate to break this to you, but the problem is YOU.  Continue reading “My fellow progressive compatriot …”

About the apple and the tree

We seem to be surrounded by assholes of every age imaginable. If you’re wondering why, some or most of it probably is to blame for the kind of parenting that’s practised in the Indian subcontinent.  Continue reading “About the apple and the tree”

Dhaka is unsafe for women and why the city is okay with it

You know what infuriates me the most? It is the accepted resignation of how things are in Bangladesh. How on one hand there is a woman running the country, while you and I dare not step out on the streets alone. Continue reading “Dhaka is unsafe for women and why the city is okay with it”

Homosexuality

This one word raises uncomfortable questions, invites undesirable dissection and contention. However, it has existed for as long as we can remember. My attempt is not to gain support in favour of homosexuality, but more from an educational and informative perspective, raise awareness. I wish to shed light on facts and observations  derived from history, personal experience et al. While it is true what we do not know cannot harm us, it is also true that lack of knowledge and information is the biggest culprit behind most derailed perceptions we hold in this world today and misconstrued anger and frustration. Opportunists always tend to take advantage of these emotions and fuel it to satisfy their ulterior motives. Thus, should you have any confusion, reservation or pure curiosity in regards to homosexuality, please read on, as you would only be doing yourself a favour, only if not to let people take advantage of what you do not know. Alert: myth busters ahead! Continue reading “Homosexuality”

Be Positive!

Introspectively and in retrospect, this nation began its journey with nil..zero capital, baffled identities, ill political maneuvering, death of intellectuals, plight that came from natural disasters..the list goes on! Some would say 42 years should have been long enough for the wounds to heal but what about the ones that strike us down continually on a daily basis in the guise of corruption, treason, derailed govt regulations? And despite all that it is being said that Bangladesh “is one of the fastest growing developing countries”, “has made remarkable progress in declining child and maternal mortality”, “8 million Bangladeshi overseas workers in more than 155 countries, who remitted over $14 billion in 2012”, “is one of the world’s leading exporters of ready-made garments, ranking second in the world after China”. Let’s take a moment to contemplate the positive progress we have made so far, because to be honest, we could do with a bit of positivity right now! “
This pronounced statement above was the result of my positive-ranting (yes there is such a thing, only in my books though, I too often wonder if I do not have a biological defect!) resulting in a facebook status back at that time, at the end of February, when an apparent positive affair called the ‘Projonmo Chottor’ made me witness things I had neither heard nor expected in the history of this nation – Bangladesh! These two simple words, together, produced a platform that put forward a belief, resurrected an emotion in every single Bangladeshi, which at least our generation, the millennium, who had grown up only been regaled with tales of heroism from 1971, was suddenly awarded with an extraordinary opportunity to be a part of! All those hundreds of movies(when one thinks about a Bangladeshi movie or drama serial, you can only see visuals of 71!) that we had been watching ever since we were born, all the brilliant anecdotes recounted by our mothers and grandmothers so often that they came alive in front of our eyes and suddenly all those pent-up emotions revealed like a bare wound, in public, to be critically assessed, by those two really simple words! Those, couple of months, were tough I must admit.
I must also admit that I did not expect any specific outcome out of the movement from the beginning. Yes, even an overly emphatic optimist as myself! It was not like I did not want our lives, or the lives of the citizens living in Bangladesh at the time, to experience something as brilliant as the stories depicted so often on celluloid: a raging war, arrival of a messiah and a happy ending. As much as I enjoy an unhealthy dose of a Bollywood flick every now and then, even I am more realistic than that! Sometimes I blame these unrealistic portrayals in cinema for raising our expectation bars so high that real life cannot cope with it!
What did we expect? Suddenly a hero was going to descend from the seventh heaven, okay, let’s say from amongst this bunch that founded the chottor, fight our battles, awaken us from this nightmare that we call life here and basically rescue us while we stand on the sideline, all safe and secure, under the protection of our family names and inherited power and only contribute to the war cry? Sorry but I just smiled out of grief and I believe all the thousands of heroes that once made our blood boil, from celluloid to real life, from William Wallace to Bhagat Singh, all just ganged up on me and smiled the most derogatory smile I have ever seen! Battles are not won that way, fights are not fought that way and life, my friend is not that easy, they say. Some things can only be achieved the good old-fashioned way!
It would be fair to say I did not mind the effect that Projonmo Chottor was able to create – a reason to unite, stand together – and I would risk sounding like a broken record if I repeat all that I had said back in early February 2013. I did absolutely jump on the bandwagon, locally and overseas, virtually and in real life, I debated in my sleep over sweat and blood! But it was not in the hope of seeing sunshine, no, because I believe the only place capable of producing sunshine is not somewhere we can spot outwardly, but lies within the deepest wells of our soul, in each of us. It lies with our core belief. And that belief had moved mountains centuries before us and is still capable of doing so! Then why does the human form this energy takes distract us? Why do we doubt in our own individual power to change this world?
In a matter of a few months I witnessed families drifting apart, friends turn foes, couples breaking up – I must admit these were astounding feats! Never before had I seen this country or its countrymen displaying such deep-rooted, brash emotion towards anything other than that, which concerned their bread and butter. It was impressive. We can argue through our teeth over why and hows and also who was behind the ‘show’ but the motion was a success from the go!
The sad part, personally though for me, lies in the fact how a dark eerie shadow seem to lurk behind every Bangladeshi citizen in the form of this negative energy. If it was the Treta Yug or epoch, when Lord Rama lived, I would have vouched it was the work of the evil Asuras! Because it is not just in matters related to this nation that we are negative about – it is anything and everything! Say you pay a compliment to someone within the earshot of another, within seconds the eavesdropper would feel the need to make up some story to make the person spoken about sound horrible! The Asuras may have lost in the Tetra Yug but alas, the presence of the evil still lives and will only be defeated once and for all when each of us, individually and intrinsically, delve into that well of power and declare war! A war against everything that is wrong in our backyard, in our vicinity and a war against everything big and small we have been silent about for so long!
A messiah has arrived – can you see? It is YOU.

Counterdiction

Yes you have read it right. I did just invent the word in the title. Hence please refrain from consulting the thesaurus or alternatively look away from the more popular google search-bar and let me explain myself a little better! I believe this is the second occasion where I have been guilty of taking the liberty to create portmanteau terms and I only have the excess of creative energy flowing through my veins currently to blame for it. This characteristic reckless display of boldness this time around though has been triggered by a phase, that I am constantly finding myself in, where opposing thoughts collide, creating ample sparks to invite a reactive response to mitigate matters, only resulting in more fervour! I hope to have made quite an impression by this incomplete vague explanation in my first paragraph and to prove the extent to which my audacity has grown, over the past couple of months, I am proud to present my first piece without a disclaimer! (Applause)
Upon returning to Bangladesh and settling comfortably back into the privileged, bourgeois standard of living in Dhaka, I have had the opportunity to reflect on how this city is the perfect paradise for an adrenaline junkie. I mean it – who needs to rely on drugs or invest into an adrenaline pumping recreation when the constant life-and-death reality that surrounds you is more than capable of throwing you into the deepest pits of illusion, consecutively make you disillusioned while providing you with the accompanying sensation of jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute the whole time. The reason I have successfully managed to offend both the city and my particular class, all in the same breath, is because it is not the first instance when I have bitterly noticed the positioning of my own class in this society and the views and opinions it seems to represent and I must say they are not, as one might describe as ‘kosher’ or more relevant in this society’s context as – ‘halal’.
There is no easy way to state the truth surrounding the conformity of this upper-middle-class or as I like to refer to as the ‘unfortunately privileged’ part of the society and the fact to the matter is that the invisible caste system, unassigned by any racial or religious discrimination (as we might observe in the neighbouring countries) which exist amidst the people of the same colour, features and profile in this country is a puzzle. It is a puzzle I have neither been able to unravel nor understand ever since I can remember and it started right from within my own household, where as a child myself and the hired help had never been allowed to occupy the same space at the same time, without clearly defining our individual domains.* The very first encounter with an exception to this rule was when I visited a friend’s house from school and discovered her exceptionally liberal-minded parents allowing their young hired maid to sit at the same table as us and I remember how all the other kids, including myself reacted to it – not with negativity thankfully but with sheer incredulity at such a leap of a break from tradition! The ratio of rational forward thinking people in this particular class – with similar financial means when I was growing up – against the bourgeois was 1:100 and sadly it has not changed much since.
What have we really got against the hordes of the black, brown and yellow that walk the same road as us every day and why can we not for once accept that they are our majority, the driving force of this nation and not the ruling minority that speeds past in their air-conditioned BMWs? When the RMG sector in this country first started gaining momentum and a lot of this apparent ‘lower’ class joined this contemporary stream of workforce, I did not have to venture far to hear comments like ‘look how this boom in the garment industry has affected this lower class! Suddenly their attitudes have changed, their backs straightened, they are looking us straight in the eye!’. This was a clear indication of the fear that I noticed in my surroundings where the supposed upper-class suddenly started to feel threatened as their subconscious stoked their growing concern over the repercussions of an empowered underclass which might ultimately grow powerful enough to compete at the same level as us, even, God-forbid intermingle with our own children and contaminate future generations! I must pause here to take off the figurative cloak that I had draped myself in thus far (to better explain my inherited personal positioning in this class struggle) and would refrain from using the term ‘us’ when speaking of the upper-middle-class from here on, as in the context of this piece, I mentally do not sit within that arena.
In wake of the current Savar crisis in Bangladesh, which by the way had even raised the alarm at the Vatican I hear, I am once again disappointed to discover that this country has been divided into two by even a tragedy of this magnitude. The segregation now lies between the capitalist vs. the idealist, the patrician vs. the egalitarian, the former in both cases presenting success stories based on monetary facts and figures and the latter obviously highlighting the failure in the form of a retreat from human development. What we collectively fail to realise is the number of years and a catastrophe serving as an eye-opener that took us to reflect on the lawless manner in which the upper-class has been conducting all employment transactions with the underclass. The complete lack of regulations and regard in relation to working condition, fair pay, discrimination and foul play exceeds far beyond the realms of the RMG sector alone. It seeps into our homes, in the driving seats of the most chauffeur-driven cars, in our kitchens, on the stools guarding our forts and into the very bane of our everyday existence! The desensitised negligence from the educated section of the society and the vanity from the ‘elite’ is reminiscent of a struggle in a different part of the world long ago – the American civil war and the African-American civil rights movements respectively. Under the current circumstances, we either give rise to an Abraham Lincoln from amongst us or wait for another Martin Luther King to be born out of oppression. Either way, we need to be rescued from this attitude where we see only to make it unseen and feel only to make it unfelt.
Collectively, as a society beyond class and creed, and individually let us exorcise the demons within ourselves and eradicate this gap between the different classes that still exist today before we can hope to achieve anything else and perhaps tilt the scale towards the more rational, progressive and forward thinkers of this country. This can be achieved first and foremost – by growing a conscience. The oxford dictionary describes education as ‘an enlightening experience’ and while you would find many a certified educated person around you, how many do you believe have actually acquired their sensibilities in the true essence of the definition? Let us be enlightened and grow a little more courage and show it by taking some baby steps – like I have by shedding the cloak of disclaimers today just because I did not feel the need to justify my actions publicly just this once – and as a nation develop unabashedly, both monetarily and conscientiously, hand in hand. In a hurry to get to work, let us not forget our morals back home.
*please refer to “labour crisis in the household: truth or myth?” for a related story. 

It was a dark and stormy night…

 I wrote the central gist of this little piece many years ago, given the title above as the topic of the essay, for a school assignment in year 8 or 9. I was made to stand up in front of the class and read it out loud. It was momentous, especially at that age when the creative part in me sought after any acknowledgement and revelled in applause, while withdrew into seclusion and took a million steps backward at the mere mention of criticism. It was a delicate time and my feelings and opinions raw – fresh out of the oven! I have attempted to the best of my ability to recapture and rewrite the basic story, staying true to the formidable, crude and unadulterated thoughts that occupied my mind at fourteen/fifteen, once upon a time. However, the treatment had undergone unforgivable reparation and wear and tear of age. I have also added a few parts taking recent events into consideration that made me remember this story in the first place. I feel the need for it to be retold. The time is right.

Continue reading “It was a dark and stormy night…”

D.H.A.K.A

Now this is a real abbreviation; none of those wishy-washy titles that have been in existence since “F.R.I.E.N.D.S” came on air.  However, I am not too sure whether there is any kind of sequence or interrelation between what each letter represents.  D for dark? H for hallucinatory? A for abstract? K for kindred? A for alien? This is a city of dark, hallucinatory and abstract kindred aliens to be more precise and poses a lot more question marks than I can handle.
I have recently realised how almost all my writings commence with some sort of a disclaimer, if not disclaimers. I mean why should this be an exception! Now getting to the disclaimer bit, I do realise the risk of attempting to talk about the qualities of a city, that too about one that has innumerable facets, most of which is still undiscovered by myself after spending a significant chunk of my life there. However, I still believe the risk is worth taking. You would hardly find any two individuals giving you the same account on a city no matter how similar their stories might happen to be and although my storytelling would not be exempt from any of the clichés that are incessantly associated with this city of ours, it would nevertheless be different.
I can still vividly hear each set of drum rolls that came about in rapid succession that night. With each drumbeat, my heart skipped several. There are certain moments in your life when you blindly wish for something in exchange for almost anything and this certainly was one of mine. Yes, this was that historical night that changed everything for the people of Bangladesh. That dark, dreary night in March when we challenged our fates against the gruelling upper hand of Pakistan; gnawed our way up, stood our ground and declared in a unified clear voice that we would not go quietly into the night, we would not vanish without a fight. Yes, this was the Asia Cup final cricket match against Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Okay, so enough with my melodrama and million apologies for the intended pun but to be quite frank, never before had I felt the entire nation standing united for a single cause the way I had witnessed it that night at the stadium! I was born in December 1985 and quite unfortunate, I believe, that I missed out on that single opportunity of feeling the ferocious passion that brought about this country’s independence 14 years prior. The only glimpses of it’s evidence, a pale shadow of the past can now only be viewed on these rare occasions of a significant cricket tournament.
Bangladesh as a whole really is quite an interesting country to say the least. There are people ruthlessly conning you for minimal gain, taking advantage of you the second you undergo a weak or vulnerable moment, using emotion as a weapon at every given opportunity, at one hand. On the other, people can take you by surprise by doing something totally selfless when least expected! It is a rollercoaster emotional tornado that is unpredictable and without any specific pattern. I have been thrown into this chaos at birth and left at it’s mercy for the first seventeen years of my life and at the end of this span I exited as clueless as the day I had entered. Thus, when I had an opportunity to take a two-month’s sabbatical (both professional and personal) from my usual structured Sydney life, I was face-to-face with an unusual opportunity to explore the city I had left behind.
What I discovered in these couple of months perhaps raised a lot of new questions but certainly restored my faith on the three aspects, or pillars as I like to refer to them as, that had withstood time and tide. The three pillars: food, religion and cricket. To begin with the first pillar, I do realise that it should come as no surprise that it is important to the characteristics of any given city, however, with Dhaka it is a lifeline that people tends to hold onto with dear life. Restaurants, cafes and lounges are probably important anywhere but in a city where there is very little or no nightlife for the majority otherwise, they are snares waiting to entangle the lives of people here on a daily basis and takes it to another level of enjoyment that I have personally hardly seen anywhere else. In a city where we all have to return to our families and a hearty home-cooked meal end of the day, it is the opportunity to socialise over a meal that becomes the main objective. Thus the not-yet-married couples throng the cafes, the already married couples have some quality time before returning to parents or parents-in-laws, the exhausted office-goer shares a light moment before facing the reality of responsibilities that awaits home and the school, college and university bound crowd enjoys a moment in peace before the burden of deadlines and assignments set in. Thus, these eat-out joints provide them with not food that is perhaps readily available elsewhere but with a haven, a place in-between, far from reality.
I remember once I was crossing the street in Sydney with a dear friend, engaged in an intense conversation over the presence and influence of religion in that city, and I made an impromptu remark that had more truth to it than I had realised then. Quoting myself: if you want to find God, you will not find him in these streets of Sydney. He will evade you. If you want to find him, you will have to travel back to Dhaka with me to witness His presence and existence incorporated into our very lives. That is where He dwells.
Though it was a casual remark but a few months later when I made my way back to this city, I felt the depth of it once again. God really dwells here. From the moment the dawn breaks and the sweet music of “Azaan” start to send signals to your brainwaves, at first softly, like a hum and then building in tempo to a cry of faith and devotion that calls out urgently to every individual to the peaceful moan in the background during “Esha” that calls it a day in a serene dismissal. Regardless of the level of faith you harness towards this particular religion, it never fails to dissect your day into five parts.  There is a beautiful song by a Bangladeshi folk band that talks about this dissection better than I can ever explain and although hardly any Dhakaitie can relate to the activities mentioned in the song, we can all empathise in true essence. Very roughly translated, the lyrics are as follows:-
In the wake of Fajr, I was busy fighting sleep
Johr was spent in the comings and goings of life
My Asr was at the mercy of my livelihood
Alas, I had no time for prayers
Maghrb was spent in the shed with the animals
With them untied, my life was a mess
Alas, I had no time for prayers
During Esha, my wife cries out we have no rice
And with that cries my child and so does my life
Alas, I had no time for prayers!
Okay, did I not mention it was a rough translation? The words are mostly my own loosely based on the song and mostly inspired by it, but hopefully I managed to make my point.
Because I started this piece with cricket, somehow it seems befitting that it should end with cricket and also perhaps more so because cricket is all I can feel in my veins right now. Reliving that unfortunate match right now, feeling the pain of loosing to Pakistan had perhaps driven me a little mad and I am perhaps loosing sight of what I had originally set to achieve through this writing but in case you find yourself as muddled and in wonderment after reading this as I currently am feeling, then I would not consider this as an entirely wasted effort after all! This is exactly the pot of boiling and confusing emotions that I enter this city with every time and exit almost exactly in a similar fashion – with just perhaps a million more questions and amazement to add to the basket!

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