Sunday, March 25, 2007

Deikhya Chalan Na! (Can't You Look Where You're Going!)

Last week I was bicycling to a friend's house in Gulshan. I was riding my racing bike: lightweight but hard to control. Enjoying the unexpected cool in Choitro, I was gently ambling down Road 96. As I approached a T intersection, where a road from the left met 96, I saw two rickshaws coming down 96 from the opposite direction. They gave no indication of turning; I took a quick look left to make sure no one was coming from there. All clear, so I entered the intersection. At the last possible instant the front rickshaw decided to turn right into this road and almost hit me.

I swerved to the left, fought for control of the bike and came to a sharp stop at a gently sloping roadside ditch. Luckily, I jumped off without taking a fall.

I was furious. The rickshaw had made its turn and was moving away, about 20 feet from me. "Deikhya chalan na!" I yelled after him, meaning "Can't you look where you are going?"

That's when the rickshaw-wallah turned his head towards me. I was waiting for this moment, so I could pin him with my angry glare. Instead, I got the second shock of the day. The man had only one eye.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Young Bangladesh

My uncle told me this story years ago. During President H. M. Ershad's time, a village was facing a disaster. Mr. Ershad had ordered officials to deal with the matter urgently. They had worked hard and disaster was averted. Now the President was visiting in a helicopter. When his helicopter landed in a field, it was completely surrounded by hundreds of joyous kids. Mr. Ershad apparently looked at the official next to him, pointed outside, and said, "We have averted disaster today, but what will happen tomorrow when all these kids must be taken care of?"

Well it looks many of those kids are doing Bangladesh proud today. One example is the really young team that defeated India at World Cup Cricket yesterday. There are several teenagers in the team. As the Daily Telegaph said,

"These Bangladeshis have an impish verve all their own. Their youngsters are not only ardent but cheeky and streetwise. They are the youngest Test nation but they don't die wondering."

Ah, all those years of eating chotpoti/fuchka and playing truant/cutting classes to practice cricket pays off! A day like this is enough to make a fan out of a crusty cricket-agnostic like myself.

Another example is GMB Akash, a young photojournalist, who was chosen in an important list of worldwide top 30 "New and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2007". Akash is 30, the only South Asian in that list.

Yet another example is young novelist Tahmima Anam who I have mentioned on this blog before.

And so the list goes on. Naeem Mohaiemen, in an essay, commented on how young Bangladeshis who have been successful abroad rarely get the rave reviews they deserve in their homeland. Yes, they deserve more attention. Problem is that our culture has a historical tendency to tilt towards elders and towards the past.

But today I see a change. So many of the kids I meet at different occasions - from the classrooms and halls at BRAC U. where I teach, to budding software engineers at various firms or friend's houses, to school and college students I run into while wandering or photographing - show confidence, self-esteem, and yes, verve.

The future of Bangladesh is in good hands.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Congratulations, Tigers!

Tigers, the Bd cricket team, beat India by 5 wickets in World Cup Cricket. Two days ago, Manzarul Rana a comrade of the Tigers, died in a motorcycle accident. Tigers were playing in his memory. Congratulation, Tigers!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Extra! Extra! Goodbye Bangladesh!

Words on the street:

Hawker selling newspapers: "[In English] Goodbye Bangladesh. Goodbye Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina going to the America. In Bangla] Case being prepared against Khaleda Zia. [Back to English] Goodbye Bangladesh. Goodbye Bangladesh."


Boy to me: "Uncle why are you taking pictures?" "Just for me." "What will you do with them?" "Maybe make a book" "Who will be the author of the book."

This gives me pause. "Hmmm. Not sure. Let me think. Which authors do you like?"

"Not sure. Let me think."


Shopkeeper: [In English]"Uncle do you have one minute. We wanted to talk with you."
Me: [In Bangla] "Arekdin aashbo - I'll come another day."
Shopkeeper: [crestfallen]"Oh, you are a Bangla! Ok, never mind."


Child: "Uncle can you take my picture?" Okay. "Can you take a picture of my little brother here?" Okay. "How about one of me sitting?" Okay. "Wow, you can see the pictures? Looks fine. Hey guys, come take a look." Okay. "Uncle how about a picture of that dog? Do you see the dog over there?" No, I have to go now.


Boy: "Uncle how about a picture? Take one. Please?" Me: "What class do you go to? What is 5 times 12? Do you do your homework or cheat? Have you listened to everything your parents said today?" Boy: "Uh, I have to go now."


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Seasons Turn

Seasons turn swiftly in Bangladesh, like some other things. Last week I was enjoying the cool breezes of the end of winter on my skin. Yesterday it was suddenly hot.

In the farm, in just three weeks, the bald trees...

...had turned green...

... with leaves dripping color.

Of course the usual suspects still prowled.

But the bright yellow flowers of fall that had attracted so many critters...

... were gone, the dying plant now busy creating seedlings in place of flowers.

Even the ugly roadside plants...

...jumped into spring by producing pretty flowers.

The creepers of the forest were also out looking for some action.

But the best part of spring were these intensely fragrant Jambura blossoms. Thakur Mohashoi, "Fagune tor aamer boler ghraan" is not nearly as sweet-smelling as these, but somehow "Faguney tor jamburar boler ghraney" does not sound so poetic!

Friday, March 09, 2007


Couldn't resist this cat at a jewellery store:

I Like These Signs

The "do not pee here" signs are sometimes hilarious. This one threatens 10 strikes by shoe, as well as Tk 50 ($0.75) fine. Is that you Gopal Bhaar?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Book Talk

My brother brought me Francine Prose's "Reading Like a Writer" which I am reading like a reader, heh-heh. Seriously, the book reminds one to read slowly in order to understand and appreciate the craft of writing. Each word and sentence is the result of a decision made by the writer, and one can fully appreciate the nuances only by slow and deliberate reading.

This is true of any creative art, of course. Take photography for instance. If you want to learn to be a photographer by looking at photographs, then study the lighting, the location in space, the instant the shutter was pressed, how the space inside the frame is organized, how colors (or shades of grey) are used, etc.

One interesting tidbit about Prose's book: in the list of "must-read" books at the end, she has only one book on "how to write" amongst a mass of fiction - the evergreen Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I have used this book for 25+ years and still go back to it.


Both Etc and Words n Pages in Gulshan are closed due to the crackdown on building code violations. Kudos to owners of WnP for their honesty in admitting to customers they have "a small legal problem" - unlike other restaurants and businesses, partially bulldozed, claiming they are closed because they are "renovating."


Finished reading J. Lahiri's The Namesake. Syed Manzoorul Islam, in his story Reshmi Rumal, says he was carrying Namesake and Tagore's Chhinnopotro during a train ride. He tried to read the former for an hour, did not like it, then tried "Thakur Mohashoi-er Chhinnopotro" and liked it. Well I thought Namesake was a quick and light read, specially interesting to me because my children were born and raised in the US.


I understand Bangladeshi writer Tahmima Anam's book launch took place this week in London. The book is the first opus in English around the 1971 War of Bangladesh Independence. I hope it reaches many people who don't know about our history. Am looking forward to reading it.


That book I bought at Boi Mela, called Bangladesher Protno Shompod, passed its second test last week. How? Back in Dec 2005, I asked about a mysterious ruin near Bhairab Bridge. Recently, Mr. Anwar left a comment on the blog saying it was Hatir Pul of Bariura in Sarail, and sure enough, the above book has a section on this bridge and on Bariura. Quick, someone take this book from me before I spend the rest of my life wandering around Bd checking out historical ruins!
(BTW, the first test was before I bought it - I wanted to find the location of Shankarpasha mosque in Sylhet - which I had been trying to locate - and it had good directions.)