Thursday, May 28, 2009

Moving Back: Child's Point of View

NRB parents who are thinking of moving back: the essay at the bottom of this page might be of interest.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tools of the Sidewalk Traders

According to the dictionary, a tool is a device used to perform or facilitate manual or mechanical work. It is something necessary to the carrying out of one's occupation or profession.

Primeval tools such as fire, the spear and the wheel , enabled homo sapiens to raise himself to be ruler of his surroundings. Throughout history, tools often played a pivotal role in the making and breaking of civilizations.

As a software engineer, I too had to learn and respect the use of tools in my profession. Some tools were absolutely necessary to do my job; others saved time and improved product quality.

For most people the tools of software engineering remain invisible. However, when I returned to Bangladesh after many years abroad, I discovered a very visible set of tools on the sidewalks of Dhaka. Numerous street vendors employ this useful set of tools to earn a livelihood. If they are selling a product, the tools are used to prepare or enhance the product for selling. If they are selling a service, the tools are used to provide that service.

These tools range from mundane (tea-making) to unexpected (fortune-telling parrot); from simple (scale) to complex (making talismanic rings); from precise (shoeshining) to disorganized (stencils for making posters).

Our sidewalk tools are thus a testament to the creativity and resilience of our small business entrepreneurs.

A typewriter is handy for typing up legal documents.

Scales used to sell carrots.

Metals used to make nobogroho talismans from eight metals.

A cart used by vendors to carry and showcase products.

Tools needed to shine a pair of shoes.

Crushers are used for extracting sugarcane juice.

A rickshaw mechanic needs a whole hierarchy of tools.

A parrot tells the fortune by pulling an envelope with a message inside.

Stencils used to make fliers and posters.

A paanwallah has tools to mix paan spices and light the cigarettes.

A tailor's tools.

A teamaker's tools for serving up a refreshing cuppa.

(This series of my photos and the essay appeared in The Daily Star as a full-page "City in Frames" feature on Tuesday May 12, 2009.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Just What We Need

Oh brother! Some telecom company has a new slogan, "Talk More." Come on guys. This nation is all talk. Didn't you pay attention? Everyone loves to talk and talk and talk. And now we need to talk more? Brilliant!

You go to a seminar and everyone talks though likely not a single person has done anything substantive since they graduated from college some decades ago.

You go to a cricket match and everyone talks about how good they could have played if only this and that had happened.

You go by bus and the person next to you is yakety-yakking all the way from Dhanmandi to Gulistan. If their phone batteries don't run out, maybe their head batteries should.

You go to a government office to get some work done and you will hear talk about everything under the sun - except of course your work.

Your driver thinks he can talk his way into a Tk10,000 loan from you. Your cook things she can talk her oversalted curry out of its salt. Your launderer thinks talking can remove that spot they did not bother try to lift. And given half a chance your dentist would probably try to talk your teeth out of their ache.

And I am not even going to mention religion.

So.... No, let's not talk more. Do some work instead!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Things I Miss About America

The other day I was talking to someone in the US on Skype when the power went. So did our conversation. This led me to the things I miss about America.

1. Uninterrupted power
2. Bookstores with decent English selection
3. REI (a store for outdoor activities)
4. Women on the street and in public places
5. TIE: Hersheys Symphony/Cold Stone Creamery ice cream/Costco Cashews
6. People admitting their mistake
7. Carls Junior's 6 dollar burger
8. Bicycling on Foothill Expressway and Stanford foothills
9. Camping in Death Valley or backpacking in the Sierra
10. And of course all the friends and relatives there.

To be fair, I should also list the things I like most about living here.

1. Hearing conversations, songs, etc on the street in sweet Bangla
2. Household help
3. Zillions of subjects to photograph
4. Boat rides
5. Mountain biking through villages and hospitality of villagers
6. A good Bakorkhani and Kabab from my favorite store in Lalbagh
7. Change of seasons and all that entails, particularly the fruits
8. Walking where my father, mother and grandparents once walked
9. Snacking on cheena-badam, the tastiest variety of peanut on earth
10. Relatives, old friends and new friends here.