Monday, November 26, 2007

What Will These People Do?

In the days after Sidr, as it became clear that the loss of life, while great, was smaller than previous natural disasters of this proportion, there were two schools of thought that I heard. They went like this:

a) Most of the survivors are as good as dead because they have lost everything needed to make a living. Their lives are always hanging by a fine thread. Ownership of a cow, couple of goats, and a roof over their head, plus some means of livelihood - eg, a chicken farm, or a shrimp farm - these things took them so long to acquire that it would be impossible for them to recover from these losses.

b) The people living down south are always prepared for disasters and are very resilient. Therefore, they are down but will recover. It could have been a lot worse had it struck during high tide.

Who knows what the truth is? I don't. I can't even begin to imagine the misery, despair, pain they are going through.

I just talked with a friend who spent four days in Sidr-struck places. This is someone who gets around, and has seen a lot of Bangladesh. He said that his perspective on our poverty has completely changed. He can't fathom how the poor people he saw can ever pull out of it - whereas even a month ago he was very optimistic about the future.

One of the questions he can't find an answer to: what will happen to survivors who get going and then - because of changing world climate - another Sidr or two strikes next year? Then what?

I also hear that right now the US helicopters are the best bet to prevent the survivors from starving to death. Those who survived the last eleven days, that is.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Upstairs, Ujan Bhati Goes Upscale

Ujan Bhati is a restaurant/rest-stop in Ashuganj on the Dhaka-Sylhet highway, just to the east of the Meghna. It is a landmark on this highway because all buses stop here.

Until recently it was a low-profile, low-cost place that did its job: restrooms which stank but worked and a cavernous dining room where the waiters get you food in 5 minutes so you can be on your way in a hurry. And they made a great cup of tea.

I visited after a two-month hiatus and had my cup of tea at my usual spot in the back of the dining cavern. Then I wandered upstairs (where they had been doing construction for as long back as I could remember) for a view of the surrounds. I was pleasantly surprised to find an upscale restaurant there. It had opened on Eid day (Oct 15).

The dining room was air-conditioned and decorated with fashionable chairs and cool lighting. The restrooms had good fittings, did not stink at all, and even had Savlon hand-soap dispensers (needed some paper towels or a hand-dryer.)

The menu had all kinds of food: Bangladeshi, noodles, Indian, and a special fast-food section with burgers, rolls etc. All were priced around TK 100-200, with the Fried Pomfret topping out at Tk 360. When I asked if all the items were available to order, they said they were still working out the kinks, so about half the items were available.

On my way back, I took my tea upstairs, and it cost me Tk 15 instead of the Tk 10 it cost downstairs.

(BTW, their tea is good because they make it with fresh milk which has been boiled and thickened. The thickened cream (shor) is part of the tea. Those familiar with Kashmiri Tea of old Dhaka will recognize a distant cousin ;-) )

Here are three pictures. The new Upscale Ujan Bhati (or Ujan Bhati Upstairs?) is a nice addition for people travelling inside Bangladesh. I hope they are successful.

Stairs leading to the restaurant.

Entrance to the upstairs restaurant.

View of the dining room, around 5pm. I sure hope they get more customers than this during mealtime.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Color or B/W?

Some days ago I argued with a photographer friend. I was saying that when you take pictures in black-and-white, you see differently (that means, look for different things to fill the frame) than when you take pictures in color. He insisted that it did not matter, you should just take the picture, and you can just as easily take a good b/w picture of the same scene as you can take a color picture.

Since I had spent many years shooting pictures in b/w before switching to color, this gave me food for thought. So I took a couple of color pictures and converted to b/w.

What do you think? Which ones work better?