Friday, June 15, 2007

Seven Days on the Other Side

Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.

On May 22, 2007, a seven-member team of journalists from Bangladesh was invited to a week long tour of Pakistan; a country not on the top of anybody's list for a visit with all the violence and unrest. The delegation comprised of Doulot Akter of The Financial Express, Alpha Arzu of The New Age, Golam Mustofa Sarwar of Ittefaq, Ataul Gani Osmani of The Independent, Salim Zahid of Jugantor, Shariq Rahman of The Probe and myself.

The scorching heat hit us as soon as we stepped out of Karachi International Airport. Trying with all my might to keep my eyes open and smile at Mr. Salman, the protocol officer who would be accompanying us everywhere in Karachi, I came face to face with McDonalds! It's been more than five years since I had been inside McDonalds, I thought to myself. All around me, burly men dressed in shalwar kurtas were walking by, while burkha-clad women were entering McDonalds keeping a strong hold on toddlers and shopping bags with both hands.

Main Street, at the Taxila City Ruins.

We drove over one fly-over after another, while on our way to the guesthouse, for which Warid Telecom in Pakistan sponsored the accommodations. Karachi seemed to be an extension of the Middle East, as one elderly journalist had put at the Karachi Press Club that we visited later on. Standing on the borders of desert areas like Baluchistan, a normal summer day in Karachi would be around 37-40 degrees Celsius with hardly any rain in the city. “Karachi would get clogged with water if it ever did rain!” exclaimed Rizwan, one of the Warid officials from Lahore who we met at the guesthouse.

Something that fascinated me on the streets was the local bus in Karachi. Other than the series of buses that carried company logos, advertisements of soft drinks, telecom companies and detergent powders, the local buses of Karachi were a sight to cherish for any foreign visitor. Decorated with colourful paper-cut outs, glittery cloth pieces and flashing aluminium lights, these traditional red buses were as glittery as Christmas decorations. Further down the streets, we even found toy replicas of these traditional buses for foreign visitors to buy as souvenirs.

We visited the Karachi Press Club the next day. Located at the centre of the city, the ancient architecture of the structure took our breath away. This 117-year-old structure had big windows, broad staircases and high ceilings amongst many other homely features. Beside the club, visitors could loiter around in the lawn and enjoy cups of coffee. The 'homeliness' that I felt within the club did not stop there. The members of the club took us under their wings and gave us a warm welcome. In between all the discussions regarding politics, trade and social issues in both the countries, these elderly journalists reminisced about the years before 1971, when journalists from both the countries worked together. How do they view the war between the two lands in 1971, we ask them. For a moment, there was meaningful silence in the room. Many of these older journalists had been there and probably even saw many of their fellow Bangladeshi colleagues suffer and even sacrifice their lives during the Liberation War. Many of the journalists wanted to say so many things, but all they ended up with was, “What happened back then was very tragic.” Moving on to the present political conditions of the two countries, the same journalist commented on the recent events that had taken place in Karachi. “The people of South Asia end up showing the streak of cannibalism that they possess within. During riots here in Karachi, we saw people lynching young people as old as fourteen and dancing on dead bodies.” Despite the numerous differences that I can count on my fingers between Pakistan and Bangladesh, some things stay the same.

A scene from Food Street in Lahore.

The highlight of the Karachi visit was the visit to Clifton beach. Sitting amongst families, school children, camels and horses alike, we came across a young photographer who was walking about from one place to another, asking visitors if anyone would like to take a picture besides the splashing waves or the decorated camels. I kept looking at these camels and horses and wondered at the visitors who were paying Rs 40 to Rs 200 just for a ride. Though I have never been a big animal-person, I have always imagined myself riding a white stallion on the beach, with my hair flying against the wind and music playing in the background. Here was my chance to live my dream. Unfortunately, the horses were too dirty, wobbly and expensive. I had to settle for a camel ride. Alpha Arzu from the New Age and I bargained with a camel keeper, as was the custom, agreed on an amount and finally got ready to ride our camel across the desert (rather the seashore). A word of advice to all those who are always looking for adventure out there, go for a horse ride rather than a camel ride, and even if you do go for a camel, never choose the back seat. While on the camel, my screams of fear and pain were mistaken for screams of joy and excitement. The camel keeper got encouraged and had the camel run faster. That night, I had to walk off the muscle strains before I could sit properly again.

Islamabad seemed to be a different country all together, as compared to Karachi. Comparatively a new city, Islamabad was still under construction as we saw when the delegation landed at around 10:30 pm that night. Divided into sectors categorised under alphabets and numerals, the best thing about the city was its cool weather. Roads and buildings were covered with trees and flowers such as the different hues of bougainvillea.

Islamabad seemed to encompass both modernisation in terms of infrastructural development as well as tradition still holding the remains of ancient civilisations. We were taken to the Taxila museum, situated a little away from the city, and one of the old city ruins as well. History had never seemed so exciting ever before. We gaped in wonder at the statue of the Fasting Buddha from the Gandhara Civilisations, the little glass ornaments, cooking utensils, water purifiers, the architecture.. At an actual Taxila site where the city ruins were kept intact, we saw that this ancient city was planned according to sectors, with residential areas behind the commercial buildings. “The city plans of Islamabad are based on the ancient designs of Taxila,” explained one of the guides at the site.

Visits to Faisal Mosque and Damn-e-Koh confirmed my theory that Islamabad was probably one of the most peaceful cities in the country. The mosque, attached to one of the biggest universities, the Islamic University, was literally covered with marbles and gold. The insides of the mosque had bookshelves lined up where people after prayers could refer to Islamic texts and translations of the Holy Quran. Moreover, the area practically reflected an aura of inner peace and beauty.

Wagha Border in Lahore.

Damn-e-Koh is located high up in the mountains, developed further to make it into a colourful spot for tourists. Starting from roadside musicians to monkeys dancing on the footpaths, this place attract a number of visitors and tourists especially during the spring season.

At the FPCCI and at a meeting with the State Minister for Information, we were told constantly about how Pakistan wanted to have stronger trade relations with Bangladesh. The vice president of FPCCI, Mohammad Farooq Dadabhoy, asserted on the fact that, like all the other countries, Bangladesh should organise single country trade fairs in Pakistan. “We are always interested in exporting goods from Bangladesh,” he says. “Somehow, Bangladeshi traders simply emphasise on import of raw materials from Pakistan, for instance cotton.”

We went to Lahore by road, our very last stop. As our coaster drove on the famous motorway, built on the mountains connecting Islamabad and Lahore, the members of the delegation got to know each other better. By then, we had all become used to the Pakistani food, the ways of the society and also the language. In fact, our fantastic grasp on Urdu led us to many victorious, though minor, conquests in Pakistan. For instance, Shagor Sarwar from Ittefaq was looking for paan after a hearty dinner at the famous Food Street in Lahore. After hours of searching for this deshi delicacy, he finally found a roadside stall selling a variety of paan. Smiling like a happy child with all the ice cream in the world to eat, he was seen explaining to the paanwallah, the paan eating habits in Bangladesh. The shopkeeper's look of confusion increased when Shagor said in the strange mix of Bangla and Urdu that he was using to communicate with the natives, “Hum bhi majhe majhe paan khata.” (I tend to eat paan sometimes as well).

The State Guesthouse where we were put up in Lahore was more than 250 years old. It was right out of a horror movie, complete with hundreds of rooms with gloomy pictures, king-sized closets and fireplaces. I was certain that dead people often visited the large halls, the breathtaking lawns and the beautifully furnished bedrooms while we slept or were out for the day.

The historic tombs, palaces created by the Mughal emperors, the legendary Shish Mahal, music blaring out from a nearby tea stall, the chaos and commotion created by traffic jams and large numbers of people walking from one place to another in the city took us all back home to 'good old' Dhaka City.

Food Street, a famous street in Lahore where families dine out, became immensely popular with the delegation. Not only did we get to eat cheap, we also got to witness the real Lahorites, as they call themselves, in action. Food Street, a long stretch of street filled with shops and stores on both sides of the streets, catered to people from all walks of society. The street would open up at around 5 pm and go on till well after midnight to the wee hours of morning. Though most of the food on Food Street is traditional Pakistani, two of the most famous eateries were the only ones selling fish, something that Lahorites tend to eat mostly during the winter season.

The trip to Pakistan would have been incomplete, if we had not visited the Wagha Border. Thousands of Indians and Pakistanis had thronged each side of the border, singing patriotic numbers, entertaining the audiences with dances and instruments. Soldiers from both the countries showcased their strength, banging their feet on the ground, screaming out incomprehensible words and carrying out identical feats of strength and power amidst the cheering crowds. In the end, soldier representatives from both the countries hoisted their national flags, shook hands on no-man's-land and stepped back into their own territories. To my knowledge, this is probably the only form of bondage that I have ever seen in public between the two nations.

Something that I could not help noting was the contradictions in the way women were seen. There were many women reigning over various professions, for instance journalism, both electronic and print. In fact there were quite a few female camerapersons taking our footage during the meeting with the Governor. However, on the other hand, women were hardly seen on the streets of Pakistan. We were even told that women did not go to cyber cafes in Pakistan as it was not acceptable behaviour on the part of a woman. Thus many of us were stranded in the country with no connection with Bangladesh for a whole week, if one does not count the virus-infected computer at the guesthouse that is.

There were times when I thought that I saw a little bit of guilt in the eyes of the common people who we met and spoke to randomly on the streets, or even the journalists, once we would tell them that we had come from Bangladesh. The shadow of guilt would flicker in their eyes for a moment and then disappear as quickly as it would appear. “What the authority back then in Pakistan did was not right,” remarked one senior journalist from PTV mentioned to me in Islamabad. “But that authority does not exist anymore and the bond between the people of the two countries should be built once again.” It was obvious that he like many of his compatriots did not see the need for official apologies. I wondered at the hospitality that we received from the people of Pakistan, the love and the care that they gave us in the seven days that we were there and the friendships that we made with many in those few days. “The past still exists in Bangladesh, even though the authority does not, as you say, in Pakistan,” I said respectfully to the elderly journalist, also one of the pioneers of electronic media in Pakistan. “We still have survivors, innocent sufferers and rape victims from the war, living the horror that they did in 1971, even now. I don't know if merely creating a bond of friendship would have anyone forget the atrocities committed 36 years ago.”

Volume 6 Issue 22 | June 8, 2007 |

Copyright (R) 2007

Experimenting with Expressions

Sudip Chakroborthy was drawn towards theatre at a very early age. As a youngster at school, he would often skip study time at home in Nabiganj to go and catch the local dramas that would be held in his town. To him, the world of theatre was an abode of emotions and expressions where actors on stage would tell stories, not only through words but also the facial language and expressions in their eyes. The way silence would take over and fill the stage and capture the audience had always fascinated Sudip. Being on stage and experimenting with theatre techniques has always been Sudip's dream ever since.

Theatre is a collective art space, says Sudip.

Theatre is the greatest of all art forms, according to the famous Oscar Wilde, and the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another, the sense of what it is to be human. It is so much more than the colourful costumes, emotional dialogues and the resulting fame. After finishing with both the undergraduate and the graduate programmes in Theatre from the Department of Theatre, Dhaka University in 2003, Sudip decided to give more time to experimenting with the available techniques in Bangladesh and abroad. Not only did he study the practical aspects of the techniques, but also worked with several theatre activists and university students. An ice breaking session is what every beginner needs.

Eyes shut tight, you relax your muscles and let your body go limp. Ignoring the everyday accumulation of the nitty-gritty inconveniences in life, smoothening up the knotted tension cramped in your muscles and feeling absolutely free for probably the first time in your short-lived life, you let yourself fall from a height and fly. You feel yourself falling backwards, down and suddenly two pairs of arms catch hold of you, preventing you from falling on the ground and hurting yourself. You quickly come to your senses and open your eyes to find several young boys and girls clapping in delight and hooting encouragement. 'Trust Game', is one of the many theatre games that are played with the students and beginners. "Theatre is a collective art space," says Sudip. "One realises the space and scans the activities of one's daily life and behaviour in various ways."

Very recently, Sudip got an opportunity to work with similar theatre activists in the United Kingdom. The programme 'Contacting The World' (CTW) organised by the British Council gave Sudip and his team to interact first hand with theatre activists from all over the world. "This international theatre festival is organised almost every year, bringing together theatre people from all over the world," says Sudip.

The theatre group from Bangladesh watched and studied several performances held in this programme. "This was a very good experience for all of us," says Sudip. "Not only did we learn from the theatre groups in the UK, but also experienced drama and theatre hailing from other countries as well." According to Sudip, oriental theatre seemed to have a huge technical support, both self-created and maintained. "Some of the works that we saw from many parts of the world were amazing and led us to think in different ways regarding our own theatre practices."

Where theatre is said to have reined for centuries, the theatre groups in the UK seem to showcase simple elements like love, life, passion and despair and build expressions and stories around the themes. "Simply speaking, the performers in the UK groups played a big role in inspiring and encouraging all the other groups to think positive and take the risk to walk the extra mile," says Sudip."

The international theatre festival brought in drama experiences and techniques from diverse cultures.

Sudip and his team conducted several workshops, displaying the techniques and elements used in Bangladeshi theatre. With no knowledge of culture, one cannot understand the beauty and the depth of a language. Similarly, members of all the theatre groups from all over the world got a taste of the Bangladeshi culture by participating in the workshops held. "Each group had to work on particular themes and showcase a particular element of one's own culture in the workshops and the dramas held in the end," explains Sudip. "We worked on the relationship between empty space and the props, mask, makeup, costume and the character itself. We also held workshops based on techniques from the indigenous theatre in our country."

Sudip has been to several countries both attending and conducting theatre workshops, since the last CTW. He thinks that even though there are plenty of theatre resources in Bangladesh, we still don't have the sense of professionalism within us. "Something that I learned at the CTW from the other groups is that their perception of life is very definite and strong," he says. "They take their work very seriously and are always open to new ideas. If we want to better the already built theatre platform that we have in Bangladesh, we have to be open as well ans start taking risks and not be afraid to experiment."

Volume 6 Issue 20 | May 25, 2007 |

Copyright (R) 2007

Reviving the Colours of Culture

Srabonti Narmeen Ali and Elita Karim

The air in Jatra was filled with energy on May 14, as members of the band Bangla and their friends performed for their excited fans. Members of the audience joined in, singing the songs with such enthusiasm that the singers on stage could barely be heard over the clapping and cheering. The 'jam session' marked the end of a week-long festival at the store, in which music and theatre lovers took a journey into the realms of Bangladeshi culture, incorporating 'baul' music, traditional dances, drama, puppet shows and finally, an informal performance by various contemporary musicians of Dhaka. The festival took place from May 7-14, from 5-7 PM.

"Frankly speaking, I don't get to listen to folk music as much as I would like to,” says Fariha Nipu, a sophomore from North South University. “After a day's worth of work, my entertainment options are limited to the television or the music that I download from the internet. This has been a great opportunity for me to actually discover the many elements that give shape to the culture of Bangladesh and thoroughly enjoy them as well.”

The festival had performances that captivated people of all age groups. Each day of the festival started with the lighting of the diya by a member of the staff and would end with everyone moving upstairs to the roof for a cup of coffee and shingara at the makeshift cafeteria, especially constructed for the Jatra Festival.

Mustafa Monowar launches the children's book 'Janala Diye Khoka Dekhe' with author Nazia Jabeen, illustrator Nasreen Ahmad and book designer Anusheh Anadil

On the first day of the festival, Fakirs hailing from Kushtia filled the atmosphere with their powerful lyrics and enchanting voices. They used simple instruments like the dhol, dotara and flute which added to the stories they told through their song -- they spoke of the lives they lead, entwined with hints of forbidden love, suffering and an eagerness to explore the world around them. A lot of their expressions dealt with symbolism in daily life, a common feature in Lalon Shah compositions. For instance, Rob Fakir in one of the songs, spoke about how even the beauty of earth and its wonders could not reduce the pain of not seeing one's beloved. However, being with the beloved would not quench one's curiosity of travelling down below into the sea and discover God's creations.

Maya Rani and her troupe performed Pala Gaan on the second day of the Festival. Pala Gaan is a musical dialogue where 'discussions' take place. These discussions usually centre around reality, dreams and faith. Maya Rani's troupe discussed their thoughts on the roles of men and women, as well as religion and spiritualism.

On the last day of the festival, various musicians including Bangla's bassist Buno performed for the audience

“Allah demands certain duties from man,” says Abdul Alauddin, one of the musicians in the troupe. “The Rasul asked us to be kind to living beings, to act in such a way during our lifetime so that the Almighty will be satisfied. If we don't pray, don't love our fellow beings and resort to violence to get out own way, how can we face God and the Rasul in the after life?”

“We go on with our Pala Gaan performances for hours together, sometimes going through sleepless nights as well,” says Maya Rani, explaining the excitement which often grows with every passing moment amongst the audience and the musicians alike. Something that did not go unnoticed was the way each baul would introduce themselves and start a composition; warmly greeting everyone around and thanking them for staying and listening to the compositions.

On May 9, two famous contemporary musicians, Shayan and Moon enthralled the audience with their performances. Moon sang a few songs from his recently released album, Paper of Ektaar Productions. Shayan sang some of her favourites from Kalim Sharafi and Shahnaz Rahmatullah. Her own compositions sparked a lot of interest because of her spontaneous and often, political lyrics.

“I think what Anusheh and her team is doing with the Jatra Festival is fantastic,” she says. “I am planning to come and enjoy myself on the other days as well. This is just a mere start, and I hope that Jatra will so something similar once again in the near future.”

May 10 held a treat for children with Prachchonaat, the famous theatre group, which

Theatre group Prachchonaat performs a comedy about ghosts for the young Jatra audience

performed 'Bhuto-bhutomg' and 'Kupokat'. In 'Bhuto-bhutomg', the performers with their improvisation and voice modulation techniques had the children laughing at the young ghost who suffered from the 'Casper, the friendly ghost' syndrome -- he simply could not scare people. Their play, 'Kupokat' was about a jungle meeting, where the rabbit was asked to sacrifice itself to the ever-hungry tiger, for the sake of the honour and dignity of the other animals living in the forest. The children loved the costumes, which successfully completed the look of the jungle set-up, starting from a batting-eyed peacock to a rabbit with no tail. The play was accompanied by live music by Rahul Ananda and his team of theatre musicians. Prachchonaat, although a theatre group that usually does adult drama, hopes to perform more plays for children in the future.

“We have a policy about children,” says Rahul. “'It ends with, 'let the children grow up through the colours of dance, rhythm and fun.'”

On May 11, Bhabna presented traditional dance forms and the famous story of Rana, a common man in Bangladesh, which symbolised the many hardships that are suffered by the poor people of the country. The audience easily related to the dramatised version of Rana, the labourer working from the crack of dawn till the sun sets, finally going home carrying his stick, a sack of bare essentials and a lantern. They also performed additional heart-warming compositions, encouraging the spirit of nationalism to grown within everyone present.

The last day of the festival was marked with Jatra's launching of 'Janala Diye Khoka Dekhe', a children's book by Nazia Jabeen. This colourful compilation of children's poetry was officially launched by the famous puppeteer Musafa Monowar, where the art work was done by Nasreen Ahmad and the design by singer and Proprietor of Jatra, Anusheh Anadil.

“The books are hand made, starting from the wooden covers to the hand prints made inside,” says Nazia. “It became a little too expensive and not many customers might think of buying them. That is why we have thought of releasing these books in offset paper later on, keeping the original wooden covers intact.”

The book is about Khoka, a little boy who discovers the world in nature itself. “We are planning to do a series of books with Khoka,” says Nazia. “The next series will talk about Khoka's first experience on a train.” Aimed at children between 2-5 years of age, this book was the first book launch by Jatra.

The launch was followed by puppet shows by Mustafa Monowar. His puppets brought to life the stories from the Liberation War. “This is just another way to let our children know about the war and the martyrs involved,” says Monowar. “I have been doing the same puppet shows for years now. But I always keep in mind to check the changes that are occurring around me. For instance, the theme and storyline that I used in my puppet shows today are the ones that I had done years ago. But I still bring about a difference even decades later because of the new ideas and techniques that I use along with the changing time.”

A jam session signified the end of the Jatra Festival, in which musicians such as Buno, Shahed, Ornob, Labeek, Punam and many more brought the stage to life with their music. There were enticing musical improvisations on Andrew Morris' saxophone and Taher's flute, not to mention the superb vocal works rendered by Shanjib and dhol played by Nazrul. It was an open platform and anyone could come with an instrument and perform.

In addition to the festival, Jatra treated its customers to a 30% discount off of all their products, in celebration of “a new era” for the store, in which there will be more fun, more adda and more cultural events such as last week's festival.

Singer and Jatra Proprietor Anusheh Anadil says she plans on giving Jatra a brand new look in the near future

“When we first started the store we all had so much fun,” says Anusheh. “It was not just a job for anyone, it was all very spontaneous and relaxed. We wanted to have this festival celebrating Bangladeshi culture in order to bring that feeling back, so that people know that Jatra is not just another store where people buy things, but a place where everyone can have fun and hang out. We launched the store in a similar way, with an exhibition and a festival where different people performed. Throughout the years, however, that initial excitement has kind of died out and we wanted to bring it back.”

Jatra made its debut into Dhaka's retail market seven years ago, in late 2000, with its outfits, lamps, jewellery and its signature theme of painted colourful animals on handicrafts and home furniture. The space was originally an office space which Anusheh's father rented out. She had borrowed the space for an exhibition, in which she and her friends showcased many different products.

“People were here by the dozen for the exhibition and we started doing really well,” says Anusheh. “So we ended up taking over the space and keeping it for the store.”

The name Jatra, contrary to popular belief, is not derived from the word for rural drama. Rather it is taken from the word that means journey.

“When one takes a journey through our country, there are so many bright colours all over the place,” says Anusheh. “For some reason, that particular aspect is missing in our handicrafts -- they are all very beautiful but they lack that brightness and that use of various colours. We wanted to bring that characteristic into the handicrafts of Bangladesh.”

Located on Kemal Attaturk Avenue in Banani, Jatra is unique because it incorporates traditional and folk styles with western styles of dress. Moreover, the majority of clothes made in Jatra are made with a traditional cloth called taant, (a handloom fabric) which is indigenous to Bangladesh. This fabric's texture is ideal for Bangladeshi weather as it breathes and is comfortable to wear.

“It's important to me that we use this fabric because it increases employment in Bangladesh,” says Anusheh. “The making of this fabric involves about ten people rather than cotton which does not need as many people. There are so many people who don't have jobs so if we can at least open up a market for this we will be able to provide them with employment in some way or another. It is also a really nice material, it's very comfortable.”

The Jatra Festival included a puppet show by Mustafa Monowar and Pala Gaan renditions by Maya Rani andher troupe

Aside from using traditional materials and fabrics, Jatra has also been successful in fusing Bangladeshi traditional wear and western outfits. It has provided Bangladesh's youth with an alternative style. Instead of taking fashion tips from India and the west, Bangali youngsters can now proudly sport a style that they can call their own. For example, the fotua, (a small sized panjabi to be worn with jeans or pants and occasionally a dupatta) has become a hot commodity all over Bangladesh with both men and women, thanks to trend-setting stores such as Jatra, Deshal and Prabartana.

The fotua is one of Jatra's many innovative answers to fusion fashion

Fotuas are kind of something that we always wore when we were younger,” says Anusheh. “I used to borrow my Nana's short panjabis and wear them with pants. It is important for us to have our own identity, and our own style, rather than copying Indian fashion. Before there were two extremes -- you would either have the men and women wearing completely western outfits, (in the case of girls, tight jeans and t-shirts), or totally eastern clothes i.e. saris and shalwar kameezes. What Jatra has done is successfully created a bridge for these two extremes, which is what best describes our generation.”

Being a member of the popular band Bangla, which is known for “bringing folk music into the commercial helm for the youth,” Anusheh has also noticed the same trend in the Bangali youth with regards to their musical tastes.

“There was either the type of person who listened to hard core heavy metal or western music, or there was the type who listened to Rabindra Sangeet or Indian classical music,” she says. “I think that our generation today lives in an environment where they are exposed to the best of both worlds. There is no reason we can't be both. That is what we are trying to do with both our music and also with the store. Jatra aims to be a Bangladeshi trend-setting store.”

However, like anything else that is trend-setting and fashionable, Jatra has to change with the times. Which is why in July, Jatra will be celebrating the launch of a new look. Anusheh, along with her six designers, Shukla, Lubna, Reza, Babu, Liton and Azad have been working

A Jatra employee lights the diya in order to symbolise the beginning of the festival

hard to revamp Jatra. Shukla, Babu and Lubna collectively work on home products, clothes and jewellery, while Azad works on paper products and jewellery. Liton specialises in rickshaw painting and also is a designer and finally Reza whose recent project 'Tokano Rong' (Rag Picked Colours) -- which involved creating a collage of artwork made from waste and then applying this artwork onto various household items such as cushion covers, tissue box covers, bags and wall hangings -- was exported, along with various other handicrafts to Belgium.

“I guess I see Jatra as my baby and since I have grown in so many ways as a person, I feel that Jatra has to grow as well,” says Anusheh. “I was not able to give Jatra my full attention before because I have had two kids since we started the store.”

She has two children, a boy, Arash Alem Ahmad and girl, Raha Alaleh, with husband and fellow band member Faizan Rashid Ahmad (Buno).

Although she was not as involved as she would have liked to be in the last few years, Anusheh is now hoping to promote a new and improved Jatra for her customers. She is planning on opening a second branch in Dhanmondi, which she hopes will provide a more interactive and relaxed atmosphere where people can come and enjoy themselves as well as buy the products.

“That is how Jatra originally started out,” says Anusheh. “It was like this hang out spot where people would come and enjoy themselves. I guess it is important for me to revive that feeling.”

Apart from reviving the feeling of camaraderie and excitement, Jatra has provided the youngsters of Bangladesh with an environment in which, not only can they learn more about the culture about their own country, but also take pride in fashion that is not borrowed from other cultures, but something that they can call their own.

Volume 6 Issue 19 | May 18, 2007 |

Copyright (R) 2007

Inside a Café

Khademul Insan

After years of experimenting with fashion, lights, images and colours, Khademul Insan has now come up with an exhibit where

Simplicity of a complex mind-5

he intermingled the elements of colour with reflections of the inner self and tried to draw a line with reality. Titled, 'From N on the

streets, 2 words Café Mango', Insan's solo exhibition is currently taking place at Café Mango in Dhanmondi. When Café Mango initially opened up in Dhanmondi, Insan like many others were

struck by its unique sense of lighting, the imagery created by the

architecture and also the idea of combining it with an art gallery. “In café galleries,

simplicity of a complex mind-3

people come to eat, hang out with friends,

Simplicity of a complex mind-1

spend some quality time and also enjoy the art work around,” says Insan. Very popular in foreign countries, the concept of a café gallery came up with the advent of Café Mango.

His work in this exhibition is based on two themes Simplicity of a Complex Mind and Odyssey of Self-discovery. In Simplicity of a Complex Mind, Insan captures what he sees around him in Café Mango. The people, the walls, the architecture, both the dimness and the bright shades of light, not to mention the fusing of the colour red and the unique structure

Odyssey of self- discovery-Burning in hell

that one might find in the café. “The Odyssey of Self-discovery was something that I worked for quite

some time,” says Insan. Here he captured the outside world along with him as a part and parcel of the image that he would seize with his lenses, like a first person narrative of a mystery novel or a heart breaking love story. Through his work, Insan showcased the elements of intimacy, working hands, characters and even burning in hell.

A set of 10 photographs, to an average admirer, Insan's work might either seem a little obtuse or filled with the complex geometric figures symbolising the subtle signs of life. However, going in depth, one will see the space created by Insan in each of his work, where Insan took full liberty to free his mind and lay down all the incomplete pieces of puzzles lingering within him for years and finally giving them a comprehensible shape.

Volume 6 Issue 19 | May 18, 2007 |

Copyright (R) 2007

Cheating the Musicians

Thirty-three year old Rumman Haider, a PhD student in Tennessee and his wife Tasneem are spending their summer in Dhaka with their families. It's great to be back home; they have been missing the food, the traditional celebrations, not to mention products that they get to buy at very cheap prices, including movies and music. "We are having a field day!" says Rumman. "Both of us love Bangladeshi music. We actually buy hundreds of mp3s all in one CD from a nearby music store, something that we can never do back in the States." Deprived of "good and modern Bangladeshi music back in the States," Rumman buys a bunch of collections from a music store for his friends back at Tennessee, namely 'Best of Habib's', 'Moushumi Bhoumik mp3 Collection', 'Band Music Collection' and many more. These collections come in proper packaging, complete with glamorous pictures of the singers on the CD sleeves, though in reality these albums have been made illegally and in complete violation of an existing copyright law. Such pirated copies are produced, supplied and sold in a very disciplined manner every day in the country. The business in music piracy is extremely lucrative but it deprives the legitimate producers and more importantly, the musicians, their rightful earnings.

Industry sources and recent newspaper reports state that piracy has reached an unimaginable level in Bangladesh, where more than 95 percent of the CDs are pirated by music stores and individual salesmen, due to lack of proper legislation and enforcement of existing laws. "In fact, even law enforcers cannot make out the difference between an original and a fake," says Ershadul Huq Tinku, chief coordinator of Movement Against Piracy. Festivals and occasions like Eid, Valentine's Day, Pahela Baishakh are always targeted by various music companies in the country to release albums and launch new artistes. However, these albums end up getting uploaded on various websites for listeners to download and copied in various music outlets in the country. Very few customers can tell the difference between an original and a pirated copy.

Due to an increase in piracy, new and talented musicians are not given an opportunity to bring their music out into the market, says Naquib Khan, the founder member of Renaissance.

According to the dictionary meaning, piracy or pirating goods and products refers to hijacking on the high seas or taking a ship or plane away from the control of those who are legally entitled to it. It also refers to the act of plagiarising, i.e., taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own. According to the universal context and also the music industry in Bangladesh, to make a copy of a CD, whether the whole or just part of it for commercial use is piracy, or what used to be called at one time, bootlegging. However, to make a copy of ones' own music collection for personal use, or to make a custom mix of one's favourite songs from CDs one owns, is fair use.

Today, a lot of youngsters prefer converting music to the mp3 format, a popular digital audio encoding format. It is designed in such a way that it reduces the amount of data required to represent the audio recording. Even then, it sounds like a faithful reproduction of the original uncompressed audio to most listeners. Sajjad Mahboob, a 29-year-old businessman, keeps himself updated with the new trends of music in Bangladesh. Though he buys and listens to the latest albums of the young and the happening such as Black, Artcell, Cryptic Fate, Aurthothin and many more, he admits that he wouldn't mind buying a pirated copy of a 'Best of Aurthohin mp3 Collection' if it ever does emerge in any of the outlets. "This would give me a chance to listen to their music all the time, without resorting to buying all the albums," he says. "It's because, either you have to listen to a CD in your car or on your stereo system. Nowadays most listeners between the age group of 14 - 25 either use their personal computers to listen to music or they resort to mp3 players. Due to this technology, they either buy the CD and get it ripped (copied), borrow from their friends or download it from the net. They don't' mind compressing the sound quality of an original CD."

Music listeners buy the CD and get it ripped. They don't' mind compressing the sound quality of an original CD.

The Copyright Act, 2000 was updated on July 18, 2000. As compared to the earlier version of the law, the updated version includes many more conditions and categories relevant to the current situation in Bangladesh. For instance, along with the subsections, which mention reformation and duplication of texts, literature, theatre, music, the many forms of arts in any form illegal, new subsections have been added where piracy of computer programmes and software have been considered prohibited, in any form whatsoever (refer to Rahman, Gazi Shamsur, Minor Acts). Though the act is quite clear and there for everyone to see, it is far from being implemented in the country. Many do not even know that such a law even exists in Bangladesh.

Well-known musician Maqsood ul Haque of dHAKA, has been researching the issue of piracy in Bangladesh for several years. According to him, piracy can be broadly categorised under Industrial and Copyright Infringement. Industrial piracy refers to small or large companies duplicating foreign CDs, audio tapes, mp3s, DVDs or re-recording them, by using their own brand labels and inlays, and marketing them without the original company's permission. Industrial Piracy can also be categorised as piracy using newer re-recording technologies than what the market is used to. For instance, pirates started using CDs as a format long before the established players could get into the market with the software. As of now mp3 piracy is in vogue and nothing that can be done to stop them. Any future advancement in recording technology stands to open newer vistas for pirates. Downloads on 3G cell phones would be the next line of piracy to hit the market.

Eminent singer Fahmida Nabi believes that piracy will subside once there are proper and legal papers between a music company and an artiste.

The Copyright Infringement Piracy refers to recording artistes, musicians, producers copying or lifting off work of foreign artistes and passing them on as their own 'creation'. This violation comes directly within the purview of the Intellectual Property Right (IPR) and is considered a more serious offence than Industrial Piracy in more advanced countries. Unfortunately in Bangladesh this brand of piracy is more rampant and nobody seems interested to talk about it.

Naquib Khan, founding member of an established music group Renaissance, says that there are too many issues to deal with in Bangladesh regarding piracy. "Musicians end up suffering in the end," he says. "When a product is launched into the market, an investment is done and a certain amount of sale is expected. Because of duplication, naturally the investment incurs a huge amount of loss. In the case of music, consequently, new and talented musicians are not given an opportunity to bring their music out into the market, since the producers cannot put their business into risk." Once the albums come out, he adds, piracy is sure to occur in many forms, be it CD or cassette piracy or in the form of downloading mp3s. "Then what is the use? Out of the 10,000 copies of an album that have been sold, only 10 percent of the revenue belongs to the producer. The rest of it is all piracy."

Ershadul Haque Tinku, the chief co-ordinator of Movement Against Piracy.

Fahmida Nabi, a prominent singer, blames the music companies who bring out the CDs and promote musicians. "I am sorry to say but to date I have never witnessed a proper and legal contract taking place between a music company and an artiste," she says. "For years, certain producers have been judging the musicians and their music according to the general definition of popular music by the public. I have had producers refusing traditional music and compositions only because it did not sound 'popular' and similar to 'band music'. We should realise that there are many kinds of music where each has its own group of listeners and audience. We should not deprive a particular group for others, especially where traditional music and authenticity is concerned. There are also issues of royalty payment and monitoring of music sales, which also fall under the legal contract made between the company and the artiste. Once this contract is made properly and legally, piracy will subside by itself."

Earlier this year, the newly formed Movement Against Piracy (MAP) has been going around in the country, attacking piracy first hand. "We know that it is not possible to fight it this way," admits Ershadul Huq Tinku. "However, we had to see to what extent piracy was being practiced in the country first hand. We went to Comilla, Chittagong and Feni during our first inspection. There we spoke to many vendors and small time salesmen about piracy, taught them how to differentiate between the original and the fake CDs and products, where we also included the law enforcers. There was also a point where we burnt pirated CD s in public, since every time we gave the pirated products to the police of the local stations, they would just be returned back to the traders."

Most listeners are unable to differentiate between the originals and
the pirated copies.

The entertainment business in Bangladesh still has to go a long way to make itself accepted and recognised in society. The society at large is still ignorant of the legal transactions and exchanges involved. This may be one of the reasons as to why copying music or broadcasting it for commercial use is not considered a crime. It is only because that there is a demand for them that many outlets are driven to copy and sell duplicates or versions of the authentic products. Maqsood disagrees to such rationale, "The general masses actually know very little about the size of the market and how much it adds up in liquid revenue. An industry that is worth anywhere between 600 to 1000 crore taka is a huge industry. The present noise that we are hearing against piracy is because of the fact that the major players have by now realised how much they are going to lose out in the long run. It's up to them to clean up their act and bring them in general conformity with the rest of the world."

The current president of BAMBA, Hamin Ahmed from Miles says that according to the universal law, artistes all over the world register their material before they record, distribute and sell.

There are legal bodies in neighbouring India where the market for music and entertainment is more than tenfold of what it is in Bangladesh. These bodies monitor legal issues such as breach of contracts made between the company and the artiste, sale of albums, payment of royalty, illegal broadcasting and many more. "Organisations like The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) have been protecting the intellectual property of artistes and musicians world wide for many years," says Hamin Ahmed from Miles, also the current president of the Bangladesh Musical Bands Association (BAMBA). "In fact, apart from some countries in Asia including Bangladesh and some African countries, an artiste in any part of the world must register their material before they record, distribute and sell. In India they have such an organisation that is affiliated with both ASCAP and BMI where they protect the interests of their artistes or musicians in terms of securing their intellectual property right and royalties that may be due to them from any media, be it a record company, TV channels, radio stations and even live performances." Is it possible for a similar kind of an organisation to work in Bangladesh? "The good news is that something like this is already being constructed in Bangladesh and will start to operate soon," says Ahmed.

Nazmul Haque Bhuiyan of G-Series blames the government for not building a proper platform for musicians in the country.

Nazmul Haque Bhuiyan, popularly known as Khalid, the proprietor of G-series says that the Government also has a huge role to play in checking the level of piracy in the country. "The Government does not bother about artistes and thus does not bother to build any platform for these artistes to stand and build their career," he says. "There are many factors that come into being when we speak of piracy. Some of them are too detailed and intricate that people tend to ignore them." For instance, according to Khalid, the government has built experimental theatre halls to promote theatre, which is a good sign. "But what about music and musicians?" he asks. "We don't have proper venues or structures in the country where artistes can do live performances. Musicians in this country are always victimised in many ways and their contribution to art is always overlooked by the government."

Md. Zahidul Haque, station manager of Radio Foorti.

With the development of music in Bangladesh, radio and telecom companies are not far behind in promoting it. The advent of Radio Today, Radio Foorti, Radio Amar and a few more upcoming stations, artistes are getting the chance to promote their music. In fact, Radio Foorti started the airing of unreleased tracks after coming to agreements with respective artistes, much to the delight of music lovers. However, music companies in the country claim that playing music without proper and legal permission, is a kind of piracy as well. Even in foreign countries, where the radio culture is part and parcel of the music and entertainment industry, radio stations are given the right to play a certain composition for 3-5 months or more for free, after which they give a royalty of a standard amount every time the song is played to the music companies and the artistes. Both Shakil Monzur, the executive director and chief operating officer (COO) of Radio Today and Md. Zahidul Haque, the station producer of Radio Foorti, however claim that they simply did not know how to work with the royalty system since it is more complicated than it seems. "Initially, we did not even know how or who to pay the royalty to," says Zahid. "The legal royalty system is not implemented properly in the country. Where senior musicians keep the rights of their own music, in the case of junior musicians, the music companies tend to hold on to them. So when we play a certain composition belonging to a certain musician, we simply cannot go and pay a royalty to the music company. There are many more involved here, for instance, the songwriter, the musicians, the composer and so on. We are now coming into terms with several music companies, drawing up contracts and observing the legal issues. However, in that case the contract or the legal binding between the company and artiste has to be strong, where everything else will be based on."

Shakil Monzur, COO of Radio Today.

"We did try to get in touch with some of the music companies initially," says Monzur. "One particular company asked us to pay them a huge amount of money, which is not the standard amount for a royalty. I could have produced albums with this money instead of running a radio station! We are now drawing up contracts with the different companies in the country, however, they along with the radio stations have to work on this together and come up with a standard rate instead of announcing them randomly." He further adds that Radio Today is very positive about the royalty issue and wants an amicable solution through the participation of all stakeholders under the purview of the laws of the land.

The apparent conflict between radio stations and music companies, says Maqsood will eventually be sorted out. "I don't think the radios indulge in piracy as such," he says. "Indeed, quite the reverse, they are constantly playing music that creates demand, but what they ought to be very careful about, is playing unsolicited software. Also it is high time they thought about paying royalties to the artiste, which again has to be channelled to the artiste via the recoding label. Likewise I think it is time the TV channels cleaned up their act and thought about dishing out royalties on music and performance videos."

Downloading ring tones for their cell phones is a growing fad among young people these days. However, the tunes, which are being downloaded by the service users, are also a form of piracy, which is being practiced on a large scale. "There is a mushroom growth of companies claiming to provide ring-tones and other services, but they are mostly illegal," says Hamin Ahmed. "The situation therefore is going out of control. To make it worse, nobody really knows who owns what, including the artistes and musicians themselves who are actually the intellectual property right owners of all their creations. Sadly they are the ones who are the sufferers despite being the actual owners of their material."

A few months ago Feisal Siddiqi, popularly known as Bogey, CEO of Ektaar Music, sent a letter to all telecom companies providing these services through their content provider partners, stating that they were using copyrighted music without the copyright owners' consent. In response the telecom companies placed the onus on the content providers (CPs) while, needless to say, the telecoms remain the primary earners and the biggest players behind mobile content. For each download of a ring-tone the telecoms charge up to Tk.17.5, a small portion of which is allocated to the CPs. Very few of the CPs have bothered to legally gain mobile distribution rights from the owners of copyrighted material. Those who have, apportion between 16-20% of their income to the copyright owner (usually the producer or label). In all of this the artiste, or the songwriter, the main creator of the content, has the least share, if any at all.

Maqsood ul Haque of dHAKA predicts downloads on 3G cell phones to be next in line of piracy to hit the market.

"The fact is that there is a copyright law in Bangladesh which everyone chooses to ignore and not implement," explains Bogey. "According to this law, royalty should be given to the owner of the authentic piece of music, which has been remade after a certain period of time. In fact, royalty should be given not only to the musician, but also to the songwriter. Since the law is not implemented in our country, no one is aware of the intricacies involved here." He further states that the telecoms cannot evade their responsibility to double-check the legal rights for distribution of operating CPs as they are generating revenue on their behalf. Since these telecom companies are multinational corporations, they are legally bound to adhere to the standard international codes but instead they are plundering assets (musical assets, in this case) that in reality belong to the Bangladeshi artiste and to the copyright owner.

Feisal Siddiqi Bogey, an eminent musician and the CEO of Ektaar Music says that it is high time the copyright law is implemented and followed in Bangladesh

The General Manager, Information Department of Grameenphone, Syed Yamin Bakht says that no such complaint reached him. "When Grameenphone provides contents under its own brand, we make sure that the content providers of these contents comply with the laws of the land,” he explains. “As for the other content providers who are providing contents under their own brand using our platform, we have strictly stated that they are liable for the contents. If any complaint against any such content provider is received, we immediately take action and remove such contents. These complaints should be made to these independent content providers as they are responsible for the content they are providing.”

However, according to sources, the letter of complaints did reach the telecom companies, thereby pushing them to ask for certain documents and papers from the content providers to make sure that the music that they were providing via the telecom companies to download are legal. For instance, Intekhab Mahmud, the chief commercial officer of Citycell says that the telecom is now drawing up contracts with the music companies and artistes respectively. "It is actually the duty of the content providers to draw up contracts and get the proper permission," says Mahmud. "However, we now demand that the content providers provide us with all the necessary papers and documents before approving of the tunes that they provide for the service users."

The music of any nation encompasses its very soul that evolves with the times yet retaining the uniqueness of each culture. The Bangladeshi music scene has been blessed with a treasure of music traditions that thrive through generations thanks to talented, dedicated artistes. Recognition, in the form of financial compensation, has been a struggle for most musicians. Unless artistes are aptly recognised for their invaluable contribution to our culture, fewer new talents will emerge and existing ones will find it hard to survive. Music piracy, which deprives artistes of royalties, should be seen as a disease that must be cured.

Volume 6 Issue 18 | May 11, 2007 |

Copyright (R) 2007

After the Disaster

Relative who were financially dependent on the victims who died in the building collapse, are now leading a better life by starting small projects funded by Friendship.

On April 11, 2005, 30-year-old Md. Ali Sheikh became the unfortunate victim of the Spectrum Garments building collapse where a number of night-shift workers were trapped and eventually died. Ali left behind his sister, 25-year-old Shantona Begum who had been paralysed since childhood and a stepmother in the district of Joypurhat. He was the only refuge for his sister and stepmother as Ali used to support them with at least Tk 1400-1500 every month. None of the stepsiblings were ready to take care of their stepsister Shantona and their mother, though they all lived nearby. Shantona and her stepmother were unable to work for a living. Because of acute poverty and physical conditions, they could not approach any NGOs for help.

Almost all the relatives of the dead victims received an amount of Tk 1,00,000 as compensation (Tk 79,000 from BGMEA and Tk 21,000 from the Labour Court). However, Shantona and her stepmother were deprived from this compensation simply because they lived in a remote area and could not communicate to the authorities through the proper channels. On the other hand, the authorities procrastinated trying to decide if the compensation money could be given to the stepmother or the sister, since the conditions stated that only the victims' immediate relatives including parents or wives would receive the money.

Many have now opened up shops and running businesses.

That was when, through an assessment survey, Friendship's researchers came to know about Shantona Begum's plight. Friendship officials purchased a piece of land for Shantona with a house on it, which was fixed and repaired. Friendship also bought four goats for Shantona and her stepmother, so as to live financially independent lives.

Friendship, a national NGO, had started out with the Savar Garments Rehabilitation project in April 2005, immediately after the collapse of the building. "Immediately after the incident, relief and rehabilitation activities were initiated by the owner, the BGMEA, trade unions and foreign buyers, working through different NGOs to support the victims of the garments' collapse," says Runa Khan, the executive director of Friendship. Famous for its expertise in relief and rehabilitation work, especially in the char areas in the northern part of the country, the rehabilitation activities that the organisation has been working on in Savar have been funded by Carrefour, the second biggest retail outlet in the world, ranking right after Walmart. "Carrefour had also funded Friendship, during our relief projects in 2004 for the flood victims," says Runa. "We could provide food and other basic necessities to 125 chars in four districts."

At the first step, Friendship, with the help of Carrefour, focused on the immediate needs of the victims, the relatives of the dead and the survivors. "We needed a list of the victims, which was absolutely impossible to find," says Runa. "In fact nobody knew the right number. Local union leaders would say that at least five hundred to a thousand died upon asking. However, we had to be completely sure before going on with the rehabilitation work." The building had collapsed when the night shift had begun at the factory. "Many of the workers had come out of the building," says Runa. "However, the sign-in and sign-out list was stuck under the debris, along with the night guards who died after the collapse."

Shantona Begum is now confidently earning a living for herself and her stepmother in Joypurhat.

Eventually, with the help of the Trade Union, ASK, the owners and BGMEA, a quick survey and the listing of the victims were done. Munir Hossain, AD for Programme, Friendshp, says that categorising the victims into the dead, the injured (both major and minor), and traumatised was the most difficult job of all. "A total of 67 dead 55 injured victims were identified," he says. After positive identification, immediate food and other support expenses were given to 111 beneficiaries. "Emergency medical help had been given by many NGOs," says Runa. "So we decided to concentrate on the other needs of the victims, by providing doctors' check up fees, medicines, wheelchairs and crutches. We also helped the people to open bank accounts for the funds received from BGMEA."

However, after discussions with the victims and their families, it was found that they needed immediate support for income generation - and also to needed to get back their self-respect. A sewing machine or a van was a quick source of income, which was immediately distributed by the organisation, but that was not all. Interesting discoveries were made. "We decided to go around and actually see what the victims did with the money that was given to them for the immediate crisis that they had faced," says Runa. "Many of the victims who were not able to come to Dhaka were left out of care by many organisations. Some of the victims, who got the funds, used most it up for decorating graves and feeding relatives, but not for income generation. One such victim was approached by his sister's husband to deposit the compensation that the victim received in his (the brother-in-law's) account, since the victim never had a bank account. That's when we realised that just giving them what they wanted was not enough. Most of these people are not educated, are not aware of what goes on around them practically."

The scheme designed and developed by Friendship has engaged relatives of victims and survivors into sustainable income generation activites.

Friendship, started off with the second phase of the rehabilitation project. Once again they identified and located the victims, only this time they conducted a thorough research in each case. "There were 118 families who had to be supported financially," says M Enamul Haque the programme manager of Friendship. "We sat down with each family and discussed what they wanted to do to for income generation. Some wanted to open small grocery stores, some wanted cows and goats, some wanted more resources for the poultry farms that they had. We discussed the pros and the cons of starting such businesses. For instance, someone who wanted to open a small shop, had to realise the market demand of what he wanted to sell in the locality, if his plans were actually relevant to his social surroundings and so on. It was like working on 118 different projects all together!" Each project required a bank account, which could be opened in any nearby bank in the area. "This was done so that we did not have to work with any more of the cash dealings over the counter," says Runa.

Eventually, the scheme designed and developed by the organisation to ensure proper rehabilitation of the victims through engaging them into sustainable income generation activities worked for a positive change in the lives of these people. "They are now earning a more than what they used to at one time," says Enam, who has been working alongside the victims right from the beginning.

"We are about to start off with the third phase of the project," says Runa Khan. This part of the project involves the education of the victims' children. "We will begin this part with the co-operation of Carrefour, Karstadt Quelle and Cotton Group (B&C) in a few months time."

"Eliminating poverty starts with feeding a hungry stomach," says Runa Khan, or righting the wrongs in a disrupted society begins with fulfilling the basic requirements of a human being. "Only then can one think of further development and a better life."

Volume 6 Issue 16 | April 27, 2007 |

Copyright (R) 2007

Bangali Consciousness Abroad

Aasha Mehreen Amin, Hana Shams Ahmed and Elita Karim

The inherent resilience and adaptability of Bangalis no matter how unfamiliar and harsh the circumstances are, has taken them to the furthest corners of the world. The thirst for greater knowledge and the desire for a better life has led millions of Bangalis to leave their country of birth and go abroad, often making a foreign country their home. Yet no matter how assimilated the malleable Bangali is, no matter how attractive the adopted home and lifestyle is, there is always that hankering for the homeland. It is that irrepressible urge to establish one's ethnic identity in an alien environment that constantly prompts the expatriate Bangali to somehow stay connected through music, literature, traditions or merely by speaking in the mother tongue.

No matter how attractive the adopted home is, there is always a yearning for the homeland
Photo: Drishtipat
Preserving 'Bangaliness' is perhaps most zealously done by older generation Bangalis who went abroad when they were adults, found suitable jobs, settled and ended up living out their whole lives in a foreign land. For these people their Bangaliness is given, says Azizul Jalil, a former World Bank official and freelance columnist who has lived in the US for most of his life. “The Bangla language, culture and its practice are a part of their identity, which they pass on to their children born in the US (for example),” says Jalil who has raised his children there. “Legends of the Battle of Palassy, Khudiram's hanging, Chittagong Armoury raid, various peasant movements, Subhas Bose and the Indian National Army, the language movement and the Bangladesh's war of independence are very much part of the older Bangladeshis' emotional and national ethos”, he says adding that “living in the US with the immediate family for many long years and even taking citizenship have not detached them from the natural and loving bonds with language and culture of their homeland.”

Jalil has four grandchildren-all born of foreign mothers, who appreciate Bangla music, dance and Bangladeshi clothes. “One of them a five year old, was so enchanted by Nrityanchal's dance performance at Dr. Yunus's Nobel Prize award ceremony in Oslo that we have to play the accompanying Rabindra Sangeet “Rangiya die jao go amay” repeatedly and have bought CDs of other Tagore's dance dramas,” exclaims Jalil.

Reading Bangla literature, watching Bangladeshi channels via satellite and being in touch with current affairs in Bangladesh through Bangla newspapers, many of which have online editions, is also a way that many Bangalis maintain the cultural connection. Bangla weeklies are a dime a dozen these days in the US and other countries with large Bangla-speaking populations. Thikana, Bangla Patrika, Parichay, Kagoj, Akhono Somoy, Janmabhumi, Deshbangla, for instance, come out of New York, Priyo Bangla from Atlanta and Bangla Barta (weekly) and Poroshi (monthly) from California...

For second generation Bangali immigrants, however, cultural identity is not always so simple. “Both my parents immigrated to the United States before the Liberation War and in the 1970s and 1980s there weren't many large Bangladeshi communities in the U.S. My mother immersed my South Asian cultural education in Hindi movies and songs and classical Indian dancing (Kathak) and instruments (sitar),” says 31-year-old Roksana Badruddoja, a sociologist and an Assistant Professor of the Women's Studies Program at the California State University, Fresno, who was born and brought up in the U.S. “As Bangladeshi networks began building, my mother tried to immerse me in learning to read and write Bangla and sing Rabindra sangeet, but I was uninterested and my mother left it at that. Today, while I still do not read and write Bangla, I am able to fluently speak the language and I am recently beginning to explore contemporary Bangla music composed by musicians like Fuad and Habib,” says Roksana who completed her Ph.D in Sociology from Rutgers, the State University of NJ, worked as a domestic violence advocate and crisis Counselor for immigrant South Asian women and is currently working on a book titled "Brown Souls: The Stories of Second-Generation South Asian-American Women."

Bangali festivals like Pohela Baishakh gives expatriate Bangalis a chance to recreate their traditions
Photo: Drishtipat

Roksana says that it was very difficult to juggle between her 'South Asian / Bangladeshi' and 'American' identity as a child and adolescent. “First, before entering the house, I would take off my sneakers my outside shoes in the garage and slip into my indoor sandals before entering the home. Second, I would shed my western outfit, take a shower to cleanse myself off the day, and slip into a shalwar kameez. This purification act, which consisted of a simple procedure of shedding, cleansing, and changing, allowed me to cognitively switch from a world of 'American' friendship bracelets to one of 'South Asian' gold bangles. As an adult, I separate my 'South Asian' clothing from my 'American' clothing in my closet and my Hindi and Bangali-language music from my English and Spanish CDs.

“My daughter's (three and a half years old) cultural upbringing is also invested in Bollywood and Bangladeshi or South Asian-style clothing. I simply do not carry enough knowledge to teach her about Bangladeshi culture in its true nature, and it does not seem natural to me to instil Bangladeshi culture in her, including the language. The notion of authenticity is a

Roksana found it very difficult to juggle between her 'South Asian' and 'American' identities as an adolescent

critical question here and hence I leave it to my mother to teach Bangladeshi culture to her. What I am interested in instilling in my daughter, who is a third-generation American, is Bangaldeshi-American cultural values, which fosters a form of partial hybridity between 'Americanness' and 'South Asianness'.”

When she was a child, Roksana's parents made it a point to take her and her sister to Bangladesh every year to spend time in the country. But since college she rarely comes to Bangladesh. Roksana says that while she is extremely attached to her Bangladeshi heritage and people from Bangladesh and she strongly identifies herself as a Bangladeshi-American, she feels little ties to the land. “It somehow feels foreign to me,” she says.


Shushma Sharmin, a 26-year-old writer has lived in New Jersey for more than 10 years and says that it is her interest in the arts that has helped her hold on to her Bangali cultural identity. “I have always been taught to appreciate and respect Bangali music which has that certain something that cannot be found in western music,” says Shushma, “Another thing I hold on to is our history especially the Liberation Movement because it is something very close to home. Our parents still remember stories from 1971 and I guess for me, it is something to be proud of.”

Bangali families getting together on special occasions gives them a sense of being closer to home

Shushma who comes to Dhaka every year enjoys taking part in music and dance programmes wherever they take place. “I participate in musical events and concerts that happen every month and it's a way to bring Bangali culture to the United States,” says Shushma, “I now wish I had spent more effort learning Bangla more fluently in terms of reading and writing because I appreciate its value more now that I am older.”

For Zabin F Mansoor, a consulting engineer who has been living in the US for 16 years the bond with her Bangali identity could not be stronger. “The deep rooted tradition, richness of the language and literature, the traditional clothes, the delicious food, the warmth of the people draws me to my country,” she says.

For Zabin and her husband it is extremely important that their two daughters understand their heritage and pass on the traditional values through the generations. “This is a melting pot of a variety of cultures and we do not want them to forget theirs,” says Zabin, “we do not allow our children to speak in English when we are home. They enjoy watching Bangladeshi programmes through the two very popular Bangladeshi TV channels that we subscribe to. It helps them with exposure to the way of life in Bangladesh. I cook traditional food in the house as often as I can so they can grow the taste for it. I read Bangla books to them and teach them little poems and songs.”

Zabin also tries to teach her eight-year-old daughter about the history of the War of Liberation in simple terms for her to grasp. “I don't get to go to Bangladesh as often as I'd like to,” says Zabin, “but we try not to make a huge gap between visits so it is not a culture shock for them when they go to Bangladesh.”

Zabin encourages her daughter to speak in Bangla at home

Zabin says that she and her husband constantly feel an urge to maintain their Bangali identity. “We try to celebrate festivities like Pahela Baishakh, Bijoy Dibosh, Ekushey February etc with whatever means we have.

“Once the students association here arranged a Shadhinota Dibosh Udjapon in the campus auditorium where we began the celebration by viewing some rare footage of the liberation war, then enjoyed some authentic Bangladeshi food that every family contributed to, and later enjoyed an informal cultural programme by some of the local talents,” says Zabin, “and on a couple of occasions we have set out Bangladesh stalls in the international festivals and showcased our unique handicrafts.”

“We might have crossed the boundary of Bangladesh, and wear different clothes and speak in a foreign language at work but we do not forget that we hail from Shonar Bangladesh. We are like the cheerleaders of Bangladesh in the western hemisphere,” she adds.

It was on February 21, 2003 when a few Bangladeshi friends decided to bring out Porobash,

Kazi Ensanul Hoque, the Editor of Porobash, organises cultural activities for Bangalis living in Japan

a magazine for the expatriate Bangladeshis living in Japan. Kazi Ensanul Hoque, the current editor of Porobash along with his friends Rahman Moni, Badrul Borhan, Baker Mahmud, Motaleb Shah and Shajal Barua Pramukh, have been living in Tokyo, Japan for more than two decades. The Japanese culture is now a part of their daily lives, for instance the language that they speak, eating habits and so on. However, the bi-monthly magazine, which is published in both Bangla and Japanese, caters to the Bangladeshi expatriates with write ups regarding Bangladeshi politics, music, arts, nutrition, cooking, sports and many more. “The magazine even has a section where the Japanese people can learn Bangla,” says Ensan. “The magazine is subscribed not only by the expatriate Bangladeshis and the Japanese, but also by other nationalities living in Japan.”

This Japan-based Bangla magazine started its journey initially as a community publication. Due to the huge support from readers and gaining a lot of popularity, Porobash eventually grew bigger and began to reach people beyond their small communities in Japan and elsewhere.

“We have a very hectic life here in Japan,” says Ensan, who is also the local representative of Shaptaik 2000 in Japan and is enlisted with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan as a foreign correspondent. “It is probably this effort to express our thoughts and feelings in our very own language, our culture and customs that relieves us from the agony and the nostalgia of those left behind thousands of miles away.” A very popular personality amongst the NRBs in Tokyo, Ensan is also actively involved in organising cultural activities for the expatriates living there and elsewhere in Japan. Like every year, this year he, along with others in the community, will organise the Tokyo Baishakhi Mela.

“Both the Bangladeshis living in Bangladesh and Japan and the Japanese writers and artistes are involved in the making of the magazine, where a blend of the two cultures develops and is highly encouraged” says Ensan.

Ruby Rahman, a mother of three, has been living in Toronto for the last 14 years. She left Bangladesh in the late 70s, at a very young age right after getting married to an engineer. Since then, she, along with her husband has been moving from one continent to another owing to her husband's job postings. By the time she finally settled down in Toronto after a decade-long stay in the Middle East, two, out of her three daughters were grown up and university students. Her daughters had never actually lived in Bangladesh, if one doesn't count the summer vacations that they spent in the country every two years, and had grown up in a multi-cultural environment with Paksitanis, Indians, Arabs, Chinese, Americans and Canadians. In spite of this, all three of her daughters speak, read and write fluent Bangla, a fact, which is quite rare especially amongst the first generation immigrant Non Resident Bangladeshis. “My daughters went to international schools all their lives,” says Ruby. “However, I made an effort in teaching them Bangla during their yearly vacations ever since they were very young.” In fact, when Ruby was residing in Iran in the early eighties, friends would send their children to her every other weekend for Bangla lessons. “I would teach my 4-year-old daughter Bangla during weekends,” she says. “A friend of mine wondered if I could manage two more aged 4 and 5, who also happened to be my daughter's play mates. I was just too happy to comply. Eventually, a lot of children started to come to take Bangla lessons.”

Teaching Bangla at home eventually grew into an establishment. For the last 10 years, Ruby has been holding weekly Bangla classes for Canadian born Bangladeshi children of all ages. She even has an assistant to help her out with the classes. “It's natural for children to avoid learning new ideas and languages,” says Ruby. “Especially with our children here to whom learning Bangla sometimes becomes a burden. All I tell them is to take Bangla as just another foreign language that they learn at school, for instance French or Spanish.”

It was a very difficult decision for 50-year-old Fahmida Rahman, a Rabindra Sangeet exponent, to leave her country and migrate to an unknown land. “Often one is driven by ambition, a search for new opportunities or in some cases by a yearning to expand and grow mentally and intellectually,” says Fahmida. When Fahmida immigrated to the United States with her children she was motivated by ambition and adventure that the land of opportunities offered. “We were happy that we were giving our children a great opportunity to see the world and explore new horizons. However, with time we realised that we were also taking away something precious from them their sense of identity,” says Fahmida.

Fahmida believes that when adults move to a new country they have an advantage of never living in ambiguity in their childhood and can start a new life with their ethnic/national identities. “But children who are uprooted and brought to a new culture have a harder time they are forced to live a dual life. They are torn between two worlds one at home with their parents who still have their strong cultural roots and the other in the outside world which in many ways is different. They have to cope with two languages, accents, cultures and sometimes different values,” she adds.

Through Bangla music and the art forms, the Bangalis living abroad find it easier to stay connected
Photo: Drishtipat

“We parents think it's important to make our children aware of their roots because, despite all the changes that we are exposed to, we still believe that our strongest bond is with our own culture and language. Some of us who have lived in the US for 20 years still dream in Bangla or we are overcome with nostalgia when we hear a Tagore song. We long for the monsoons and the autumn sky of Bengal. The sight of the cherry blossom in the tidal basin of Washington DC reminds us of the Krishnachura in Ramna, Dhaka. With time we realise that a Harvard degree has given us intellectual growth, but the strains of Bangali music gives us a sense of belonging. Despite all our efforts to call football soccer and enjoy the Jay Leno Show in NBC we are happiest when we discuss cricket or watch a sentimental Bangla natok. We then go through self-questioning how can we deprive our children of their Bangali identity? An identity which has given us so much and is such an important part of who we are even in this multiethnic melting pot of a country? This is what inspires mothers like me to try to expose our children to Bangali culture even in the remote US. After all it is a wonderful thing that they can learn to be multifaceted. They can enjoy the culture and language of the US and also that of their roots. Their lives can be so much richer because they can appreciate and accept a new culture as their own and yet have the knowledge and understanding of another culture, which is part of their parents and grandparents. By teaching our children Bangali music and culture we raise their consciousness as Bangalis. In the greater scope of things this helps them develop their other consciousness that they are a tiny part of this all-encompassing world. It helps build tolerance and acceptance for people who are different and makes them more complete human beings.”

Volume 6 Issue 14 | April 13, 2007 |

Copyright (R) 2007