Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 57, Tuesday August 9, 2005




Special feature

Bridge scene: Room for growth

Bridge is a popular card game. It is widely played in countries such as the US, China, Russia and India. In Bangladesh, bridge has made a modest entry and is the pastime of many in diplomatic circles: Anwar Choudhury, the British High Commissioner, CSM Beemsterboer, Netherlands Ambassador, Veena Sikri, Indian High Commissioner, and Pedro Bellaro, Italian Ambassador. Within the country there are some ace players such as Shamuzzaman Kamal, Syed Shujauddin Ahmed, sports secretary and Moazzem Hossain, an engineer. Other bridge enthusiasts are MW Haque, the senior most bridge player who has played a lot of tournaments, Farooque Sobhan, former foreign secretary of Bangladesh and Sarwaruddin , member of the Tariff Commission.

All together there are an estimated 300 bridge players in Bangladesh. What is the status of the game in the country? The consensus of opinion is that misconceptions about the card game abound. In the words of M Salahuddin,director of Mac Hill Construction Ltd and a leading player, " In Bangladesh we have a problem. Pious Muslims- believe that cards are not a good game. The common view is that bridge is a form of gambling. We have to explain that bridge is in reality an intellectual game. For 5-6 minutes one has to think about 52 cards. You have to pick up the ropes from bridge books. The game is also very mathematical; sometimes it involves gauging where the cards are and a total calculation of points."

The complexity of the game is also underscored by Mona Sinha, an Indian who plays bridge now and then. The wife of CK Sinha, a minister in the Indian High Commission, Mona says "Bridge makes you mentally alert. Every hand is different and exciting. One has to work out how to make one's tricks."

Currently bridge is at a nascent stage in the country. According to some bridge players, there is a problem of funds. The government apparently gives the paltry sum of Taka 50,000 a year to the Bangladesh Bridge Federation for office expenses. Obviously this sum is inadequate in a scenario where a tournament could cost Taka 1 lakh-Taka 2 lakh.

Off and on private sponsors do step in. In 1997 The Daily Star sponsored a bridge tournament and the Bangladesh Bridge Federation is sponsored sometimes by corporates such as the Southeast Bank, Philips and the Square group. At times the government also pitches in. Secondly there is a paucity of professional coaches in Bangladesh.

The future looks a little better. As Jamilur Rahman, Press and Public Secretary of the Bangladesh Bridge Federation, asserts, "Bangladeshis are temperamentally well suited for bridge. Their sedentary lifestyle and problem solving aptitude make it an ideal game." Here's hoping that more people veer around to the view of Mona Sinha that "bridge is widely regarded as good for one's mental health, particularly in terms of memory."

By Kavita Charanji


Are we really telling it how it is?

In other countries reviews are meant to give readers an unbiased opinion of the pros and cons of a certain thing, be it a book, a bistro or a bag shop. When they talk about the "power of the press", they really are talking about power because a journalist reserves the right to remark negatively on an observation. As long as the remark is supported by evidence, logical and just, the one being reviewed has no legal say in the matter. They just have to swallow the criticism and work towards a better review next time. Alas we can't say the same about journalists in Bangladesh.

Give a restaurant a bad review and next thing you know the boss's wife's nephew's tutor's uncle's father-in-law is calling the newspaper and threatening to sue. So what if the reporter who wrote the review found a fly in the soup? In fact it can be taken so far as to say that local businesses do invite the press and yet when a reporter does arrive at the chosen venue they are barely acknowledged. It can even be said that when a reporter finds an interesting story and eagerly contacts the person in charge (rather than appreciating the opportunity of free publicity), the person suspiciously interrogates the reporter and takes an air as if by talking to the press they are doing us a favour rather then the other way round. Having worked as a reporter for over three years now I too have experienced similar situations.

Last year I was assigned to take a look at a really big watch shop at mall here. Now this shop claimed dealership of several posh and well-bred brands. Yet the salespeople I was asked to talk with lacked both aforementioned qualities. At first I received reluctance in their response. That was understandable. In this country everyone is a little guarded about divulging information. But when one of the salesgirls became downright rude I demanded to see the personnel in charge. She just had the audacity to sneer and say that a newspapers have no power to affect their business. I was sorely tempted to disagree but then I realised that it would be pointless because although we did have the power we wouldn't use it because in Bangladesh you can never go against businesses.

The watch shop was just the beginning to further revelations. A few weeks ago during a survey I was doing for an article I discovered that a certain category of people liked shopping at a store on Gulshan Avenue that showcased a very Indian (Bollywood, Zee, Sony And Star TV included) look. While the shop was not a personal favourite, for the sake of an unbiased and authentic report I decided to go and ask them about their daily sales. The questions were very simple: how many saris does a customer buy on an average, what saris are most popular, etc, etc. It wasn't like I was asking them about their profit margin or whether they paid taxes or not. Yet they treated me like an income tax officer and even had the audacity to ask me about the information I had collected from other stores.

I could still make peace with both these incidents because in both cases I had gone on my own initiative. But a few weeks ago when I had to go through the same frustrating phenomenon, this time from a store that had invited us, it was the last straw. A few weeks ago, I walked into the office with an article ready for a particular column. I was asked to shelve it because some furniture store was celebrating its anniversary and it had showered our office with nearly half a dozen invites. It wasn't a big deal at that point. In the past I had switched dates several times. So I went all the way to Mohakhali quite enthusiastically thinking that this assignment would be quite fun to write. As soon as I walked in (with the invitation in my hand) and said that I was a reporter and I'd come on their invitation to ask a few questions, four people, one after the other interrogated me. Now that didn't bother me as much since I knew that here salespeople often don't care since they don't work on commission like they do abroad. But when I finally began talking to someone of consequence, the person was equally unenthusiastic about answering. In fact I had to repeat every question thrice. And with the monosyllabic answers I received I would have ended up writing an article whose word count was probably fifty.

If we've been invited to look at a store, merely looking at the products on display isn't enough material for my article. I need to know certain facts and figures so that our readers don't think I'm feeding them hogwash. Alas I have discovered that those who invite us for reviewing beg to differ.

Shunning the press is no longer limited to such petty levels. Even PR organisations, which should be in sync with the press are now undermining the power of the press. Or why would a certain PR organisation brag to one my colleagues about how they hoodwink the press. Apparently whenever they organise an event and call the press, they plant a "reporter" among the press. This "reporter" asks the bulk of the questions ensuring that no unpleasant questions come about. So much for telling it like it is.

These days there are so many lifestyle supplements and magazines being published, that businesses no longer care whether one of them gives them coverage or not. If one magazine refuses coverage, there will be ten agreeing. Gone are the days when reporters and photojournalists were invited to see things for themselves and report authentically. The new trend is simply to hire your own photographer, write a so-called "press release" and send it to newspapers all around town.

What enrages me more is that even now as I'm writing this article I don't have the authority to give bad reviews. The only thing to write within my power is not to write at all. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a colleague about newspapers and the different slogans that they have. He argued that all newspapers in the world claim that they "provide the truth" or "tell it how it is" yet none deliver on their vows. I truly beg to differ with him and as proof I hold up the New York Times which is infamous for it's scrutinising reviews. But to this end I will agree and ask that, in Bangladesh are newspapers really telling it how it is? You decide.

By Tahiat-e-Mahboob


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