|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 69, Tuesday, December 12, 2006|
Victory day special
Defined and expressed
Apu ajke Bangladesh!', I narrowed down my vision to look at the speaker of such a grammatically meaningless statement and all my attention served to achieve was increase his zeal-he yelled louder and vigorously waved a lime green and orange flag at me. It took me a couple of seconds to realise what day it was; not because I had forgotten the day nor nullified its coming, but because my thoughts are always helplessly disjointed for a full quarter of an hour each morning. He reminded me though, in his own four year old way, that it was December 16…and that is when disappointment kicked in.
I recalled, yes even before my early morning void-head period was up, how I had been asking my limited circle of acquaintances what they had planned for the day. A moment's surprise, followed by a comical look and finally a scornful 'Sleep?!'. So Bijoy Dibosh was not as widely and collectively observed as I had expected it to be in Bangladesh. Sure, patriotism enhancing programs had been lined up on television and organised at numerous open-air venues, but for the masses it seemed to signify only in that it called for less teachers and more torpor.
Having always lived in a country where convincing people that there was indeed a country called Bangladesh and if there was, it was not a part of India, proved to be an ordeal and a half, I had definitely looked for more involvement and enthusiasm about independence once I moved back here. Justifiably, I was not asking for too much. If, despite being such a pitiful minority, I, like the rest of the tiny Bangladeshi community in Zimbabwe could work through months of rehearsals (literally) to make possible three functions a year that everyone was a part of, then certainly I could ask for some level of jingoism here. Yet there were no songs, no dances, no lavish dinners at the embassy…nothing in which every ordinary Bangladeshi was a part of.
Despite my sense of disappointment, I felt also a stronger sentiment of pride. We had done, living away, what they would not even consider here. And yet we had lacked in every way possible- the sense of patriotism that comes with being physically in a country, the (correct) pronunciation of lyrics and most importantly, the incentive, because we had no separate audience; what we sang only we listened to and what we danced only we saw. In spite of the drawbacks, we followed rigorous rehearsal schedules with utmost severity, dressed in our best on those three days in concern and went our full way to be, if nothing else, involved. And duly, blurriness came to be replaced by a sense of achievement-we had at least attempted patriotism.
I turned around this time, forgot grammar and answered back, "Ajkei Bangladesh.’
Freedom…in search of
Tireesh bochor poreo ami shadhinota takey khujchi"(We're still searching for freedom 30 years after liberation).
The recent Hyder Husyn song, Tireesh Bochor asked again- is 'freedom' about having Panta bhaat once a year on Pohela Boishakh and putting flowers in Mausoleums or about fulfilling our roles as citizens, giving something back to the place and culture that shaped us? Is it only about being lectured by politicians or about the fashion shows and glitzy glass covered edifices we use to spell 'progress'? Thirty years have gone by and what have we to show for it? The question plays and replays itself every December like a broken record- we read it, hear it, see it and then shut it off and forget about it.
There are so many ways we are united everyday- stuck in traffic jams, protesting oppressive regimes, standing in lines waiting to get on the bus. We like the same things, suffer the same plights, dream the same dreams. But ask us about it, and all we do is complain- we are so divided, so divergent- how can we ever get anything done? Is it that we truly can't or is it more like we choose to simply not think about it? After all, isn't it so much easier to just sit at home and enjoy the extra long weekends and graduate late, miss work, let the place go to hell? The generation before us did the same thing- left it to others, politicians, the government, big organizations waiting to 'rescue' us from our 'plights' and look where that got us! It's foolish not to be selfish in this day and age but instead of thinking of individual gain, why aren't we selfishly guarding what’s ours-Bangladesh, selfishly fighting for it, trying to make it better? I'll tell you why- because we hardly know who we are.
A very wise person once said, that there is no such thing as an identity crisis- you either have an identity or you have a crisis. Since it’s obvious it's the crisis that we have inherited and been nurturing and adding to all these years, why are we not doing something to resolve it? The only thing we seem to need to free ourselves from is our own egos. Why are there anti liberation forces on the loose today- in the cabinet, in the elections? Because we elect them or let others elect them. Why is there a law and order crisis? Because we were thinking of other less important things when we should have first thought of it. While we talk of poverty alleviation and a better economy in the making, where is the work really visible outside of diagrams and stat sheets? What do we really have to offer the rest of the world as a 30 year old nation and how much patriotism have we passed on to our children?
The moment we start asking questions, start looking deeper, the darker it seems to get but if we look a little beyond our own noses we would see how many good things are also underway. For the first time in years, most of the country, a majority of political parties, and the media have united for a cause-a fair and free election. For the first time in years, we can get news of politics and traffic jams on the radio while sitting in our cars. A people who have only had lawlessness and bad examples to learn from now stand in queues, wait for the right traffic signal to cross the road. So let's for the first time, not just sit there, not just be hopeful but do something ourselves to be able to give hope to others, something useful for a change. Let's try and live up to our own expectations of a brighter, better Bangladesh and give future songwriters proud and positive things to write about!
Photo: Bangal, 65, Aziz Supermarket
Under A Different Sky
Definition: Third world
I stood on the corner of the road with them- the four men with skin as dark as my hair, and teeth as white as my French manicured fingernails. The sun was still setting and the mosquitoes were having their feast playing full belly around my ankles and arms. I had a dinner reservation back at the resort that stood beautifully at one corner of this village, Hopkins Village, Belize, but I felt no rush to head back.
I wanted to get to know them better, as much you can get to know them being me in a foreign place and being them in their front yard for them. They were four instructors who scuba dived with me earlier that week. They were young, strong, built like sculptures, and stood like rap artists from music videos. All week while they were at work being 100% professional, they were in my environment, the environment I paid for. This was an environment that is up to all international standards, so that tourists from all over the world can come stay at the resort where these men work and go back knowing the standards here are higher than even some parts of USA or Europe.
But I was in their environment now, and they didn't need to maintain any more standards. We were not working for each other here. It was all volunteering to understand, to create something more because we wanted to. The mosquitoes didn't bite them the way they don't bite me when I am in Bangladesh. Half broken down yet perfectly functional cars drove by yelling hi to them and they nodded their heads. The sound of reggae music came from the CD players, near by and far away.
They spoke. They are the products of Hopkins village, a village that reminds me of Bangladesh at every step. The villagers living in small shacks, made out of wood or tin, and some one or two storied humble cement houses, the people walking around without shoes, the trees growing banana and mango, and at a quick glance the word “poverty” would jump out. But that is not what you feel when you walk around here. It certainly didn't seem like anyone was struggling. They were healthy, with their bright smiles, happy with their local drinks and many children. They knew comfort, maybe not through money, and money wasn't what defined them, the lack of it or having it in excess.
The resort was built in the late 90s, when these four men were still teenagers, and it changed the village. The resort and their own Caribbean brought the tourists. When tourists arrived who wanted to see, above ground, under water, that's when these men became Gods. Tourism showed the way to the future. They learnt to dive, and dive more and become dive masters, guiding the world around underwater reefs, the Mayan ruins and Jungles where Jaguars sleep.
They are now in their twenties. They have built their houses with their own hands. They have children, 1, 2, 4. They have made mistakes but they overcame them with their optimism, their visions, their hard work. They spoke. They spoke to me about their future, how they will one day have their own dive shops and resorts and how they have saved up to one day build a paradise here within the paradise that already exists. They were confident it would happen. And my cynical self wanted to be ambitious again.
I spoke. I spoke of Bangladesh, our villages, our water, our ocean and about our people, with similar goodness but less direction. I wanted to learn just standing there, without asking how- how did poverty not touch them in their tiny shacks that they call home, how did optimism survive through the hurricanes and corruption of the government. But I didn't learn…I didn't understand, so I stood their longer. In the end I walked back to the resort where my overpriced happiness was waiting for me with a plate of gourmet meal and a borrowed blue sky.
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