Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 44, Tuesday November 13 , 2007



Conversations gone wrong
The perils of Bangladeshi chat rooms

3:25 am. The house is draped in darkness and everyone has gone to sleep. Almost everyone, to be more specific. A sliver of silver light glares through the gap below one of the bedroom doors. Through the translucent barrier of blackness that leaves its marks everywhere, the light seems rather disorienting. Something youngsters would possibly label as the “Twilight Zone” glow. A sneak peek behind the closed door reveals a boy, not more than 13 years of age, squinting through the glow of the computer monitor and every once in a while silently hammering the keyboard with his fingers. When he does that, his fingers become blurry smudges. After all, all that practice did have its payoff…

True to the term “innocence lost” and in answer to the parents' queries as to why more and more children are falling into this category, the Internet has come out to be one of the most venomous culprits. As much as the Internet has contributed to the betterment of commercial transactions and general living standards, the drawbacks have not taken as much time to surface. And a significant catalyst has been the fact that children are having access to all the possible online materials, often without any parental controls.

While the epidemic of porn site browsing, adult forums, excessively violent game downloads and the likes have been in the scene for some time, these days a large portion of the young Bangladeshi population is falling prey to “mature audiences only” chat rooms. Coupled with this is the fact that Bangladesh itself has launched a number of chat rooms, and several more are still in the pipeline.

Shuvo, 17, is a sincere student at a well-reputed school in Dhaka. But every night after his chores and studies, visiting chat rooms comes next on the list. “It's not that I'm addicted to chat rooms. I'm not. It's just that I think it's a good way to get the pressure off for the day,” he says, “It's good to find something at the end of the day. Something that you don't need to put your mind to.”

While these chat rooms are open to the general public and prima facie not of adult nature, people are misusing them for their private pleasures. For an overview, chat portals can be either installed in the hard disk or be accessed online. Those who chat frequently, usually prefer the former, as it helps get around the problem of opening the chat room's web page and logging in every time they want access to the rooms. An entry to the chat room will require a temporary login name (ie, a nickname that you can use for the session and discard afterwards). Alternatively, most rooms offer the option of book marking a nickname, so that it will be preserved for the user for subsequent logins.

Once logged in, the user has the choice of chatting on an open public forum, where conversations can be viewed by other users, or of selecting an online user and chatting with him/her on a private window (metaphorically, in a private room).

Some asking around revealed that indeed most youngsters have, at least once, visited a private chat room. Anika, 18, is in the final year of high school. When asked why private conversations appeal to her, she said: “It makes me feel important. I know that sounds bad, but boys pay a lot of attention to what I say. They listen. It's not like all of them are bad. Some can be really nice actually. Of course, there are arrogant men but I don't talk to them.” BDChat and Bangla Café are two of the most popular Bangladeshi chat rooms. They attract Bangladeshi nationals from all over the world, both expats and locals. There are of course administrators and officers who regulate (a rather harsh term for loose governance) chats on the public forum. For instance, a person with an unsuitable nickname or one engaging in vulgar conversations in public may be kicked out by one of the administrators. Continuous record of being kicked out can lead up to the ultimate penalty of being banned from the chat room altogether. However, once in a private “room”, people are free to do as they please.

“It's just that sometimes it is a little scary how upfront and uninhibited these men are,” says Priyanka, 17, “But once you know how to avoid them, everything else is fine. The good thing is that all this is anonymous, so that you don't really have to worry about whether they think ill of you for ignoring them.”

Of course, the nicknames of users suggest whether they are your type or not, for example: “babe4babe” (translated: woman looking for a woman), “25m_need_f” (translated: 25 year old male looking for a woman) or there may be something more direct, like “Dirtytalker” or “Frolicsome_gal”. What may go on in these private logs, I will leave to the readers' imagination, but I believe the hint has hit the spot it was meant to. A child being exposed to such explicit talk is no doubt an alarming notion.

What is worse is that many such conversations go steps further than mere temporary online “one night stands”. E-mail addresses are exchanged, which gives way to continued interactions online on MSN or Yahoo. Often telephone numbers are given out, and plans to meet are made. Being so liberal and inviting to strangers online can be hazardous, to say the least, and particularly so to children who might not be able to appreciate the risk involved. In certain situations, sex is not the only thing involved. Chat rooms are good instruments for stalking, blackmailing and all forms of exploitation. Many youngsters are even lured into drugs and pornography through this medium.

So in the endnote, a message to get across to the parents: start taking charge of what your child is doing in hyperspace. If need be, online cyber nannies or other parental controls can be activated to restrict sites your child can visit. Additionally, there could be policies on internet timings, especially against browsing late at night. However, against the popular opinion of many children, it is the best to place a general ban on the use of chat rooms all together. Grown ups or not, please bear in mind while using the chat portals, that in the event of an harassment in one of the rooms, you can report to the administrators.

By Shahmuddin Ahmed Siddiky
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Saikat Majumder

Dearest Diary,
Know what? I could fill an entire room with all the things I don't know and would not be able to do ever. I do not know how to parallel park, I do not know how to do math, I do not know how to bargain, I do not know how to accept compliments, I do not know how to lose weight and I do not know how people go on stage to sing or give speeches. But on the flip side, there are so many things I do know. I do know how to bake a mean batch of cookies, I know how to make my friends laugh, I know how to re-vamp my house in no time and I know how to lend a shoulder to my ever sniffling sister... Sometimes we humans, come down on ourselves very hard. Each one of us is so unique in our own quirky ways. Full of flaws and at the same time, unimaginable qualities lie within us. In spite of sounding poetic, I really can compare us to snowflakes. Apparently no two snowflakes are alike. So, why am I on this self-appreciative mode, you may ask? I actually have an answer for you today, Diary.

I met this old friend of mine the other day at a dinner and was saddened to see this soul-of-the-party personality, turned into a mere shadow of her former self, whose new mantra was 'I cannot.' Looking at her and hearing her speak so passively about her life, made me wonder, how traumatic can something be to make her go down that road? In my opinion, yes, sometimes life does deal out certain blows that change that course of one’s life and personality. And then again, 'rising out of the ashes' is another outlook one can fall back upon. Grit, attitude, and determination, also play a major role here. But now, here is where my 'aha' moment kicks into place… It is okay to finally be able to realise that every one of us have the 'I cannot' issues. And it is absolutely okay to have our own set of 'I cannots’. For me, it was such an overpowering moment, that in my mind I could actually hear popping of the shackles. Maybe my friend has evolved; it is startling for me to look at this new person who was suddenly so reflective and self-analytical. But it is who she is. And if she is happy, well, hallelujah.

I have another friend who, for the life of her 'cannot', remember any social appointments but will remember to rescue caged animals to set them free. Then there is another close one, who 'cannot' abide any sort of social trappings but will be the first one to champion any social cause. And who can forget the friend who cannot live without her friends and family, but looks down on the rest of humanity as if she's doing them a favor by just acknowledging them? Ooh, I just love them with all their idiosyncrasies. So Diary, the moral of today's rambling is; “To hell with the fear of being judged.” After all, in the immortal words of John Lennon; “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be, singing words of wisdom, let it be.”

And, lastly, from the kitchen of Sam Q, fish cakes...


500g of ruhi fish
600g potatoes
200g cooked prawns
3 tbsp chopped coriander
½ ts of dry chili flakes
Olive oil for frying


Place fish in a pan, and cover with milk.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes until cooked.

Drain fish and allow to cool.

Bring a pan of lightly salted water to the boil and add peeled and chopped potatoes.

Cook till done.

Drain potatoes and mash in a mixing bowl.

Skin and bone the fish, then flake it into the potato.

Add cooked prawns, chopped coriander, and chili flakes.

Divide the fish cake mixture into eight equal patties.

Heat oil for frying and shallow fry each fish cake until golden.

Serve with a touch of sauce and lemon wedges.

And of course... have a good day the Sam Q way!



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