Contrary to popular belief of outsiders regarding Bangladesh, there is more to this nation than abject poverty, devastating floods and dreadful cyclones. This is a land steeped in traditions and one that boasts a culture to rival most countries of the civilised world.
The coming ICC Cricket World Cup will witness a surge of foreign tourists in the country. And they may be puzzled as to what they should take back from this land of warm, friendly people other than a mere positive image.
Tourists take back mementos of places they visit. It is a reminder of the positivity they experience, which they want to relish for a long time.
For the tourist desiring to take back curios from Bangladesh, the rickshaw may stand out and quite rightfully so, as this does represent the urban framework of this place. Miniature bronze replicas of rickshaws are available at “Jatra” a renowned curio outlet that sells artefacts deeply rooted into the pastoral-urban framework of the country. These miniatures are also available at “Aarong”.
In fact, Aarong may serve as a one stop destination as this renowned boutique has a considerable number of outlets throughout the country and mostly sells rural handicrafts and contemporary designer wears based on folk motifs.
Female visitors may be inclined to take back traditional garbs, the "shalwar kameez" set which can serve as excellent casual wear. This loose tunic worn with a matching, or contrasting pyjama and an unstitched dupatta also has the potential to be party wear, given that the right fabric - silk or organza is chosen.
But if you are indeed looking for the right party wear, why look beyond the ethereal sari? This opulent garb can make an excellent formal wear, and has rightfully found its place in celebrity wardrobes. Aarong boasts a wonderful array of ethnic designs however the place to be for traditional saris would be Tangail Sharee Kutir, at New Bailey Road.
Handloom saris are inexpensive and can be an excellent addition to your casual trousseau. Jamdanis, with their wonderful weaving patterns, is for the connoisseur and can be rather expensive.
Apart from saris and shalwar kameez sets, nearly all boutiques of the country showcases fatuas - tunics for men and women; a shorter and slimmer version of the kameez.
While women like to dress themselves, why should men be any different? Go for the panjabi! This is a comfortable long dress unique to Bangladesh. The Indian and Pakistani panjabi differs in fabric and also the cut. Team it with a headcap toopi and you will have the perfect Bangladeshi look. Just don't forget the white pyjamas.
If you have set your mind to take back a dress from Bangladesh that will speak of the people who dwell in it, visit the “Deshidosh” outlet at Bashundhara Shopping Centre or their outlet in Chittagong. Deshidosh houses ten of the most renowned boutiques of the country under one roof and showcases a wonderful assortment of dresses for men, women and children.
For over three millennia Bengal has been a land witness to communal harmony. Although it was ultimately Islam that flourished, Bangladesh still maintains a high Hindu and Buddhist population. Historians claim that it is through Bengal that Buddhism flourished in the orient many thousand years ago.
If you are a collector of religious artefacts, then we suggest Dhyani Buddha, the meditating Buddha. These are available at Aarong and also at the antique shops at Gulshan-2. Just don't get blown away by the fancy prices. Remember that this is a sheer test of your haggling skills.
Those drawn to Hinduism may want to take back “shakhas” conch shell bangles worn by Hindu women throughout Bengal as sign of their nuptial bond. These beautiful works of craftsmanship are best found at Shankhari Bazaar, in the old town.
Music plays a vital role in the lives of Bangladeshis, and in a country where the greater segment are still confined to rural areas, folk songs are the heart and beat of the nation. For authentic versions try albums by Farida Parveen or Ferdausi Rahman. These however are for the purists. For modern renditions of folk beats chose “Bangla” or “Lalon”. You will not be disappointed.
There is also much for the art enthusiasts. At dealers situated in Gulshan-2 you will find works by modern maestros and even new artists. But this is an expensive field and you can always go for simple watercolours, or fine art prints. These may well be within your budget.
Every February, the Bangla Academy plays host to a month long book fair. This is the most significant event in the cultural calendar of Bangladesh and if you are visiting this country in February, it is a must see event.
You will find many books some in English -- that speak of the country, its socio-political and cultural history. For the bibliophile, this can be the perfect recipe for years of study and knowledge hunt.
And speaking of recipes, why not take a cookbook? Surely you will be sampling some wonderful local cuisines and would like to replicate these same dishes on your dinner table. Our suggestion, go for books by Shawkat Osman, the renowned food connoisseur who combines recipes with his unique blend of wit and great story-telling.
It's all too easy to pick up an “I Luv Bangladesh” T-shirt from any street vendor, if you can find one with that slogan. Bangladesh never did personify itself with one slogan or one logo. To appreciate the ethnic diversity of this people, you will have to look deep into the lives of this people. What you discover is what you take back, a memento from Bangladesh.
By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed