Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |    Volume 6, Issue 20, Tuesday, May 17, 2011



Grab a spoon

There are many things that Dhaka dwellers may be unhappy about -- traffic will be near the top of most people's lists, rampant poverty and crime will be there too along with the lack of recreation; the list goes on and on. But one aspect of our lives that we can claim with a measure of pride to be as good as anywhere else in the world, and much cheaper to boot, is the availability and the joys of ice cream.

Yes, we are indeed blessed to be able to enjoy this most delicious delight. Not only do we have quality ice cream parlours like Club Gelato, Movenpick, Cream & Fudge Factory and Baskin Robbins, we also have excellent brands such as Igloo, Polar and Kwality that offer a wide array of frozen delights. Think the chocolatey joy of a Chocobar, or the rejuvenation provided by the various flavours of lollies.

Then there are the ice cream cakes, with layers of rich chocolate suspended in a heavenly mixture of vanilla and strawberry, topped with cherries. Ice cream also provides scope for amateur improvisations -- my uncle grates peanuts and mixes them with his bowl of vanilla with sprinklings of coffee and a dollop of honey for good measure. My nephew dips French fries in his chocolate ice cream, while a crazy friend has his vanilla with tomato ketchup. To each his own I guess; I just go for Hershey's syrup with my bowl of chocolate.

There is something about this dessert, which humans have been enjoying since the early A.Ds, that drives away the blues. In fact, you will be hard pressed to find another food item that appeals equally to the innocence of toddlers, the rebellion of adolescence, the pessimism of adulthood and the wisdom of old age. Chocolates, probably but then again, you do not have ice cream chocolate, but you do have chocolate ice cream.

How? If you're an alien being, you might ask the question, otherwise it's inexcusable. Let us count the ways, or flavours, to be more precise. That torchbearer of pop culture, US TV's popular sitcom 'Friends' carried a gem on the subject when Ross was wondering if there was only one woman for each man. This is what Joey had to say:

“Ross, relax that's like saying there's only one flavour of ice-cream for you. Let me tell you something Ross, there's lots of flavours out there. There's rocky road, cookie dough and bing! Cherry vanilla. You can get them with jimmies or nuts, or whipped cream. Welcome back to the world, grab a spoon!”

You can pretty much gauge the personality of someone by their favourite ice cream flavours. Let's get the two most obvious ones out of the way. If you are asking someone below the age of 30, chances are they will say chocolate. And if you ask people of middle age they will more often than not plump for vanilla. That is probably why our markets are inundated with these two flavours.

According to icecream.com, chocolate ice cream lovers “are competitive and accomplished”, a love for strawberry-flavoured ice cream “reveals a thoughtful, logical person who carefully weighs each option before making decisions” and a vanilla enthusiast is surprisingly a “colourful, dramatic risk taker who relies more on intuition than logic”.

These characterisations are quite interesting because when you think of chocolate, you think the joys of youth, and vanilla well, the word itself carries undertones of plainness. Here's some cream for thought, maybe we like the flavours because they are a counterbalance to our traits. So, a colourful, dramatic risk taker may choose the 'safety' of vanilla, and a logical, thoughtful person may find some release in the light-headed, sweetness of strawberry.

In the end, it is safe to say that ice cream is the food item that best symbolises the small pleasures of life. As we trundle through our existence, the things we remember most are not our daily chores and responsibilities but what we do to get away from them. In the same way, a scoop of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, mango whatever's your poison -- brings the joys and whims of childhood rushing back. Ice cream carries little or no food value, it is just indulgence for indulgence's sake, and no matter how much of a weight-watcher or disciplinarian you are, you know there's a place for that.

“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate - that's my philosophy” Thornton Wilder.

Amen to that.



Credit or debit

It is very unbecoming of me but I always hesitate and think twice when it comes to explaining the meaning of debit or credit. I will not be able to answer this question randomly, it will take me a few nano seconds to re-run their meaning in my head first and then answer.

Numbers, accounting, banking, cheques, credit, cash; these are not my forte. I just know that I have this money and I'll spend this much; I don't like the word credit or loan.

Recently I've been getting phone calls from a reputed bank, where I happen to do my banking, regarding some loan that can be mine at the stroke of a pen. Very confusing isn't it?

Let me explain further, these highly corporate cultured men, with funny accents, call you up in the middle of a meeting or lunch or when you are just vegetating saying that “Ma'am we have a ten lakh taka loan for you; all you need to do is come to our office work out few details and the money is yours for anything you yearn for.”

They make it sound so simple and if at that point you desire something like, say a vacation to Turkey or investing in stocks or buying some home furnishing accessories, you naturally get tempted to accept this windfall.

But this is obviously a kind of aggressive banking, these people know my poor bank status and even poorer ability to pay off, yet they tempt me; absolutely disregarding the fact that I might be a loan defaulter and ultimately plead for bankruptcy.

Needless to say these offers are not interest free and frankly compound interest is something I am really petrified of. Even when I had to do the sums in school I hated it.

From what I understand the current financial crunch that the world is going through or trying to recuperate from is to some extend the fault of these aggressive banking measures.

In my layman's point of view what I gathered is that the rich countries sanctioned loans to its citizens for real estate or other things without properly studying their capability to repay and as a result when they all failed to repay, the economy came tumbling down. Even though it happened in the rich countries, we are at the bottom end of its ripple effect.

Let me point out another case of aggressive banking, a frustrated bank official called my husband asking for a contact number of one of his junior friends. Apparently he took a loan and mentioned my husband's name as his guarantor or introducer whatever the term is.

Now my question is, these bank people didn't verify with my husband before sanctioning his loan so why ask him for a way out now, when the defaulter is not answering his phone? What sort of responsible banking is that? High financing has become a way of life now; you take a loan from one bank to repay the other.

Let's just go back to the meaning of two most important words in the banking world: credit is something you owe and debit is something you own. If you cannot afford to take credit then why fall prey to such offers and face a financial crunch?

-- Raffat Binte Rashid



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“Sometimes life needs a little magic,
even if it is in a package of reality”

Fifteen pages into the story and she was nearly lost in the complexity of the narrative. Not that the language, or the plot of the story for that matter, was difficult -- it was anything but -- yet the build-up was slow, far too many pages than Nina would have favoured.

It was time to toss the book on the bed side table.

Switching off the cooler, she listened to the sounds of the storm brewing outside, the sounds echoing against the concrete structure that sprung unplanned, blocking the view of the horizon that Nina love so much since the days of her childhood. The chill of the kalboishakhi penetrated through the gaps of aluminium windows, and the slits around wooden doors. It would rain soon.

Skimming through her small library, Nina thought of picking something that would seem befitting of the weather. Brushing the tops of her index finger through Camus and McEwan she felt lost once again. Her hands finally stopped on Elias and his "Chilekothar Sepoy" - the soldier in an attic was a title she began reading long years ago. Squeezing the book out of its place, she dusted it off with her hands. The night was romantic, melancholy and quite young. And Nina was too lonely to say no.

That was Nina.

Meet Shamim. Nina's alter ego. He had already selected his read even before the thunder roared in the skies. The sullen mood of the air stirred up the deep melancholia that resided in him, ever so eager to spring up drowning the last drop of euphoria into an abyss of grim.

His mood governed his read. And on that tempestuous evening, Shamim too, picked Elias. But for a different reason.

As a young boy, he had read “Soldier in an attic”. The two days spent glued to the novel were probably the saddest time of his 17 years of life. As the characters unfolded, he failed to pin the hero. And for the first time in his existence as a boy, Shamim became a man.

He felt the urge to revolt like Khijir but wrapped in the infringements of society he was a mere witness to the world around him. Shamim had no control in the events that took place around him, rather like Khijir he too was a pawn in the game of life.

Nina had a different view.

The struggles of life mostly come through the pages she read. Not to say that her existence is devoid of hardship or the realities of life but her experience with life in other forms come only through reading. It brings her closer to reality, a life that she herself does not lead but hopes she could cling to.

The characters that she saw in her ritualistic, mundane life made her seek nourishment for the soul. Nina believed and quite strongly that life may not have heroes. Or, maybe each soul striving for a goal in life is a hero by their own right. Khijir, shot dead by the police, to her, was a symbol of hope that even in the absence of life, there was light that guided generations that followed.

Shamim seeks magic in the reality that surrounds us, in the way we walk, talk and lead our lives. For him it is important to be politically correct, even if the characters are only mere works of fiction. Shamim seeks honesty in the words poets weave; his heart calls out for fiction that mirrors an image of life, the life of the writer himself. The realism he seeks must essentially come from the author himself, who must be honest about what he sees and how he pens them on pages.

As time passed, he moved from author to author in a quest to experience the harsh realities of life, something that can only be experienced through characters set in different plots, in changing scenarios, in shifting times. But above all he sought melancholia. A greater sadness to overpower his own shortcomings. A struggle to find the meaning of life through lives, characters in novels, but life nevertheless.

Nina drifts from author to author in a search of a greater meaning of existence. Every character who struggles, Khijir or Osman Gani, is a symbol of hope to her. Through these fictitious beings she draws inspiration she never could gather from her own being. Nina feels, sometimes life needs a little magic, even if it is in the package of reality.

Truth be told, Nina and Shamim are not too different. Opposite sides of the same coin!

By Pothbhola


Meeting long-lost friends

They do it in a very sneaky fashion indeed. The first year in school, they would surround you with colours and toys, so that school and everything associated with it (read: studies) seem like fun! However, once you are truly on board that life-long ride of 'education', it reality strikes.

Although textbooks lose their pictures and colours fast, thankfully there are others who know how to keep their promise of being fun and entertaining.

As we grow older (and hopefully wiser) our tastes in companions change. We discard the picture filled books first, then the books with the large fonts and finally the high school dramas, in search of something that has a serious sounding, trendy title. Today let's reminisce. Lets take a walk down the lane of mental bookshelves and pay homage to those characters we were once obsessed with.

If you are a girl, your reading experience most likely started with those colourful books of fairytales. Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel and their fellow protagonists put you to a peaceful sleep, inducing dreams of a prince charming riding a white horse while you danced around in an overflowing pink gown.

You were probably 8 by the time all the fairy tales were devoured. By this age you had already met the opposite sex and decided that none of those stinky, dirty, hair-pulling creatures could ever really one day become a prince charming.

So you put that romantic mind to hibernation and got interested in life and its adventures. This is when we made Enid Blyton richer. "Secret Seven" and "Famous Five" drugged our adventurous minds and were the inspiration for climbing and walking those walls and trees.

A little later "Nancy Drew" too jumped in to satisfy our crime-fighting urge but she did it with a touch of fashion sense.

Then you turned 13. Once "Nancy Drew" ignited the 'fashion lobe' of the brain, the adjoining 'bff lobe' too caught fire. In came "The Baby-Sitters Club" with heartbreaking stories about friendship, loyalty and how not-banal baby-sitting can be. You identified yourself with Kristy or Mary Ann or Claudia or Stacy and felt their deepest troubles as your own.

Finally, when your favourite character got interested in boys, you put down the book, awakened the romantic mind from its hibernation, picked up the book again and resumed reading.

It was at the age of 15, when the prince charming got a contemporary makeover and turned into a high school football captain and Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield pranced into your reading life, carrying the promise of interesting stories in the form of "Sweet Valley". The operative words in this series (and hence in that part of your life) became catfights, cliques, popularity, boyfriends and kissing.

By 17, however, the "Sweet Valley" life seemed too sugary. So you looked for romance with its dark side. Along came "Mills & Boons" and "Harlequin Romance" and the corruption of the romantic mind resumed, as prince charming was now required to have 'rippling muscles' and 'chiselled jawlines'. Sidney Sheldon's introduction wouldn't change that image any time soon but would make us feel more empowered than ever before.

All of those novels were never completely discarded. They paved the way towards more serious and sombre literature but also filled up any gaps in between. Within the specified time period, we read other 'currently hot' books too. But let's face it; we were all little girls, we all loved pink at some point and we all had the same fictional best friends growing up.

By Raisaa Tashnova



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