Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |  Volume 6, Issue 23, Tuesday, June 07, 2011




Escape from the city

The school bells ring for the last time, signalling the end of yet another academic year; aam kathaler chuti -- as it was called in the past. Days of Grishho, summer, were spent savouring fruits and the company of the extended family. Years ago, children spent their summer vacations at their ancestral home, amidst the fun and frolic of living with grandparents.

Today's nuclear existence however opts for a time out from the bustling concrete living to the nearest destination available -- home or abroad.

This week Star Lifestyle gets into the travellers' spirit with a pleasure trip to Malaysia. We also give our take on travel kits and things you should consider when travelling with little children.

We also suggest ideas to decorate and maintain your rural dwelling, a home away from home that can be used for hosting friends and family and to re-bind the kinship that we now seemed to have moved away from.

Have a great trip and a splendid summer.


It may seem unlikely now, but we as a people are quite new to the city. Dhaka has not been a bustling metropolis for long. Even twenty years ago, this city was unrecognisable with a lot of its current residents living in rural Bangladesh. For us city-dwellers used to the commotion of urban life, it is easy to forget what peaceful treasures the rural life holds.

A home away from home is a cliché, but if the second home is yours to do as you please, yours to decorate as you please and yours to truly own - physically and spiritually - it is something to crave. That is what Nasreen Khan, a city housewife who is lucky enough to have a second home in Savar, had to say about the attractions of owning a place outside Dhaka.

She and her husband built a matir bari in Savar, and to her it is a place to get away from the madding crowd, and to sit idle and reflect upon life. But it seems that the real attraction for her is to be able to build a place all her own, at her leisure.

“It is somewhere you can just potter around, adding this here and that there as pleases the eye not bothering whether it is conventional or practical,” she said. “I am a stickler for comfort but it must be orderly comfort. I tend to arrange things just so that it will maximise the use of space and also be convenient, i.e., not make a mess."

She believes that using local materials adds to the authenticity of the rural home. “I love to use local things, furniture, especially in a place like the matir bari. As the name suggests, the atmosphere should be totally village-like. So I bought a couple of basic wooden beds from the bazaar, meat safes to keep my crockery and stores, bamboo shelves to hold my books and one with a curtain draped over its front to act like an almirah. “

The matir bari is indeed a serene, back-to-basics affair. No concrete anywhere. Wooden steps rise to a loft, built of bamboo poles looking over the rest of the house, which is just a large living area that contains the kitchen, a dining space and three beds that serve as both sofas and sleeping spaces.

The only concession to modernity, one that Khan insisted on, was the attached western toilet to which water is pumped through a generator. The chairs are all plastic and jute mats serve as carpets.

The underside of all this serenity is that one has to have control over its maintenance and cleanliness from a distance. “This can be a source of worry in a busy day in Dhaka when you get a call telling you that the pump is not working, or that local youths are coming in to sit on the bench at night,” related Khan.

“I'm lucky to have found a young couple from my village home to look after the place and do the gardening, which unlike village homes, I try to keep to a semblance of orderliness pleasing to the eye but not entirely divorced from the local fauna.

“Of course, maintaining a second home does eat into your purse, but the balance is much heavier on the benefits side.”

For many of us having a second home is not a choice, but part of our heritage. A lot of us have village or ancestral homes - land we or our families own outside the city - and are lucky enough to have good enough homes in the city to be able to ignore our rural past. But there are some who have leapt at the chance to enjoy the rustic slice of life so far removed from city life.

“The house that my husband built in his village was designed by an architect,” said Fatema Akhter, who owns a house in a village near Mymensingh. “Because the ancestral home was already there, we wanted a place open to invite relatives to sit and have a good time.

“Bedrooms and privacy were not high up on the priority list so that when there was dearth of space in the old house, relatives could just come and sleep on the beds on the 'platform' (overlooking the pond) or throw a mattress anywhere in the area connecting the two open bedrooms.“

The furniture here was taken from leftovers of Akhter's mother-in-law's furniture and so were some of the crockery. There are paintings on the wall, which Akhter said was a bit "un-rural”, but she tried to keep the subjects of the paintings as close to nature as possible.

Here too, maintenance from a distance is a problem. “Finding the right person to maintain it is the most difficult part, but being in our own village there are plenty of day helps during the time of our visits. One permanent caretaker is a must, and I have managed to find a very sincere one."

In Akhter's case, as in the case of so many of us, visiting the ancestral home is not just a way to let off some steam; it is also a place to visit those of our family who have passed on. “Now that my husband is resting in the family graveyard we go as much as we can. Problems do arise from time to time but going out of 'busy' Dhaka is such a welcome change and coming to an environment where you are in the midst of simple village folk, listening to their tales of joy and sorrow and having the opportunity to participate can be such a balm to one's restless soul.”

Her son pointed out another reason to leave our city bonds once in a while. “The city lights are so blinding, that you completely lose touch with nature. One thing that is a highlight when you venture out of the city, is the night sky actually glimmering with stars. I am sure that those who have spent their entire lives in the city have no idea what a wonder that can be,” said 30-year-old Rashed Akhter.

So while it may seem entirely appropriate to immerse oneself in the rat race we call city life, if you are lucky enough to afford it, spend some amount out of that purse to quench the soul. Rural Bangladesh, unlike Dhaka, is a sprawling expanse just waiting for you to make a home in some corner or another.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed


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