Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |  Volume 6, Issue 36, Tuesday, September 13, 2011




Café New Zealand and System Restaurant

I must confess that I am enjoying my job -- travelling across Bangladesh for campaign purposes, although the tropical heat is tiring me out a lot. Long queues at ferry ghats and the long drives sometimes can take its toll, however natural beauty is a most effective relaxant. So it was during these worthwhile journeys, that I gathered enough information to put together a helpful travelogue, one which will make someone else's journey an enjoyable one as well.

When travelling, the best options are either to journey to mountains or beaches wherever you go. Khagrachari was one such hill stop for me. Although I often come here for work, I have yet to be offered its best. It's a splendid place and one feels sad by the lack of coverage in Lonely Planet's outdated Bangladesh edition.

The scenery changes completely once you arrive at Khagrachhari. Surging hills fold and bend, making you wonder what is over the next rise and fall. Dhakaities really love Dhaka but it's an unliveable city given its numerous problems. Khagrachhari offers tranquillity and respite from it all. You will get some power cuts here too but no traffic congestion at all.

Pleasure starts about 15 minutes after you take the left from Feni towards Ramgarh. The hills start from this district. You can see the lush green tea plants and vibrant women collecting the leaves. It's a wonderful scene. Then, the tea gardens morph into forests as you go deeper towards Khagrachari.

If you have an expatriate with you, you will have to stop by and fill up the required paperwork. Insurgents and rebels, make military presence a must. If you enter Khagrachari through the cantonment, you will instantaneously understand who runs the show there.

In Khagrachari, I have stayed in only one hotel called “Meghla”, which is a government run hotel. Rest assured, the service you get here is much better than any other. The location of the hotel is nice and it there is plenty of empty space all around.

The food at Meghla is eatable. Whoever prepares it, however, is not a food enthusiast. You have to wait almost about an hour after you have ordered. Another option could be my personal favourite, the "System Restaurant" at Khagrachari.

It's a wonderful place serving indigenous food. It's small but caters to a large number of regulars. The restaurant is owned by a wonderful person called Mong Marma, popularly known as Mong Da.

There's a bamboo dish here which is actually very good and is preferable with rice. The tenderness of the dish is like that of a squid. A must try whenever you get the chance. Apart from that, one can also try this writer's personal favourite; the mushroom egg fry. Prepared using salt, pepper and a bit of egg with mushroom, the key ingredients are fried to perfection.

Word of caution; beware of the "shutki" (dry fish) preparations. It is really spicy. One mouthful can leave you red-faced.

There is no shortage of items at System. However, there is no menu though. It works like this; you take a seat and almost everything will be presented before you. Then, you can pick and choose. Once you are done, Mong Da will inform you of the price, which is usually between Tk120-180.

Besides System, there is another interesting place in Khagrachari with yet another interesting name - New Zealand. It's basically a cafe that serves some munchies nestled among the paddy fields. It's an almost magical place to dine. Carrying a mosquito repellent is advisable though.

During summer, Khagrachhari can be a torture. You have to walk a few miles in remote areas to visit certain places and have lunch way past routine hours and once you are back to your hotel room, you'll find no electricity due to the load shedding. But if you want to look on the brighter side, you have fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh air and a calmness which Dhaka can never offer you.

By Taskin Rahman


Images through a theodolite VI: The legacy

In the past five segments of "Images through a theodolite," printed before Ramadan, we were introduced to the protagonists of the fiction -- the writer; his wife, Nina; Binty for whom the writer has amorous feelings and finally, the Grandfather: a figment of his imagination. Both the writer and Nina share a dark secret that has been haunting their marital bond but the secret itself remains unsaid. As days progress, the writer is in a constant battle, fighting to keep his sanity as the world around him fades away.

This week we are re-introduced to the Grandfather, and his notion of legacy.

May 24, 1942.
The distant past

Sarkar Sahib was sweating profusely inside the tent. The mail bags were late again. That morning, the desert was traitorously warm, and taking a scout on the four-wheeler out in the wilderness seemed like a proposition, but something he preferred not to even think about.

While walking on the desert sand, he got a taste of the sun's warmth as the heat penetrated through his shoes into his feet. He felt like taking off his boots, but that would have been unwise. Throughout the night, Rommel's men had been shelling the areas under Allied control. There was no guarantee that bombing would not start again. And they were ordered, even non-combatant soldiers like Sarkar Sahib himself, to be ready to move at the shortest notice.

He was expecting a letter from home, for a few months now. He shuddered at the thought of his mail being mishandled at the sorting section. Even the soldiers were all complaining, they blamed Sarkar, the post master of Indian Field Post Office #19, now stationed in Libya, for their letters getting lost in transit. He tried to explain, and was compassionate about the complaints but matters were simply not in his hands. Something was wrong in Cairo, where all the letters from India were sorted.

Sarkar Sahib was always very particular about his mail bag. Even while stationed in Burma, where he was a postmaster at Akyab post office, before the War broke out, he expected meticulous delivery of his bag. Although, at the FPO it could not be expected for obvious reasons, but on that day it was very late.

On his makeshift table from sand bags, Sarkar Sahib laid the paper and took his pen to write home.

“Dear Maryam”, he wrote, “in the blistering heat of the desert, I write to you. My third letter since being stationed in Libya, yet I have not received any letters from you. Please do write. In the chaos of war, letters from home are the sole inspiration that keeps us going.” He paused. At the distance he could hear the unmistakable sound of shelling.

He continued, “How is Ikram? How old is he now, not much older I assume but here, living under the open sky in the harsh conditions of war one often loses track of time. I do not know if I will survive the War. There has been news of complete annihilation of a FPO by enemy bombings. And I am scared.

“Will I ever see the face of my son, Ikram? I sincerely hope so. I want to be back in Morichakandi, my home, my village. I want to return to my station in Burma, where my only worry is getting my mail bags on time.

“Ikram is my blood, my progeny, my legacy. If I do not return, tell him about me. Tell him stories of his father, and his forefathers. If I do not survive the War, the crown will look after his upbringing. His life will be secure. Yet I shudder at the thought of not seeing his face again.”

“Tell him that his father tried the best for him. Tell him, ""Baba wanted to be with you” on his first day at school, and on days of Eid. Tell that tiny boy, “your father would have done the world to be with you" on the day he first rides the bicycle or the first day he comes to Dacca.""

“Tell him to eat his vegetables. This will make him strong and his mind sharp. On days when he will miss me, tell him to look up at the starry night and search for me. In school he should study science, do his mathematics with care. He should be good in mathematics and excellent in language, Bengali and English. If he wants, make him a doctor as I have always wanted to be one. This was his father's last wish; tell him that!”

Sarkar Sahib reached for a white paper and went back to scribbling.

“Dear Ikram,
My son, my progeny, my legacy. I am your father, whom you have never met. I went to Africa to fight Rommel, Hitler and the evil that brew in the world. But you are probably safe now, away from the evil of War.

“If I die in the War, you may never forgive me for leaving you. But one day, when all grown up, you will understand my reasons, the circumstances. Be a man my son, be virtuous and pious. Be kind to your mother, verily Jannat lies under her feet. Remember your ancestors, respect them, value their notions and principles. And remember me. Your father.”

Sarkar Sahib, my grandfather did live to see his only son, Ikram, my father. He was injured at war and returned to his village of Morichakandi after the Japanese surrendered to the allied force. The War took him to different theatres of the war, the African front, the Middle East and finally to the Imphal front in Burma.

However, he did not live long to see his son grown up. He succumbed to injuries of the War and died at the tender age of 35. But he left behind a legacy, his son, someone to carry on his blood. He left this world with a smile on his face, knowing well that his bloodline will continue.

(to be continued)

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif


Keeping up with the Joneses on Facebook

I was watching a film called The Joneses last week. I happened to bump into it on Netflix, and after reading the synopsis thought that it might be worth watching. At the end, I admitted that my time was not wasted, not at all. Starring David Duchovny and Demi Moore as Mr. and Mrs. Jones, this 2009 flick is on “stealth marketing,” a type of marketing where consumers are unaware of the fact that they are being marketed goods and services.

Professional salespeople disguise themselves as normal people and show off their clothes, shoes, accessories, furniture, electronic devices, cars, phones, food and drink, in short, everything so that the people around them feel an indomitable desire to buy them. The film also shows the tragic death of a man, who, after seeing that his credit card bill skyrocketed, commits suicide in his swimming pool. His spending spree to keep up with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, the undercover marketers, costs him his life.

The film reminded me of a similar competition for status that we see everyday on Facebook.

In today's world, many of us are constantly trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” We are comparing our material possessions with those of our neighbours'. But some of it is also seen in the virtual world of Facebook, where users are instantly and constantly putting on their statuses what they are eating, drinking and buying. It is not that I never do what others are doing but these days I question the need to write on my status the model of my new touch phone or the name of the hotel where I stayed on my last vacation.

People who cannot enjoy most of the luxuries that many of their friends enjoy in their everyday lives, may feel a pang of sadness from reading about all the fun their friends are having. Isn't it an invisible competition that we have gotten ourselves into?

While one Facebook friend uploads photos of her recent Malaysia trip, another one uploads pictures of his last Thailand trip and yet another one uploads snaps of her one-month UK tour. I am not saying that uploading vacation photos is bad or anything even close to that, but I know for sure that some people, who have never been outside their country, may heave a deep sigh and say, “I wish I had a life like that.”

A friend of mine was once saying, “All these Facebook photos and statuses remind me of my condition in life.” He is one of those who work 10 am to 8 pm each day to support the family.

Some people love to share every hour of their lives with their Facebook connections. How many of your friends are truly interested in what you had for lunch, what ice-cream flavour you are savouring at Club Gelato or what boutique you got your Eid dress from?

I understand that to some people it is something that they enjoy. But there are times when I feel that by sharing such details of life, they are telling others what they are enjoying but others are not at that very time. At least one person among my acquaintances has created a Facebook album on her shoe collection!

Some of us are blessed with very comfortable lives -- hard work and luck brought to us expensive cars, clothes and houses. Maybe there was not even too much hard work involved, maybe some of us just inherited a ton of money or maybe some of us just learned an easy way to become wealthy in life. But as we enjoy the comforts of life and show them off to friends and family, we can sometimes try to think of what effect these superficial actions of ours might be having on some of our loved ones. Things are easier said than done, but I sincerely hope that these words just written will not be just words but promises to better the way I conduct myself.

By Wara Karim


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