Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   | Volume 7, Issue 04, Tuesday, January 24, 2012




A tale of plastic money

There is a saying that the best things in life are free while doomsayers point out that we are living on borrowed time. Coincidentally, both these statements can be used when speaking of credit cards. See, the best things in life are free, momentarily because at the end of that moment, you need to pay for it. With interest. And here's where it's easy to point out, that we aren't living on just borrowed time but also borrowed everything.

Of course this phenomena could have been avoided, had frugality been the mantra. Sadly it's not and the rise in the number of credit card holders is just augmenting the growth of creditors.

In 2009, the government of Bangladesh withdrew the source tax on credit cards. Even in hindsight, it was a good move, as it led to fuelling consumption by some margin, leading to a surge in all that's good with a rise in production. However, it also began eating into the savings of people.


With a person earning 15,000 taka a month, eligible for a credit card with a 50,000 taka limit, it was only a matter of time before people really started to live beyond their means. Couple that with reward incentives provided to the credit card holders, plus the fact that marketing teams now just send a credit card even when one isn't asked for, consumers are pressurised and enticed to fall into the credit trap.

And once the credit web entangles you, it is hard to get out.

The problem isn't necessarily the number of card holders. With over 350,000 credit card holders, there still remains more than 20 percent of the potential market untapped. However, aggressive methods on part of the marketing teams of the banks are slowly trying not only to cover the 20 percent but also carve a new niche in the market for itself.

The entire concept is sold on the simplistic idea of buying something you can't afford now but paying for it later. Grace periods, secure method of carrying money and rebate offers are also strong incentives. However, there are obvious pitfalls.

Credit card payments can be deducted right off your salary, if one has a salary account. This doesn't usually require permission and instances of this have happened.

“I had 25,000 taka payment left on my credit card and when I went to withdraw my salary, I was shocked to see that the amount had already been deducted,” informs Farhan Ahmed, a teacher by profession.

Phone calls to the bank resulted in him being informed that the money was deducted for what was owed. This kind of scenario can set a person back, financially speaking. “Bangladesh Bank, once it formulates a comprehensive guideline on credit card approval and matters related to it, can solve all these problems. But, it is necessary to remember that credit cards are important and very helpful, if used without excesses.” M.M. Haikal Hashmi, DMD of Trust Bank, says. “Credit cards shouldn't encourage a person to live too far beyond their means. Credit cards shouldn't supplant money at any stage."

With the possibility of outstanding amounts carrying almost28 percent interest charge climbing to 40 percent interest charges, annually, the need to actually pay back on time is crucial. This makes credit cards the costliest forms of borrowing.

Apart from that, the fact that credit cards are now being turned upon a younger demographic is another growing concern. Young people are already considered a little too easy with their monetary outflows and extending generous credit lines to them, leads to defaults which one may have to suffer from for years.

A bad credit rating also isn't helpful when the need for loans arise in the future. Banks may tolerate a default of 8 percent but when the number rise to double figures, it is indeed alarming.

Once again the need for risk assessment comes into play and although all the major banks state that they carry out full risk assessments, their marketing ploys beg to differ. Finally, credit cards also bring about increased chances of credit card fraud and identity theft, two major problems which have rocked the more developed world.

Indeed, unless people understand the limitations of their own budget, a second global financial crisis, may just be in the offing. Mortgaged houses, student loans, honeymoon loans, travel loans, medical loans and swiping credit card after purchasing more goods than needed -- all pave the path to a very unstable future.

It may be easier swiping cards than parting with actual cash in your wallet, but next time open your wallet for the cash. It maybe luxurious to live by the plastic, but it is only sensible to live within your means.

By Osama Rahman
Photo: Lifestyle Archive


Chronicles of Sam Q

By Sam Q

Dearest Diary,
Everybody has an opinion; it is like a venial sin with God's approval. And, last I heard, everybody has a right to one's opinion. Why I am repeating myself is obvious here --because, I have a big fat opinion to express today.

Diary, normally, 'MY' opinion, on most things is "to each his own", but today I am so judgmental. My peeve today is on today's revered actors. Do not get me wrong Diary, I am all for the art of cinema and its actors. In fact, I am a major film buff.

Just the other day I was telling somebody how I cannot retain any new information. But, then it hit me; how then am I being considered for an honorary PhD degree on Hollywood and Bollywood trivia?

Any news which comes out on 'Hello' or 'Stardust' magazines, is neatly stored into files in any empty crevice up in my mind. I may not remember the names of my not-so-distant friends, but I sure can rattle the names of Angelina Jolie's brood of six in a flash.

I am also aware of Shah Rukh Khan's fluctuating waist line and how many molars he has behind that sexy dimpled smile. And by any chance if you ever happen to eavesdrop on some of my conversations with my mother regarding Bollywood happenings, you would not only think we are practically family but as if we are literally sitting on each other's laps.

Why I am telling you all this is just to make you understand how I am all out there for the entertainment industry. I know there is no business as show business. I know people who are from this industry think and feel out of the box. I know they sell their souls to survive this art, but, I also know that there has to be boundaries. Once boundaries are crossed, all that remains is just augean. I am sorry Diary, I have to write big words to vent my feelings. I just could not write 'disgustingly dirty'. It had to be, just a bit more.

The first actor, who actually is an 'A' grade actress, did a random song for a movie, which became so popular that if anybody who knew a person called, "Sheela", could not be called out normally anymore...her name had to be sung out.

This huge amount of popularity could not assuage her thirst for adulation, so she went ahead and did another rambunctious number for the panting audience. In 'MY' opinion, her heaving, and gyrating posterior dance moves were so tawdry, that it really made me want to ask her, "Do you not have a line anywhere in your horizon that you will not cross?"

The second actor to face my wrath (as if she cares) was a sweet-girl-next-door type, who won everybody's heart by doing watchable, meaningful films. But now she goes ahead and does this movie on a yesteryears South Indian actress's life which is not much to write home about anyway. Truly, I am at a loss. And to her, I have only one question, "Are your parents going to see that movie?"

Diary, I know, you have arguments which will make hundred percent sense but all I can say in my coda is, I have the right to 'MY' opinion.

So, please go ahead and watch the movie and form your own opinion and then try to have a good day the Sam Q way!

Thai chicken
For the marinade:
4 boneless chicken breasts
¼th cup lemon juice
2tbsp Thai fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1tbsp brown sugar or jaggery
2tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
2tbsp sesame oil to fry.
For the dressing:
1tbsp Thai sweet chilli sauce
1tbsp apple cider vinegar
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp soy sauce.

Flatten the chicken slightly (use a rolling pin). Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Add the chicken and coat well. Cover the bowl and keep in fridge overnight.

Combine the dressing ingredients and whisk well until well combined.

Heat sesame oil over low-medium heat, add the chicken, cook until meat is done. Make sure both sides are done and has a golden brown finish.

Remove and place on a platter. Drizzle on the dressing and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

Serve hot.

No fuss brownies
¾th cup chopped chocolate
½ cup butter
¾th cup crushed marie biscuit
¼th cup condensed milk
½ cup walnuts (chopped)
a 200ml thickened cream packet

Mix the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a double boiler till the chocolate-butter mixture melts and becomes a smooth sauce. Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients, except cream, and mix well. Pour the mixture into greased tin and refrigerate till set. Cut into wedges and serve with thickened cream. Serve chilled.


Bhortabhorti Dhaka
(Dhaka full of bhorta)

By Kaniska Chakraborty

Those mashed goodies. Any veggies, most meat and fish. Some condiments.

A large part of the Bangladeshi culinary culture can be understood through these bhortas. Food in Bangladesh is all about love. Every food that you eat bears the unmistakable touch of love of whoever is cooking it. Be it the doting mother or the professional cook. Cooking and feeding are two activities that also evoke high pride.

And bhortas are the ultimate alchemic product. It has to be done by hand. It physically carries the touch of the cook. How else do you say, “I love you”?

I went to Dhaka for a dear friend's wedding. That is a separate story where the universe stood still for a moment when they were declared man and wife.

I stayed with a couple who are not just close friends, they are family; a lovely couple with a lovely house and a lovely child. They gave me their room, fed me, and took care of my every need. They called people over to meet me. I was overwhelmed, overjoyed and touched.

To chronicle every meal that I had with them will take several entries to do justice.

So in this one, I will talk about one dinner where bhorta played the lead, and the only role. Shomo and Hasan had called their immediate family members to have dinner and meet me as well.

Shomo asked me what would I like to have. I had a one-word answer for her. Bhorta.

Hasan went to the market and came back with bagful of goodies. There was the takimach (a kind of eel), little prawns, large eggplants, beautiful new potatoes, and shutki (dried fish). There were ruby red tomatoes and emerald green coriander leaves as well. All looked very promising. Shomo worked her magic. Taki was beheaded, cooked and made bhorta-ready. Prawns were cooked to perfection. Potatoes were boiled, peeled. Tomatoes cooked, coriander leaves pureed. Eggplant was charred and peeled. And the dried fish was cooked and flaked.

Loads of onion and garlic were fried and roasted red chillies added. Each bhorta got a different treatment. While the potato was evenly mashed with the onion, garlic and red chillies, the coriander leaf purees got the green chilli loving. Prawns went pungent and fiery and finely shredded. The eggplant was a pleasant surprise with a dash of tamarind along with the customary onion and garlic. A tang you could not ignore.

But the star of the show, to me, was the shutki. Normally, whenever I had shutki bhorta, it is usually made into a delicious, unctuous, smooth, fiery red paste, redolent of garlic and chilli as well as the dried fish. Agreed, it is an acquired taste, but trust me, once you acquire it, heaven awaits.

This shutki was not a paste. This shutki was a great presentation of texture and taste. Shredded dried fish (mango fish/Bombay duck/loitta) deftly mixed with sliced onion, green chilli and coriander leaves with an undertone of mustard oil and lime. The bite of the fibrous fish, the crunch of the sliced onion, the sharp of the chilli, the mellow of coriander leaves. Amazing!

It was all served with plain rice. There also was a very good beef curry but no one really paid much attention to that.

And by the time we were done, I was secretly hoping there would be some leftover for lunch next day.

Then there was none.


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