Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |  Volume 7, Issue 13, Tuesday, March 27, 2012

 

 

CHECK IT OUT

Cool offers from Magic Mirror

 

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THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY

First Responders II
Venue: American Centre Dhaka
Date: 30 March
Time: 9:00 am

The objective of this training program titled 'Life Saving Skills for Lay First Responders' is to teach some important exercises that can be applied to injured people immediately after the accident. The first sixty minutes are considered the 'pre-hospital' period and this is when the most number of deaths are caused.

The training program is going to be conducted by Dr. Bernard Jaffe, who is an Emeritus Professor of Surgery and is currently working with the international foundation -- Operation Smile.

A total of 300 volunteers will be recruited for this training, 100 volunteers for each day. The training will take place at the American Center on March 30, 31 and April 1, 2012, 9.00 am -- 1.00 pm. All volunteers will be officially certified as 'First Responders'.

The last date of registration is 28 March 28, 2012. For details contact -- Abdullah Wasif at (+880) 1675 709 324, abdullah.wasif@jaago.com.bd

Cities in flow: Dhaka and Kolkata
Venue: Goethe Institute, Dhaka
Date: 2 April
Time: 2:00 pm till 8:00 pm

The renowned German magazine on urbanism StadtBauwelt recently released an issue on Dhaka and Kolkata -- “Städte im Fluss”. Curated by Habitat Forum Berlin, the issue gathers contributions by urbanists, architects and publicists from both cities and Germany.

The event launches the online-version “Cities in Flow”, comprising of all contributions translated in English. Moreover, in detailed presentations, the issue's authors delve into some of the raised problems.

By Tanziral Dilshad Ditam


VITA

A certain freedom

By Neeman Sobhan

Here in Rome, March appears with the fluorescent yellow Mimosa tree alight like street lamps at every corner of the city. While taking a walk up and down the shady residential streets around my house, I breathe the crisp spring air and the scent of the Mimosa blossoms. Individual sprays sell like the proverbial hotcakes on 8 March for presenting to women on Il Giorno della Donna or International Women's Day.

I get my share from my students and it gladdens my heart. But, however prettily March starts, for a Bangladeshi the last week of March brings rain clouds to the soul. 26 March arrives as our Independence day; but in spite of the final victory of attaining sovereignty, for my generation which lived through 1971, the day brings little freedom from distressing memories, and even less of an independence from the diverse forms of oppressions that continue.

To distract myself and to get my Italian students involved in things Bengali I enthusiastically attend with them a film event showing a Bangladeshi documentary on the campus of our Institute of Oriental Studies of La Sapienza University. It is called 'Shadhinota' by Yasmin Kabir (in English, more appropriately titled 'A Certain Liberation' and subtitled in English.)

I am impressed and touched to the core by the film. And if you have not seen it, this much-awarded film is a must-see. Made in 2008, it makes you think about the many faces and meanings of the word 'freedom.' The film concerns a 'crazy' Hindu woman Gurudashi Mondol, who having been forced to watch her entire family killed by the collaborators of the occupying forces during the Liberation War of Bangladesh, and having been dishonoured repeatedly, adopts in her present life, whether consciously or unconsciously, the persona of a mad woman as her strategy for survival.

The compassionate and intelligently conceived film, without any authorial intrusion, lets the camera follow her around as she roams the streets of Kopilmoni, a small-town in rural Bangladesh, mock-terrorising everyone with a stick; taking money from the pockets of mildly protesting passersby who are used to her habits and know that she only takes a requisite trifling and returns the rest; scolding, teasing and making irreverent and politically astute repartees with men; and basically, leading the unfettered life of a tomboy.

In having lost everything in life, she has attained or extracted, a particular kind of liberation from society, letting her mantle of madness free her from the restrictions that other 'normal' women and men cannot escape.

What was deeply touching and heartening, was the humanity and kindness of the town's people who accept her idiosyncrasies and protect her with humour and affection, saying, “We are now her family.” Gurudashi lives with a Muslim family, and two moving moments were when one of the housewives says that the family has stopped eating beef for her sake; and the other, when Gurudashi coddles one of the babies whom she nurtures like her own having lost all hers.

It is a very effective and affecting film, which without any intrusive sentimentality, slowly reveals the horrors of her past and the inner demons behind her smiling, uproarious persona.

We are told that having lived in Kopilmoni for decades, Gurudasi attained near legendary status in life. She died recently, and I would be curious to know, if some sort of memorial to this extraordinary woman has been created, in the form of say, a help center for women, a clinic for children, a soup kitchen, a library or a sports club etc. We have so many rich people in our society. Philanthropy would be the right way to celebrate our hard earned independence, and remember the victims.

Talking about spending private money for public institutions brings to mind my visit to the Muktijuddho Jadughor on my last trip to Dhaka. Founded in 1996, it is one of the most worthwhile and noble efforts made by a group of dedicated citizens and former freedom-fighters.

Often the inhabitants of a city don't get around to visiting some must-see spots, which a visitor manages to do. I recall how an Italian student of mine shamefacedly confessed to never having been inside the Coloseum. So, if any of you Dhakaites have not visited this charmingly situated, yet quietly disquieting spot in Shegunbagicha, I recommend you do so. In the month of March, it is the most appropriate pilgrimage to salute the heroic spirit behind our Independence.

I certainly salute those citizens who formed the Muktijuddho Smriti Trust that created this museum. They, apparently, get only token financial assistance from successive governments, but for the major part, the MJ Smriti Trust looks after the financing of this museum. Subscriptions from new members and donations from individuals and organizations cover the running expense. The entrance ticket is a paltry Taka 3, to induce visitors to learn about their past.

The present location is a two storey colonial house. Inside the entrance is the black Morris belonging to and donated by the family of the martyred Dr Fazle Rabbi. The rooms are hushed and shady, inviting reflection as one winds slowly from room to room, upstairs and downstairs, following the yellow lines marked on the red oxide floor.

I wandered through the exhibits, my eyes resting longest on the personal belongings of many muktijoddhas donated by their families. A book of English poetry and some clothes cracked through the anonymity of the 'freedom fighter' filling the room and my heart with the flesh-and-blood reality of the owners.

Descending down the spiral staircase I came to the inner courtyard, where there is a café and tables under umbrellas. I now dashed to the museum's book shop. There, I was shocked at the disarray of the well stocked but overflowing and dusty book shelves. There was no computer to catalogue the volumes, and I had come specifically to get the English translation of Shaheen Akhtar's novel 'Talaash', which the writer herself had told me was available there.

I was also given the phone number of the person I should meet. That person was absent that day. The person in charge was clueless, and I refused to return to Gulshan empty handed, so, I called the gentleman on my cell and handed the phone to the nay-sayer at the counter. Finally, with the voice on the phone guiding us through the search, we found 'The Search' inside a still unpacked box.

I, now relaxed, looked around the treasures all jumbled up without regard for subject, authors, alphabetisation or any other system. “We have no space”, the man lamented. I retorted, “You can save space by not displaying ALL the copies of a particular book on a shelf. Keep the rest aside in stock and…” His eyes were glazing over. I sighed, “You know, if I lived here, I would happily come and sort all this out.” He shrugged.

I don't blame him. How much can a Trust do without adequate financial support and other help? I urge citizens to come forward and help maintain this museum. Please visit their website for relevant information.

Many international personalities have taken an interest in the museum. In 1996, Indian singer Shuman Chatterjee gave five benefit concerts for the museum. In 1997, the Indian High Commission handed over Pakistan Army's Operational map they used in 1971. Veteran journalist Simon Dring who covered our Liberation war was given a reception here. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Jagjit Singh Aurora visited the museum, as did Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.

The most important people to visit it, however, were the ones I saw when I visited it: school children. On 25 March, I cannot think of a more appropriate expedition for everyone to undertake than a visit to Shegunbagicha's Independence War Museum.

Joy Bangla!

Neeman Sobhan is a writer and journalist, living in Italy and teaching at the University of Rome. She also writes the fortnightly 'A Roman Column' that appears in the Star Weekend Magazine of Fridays.



 

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