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     Volume 6 Issue 40 | October 12, 2007 |

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The Other Half

Nader Rahman

No wonder at Ramadan trouble and quarrels reign.
If a poor man dares to complain, he is always found in
the wrong.
But if a rich man, for example, knocks out a poor man's
The officials will punish the one who dares to go and

Movjuz Mirza-Ali Shabustari

A reluctant Eid.

This Eid is going to be yet another stellar affair, opulent dinners and extravagant lunches sandwiched between a well-deserved break with a family by one's side. That probably best describes the kind of Eid that most of the readers of this magazine will enjoy, one might be tempted to say my description is exaggerated, for their sake I shall rephrase my self. This Eid is going to be reasonably comfortable, there will be a few good meals, a few gifts bought and received along with some rest and relaxation. That seems reasonable enough, but for at least another 100 million people in this country even the reasonable expectation of a good meal and some rest this Eid is beyond their wildest fantasies, and that is not an exaggeration.

What really, is the average person's Eid in this country? Far too many of us live in our urban bubble where we know nothing further than what's on TV tonight and how much we can spend on dessert. The un-sifted truth is that while millions of us in the cities are brought up on the concept of what Eid is and how to enjoy it, not many of us look at the other half of the country, still in the villages without the very necessities we take for granted, such as running water and electricity. For many of us Eid is about spending, buying gifts for loved ones, buying gifts for ourselves and every imaginable form of 'retail therapy'. That is not to say that Eid is entirely about spending, it usually brings about the largest concerted effort to help out the people less fortunate than us. The only sad part is that it happens twice a year.

Not quite a smile, not quite a frown, the grey area in between.

Some of my earliest memories are walking out of a mosque early in the morning with my pockets full of 2 taka notes, ready and willing to give them to any beggar in sight. The crowd outside the mosque never disappointed, there were men, women and children of all ages, shapes and sizes. I could have handed out those notes for hours, the waves of them never let up and then eventually I would put my hand into my pocket and realise that I had given everything away. Invariably there was someone standing in front of me waiting for his share, I would look him in the eyes and apologetically say “aar taka nai”. Many a year has passed between then and now and I have come to realise that charity on one day of the year, does not and will not help out those less fortunate than I. What they need are jobs, the keyword for their lives has to be sustainability and giving them my spare change does nothing but reinforce their mindset that it is okay to beg, that there is nothing more for them to look forward to. Aside from all of that it is only now that their Eid even enters my consciousness. Eid is divided by the class wall, we are more than happy paying them once a year without thinking of their lives any day of the year. The money we give in charity that day is just another drop in the bucket of our conscience. Their Eid is spent counting the day's money, looking for their next meal and finding shelter for the night.

A look into a newspaper on any given day will give one just the slightest insight into the lives of the other half. Garments workers have gone unpaid for months, which chillingly enough they seem okay to live with if only they are paid before Eid, but they are not. They demand their pay and Eid bonus before Eid, quite a shocking demand I must say; and as perpetual as a ticking clock their demands are not met. How do millions of people working in the garments sector remember Eid? For them it will be another month without pay, while they live in unfashionable Badda they are still close enough to see how their paymasters the Gulshanites live it up. Eid is the very holiday that separates the haves from the have-nots, the only equality the poor man has is in the mosque, religion is a great leveller, but even that is a cliché.

There is a large quote at the beginning of this article, it comes from an Azerbaijani poet by the name of Movjuz Mirza-Ali Shabustari. Even though this is the time of religious sensitivity his words resonate louder than ever. The month of Ramadan culminates in Eid celebrations and he could not have said it better if a rich man knocks out a poor man's brain, the officials will punish anyone that dares to complain. The lines between the haves and the have-nots could not have been clearer and portrayed in a truer light.

How do the millions in the villages deal with Eid when they have gone practically bankrupt trying to feed their families through Ramadan? We take the price hikes in our stride they struggle to feed their families, a meal once a day will have to do for them. The expensive Indian onions must taste bitter for them, as 37 years from freedom the nation still struggles for food security. Who is to blame? No one obviously, the people who are supposed to care all live in Dhaka surrounded by high rise apartments, expensive cars and suffocating air pollution. Every five years they head back to the people that give them their power and make idle promises like “next year food prices will be low, and fertiliser will be readily available and Eid will really be Eid for you”.

Many Eid's have come and gone and the reality for most of the people in this country is that Eid is not as great as the rich make it out to be. Every evening as I step out of office I walk through Karwan Bazar, the roads are lined with day labourers sleeping in their tukris (baskets), they are fast asleep with all their worldly possessions in hand, the clothes on their back and their baskets. Seeing their life is painful, living it must be fatal. Before I wrote this article I asked our photographer to take a picture of them, he called back on Monday night to say it was raining and that he could not get there. Then it hit me, the weight of their fate hit me, where do they go when it rains? I have a feeling when it rains God gives them shelter, because the rest of us don't really seem to care. I hope this Eid is better than their last, although I'm not holding my breath.


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