Aasha Mehreen Amin
Everywhere you go in Bangladesh there is a story worth telling, which is not surprising considering that it has over 140 million people, most of whom live in the harshest conditions and experience unbelievable deprivation. But what does take one aback is that many of these stories point out to the remarkable strength, energy and optimism of these people that make them larger than life. The second edition of My Beautiful Bangladesh by Nadeem Qadir, is a glimpse into the soul of Bangladesh, the forgettable streets, the forgotten villages and far away pockets - places where you may find real life heroes who stand out among the rest of their compatriots.
Qadir, as in the book's first edition, writes on a whole range of heroes. There is Nazma Khatun the tiger woman, a village woman who saves her husband from the clutches of a Royal Bengal tiger, the diver, Mohammad Abul Khair who risks his life to recover bodies of victims of launch capsize, fishermen who play with death everyday of their lives at sea in order to earn a living, the 'medicine gypsies' who travel around in boats, entertaining people and providing traditional medicine to cure diseases, a master like Sultan who depicted the enormous spirit of the rural people through his magnified, powerful and muscular figures, fashion designers who have put Bangladesh on the world map, Birangonas or women who survived rape and torture during the Liberation War, Bangladeshi peace-keepers who have earned a reputation for their diligent work and dedication and so on.
There are also stories that relate to fading traditions that symbolise a lost and far more slow-paced past - the tom-tom horse carriage, the parrot-fortune-tellers, the age-old oinnishes or floating hotels that gave shelter to travelling businessmen and traders. Quadir has managed to find the remnants of these symbols and has written about them in his book.
The subjects Qadir chose, however, seem random and the book appears a little disorganised, a thematic division would have made a marked difference in terms of increasing readability. Profiles of famous artists like Sultan, Shahabuddin, Ferdousi Priyobhashini, Mostafa Monwar and others' for example, could have been kept in one section and not interspersed with completely unrelated subjects. People with interesting hobbies could have been a separate section such as the master mechanic who makes his own version of the 'Ferrari' and the airline pilot who takes spectacular aerial pictures of Bangladesh for fun. There are other random articles that are again sprinkled here and there for no apparent reason such as high-profile designers, a well known entrepreneur and Professor Muhammad Yunus. Of course the logic is to project glimpses of all the people that Bangladesh can be proud of but a more methodical, consistent arrangement of the articles would have given the book a less jerky and more understandable structure. Another major criticism of the book is that for a book that documents such unusual, colourful and heart-warming stories, the visuals are very dull and amateurish. The photography does not look at all professional, neither does the layout and design which could have, at more adept hands, been quite spectacular, complementing and enriching the content.
But while the book lacks in terms of photographic brilliance and imaginative designing, it is rich in creating an image of Bangladesh that is far from the poverty-stricken, tragic, impossible country conventionally portrayed to the rest of the world. There are voices of people who would normally not have been heard; they are ordinary people with extraordinary life stories. It is a picture not made up or concocted, but very real, a canvas that displays the courage and determination of individuals to survive. Qadir's writing, which is easy and straightforward, talks about heroism in everyday life, unconditional patriotism and the strength to fight against all odds. My Beautiful Bangladesh is a collection of stories that recount the unrevealed beauty of the Bangladeshi spirit.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007