Food for Thought
Exhibitions and Inhibitions
I have to say, this has definitely been one of those months when you want to ask the world to slow down for a bit, so that you can get off the merry-go-round and take a much-needed break. So much so, that I sit down to write this column I'm honestly not sure whether I will be able to hand it in by tomorrow's deadline. Mind you, if you're reading it, that clearly puts an end to the suspense right there!
Part of this chaos is inevitable. Winter is the season when all of our "Snowbird" friends and relatives migrate from the chilly northerly climes of Europe and America and return to Dhaka for a little rest, relaxation and pampering from hospitable relatives. Like many others, I find that despite my natural anti-social tendencies, it is during December and January that I am most active in catching up with friends and taking advantage of the entertainment opportunities on offer in the one season when you can be out and about in our hectic metropolis without breaking into an immediate sweat. Though the traffic can always be relied upon to cause a little perspiration; if only because you are going to be late to yet another dawat despite setting out the mandatory two hours in advance.
And of course there are always the happy little "incidents" that life is so adept at providing for us, invariably at the worst possible times. Like the mix-up earlier this month when I was thought to have written a rather nasty obituary for Sharbari Ahmed, after her "Writing the Wrong" column was accidentally published under my name. To clear up the confusion once and for all, Sharbari had decided to write two versions of commentary regarding her own death, aimed at illustrating how the same personality traits can be positively or negatively viewed in a person depending on whether or not you like that person.
Please note, when the mix-up initially occurred and I appeared to be the author of the piece, nobody thought to commend me on the "nice" version of the obituary. They merely marvelled at my hostility towards a fellow columnist (with some disapproval), my change of writing style and/or emerging personality disorder - both attributed, oddly enough, to the start of a new decade and its accompanying resolutions (and viewed with an understandable degree of nervousness), or in some cases, my nerve in writing such a piece (the last expressed with slightly reluctant admiration)!
Exhibition at Bengal Café. Photo: zahedul i khan
Frankly, I was appalled by the general public reaction, not least from one very nice person who said that she had read the piece and thought it well-written, but was so appalled that I could write something as unkind as that negative death notice that she didn't know what to say when she met me afterwards. Luckily, she said nothing until the situation had been explained in my (real) column the week after! Presumably, if I hadn't written anything, she would still perceive me as a real meanie. As you can probably tell, I'm still trying to clarify the situation to anyone who remains confused, and must state here that I definitely wish to give due credit for the obituaries, nice or otherwise, to Sharbari herself...
Apart from all this social and literary activity, what has kept me busiest in the last few weeks is the launch of my mother's exhibition "Rangeen: Festival of Colours " celebrating the 20th anniversary of Aranya's revival of natural dyes in Bangladesh. Along with a spectacular display of textiles at the Bengal Gallery, which included beautiful antique museum pieces alongside some of Aranya's newest creations, exhibition work also involved the making of a DVD (for which I had to help with the script, materials selection and narration ie several days in the editing suite), the preparation of a catalogue to accompany the exhibition, publicity and networking - and of course, helping with the actual launch and management of the exhibition, which was held from January 14-22.
Needless to say, the event brought the usual collection of wonderful people and weirdoes out of the woodwork. It was fun to encounter some really nice individuals, both acquaintances and friends, as well as new people. With a limited number of saris and shawls for sale, the first hour after the opening was crazy; and at one point, surrounded by four people simultaneously trying to book the item of their choice, a line from a poem by Rudyard Kipling flashed through my head "If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…" Anyway, while you can't please all of the people all of the time, I managed to satisfy at least some of the people - in one case, as a result of a very kind friend agreeing to let a probashi from New Zealand take the shawl she had already booked, while a new one was ordered on her behalf! Her logic was that she could always wait and get her piece later, but that it was important to have examples of the beautiful textiles that Bangladesh can produce out in the wider world.
Not everyone was as kind or polite, particularly since as I have also discovered when it comes to customer service at my mother's shop, people sometimes behave less than politely when they think that you are a "just a salesperson". But such individuals were a tiny minority, and I held my tongue when I came across them. I was also impressed when my own shortcomings were met with a degree of generosity. This occurred when I failed to recognise a well-known singer, who was accompanied by her entourage. The lady was a pleasure to deal with, and when I asked one of the others in the group for her name so that I could record the items that the singer had ordered, that person was amazed that I hadn't recognised the celebrity. So after clarifying her name and mentioning a couple of songs she was famous for, the other lady whom I had asked even sang a few lines for me, but it was no use - I was clearly ignorant! Fortunately everyone concerned had a sense of humour, so we just laughed about it together (and if they were slaughing at me as well as with me - well, I can live with that...)
Less amusing was the fact that I also had to spend quite a lot of time instructing the staff on how to prevent random people from taking pictures. This did not apply to media, of course. The problem is that apart from a few individuals who have no ill intentions whatsoever, most of those attempting to take pictures reflect the usual copycat phenomenon in Dhaka, where there is no respect whatsoever for intellectual copyright. And I for one had had enough of it. If we couldn't stop people from copying, there was no reason to make it easy for them. At the very least, they should have to put some work into the process of plagiarizing. After all, hard work is character building...and a little character is desperately needed in such cases!
(....to be continued)
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