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Bangladesh Astronomical Association making a difference

By Mohammad Hammad Ali

If there is one thing teenagers in Bangladesh really miss, it is the opportunity to do something outside of studies, the opportunity to learn stuff that's fun or to go places where they can enjoy being close to nature.

There was a time (back when we were probably not even born) when there used to be clubs in all parts of the town that would arrange sporting events and cultural functions. Unfortunately, nowadays such clubs are more interested in getting involved in local politics than organizing activities for the young generation. But there are exceptions, as is always the case.

Ever since its inception, Bangladesh Astronomical Association has been an organization that has given more to the young generation of the country than any other such organization. The best thing is that in all these years the association has always been managed by volunteers, people who received nothing more out of their efforts other than the satisfaction taken in a job well done. This proves that there are still people out there who want to do something for the country and that is a pleasant thought in the current situation.

Bangladesh Astronomical Association started its journey in the year 1987. After attending a series of astronomy lectures in the Science Museum, some friends wanted to buy a telescope. As telescopes were not really sold by the dozen those days and were rather expensive, they decided to form a club and raise funds to buy a telescope. Pretty soon, however, the self-centered goal changed. Plans of buying a telescope took the back seat as they decided to concentrate more on spreading interest and knowledge of astronomy among the general public.

The first step towards this goal was the publication of the magazine "Mohakash Barta". Even before forming BAA, the group of friends had been working on a literary magazine. Thus, they had the experience necessary to bring out a magazine. At the same time, the people they had met during work on the literary magazine helped them a lot with funds and advertisements for "Mohakash Barta". Following publication of the magazine, BAA organized programs to spread awareness and interest about the association and their work. Initially, the programs were limited among known people.

Gradually, the turnout increased and their goal of reaching out to the general public was gradually being realized. The magazine started in broadsheet format but as name of the organization got around, they soon had enough funds to start printing it as a full-fledged magazine. At present, the high quality design and content of the magazine helps create an impression.

1993 was the biggest turning point in the history of the Bangladesh Astronomical Association. The first advisor of BAA, Professor Abdul Jabbar, passed away. BAA decided to come out with an issue of "Mohakash Barta" based completely on the late Professor. This issue, and knowledge of the fact that Professor Jabbar was always interested in the activities of the association, helped create an impression among some of the most renowned academicians of the country, such as Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, Jamilur Reza Chowdhury and the likes. At the same time, the association received a lot of support, financial and otherwise, from the family of the deceased. Thanks to all the help and support, the association managed to print a book by the late Professor, called "Tara Porichiti". It is still considered the best book for amateur astronomers who are just beginning to take an interest about the night sky.

At present, the association seems to be on an all-time high. Not so long ago, they organized the Tereshkova Festival in collaboration with the Russian Cultural Center, to mark the 50th anniversary of the first woman in space. In December, they are planning Spacefest 3, a 3 day long event that will consist of seminars, lectures, film shows as well as project work for kids.

The first two spacefests were instant hits and by the looks of it, there is no reason why the third one should be any different. Besides programs and publications of their own, BAA is now the official advisor for the design of the Space Theatre. It is their dedication and perseverance that has brought them from a group of friends who wanted to buy a telescope to a respected organization that is helped by the greatest academicians of the country.

They print one of the most informative magazines in the country and organizes some of the most fruitful lectures and workshops on topics that we all wonder at but don't know where to get the answers from. In fact, at present BAA is so well-established that other organizations often come up to them for help and advice on different matters. BAA of course is more than ready to help, since they don't want a monopoly.

When asked what he thinks is the reason behind such extensive support from all quarters, Mr. Amin replied that during their early days, they were the only organization that wanted to spread knowledge of astronomy. Astronomy being a subject everyone has wondered about at one time or another, people were always eager to do anything that would help the cause of BAA.

Among others, Mr. Amin mentioned Bangladesh Bank and Beximco as two of the greatest proponents of BAA. Which brings us to an amusing incident. As I mentioned, the association is run completely by volunteers. As such, there are no fancy title holders such as Directors, Chairman or the likes. This turned out to be a problem when accepting the amount granted by the Bangladesh bank. The bank personnel found it hard to believe that an association that is responsible for so many diverse events does not have a single active member who is older than fifty, and that most of the members are still college students.

When asked to express his feelings about the success of what started as a venture to buy one single telescope, Mr. Amin had the following words, "the fact that we received so much help from so many quarters restores my faith in the basic goodness of people. We have had to earn the trust of all the people who have helped us with money, by providing space for our workshops and once even a ship for an educational trip."

As for buying a telescope, that dream is yet to come true, although the organization has received seven telescopes, one of them from the one and only Dr Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, and another from a non-resident Bangladeshi who carried it all the way from U.S.A during a month-long trip - just to donate it to BAA. In the near future, BAA plans on reaching out to schools and colleges outside of Dhaka, in the remote areas of the country as well organize do-it-yourself science projects for children all over the country.

At the same time, BAA is also planning to start something new, something other than workshops and publications on astronomy. They have opened up the explorer wing of BAA, which will be responsible for arranging trekking trips to Chittagong Hill Tracts and other such areas. Here is your chance of having adventures like the ones who have only read about till now. So if you are the kind of person who has always wanted to go treasure hunting and mountain climbing, contact BAA immediately.

As Mr. Amin says, if people are enthusiastic enough, some of the members of this explorer wing might well be the first Bangladeshis to make it to Mt. Everest. Sometimes all you have to do is fix on a dream and then start working on making it happen. In order to reach people, BAA also has a magazine called "Dolchut" meant especially for the popularization of the explorers wing.

When asked if he has any message for the readers of RS, this is what Mr. Amin had to say: "knowledge of the nature all around you is crucial if you are to understand your place in this world and the meaning of life. At the same time, you must also have knowledge of science and technology if you want to help the development of your country in the world today."

If you want to contact the Bangladesh Astronomical Association: 1/3 Block E Lalmatia. Mobile phone # : 0171187555 or mail at mohakash@bangla.net.
If you would rather contact me: hammad2032@hotmail.com.
List of material printed regularly and occasionally by the

Bangladesh Astronomical Association:
1.Mohakash Barta a high quality magazine directed especially for those who have interest of astronomy and the sciences. Publishes by Graphosman Ltd., the print quality is superb. The quality of the material featured in the magazine makes it hard to believe that the magazine is prepared by a group of volunteers and not professionals.
2.Dolchut as I have mentioned before, this is dedicated mainly towards the popularization of the explorer's wing of the association.

Other than these two regular magazines, BAA also publishes special souvenirs for all the programs they arrange. They intended to work on a journal of research on theoretical physics, and even came out with the first issue. Unfortunately, not much work is done in the field of theoretical physics at least as far as Bangladesh is concerned, which is why they have not managed to come out with another issue of the journal as yet, but they have not completely given up the idea.

G o o d b y e . . .

By Tahiat-E-Mahboob

It's a good thing I'm leaving (yes I am) because I'm at my worst ever, facing the biggest and maybe even permanent writer's block. I was watching this movie called The Italian Job (a must see) where Mark Wahlberg said to Edward Norton "You have no imagination…" and I thought oh God that's me! How did this happen? I don't know. See- I don't have enough creativity left in me to even come up with a plausible reason or even a good clue. Not one. Nothing. Niente`.

And yet here you are reading this and wondering how I came up with enough ideas to write this. Well the truth is DCV, my cable operator is a money sucking dupe that does not transmit when I'm eagerly waiting to watch my favourite TV program. That's exactly the case now. The TV is blank (TV is to me what water and oxygen is to everyone) and my stupid phone (which once shared the throne with TV) is also out of order so I can't surf the net. That being said I feel livid and my right arm is killing me. Now how is this all related to my ideas and this article. Well having nothing better to do, I was leafing through my organizer when I came across the words 'finish RS article' under my Things To Do List. Since this is probably my last article in the Rising Stars as a staff writer (and I had been putting away or rather stowing away the task for a long time) I thought why not write it when I'm in the ultimate dumps-what with my TV and telephone gone and the sense of misery that I'm feeling because I will no longer be a part of the crew anymore.

Rising Stars- Where do I begin? It was almost at the end of 2001 when I joined. My friend and classmate Mishel had been working there for some time when over a conversation at our school library I quite enviously told him that he was lucky to be a part of the RS crew. That was when he asked whether I wanted to join the RS team and I jumped at the proposal. A week later we were at the Daily Star office where I was being introduced to Ms. Raffat Binte Rashid, the RS editor, more fondly known as Raffat Apa or nowadays Da Big Boss. She talked with me for a couple of minutes (that seemed like hours) until I realized that she was asking me to do a book review as my first assignment. Well it wasn't exactly an assignment, a test rather. Whew! That was easy I thought. The doofus that I was, I hadn't brought along a writing sample. Till this day I thank Fate for intervening and letting Raffat Apa trust me without any evidence of my skills nowadays there's some sort of probation period to see whether writers are readable as well as responsible.

That was the beginning of a long journey. At first I was overwhelmed, intimidated (surprisingly not by Raffat Apa but by the gang) and…ok the truth is I was dead scared (remember doofus?). But gradually I got to settle in. I started breathing around Munjulika and trying to make conversation with Diya and Sabrina. I was introduced to Jade and The Girl Next Door. I accidentally bumped into a conversation with Salman and started sharing jokes with I-man. Life was good.

Like everything else, the RS crew changed. Munjulika was replaced by Ronny. With Ronny came The Mood Dude and Gokhra (well I've seen him only once). I brought along Alex (whose abilities Raffat Apa also did not test) and Sabrina brought along Armeen-Afreen and Sumaya. Diya had left and so had Salman- both for university. Wondering where Hamdu Mia was? Well he was there- on probation for some divine bovine article he had written. Hammad also came to be a part of the crew and Riyana came up with her column.

Before I even celebrated one year Raffat Apa asked me to come and write for Lifestyle as well. Actually her exact words were, "Tahiat I want you to write for Lifestyle. I won't take no for an answer. You have to let me know by tonight so that I can assign you." I kept on wondering why she asked for my decision when she had made it clear that she wouldn't take no for an answer! True that Lifestyle sucked out a lot of creativity from my brain (Raffat Apa don't kill me!) leaving me quite crippled to come up with RS material but nevertheless I did what I could. In the meanwhile I became acquainted with many more interesting people (from LS) such as Shahnaz Apu, Zarif, Sultana Apa, Zahid Bhai and the Lizard King.

I have to confess, if there was one thing more interesting than working for RS and LS, it was attending weekly the meetings on Saturday. Who said meetings were boring and about taking notes and writing minutes? We at RS changed the whole meaning of the word 'meeting' with our 'meetings'! Meeting time was a golden time of coming and disturbing Ronny from working. It was a time to team up with Sabrina and pull the Mood Dude's leg and even deal out a few blows if need be. It was a time to see Riyana being badgered by the Ham brothers (Hamdu and Hammad) along with Salman about her column with their continuous "It's not your problem anymore" chant. Meetings were about making some vocabulary mistake in front of Shahnaz Apu and being promptly corrected. It was also a time to see the Lizard King singing to pacify Raffat Apa while smoke billowed out of her ears over late deadlines.

It's funny how the person you presume to be your greatest threat turns out to be your greatest ally. In my case it was Ronny (ok Ronny, I know your lifting your brows). I don't know if he knew that. But that's how it felt because whenever I was in the dumps about work or about an article I'd written or about who was hogging my assignments, Ronny was always there- well I mean he was always there, he had to be, typing away or editing while I went and sat next to him and yapped on about my problems. Even Riyana couldn't help me on this one.

Apart from that I really enjoyed my conversations with Zariff and Shahnaz Apu. I enjoyed being Hammad's audience for corny jokes and didn't mind the fact that Hamdu made it a point to pull my leg about writing whenever he could. Salman's occasional quips and trying to tell apart the A-twins was fun as well. And whatever time was left after enjoying so many things, I enjoyed doing my assignments.

It's true that many people hated my articles but it's also true that a ten fold more enjoyed them (thank you readers). I had some "friends" who use to say, "What's the big deal? It's just a stupid magazine with people who have nothing better to do than write." Well they were wrong- it isn't a stupid magazine and what we at RS did was way better than what they did (which was absolutely nothing other than bumming around). It isn't a question of accepting or not- it is a fact that RS has a mass readership and not just among teenagers but also in the adult circle. It is like Vogue- a trendsetter for teenagers. It's like Reader's Digest- there's something for everyone. And for all of you scoffing out there- guess who has bad taste?

Serious stuff aside, working for the RSs (the Raffat Supplements!) was a blast- a roller coaster ride. I got to do exciting stuff, made a lot of friends and enjoyed the work of very talented writers. Everyone was a great writer but my personal favourites were Sabrina, Diya and the Lizard King (sorry Hamdu, can't give you this one!).

And now, when I'm one of the very few or rather three people leaving, I actually feel quite miserable- very miserable to tell you the truth. It isn't just that I won't be a staff writer or that I'll miss the meetings (I will) it's also that feeling of being the part of a team, being the part of RS which I will miss the most. And Raffat Apa. Oh I'll miss her the most too. She's the one who trusted me and had enough faith in me to take me in. Being a part of RS was one of the best and one of the most important things that happened to me- and it was all thanks to Raffat Apa.

Everyone: Ronny, Sabrina, Zariff, Diya, Ham-brothers, Armeen-Afreen, Shahanaz Apu, Salman, Sumaya and Mishel- I will really miss very much. Thank you for making RS such a remarkable experience. Without you people RS wouldn't have been half as fun as it was. And Raffat Apa. Thank you so much. I'll miss you. A lot.







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