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Blowing In The Wind…

It was a bright sunny April morning as Robby headed towards his aunt's chambers in Dhanmondi. He admired the pleasant embellishments spring was bringing about in the busy streets of Dhaka as he drove along in his newly acquired coupé
. The car was a gift from this beloved aunt of his when he got admitted into D.M.C, the most prestigious medical college in the country, last January. Not that it wasn't expected of him, for Robby was one of a kind when it came to brains.

His father had wanted him to get admitted into John Hopkins Medical School, near Maryland where Robby's only sibling, Liana lived with her husband. But Robby thought of the cost of med school in the US and decided not to pressure his parents. He wasn't very keen on leaving his parents just yet. He felt he had ample time to go chasing his dreams in foreign lands. For now, he was happy here.

Robby pulled into the parking lot of the newly established two-storied private hospital his aunt, Professor Dr. Suraia Parveen, a gynecologist and cancer specialist, had founded last year and wondered why he had been called into her chambers so early in the morning. He was crossing the pavement to the central entrance when he saw Dr. Parveen standing there with a worried frown knitted across her brows.

"Your license isn't even three months old yet and you're already ravaging the streets like one of those ruthless local route bus drivers", she said with a hard-set mouth and a half-smile in her eyes that meant she was just being jokingly patronizing.

Robby quickly crossed the last few strides to the entrance and embraced aunt Suraia in a hug she always looked forward to. Aunt Suraia was his mother's only sister and sibling, and was now a divorcee and had no children of her own. That explained why she loved Robby and Liana so dearly. Now that Liana was gone, Robby enjoyed all the attention. He had accepted from an early age that he had two mothers and was sometimes confused at who loved him more.

But today, when Aunt Suraia didn't let go of him easily he knew there was something quite wrong. When he looked up into his aunt's face after she let him go, the angst that was spread over it confirmed his worries. This was serious.

Clasping his hand firmly, she led him to her warmly decorated chambers. She sometimes took a fancy to living there when her tight schedule got too strenuous and for that purpose, she had a small but cozy back room that had a bed-sofa. She usually took her relatives to that room when they came to visit her for a drink and more homely atmosphere. Robby had expected her to lead him there and treat him with a piece of black-forest she always had ready for him. But instead she sat at her chamber desk, motioned him to sit in front of her, informed her secretary under no circumstances was she to be interrupted by any emergency for the next hour and told her to shut the door when going out. Robby had a funny feeling that he wasn't going to like this at all.

Then Aunt Suraia burst into tears. This was the first time Robby saw her like this. He remembered how strong she was even after she had received the divorce notice from her husband. Robby went to her and put his arms around her shoulders to comfort her.

"What's wrong Khala? Are those gangsters giving you trouble with the hospital establishment again?"

"Oh no, no Robby, dear, dear Robby. It's not that. How am I going to tell you this?" Suraia looked up with tear filled eyes into the handsome face of her nephew- her son, and couldn't bear it. "Its about you, baba."

"Well if it's something to do with me, you shouldn't fuss so. You know me. I'm cool." He used the expression that always made her smirk and laugh at him. It didn't work this time. Now Robby was worried.

Suddenly he saw Suraia's expression change. Her face became a mixture of firmness and sorrow as she wiped the tears form her eyes. He let her go and returned to his chair.

"Robby, you do know how much we all love you, adore you and trust you. You must learn to never keep anything secret form us, no matter how bad it is. Now tell me dear, did you try anything crass when you went to Saint Martin's with you friends this January? Please, don't hide anything. You're an adult now and I expect you to behave like one. Don't feel shy. Just blurt it out. Its very important that I know." Dr. Suraia felt she couldn't stand the burden anymore.

The five days and nights he and his three friends from college spent in Cox's Bazaar and Saint Martin after the admission test in January flashed through his mind. It was filled with joyful memories of sightseeing, basking in the sun, eating fresh seafood, watching sunsets and playing bridge all night. There was one occasion when their mate Farhan had bought in two pints of local alcohol and suggested they get real high and check out some local girls. But the rest of them thought better of it and told him to stop being a dork. It ended up in Farhan swearing at them for trying to be mummy's good-ole-boys and being afraid of trying something really radical. He had stopped finally when they decided it wouldn't hurt trying a little bit of harmless booze. And if they called in the two guys who had rented next door to join them, it would mean all the less on each ones behalf. Robby had a serious hangover the next morning and remembered very little about what happened the night before. All he remembered was that the two guys had offered them something that would really make the party rock. But that was all, or was it? Anyway, trying a few sips of booze and getting knocked out wasn't what his aunt meant. No, they had certainly done nothing crass.

He looked with understanding at his aunt and blushed. "I know what you mean Khala and the answer is no. But this is April. Why are you suddenly asking me now?"

Dr. Suraia let out a painful sigh and thought the best way to do this was to get it over with. She would have felt better if this was anyone else but Robby. But then again, this was fate. Of all the people in the world, she was the one who had to know it and do it. It just wasn't fare. It didn't make sense either after what he just told her. But she believed him.

"Robby, remember you donated blood at my blood donation program launched this February?" Robby nodded. "There were 180 bags in all. Since people with negative Rh blood factors are rare, we attempted to separate these from the rest, which turned out to be only 12 bags. Naturally, your bag fell into this separate group being AB neg. We screened these bags including all the rest. You remember I had each of them tagged with the donors' name and contact, so there wasn't any mistake. I had to test yours four times."

"Bu-but why?" Robby stammered. This was horrible. Aunt Suraia got out of her chair to stand behind Robby. She tried to hold him firmly but her hands were trembling. He could feel the warm drops of tears that splashed from his left ear to his shoulder. His aunt was crying again. This time he knew that he was the one who was being consoled. He wasn't stupid. He tightened his grip on the chair.

"Robby, I personally tested your blood three times and each time the results showed that you were… … HIV positive." Aunt Suraia's grip on his shoulders became too tight. He felt her fingers dig into his flesh. Time stood still in that lovely chamber, but only from a few minutes. He calmly turned towards his Aunt.

"Look Khala, you must have made some mistake. I'm going to be a doctor myself soon and I also happen to know all the reasons that cause AIDS. None of them apply to me. None. It's a mistake."

Suraia looked at him and nodded her head miserably. "I wish that was true, Robby- more than ever. But you should remember I took your blood sample when you came in for your monthly checkup last March. It wasn't a routine procedure. I tested that too, and…"

Robby jumped out of his chair, his abrupt movement knocking it to the floor. He faced his aunt with bloodshot eyes that were now streaming puddles of salt water. "This can't be happening to me. Do you understand? I haven't ever done any of those horrible things. So stop lying to me. Do you hear me Khala? Have I made myself clear? Huh?"

But even as he shouted and wailed, he knew deep down already that it wasn't a mistake. His aunt wasn't lying. He started screaming at the top of his lungs and as Dr. Suraia came and hugged him to her after some struggle, she herself now sobbing helplessly, he simply let go. He cried like a baby and he couldn't stop. There was actually no reason to. He was dying…
Epilogue: It was later found out that while in Saint Martins, the two guys that they had invited to their room had brought dope with them. They had insisted that the boys try it. They at first they pricked one of themselves to show the wonderful effect it had. When the boys were still too wary, they used it on Robby who was almost unconscious by then. It really didn't have any affect on Robby, as he was deep asleep by the time it got to his system. The other boys had lost interest then and didn't try it but they didn't tell Robby about it either. Why? Well, they were sure it hadn't done him any harm.

An epidemic of Pneumonocystis carinii in Los Angeles, USA in 1981 is regarded to be the ancestor of what we call AIDS today. The pre-1980's is called the silent period: when HIV was being transmitted before AIDS was recognized as a new disease. As the name implies, AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a disease caused by a deficiency in the body's immune system.

The latest statistics on the world epidemic of AIDS & HIV were published by UNAIDS in July 2004:
Total- 37.8 million
Adults- 35.7 million
Women- 17 million
Children below the age of 15 - 2.1 million

Here are some more striking facts:
Total number of AIDS deaths between 1981 and the end of 2003: 20 million.

By December 2003 women accounted for nearly 50% of all people living with HIV worldwide.

Young people, 15-24 years old, account for half of all new HIV infections worldwide, more than 6000 are infected with HIV every day.

According to recent statistics, there are 883 Aids victims in Bangladesh today. But this actually doesn't reflect tangible figures because not all cases can be successfully recorded. More importantly, a person can be affected with HIV and remain in this carrier state from 2-10 years without showing AIDS symptoms. So it is likely that there may be many more HIV positives in our country than we know of.

CARE, Bangladesh has taken huge steps towards preventing and monitoring HIV/AIDS. Its programs include:
1. Counseling victims and their families while maintaining total confidentiality
2. Providing HIV/AIDS screening tests for 50 taka only
3. Providing the victims with proper medicine and vitamins
4. In case of any other illness, which may arise because of the immune deficiency, give the victims proper medical care and attention.

Today, we are considered as a low-risk country, but killer AIDS started out in Africa and America with only 20 people infected. It may turn on us as an epidemic if we do not start taking drastic measures. Awareness programs like 'Express Dhaka 2005' held at the Bangladesh-China Friendship Convention Center on 29th May, sponsored by Square Group and BCCP should be launched more often.

Steps should be taken to create mass awareness, find and record all people infected with HIV/AIDS, set up proper AIDS counseling centers and above all insure that people infected with AIDS are treated with sympathy. People with HIV/AIDS are not untouchables; they are contaminated with an unkind disease.

There are people like Robby out there who need our help. Their lives are blowing in the wind. We must stop more from drifting away.

Author's Note: The characters in this article have been renamed but the event is real. The facts on HIV and AIDS have been taken from past and recent news clips, national and international reports and data-sheets, handbooks and the Internet.

By Farzana Yasmeen

Book review
Angels and Demons

What do you get when you take art, history, religion, conspiracy, murder, mystery, romance and intrigue, and weave it all into a fast-paced, breathtakingly watertight plot? You get Dan Brown's Angels and Demons.

The son of a Presidential Award winning math professor and of a professional sacred musician, Brown grew up surrounded by the paradoxical philosophies of science and religion. These complementary perspectives served as inspiration for his acclaimed novel Angels & Demonsa science vs. religion thriller set within a Swiss physics lab and Vatican City. Recently, he has begun work on a series of symbology thrillers featuring his popular protagonist Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of iconography and religious art. The upcoming series will include books set in Paris, London, and Washington D.C. Angels and Demons is the first of the lot.

When world-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a mysterious symbol -- seared into the chest of a murdered physicist -- he discovers evidence of the unimaginable: the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati... the most powerful underground organization ever to walk the earth.

The Illuminati has surfaced from the shadows to carry out the final phase of its legendary vendetta against its most hated enemy... the Catholic Church.

Langdon's worst fears are confirmed on the eve of the Vatican's holy conclave, when a messenger of the Illuminati announces he has hidden an unstoppable time bomb at the very heart of Vatican City. With the countdown under way, Langdon jets to Rome to join forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to assist the Vatican in a desperate bid for survival.

Embarking on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and even to the heart of the most secretive vault on earth, Langdon and Vetra follow a 400-year old trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome toward the long-forgotten Illuminati lair... a secret location that contains the only hope for Vatican salvation.

The entire story happens in the span of a few hours, with dramatic developments and twist after unbelievable twist keeping you flipping pages for more. Brown has been very meticulous in his research and the facts that he presents will have you itching to go and verify them for yourself.

The books cost some $15-20 on Amazon, but with a little bargaining, you can cop them off your street hawker for Tk 100. Do you still need a reason to buy?

By Sabrina F Ahmad


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