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A celebrated confluence of language and literature

Under the drizzling February rain, I stood waiting somewhere in a long line stretching to the Shahbagh intersection on one side and Doyel Chattar on the other. The hundreds of thousands of footsteps of bookworms, publishers, media crews, enthusiasts and children led to the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela, a celebration that signified something more than just a book fair. The crispiness of fresh publications, echoes from the voices of age-old novelists, tinkling laughter of young hearts and literary wisdom of venerable veterans reminded everyone of how this mela is an integral part of Bangali social and scholarly culture.

Crossing the supposedly secured entrance with two uniforms standing guard, I found myself amidst a crowd diverging and converging in alleys lined by 300 or more publishers' stalls. The shifting human sea comprised of every size, shape and expression imaginable; and somehow, they were all attracted to this publication exposition. As the launching of new books were being announced one after the other at the samiaana setup at one corner, posters and screen prints of new arrivals were simultaneously pasted on a designated wall.

“I come to boi mela every year, and it becomes difficult to keep track of new releases and the publishers offering them. This year's wall, exhibiting list of books, is extremely helpful,” comments Shoumik, a 12th grader from a local institution.

In the midst of the joyful buzz that makes Ekushey Boi Mela what it is, criticisms and controversies are not surprising. I recalled the director of Bangla Academy mentioning at a talk show how they've taken measures this year to spread out the big and small publishing houses to avoid centralisation of the visitors.

“The smaller labels complain how their stalls are placed at unfavourable locations, which makes visitors difficult to reach them. We've tried to jumble them up, and you'll find big names being surrounded by smaller ones at every location. Our biggest challenge remains in putting together everything in limited space, and it's difficult to satisfy everyone's interests under such circumstances.”

The renewed arrangement for this year has raised concerns amongst the publishers, who feel their significant role in making boi mela successful is being undermined by putting them alongside 'unprofessional' publishing houses. Added to that, the visitors feel the lack of facilities at the fair. The poor management of crowds, difficulty in finding their desirable publishing houses, gathering of bokhate polapain; the complains are endless. Yet, traditions have drawn everyone to Ekushey Boi Mela with the criticisms stored at the back of their minds and their hearts set on the pages of the millions of books.

Speaking of books, the biggest hit of the 2008 boi mela is undoubtedly Humayun Ahmed's 'Himu Remandey'. Ahmed has created a niche for himself over the past two decades, and seventeen of his books are expected to be released at this year's fair. It must be mentioned diehard Himu fans have taken their 'love' to the next level by wearing bright yellow panjabis and forming michhils in the middle of the fair. They've created chaos for other avid readers and visitors, who have requested the author himself to stop these reckless youngsters. Other bestsellers include those from Md. Jafar Iqbal, Mostofa Mamun, Emdadul Haque Milon and Anisul Haque. A very recent favourite is Shumonto Aslam, a columnist from the popular daily and now, a rising author. Shahittya Prakash has opened new windows for children through their colourful translations of Walt Disney books, while Sheba Prakashani is still at the top of their game via their popular 'Tiin Goyendaa' and 'Masud Rana' series. Onnyo Prakash, Shomoy Prakashani, Oitijhho and other big titles have maintained their places with majestically-decorated stalls and catering to the bestsellers.

As I walked in the alleys between the stalls, picking up random books; I noticed a large crowd gathered at a spot underneath the age-old banyan tree. The rushing of the TV crew and daily reporters to the scene indicated a famous writer was probably giving out autographs. Out of sheer curiousity, I pushed through the crowd to face Jafar Iqbal, signing his latest sci-fi release to the fans. It has been a common custom for authors to visit the fair almost on regular basis for years; so if you've ever wanted to meet anyone you've read so much about, boi mela provides an excellent opportunity for it. I pushed my way out of the crowd, avoiding getting punched on my face and stood at a distance inspecting the crowd surrounding my once-favourite author.

Although the more professional, renowned publishing houses claim that the ones unknown don't ever publish quality books by good authors, I beg to differ. Out of the ten assumedly 'unprofessional' titles, it was not only safe, but also reasonable to believe at least one of them would contain one good book from a potential author. I wished famous novelists like Ahmed, Iqbal or Anisul Haque would make the effort of reading some of these books and promoting the ones they think is quality writing. New writers find it almost impossible to reach the bigger banners, and when they publish through small names, most of their hard work goes unnoticed. Provided that the current generation have a bigger stake on the country's future, a few newbie promoted by renowned authors will be quite an inspiration for them. Boi mela provides a wonderful platform for such promotional efforts, and for once, the young that is only an engaging issue of discussion will actually get something to look forward to.

What was started by Chittaranjan Saha from Muktodhara Publishing House on 21st February 1970 as a small sales venture in front of Bangla Academy has now evolved into a month-long national cultural festival. After its official title in 1984 under the organization of Bangla Academy, Amar Ekushey Boi Mela remains something treasured by Bangalis across the globe. It is an event that makes publishers publish, writers write and readers wait for a year. Under the shades of the banyan tree that characterises the Academy and the spirit of the agitators from the Language Movement, Ekushey Boi Mela lives through time, writing and generations.

Story and photos by Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

Awareness watch
Obesity: the new face of Bangladesh?

I was just surfing through the channels on TV the other day and I came across this news report on BBC about Bangladesh. Thinking it might be about our Nobel peace prize winner, I stop there. But it wasn't about poverty alleviation or anything remotely connected with micro-credit. It was about obesity and how it was becoming an increasing problem in our country.

Thinking I had to add hearing problems to the ever growing list of things wrong with me, I turned the volume up, sure it was some developed country they were talking about. But then they show a ubiquitous street in Dhanmondi where an ice cream vendor was selling ice creams to school going kids. The correspondent went on to say how the affluent middle class was growing in Bangladesh and this in turn was creating a market for relatively expensive fast food.

It also went on to say how (shockingly) nearly more than half of all primary school going children were overweight according to research conducted by a noted biochemist at BIRDEM hospital. The doctor highlighted the dangers of obesity like diabetes and coronary problems. Children who are overweight tend to grow up into adults who are overweight. They therefore have a higher risk of developing serious health problems in later life, including heart attack and stroke, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer, and high blood pressure. The risk of health problems increases the more overweight a person becomes.

The report then showed a typical evening in the food court of Bashudhara City which was (as usual) jam packed. Everyone was busy consuming (as far as I could surmise from my own experience and the report) large, oily pieces of chicken, fires and coke among other things. This was then compared to the environment of the slum which was just down the street from the shopping mall. There, a band of three children were rummaging through the trash of others to find something suitable to eat. The whole irony of it absolutely disgusted me. On one hand an ever growing group of citizens were stuffing themselves with food that was worth more than the daily income an average Bangladeshi and on the other hand more than half of all Bangladeshis were starving below the poverty line.

The growing trend of obesity has been associated with the lack of exercise of today's children and their addiction to fast food. Obesity is a serious problem and it is not a problem we want to add to the health burden of our country. Shouldn't we all try to cut down on the amount we spent on fast food, that is detrimental to our health, and instead use some of that money to help those who are worse off than us? We see signs of malnutrition every single time we go out. It's about time we reverse the trends; curb obesity and reduce malnutrition. The overwhelming irony is not something I think we should live with.

By Nisma Elias

Bangal: another revolution

Everybody is making statements these days, through their outfits, the books they read or the music they listen to and as is the case with everything, someday it might inevitably go outmoded. But that will not be anytime soon; as it still is fashionable, sometimes patriotic (forgot the red and green wristbands?) and sometimes patronizing to one's literature and history!

Bangladeshi youth have long been reprimanded for eschewing Bengali literature and culture. Now time has come for them to redeem themselves by wearing it! How one wears literature, I am afraid everyone knows as sarees and other clothes bearing various Bengali literary and art works have been existing for quiet a while but what 'Bangal', a fashion house that started its journey in 2006, brings is unique because it is the first of its kind. Bangladeshis all over can now say that they have come up with the first 'Tshirt Magazines'.

'Shloak' and 'Khaapchhara' are the two Tshirt magazines that Bangal publishes each month. Here write-ups get printed right on the Tshirt itself complete with intricate design works by well known artists. Both these magazines publish works by contemporary Bengali artists, with the first one specializing in poems and the latter in rhymes. Each line has its own unique look, literary affiliation and editor. The man who has been pulling the strings from behind to make this elaborate idea take shape is Mr. Najib Tareque. His recollection of how this came to be asserts that the path has been hard and he acknowledges the help of friends, colleagues and especially his wife Mrs. Farhana Afroz the owner of Bangal. “It was a simple Tshirt my friend wore when he came back from Kenya that made me think of this” said Mr. Tareque when asked about how he got the idea. But the idea that was at first to just print patriotic Tshirts, culminated to being the world's first Tshirt Magazine.

At present Shloak has its 14th issue out and Khaapchhara its 5th. There is another line of Tshirts under the title of 'Bangladesh 1971' where relics from the 1971 Liberation War such as stamps and posters published by the then Mujib Nagar Government are highlighted. Recently Bangal has also brought out two different Tshirt designs highlighting the Language movement of 1952 and one of those two designs really shows how dedicated they are and how researched their product is. In 1971 the Pakistani military destroyed the original Shaheed Minar planned by the famous architect Hamidur Rahman. Prior to the destruction of the original Shaheed Minar there used to be an enormous mural designed by Hamidur Rahman himself at the basement. With the destruction of the monument in 1971 the mural got lost too. But now Bangal has dug out images of that mural and has incorporated that image to one of its Tshirt designs.

It is a good thing that now we have something to keep us closer to our literature the year round and it is time we hit the book fair and learned more about the contemporary Bengali writers, took genuine interest in our authentic history and took the right step to rightfully make the right statement. 'Love your literature, history and culture.'
Visit www.bangalbd.com

By Hitoishi Chakma




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