Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 49, Tuesday December 30, 2008




Moments in history!

IN my world, life is simpler. My demands are less and so are my expectations. If I can put rice and some lentil before my family everyday, I will say I am thriving. But this year, this simple act was not simple enough.” Aroj Ali, a rickshawpuller in his mid forties shared his thoughts on the year that was, while manoeuvring through the empty streets at the dead of the night. “Every one speaks about the politicians. And for whom I should vote. But the cost of food is rising with the arrival of every government. I am not too keen on voting because no matter who wins, my life will remain the same.”

How would we, or history remember 2008? The year is not over, but we can't help being nostalgic. On the global frontier, politics saw a promise of hope, fluctuations in fuel prices and price hike of food staples, each having a profound effect on the national economy and touched the lives of people of all strata of society.

“The caretaker government celebrated its birthday on January 11. To me that was the event of the year. The promise of reform and the anticipation of the dawn of the New Era in politics were still fresh when the interim government stepped into its second year. The scene however took dramatic turns when the so-called 'minus two' formula gathered dust and new schemes were drafted. It is as good as anyone's guess whether the people were in favour of the release of the two 'Begums' and their corrupt aides” says Faisal, a student of BBA who tries to keep himself well informed about national politics.

The people have already spoken. Within a few hours the result of the parliamentary election will be announced and a new era of Bangladeshi politics will dawn upon us. “This is democracy. Unless people seek collective changes, one must wait to see the transformation happen. This refines the process. It takes years to take shape but once accomplished, it stands out as an achievement. Democracy in the western world is more than a few centuries old. We can not expect to achieve similar results in less than half a century”

Still keeping with politics, the distribution of the National Identity Cards is complete. We now have a digital database, with detailed information of every adult who walks this land. Kudos to the members of the Bangladesh Army for making this a success story, despite the horror photographs, good enough to scare any three year old.

World food shortages and changes in policies from exporting giants like India and Vietnam saw a steep rise in the local market prices, an all time high. The preceding year had seen the worst flood in the country's history and cyclone Sidr, which only aggravated the food shortages. Not only did this affect the common masses, the inflation had been significant enough to leave the affluent middle class reeling. By mid July prices of rice, lentils, edible oil and eggs soared by 5-15 percent. The prices remained steady for the next few months until bumper harvest of 'boro' eased life for the masses.

“As a foodie, I watched with much enthusiasm the entry of the potato in our kitchen with flair. Never before did we consider the humble potato as an exotic, culinary delight” says Sicily. As the farmers witnessed a bumper harvest, the nation suddenly found itself in a position where there were more potatoes than we could 'chew'. An elaborate campaign was undertaken to encourage increased consumption of potato. An effort was made to replace rice as a staple with the potato, an attempt that enjoyed little success.

Corruption touched the lives of infants the world over, Bangladesh being no different, as the 'milk scare' made headlines. Whether local brands contained tainted milk remains a mystery but the scandal has indeed touched the lives of innumerable people. “I don't know whom to trust. Everyone says the neighbourhood milkman mixes low-grade powdered milk and also water in the milk he supplies, but how can I trust the brands? They are equally corrupt,” says Ifat Ara, a mother of a 4-year-old.

On the cultural frontier, there were some significant events. The original sound track of the film Monpura once again reminded that tunes drawn from the deep-rooted heritage of ours still touch our hearts. As we await the much-anticipated release of the film, the hymn has gained iconic status.

The music world also witnessed a concert of Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan. His rendition of ragas showed influences of 'Seni' gharana. The audience remained captivated as he presented some 'nokshi' in vocal as well as his signature sarod playing.

The first solo painting of Safiuddin Ahmed in Bangladesh was undoubtedly the cultural event of the year. An accomplished print maker, and a master of oil colour, the painter's exhibition focused on his drawings, which generated much hype and enthusiasm amidst art aficionados and also the general public. People flocked to Bengal Gallery to make the best of the rare opportunity to witness some of the greatest work by this introvert artist.

For a nation whose capital has just turned 400, the year 2008 had been, to say the least, eventful. It remains to be seen how the events of the year will influence our lives on a greater scale as 2009 unfolds. In the meantime, enjoy 2008 while it lasts!

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed


The year that was

2008 has been a year in which many changes have come, and like any other year, it has had its share of important events.

March 24 The first ever General Elections were held in Bhutan. The elections complete a shift from absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. The process was started in 1998 by the then King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, when he transferred most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowed for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.

May 3 The deadliest natural disaster since the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 hit Myanmar in the form of Cyclone Nargis. The cyclone made landfall in the country on May 2, 2008 and claimed the lives of at least 146,000 victims. The Myanmar Government's official death toll was grossly underreported to minimise political fallout. It was feared that the death toll could eventually total 1 million because of poor relief efforts, which were slowed for political reasons as Myanmar's military rulers initially resisted aid.

August 8 The Beijing Olympics kicked off in Beijing, China. The staging of such an internationally significant event in China spoke volumes for the country's growing economic and political prowess.

The 16-day event saw a total of 10,500 athletes from 205 countries competing in 302 events in 28 sports, one more than the number in 2004.

Michael Phelps, a swimmer for the U.S.A, broke the record for most gold medals in one Olympics, as well as the record for most gold medals over an Olympic career.

The Games weren't without controversy, as pro-Tibetan forces threatened violent disruptions, as well as warnings of terrorist attacks. Also, there was concern about air pollution in Beijing and neighbouring areas.

September 15 Lehman Brothers, the global financial services firm, filed for Chapter 11-bankruptcy protection. This was the largest case of bankruptcy in U.S history, and can be argued to be the focal point of the global financial crisis, the worst of its kind since the Great Depression.

Beginning with failures of large financial institutions in the United States, such as the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, it rapidly evolved into a global crisis resulting in a number of European bank failures and declines in various stock indexes, and large reductions in the market value of equities and commodities worldwide. George W. Bush, on October 3, signed the revised Emergency Economic Stabilization Act into law, creating a US $ 700 billion treasury fund to purchase failing bank assets.

The crisis continues to change, evolving at the end of October into a currency crisis, which has led many emerging economies to seek the aid of the International Monetary Fund. It is widely believed that the global crisis was caused by the sub prime mortgage crisis, which is an ongoing financial crisis triggered by a dramatic rise in mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures in the U.S.A.

November 4 Barack Obama, the first non-white president to be elected to office in the United States of America, won the U.S Presidential Elections. The Democrat candidate decisively beat his opponent from the Republican Party, John McCain. Obama won 296 Electoral votes to McCain's 146, when only 270 votes were needed to clinch the elections. During Campaigning, the focal issues were the state of the economy, healthcare, and the war against terror. Obama's mantra throughout the elections was “Yes, we can”.

November 26 - November 29 - The November 2008 Mumbai attacks were a series of ten coordinated terrorist attacks across Mumbai, India's financial capital and its largest city. The attacks, carried out by Pakistani terrorists using automatic weapons and grenades began on 26 November 2008 and ended on 29 November 2008. At least 173 people were killed and at least 308 were injured in the attacks.

Eight of the attacks occurred in South Mumbai, at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Oberoi Trident, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital, the Orthodox Jewish-owned Nariman House, the Metro Cinema, and a lane behind the Times of India building behind St. Xavier's College. There was also an explosion at the Mazagaon docks in Mumbai's port area, and a taxi blast at Vile Parle.

The economic crisis seems to have plunged the world in even more despair, while Obama's rise to power can be said to be one of the few positives to have come out of 2008. However, we keep facing the same, fractious trends of bigotry, violence and terrorism around the world, with countless innocents losing their lives, causing us to build walls a little higher and put more bars on the window. We can only hope that 2009 brings more smiles and fewer tears.




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