Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home |Volume 6, Issue 01, Tuesday, January 04, 2011




“We teach people to focus”

The floor is all black at the Black Belt Academy, but it is more than just a floor to karatekas, people who do karate. Even if he just wants to go over to the bathroom at the rear of the room, chief instructor Sensai Kazy Shahed takes a bow before stepping onto the black zone. And he does it again when he leaves the rectangle known to karatekas as the dojo, the practice ground.

The Black Belt Academy is situated on the 14th floor of a building in the Mohakhali Commercial Area near Gulshan. The big windows offer a great view over the district. What catches the eye of the visitor right away is a big poster next to the entrance on which the six maxims of the karate school are emblazoned: honour, modesty, self-control, perseverance, self-realisation and indomitable spirit.

“We teach people to focus”, says Sensai Kazy Shahed. Sensai stands for teacher. According to the 33-year-old Shahed, there is much more to karate than just the fighting. “My aim is to help our students to build a strong, confident and happy personality.” Often, parents send their children to his Academy and schoolteachers send their students. Many of these children are getting low grades at school, are overweight or just arrogant and aggressive.

Shahed teaches them discipline. Once the students enter the dojo, they have to obey his orders. But soon, the young karatekas become teachers too. Every four months there is a belt test. If a young student learns fast and keeps coming to classes regularly, he will soon be in a position to teach new students, even adults. “In karate, we give respect to people with a senior ranking”, the chief instructor explains.

Most students attend classes three times a week. The one-hour-sessions start with five minutes of meditation. They are followed by a quarter of an hour of warming up, including running, stretching, jumping, rope-skipping and fun games. After that, the karatekas practise basic techniques such as punch-kicks and imaginary fighting techniques called katas. The students continue by sparring, but all the fighting is non-contact. “Karatekas only start contact fighting when they receive the black belt”, says Sensai Kazy Shahed. It takes students about three years to attain this senior rank.

Shahed started doing Karate at the age of 14. “I was highly influenced by karate movies,” he says. Legendary Chinese actor Bruce Lee awakened his interest in martial arts. Shahed first went to classes at the Karate Federation in Dhaka. In 1998, he competed in a European tournament in Macedonia with a team from Bangladesh. In a group match he reached the 4th position with his team. Shahed studied Social Science at National University in Dhaka and worked as a freelance software developer before becoming a fulltime instructor at the Black Belt Academy.

The dojo high above Mohakhali Road is not only equipped for karate training. In one corner, there is a bunch of long wooden sticks, called bos, and hanging on a rack next to the windows there are several nunchucks, traditional weapons consisting of two sticks connected with a rope. “We teach elements of different martial arts in our classes”, says Shahed. He is also an expert in martial arts like Kung Fu, Wushu, Jiu-Jitsu and Aikido.

It's not just schoolchildren who join the Black Belt Academy to improve their skills or to learn a sport very different to others. “A lot of foreigners working at embassies come to classes”, says the chief instructor.

“We have Russians, Germans, Britons, Indians and Pakistanis coming to our dojo.” Even the French ambassador once practised at the Karate School. Also, there is no age limit. “Our oldest student at this time is a 56-year-old man”, Shahed says. “Before him, we even had over 70-year-old Karatekas here.” About 80 to 100 students come to classes regularly, 25 percent of them are female.

Beginners are invited to join the Academy every three months. There are three classes every day except on Friday. The first time slot from 4:20 to 5:20 is for children. The class from 5:30 to 6:30 is aimed at teenagers. Adults practice from 6:40 to 7:40. The traditional white training uniform called Gi is available at the Karate school costing Tk 2000, and there is a monthly fee of Tk 3500. After their first month at the Black Belt Academy, students are given the white belt in a small ceremony at the dojo.

The walls up on the 14th floor tell a lot about the nearly 20 year-long history of the academy. The school was founded in 1991 by Kazy M. Qais and was situated in Gulshan before moving to the Mohakhali area two years ago. Around the dojo, there are pictures of previous tournaments and also, every month, a student of the month is elected. “We base our decision on the effort a person makes”, says chief instructor Sensai Kazy Shahed.

Before leaving the academy, he points out another poster to the visitor. “Strength is easy… learn how to control it” it says. So far, only very few students have abused their knowledge of fighting, says Shahed. “If anyone informs me about an incident, I will downgrade the student concerned or even suspend him from classes.” In any case, he will tell the culprit to write down how he thinks he can manage his anger in future. “And I will also speak to the parents,” Shahed adds.

The chief instructor is convinced that Karate can change lives. Once, there was this 7-year-old old boy who came to the dojo, biting his fingernails all day long. His parents couldn't stop him. “I asked him, are you a smart boy?” relates Shahed. “He said yes. And he promised me he would stop it. He really did. Karate people never lie.”

By Andrew Jones
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Contact: Bay Building, 14th floor, 50 Mohakhali, Dhaka 1212.


Fragment of the past

Looking into my album of postal artifacts, I often feel much pride in possessing pieces related to the postal system -- the first letter officially flown by an aeroplane in 1911, censored letters of the 1971 liberation war, pamphlet issued by postal workers on strike in 1948, to name a few. But the two items that stand out are possibly a letter from Chittagong to Ireland in 1834; the other a correspondence from Sylhet dated 1820. These are from a period when stamps did not exist.

Poets, writers and painters have long envisaged messengers in the form of clouds and wind as seen in the works of Kalidasa and Dhoyi respectively. Pigeons, as couriers, are fancied by many and legend has it that Emperor Jahangir sent love notes to his beloved Anarkali using these birds. Although clouds and wind as messengers are found only in epics, pigeons were introduced as message bearers during the rule of Jahangir and historians have traced evidence of this 'aerial' post from Bengal to Orissa and Rajmahal to Murshidabad.

The vedic work Atharvaveda records the existence of the earliest postal system in the subcontinent but whether it was in vogue in Bengal is not known.

In the prehistoric era, there was no official postal system and no official carriers. Messages were sent by travellers who were subjected to harsh conditions, marauding bandits and more. A systematic chronology of the development of postal services during the Muslim rule can be traced to the reign of Sultan Qutubuddin Ibek, the first Sultan of Delhi in 1206-1210 AD.

Ibek's postal system was formed in the line of the Arabs from Delhi to Bengal.

Sultan Alauddin Khilji was the first in known history to establish a “dak chowki”. He organised a horse and foot runner service as early as 1296 AD.

Dawk chowkis were stationery points spread across every 2-3 miles where one messenger or Qasid could exchange mails and letters with in the next bearer within minutes of arrival. This postal department, exclusive for the use of the empire only, was called Mahakama-i-Barid, and was placed under the supervision of two postal officers Malik Barid-i-Mamalik and his deputy Naib Barid-i-Mamalik.

Great contribution in improving the postal system was made during the reign of Mohammed bin Tughlaq (1325-1351 AD). Ibn Batuta, travelling during his reign recalled that there existed two different kinds of postal system: mounted couriers travelling on horses, and the general couriers on foot. During the Tughlaq period the postal officials also performed some police functions.

The postal system was completely reformed during the reign of Sher Shah (1538-1545 AD), who established a mounted post in Bengal by improving the early dak runner system, and constructed the Grand Trunk Road from Sonargaon to the bank of the river Indus covering a distance of 4,800 km. He established sarai-cum-dak chowkis after every two miles at all intervals.

Sher Shah constructed 1,700 post houses employing nearly 3,400 postal messengers and horses. His postal system was based on self-centred policy. He did not favour the devolution of authority to his governors and ministers.

The elaborate postal system with a large number of employees was called Diwan-i-Insa. The mails were carried by mewras, a lower cast of tribal origin, stationed at every post, with two clerks called tarikh navis.

During the early Mughal conquests, the larger part of Bengal remained semi-independent. Mughal rulers retained the system of Darogah-i-Dak Chowki during their presence in Bengal. The dak chowkis were mainly controlled by the provincial governments.

During the period of Jahangir at every provincial headquarter, the Darogah or the superintendent of the dak chowki was appointed for receiving and dispatching letters to and from Dhaka, capital of Bengal since 1610.

The Darogah-i-Dak Chowki in Dhaka handed over the royal mail received from the various provinces unopened to the Mir Bakshi (secretary) for submission to the emperor. Mir Bakshi in turn opened all letters except those addressed personally to the emperor.

Darogah-i-Dak Chowki was appointed for receiving and dispatching letters to and from Dhaka. The Qasid was the lowest rank in the postal administration. In addition to carrying mails, his principal duty was to spy the news of all occurrences and convey reports to the governor of the province.

After the fall of the great Mughal Empire, the British maintained a postal network for company use only. It was not until 1774 that a 'modern' postal network as we know it was introduced. The first letter considered to have passed through this postal network is one addressed from Calcutta to Dhaka, dated 2 February, 1774. A great treasure of Bangladesh philately and a letter of considerable historic importance!

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Based on conversations with the late Ishtiaque Ahmed Khan -- philatelist and historian. Excerpts taken from his contribution on the Postal System of Bengal in Banglapedia.

Shrouded in a cloak of mystery

2010 will forever be remembered as the year Dhaka, as capital, turned 400! Despite the manic traffic, the cacophony of the streets, claustrophobic buildings and shanty dwellings, Dhaka has a story, a witness to independent sultanate rule, Mughal conquest, colonial tyranny, Pakistani oppression and finally cherished freedom. From architecture, to fashion, to means of communication with a little twist of a controversy, Star Lifestyle presents Dhaka of the Mughal era!

Dhaka -- a bustling metropolis; the city that sustains the direct livelihood of more than 15 million people and the collective fate of a population that exceeds 150 million. When was Dhaka first occupied by settlers, when was it made the capital? Historians argue and for valid reasons.

The origin of the name Dhaka has been lost in time. Some scholars believe that the nomenclature is based on the “Dak” tree that was once found in abundance in this region. Others believe that the name came from the temple Dhakeshwari : Dhaka-ishvari or the concealed goddess. The most popular legend behind this name is associated with Islam Khan. It is said that upon his arrival in Dhaka in 1608-1610 he ordered for the beating of the drum -- Dhak and hence the naming of the settlement.

Islam Khan, on reaching Dhaka, took up his residence in what was called the fort of Dhaka. Whether it was a brick-built structure or not, Islam Khan made arrangements to make it suitable as a residence of the subahdar. It is believed that the fort was in the location where the central jail is currently situated. This provides strong evidence that Dhaka was a populous, bustling settlement that featured forts fit for the Mughal subahdar.

Binod Bibi Mosque, one of the oldest in Dhaka, is said to have been constructed in 1456 AD. This historical landmark asserts that Dhaka was inhabited by Muslim settlers almost 150 years before the Mughals made it the provincial capital. However, the history of Dhaka as a Muslim settling predates a few hundred years before that.

Based on archeological findings, a provincial city by the name of Muazzamabad is believed to have occupied the region that now comprises Dhaka and Bikrampur. Further augmenting this theory that Dhaka was part of Iklim (province) Muazzamabad, two further inscriptions have been found dating from 1436 to1456 AD. Based on other findings in conjecture with this, researchers opine that Dhaka in its earliest form was the capital of Muazzamabad.

The year that has gone by saw the celebration of 400 years of Dhaka as a capital. A segment of researchers however believe that Dhaka, as capital, has a history that stretches beyond 400 years. The matter however is disputed but there is no doubt that the history of this metropolis can be traced for over a millennium.

As we look back into time, as a nation, we search for pride and glory. Dhaka is certainly one aspect that can make us proud. Shrouded in a cloak of mist, Dhaka is covered by a historical puzzle that is simply waiting to be unraveled.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif



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