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     Volume 4 Issue 24 | December 10, 2004 |

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        Towards the New Horizon

Sanyat Sattar

Art and Life in Bangladesh
Henry Glassie
Indiana University Press; November 1997

It's unfortunate that most people associate Bangladesh with starvation, natural disasters, and political turmoil, as if this region of the world existed in a perpetual state of emergency. It is true that life in Bangladesh is not easy--there are crop failures, typhoons, and political unrest--but there is also a long and rich tradition of art, ranging from the potter's craft to amazing works of painting, engraving, weaving, sculpture, metalwork, and more. In Art and Life in Bangladesh, Henry Glassie, a professor of folklore at Indiana University, introduces readers to the people of Bangladesh through their artwork. But Glassie's book is not a coffee-table volume filled with gorgeous images and a thin trickle of print; rather, art is simply the medium by which he guides the reader through the history, culture, and community of this small land situated on the world's widest delta. Glassie is not content merely to survey Bangladeshi art; instead, he introduces readers to individual artists, allowing each of them to speak at length about his or her work and motivation. It soon becomes clear that in Bangladesh, art and everyday life are inextricably linked. Photographs are liberally sprinkled throughout the text--if only some of them were in color. Perhaps with Art and Life in Bangladesh, Glassie, who has performed similar ethnographic marvels in books about Irish and Turkish art, will help promote a more positive image of this ancient land.

Women and Islam in Bangladesh
Taj I. Hashmi
Palgrave Macmillan; May 2000

In this fascinating book, Taj I. Hashmi takes a long historical view of the position of women in society in general and that of Muslim women under Islam in particular. He argues that women have been under male domination in all societies ever since the days of Socrates and that this is not particular to Islam or Muslim societies. Then he explores how women in urban and rural Bangladesh are persecuted at the behest of the self-proclaimed custodians of Islam or mullahs. NGOs active in the country are also not free from the accusation of exploiting women in the name of empowering them. Nor has militant feminism done much good to the cause of their liberation. The author finds hope in the work of a large body of educated Bangladesh men and women in eradicating not only poverty but also illiteracy and religious fanaticism as a surer way to women's liberation from male domination.

Needless Hunger
James Boyce and Betsy Hartmann
Food First; 1999 (reprint edition)

Why is a country with some of the world's most fertile land also the home of so many hungry people? The authors of this book spent two years in Bangladesh investigating the paradox of hunger in a "basketcase" country which actually produces enough grain for its people already. Boyce and Hartmann, Bengali-speaking anthropologists, not only trace the history and structure of Bangladesh society, they also draw us into the daily lives of the people of Katni, the village where they lived. "There is no natural barrier to the satisfaction of the basic human needs of Bangladesh's people," they conclude. "But there is the man-made barrier of a social order which benefits a few at the expense of the many." The foreign aid which pours into the country actually entrenches the very elite which keeps the majority powerless and hungry, they found. Needless Hunger is also a book of hope which describes the strength and potential of the Bangladesh people and their desire for a society in which food-producing resources are controlled by the majority.


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