Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, January 18, 2007

By Adnan M. S. Fakir

Our kacha bazaars may not be the best place for buying vegetables and fish because of the co-related griminess and the stink in the air with customers literally shouting at the sellers (while holding their nose with one of their hands) trying to bargain a good price. Nonetheless, they are inexpensive. The fact also remains that it is no longer possible to separate the good stuff from the bad stuff. No matter how much poke, probe and pry, the seller will somehow manage to slip some fat with the meat in the package, or manage to give that slightly rotted fish with the rest. It is still cheap. Yes, the price of an item may rigorously fluctuate frequently from Tk.20 to Tk.50, but it is still cheap! At least compared to the US when you are constantly converting the amount from US dollars to taka in your head, the prices of fruits, veggies, meat and fish are at a much better disposition in Bangladesh.

Food in general in the US is pretty expensive. We, living in the dorms have to pay around US$11 per day, which is equivalent to Tk.770! Just think about all the things we could do in Bangladesh in a day with all that cash! For future reference US$1 is approximately equal to Tk.70 now. In Bangladesh you can probably spend the day having good food with just Tk.70, if you have the habit of eating in hotels. Nonetheless, after the semester is over and when you get kicked out of the dorms, making and having food is completely your department. So just a few days ago I set out on a grand adventure to hunt for food items and also experiment on my cooking abilities, which by the way, were simply catastrophic.

The closest store from where I stay is Price Chopper. Other than the gargantuan selection of items, by the name, I thought the price would be chopped down and would be cheaper than usual. Well… I was wrong. The first item on display was star fruit, what we call 'kamranga,' and on top of the proud yellow fruit, in bold fonts, the price tag of $2.99! That's not all. I thought that the price would be for one kilogram, but noooo! It was three dollars for a single piece of the sparkling yellow kamranga! Tk.210 for a single kamranga! It would be understandable if the fruit was gigantic or something but it was the regular sized 10 cm by 4 cm little thing.

I don't exactly know the price of star fruit in Bangladesh but I bet you that with the same amount of money you can get at least over 50 of the same fruit!

This was just the beginning. Moving further on, I noticed that guava, as in peyara, was priced at $1.5 each and pineapples each at $ 3.98! These Americans must be crazy over fruits. I mean come on, if they are willing to buy fruits at these prices, they must be drooling over them.

These stores here also have distinct organic and 'not-organic' items, which carry different prices with the organic prices being almost double! Organic refers to foodstuff grown without any fertilizers unlike those of 'not-organic' fruits.

Popeye the sailor must have had a significant impact on the lives of people here. Not only did he cause the demand for spinach to rise but along with that also the price. Spinach is priced at $5.99 per pound!

For your information 1 kg is equal to 2.2 pounds. All hands on calculators folks; this means that spinach is $13.18 per kg, which comes out to be Tk.922 per kg of palok shag! I do hope Popeye was right… spinach better make you invincible or else he would be sued here.

The exclamation 'holy cow' should be changed to 'holy lamb' in the US because lamb is priced at $4.99 per pound! Get your calculators and you'll find out that one kg of lamb costs Tk.768. Yes, cheaper than spinach but more expensive than four of my T-shirts! Shrimp is hellishly expensive here too, priced at $6.99 per pound… I'll leave the conversion to you if you are interested.

Okay enough of prices. I guess these just appear gigantically overpriced to me because of my continuous conversion. I am sure that those living in the US consider these prices to be just fine. If you think about it logically though I guess it does make sense when you compare the per capita income of the two countries. For those who don't know what per capita income is, for a group of people it is defined as their total income divided by the total population of the group. It basically gives us the average income of a person over a year of a country. Per capita income in Bangladesh was $470 as per the 2004/05 fiscal year whereas in the US it was $34,586! When you compare these values, the prices of the commodities should be a lot cheaper in Bangladesh or a lot higher in the US.

The World Bank considers countries with less than $750 per capita income as Least Developed Countries (LDC) and according to official statistics near half of Bangladesh's 140 million people still live om poverty. Bangladesh's current political turmoil, the drastic cold weather and the rising prices of commodities are certainly not helping the country. Bangladesh's road to development certainly is progressing and will happen. For that, however there has to be unity among the people, at least the coming generation and we have to work towards achieving it, and obviously we also have the power of spinach with us! After all, the price of spinach is around Tk.20 per kg here in Bangladesh!

The paradox of fate:
No matter which faith you belong to, most of us have asked this question at least once: 'If God decided my fate, then how am I responsible for the sins I commit? And if God doesn't know what my next step will be, how can He be God in the first place?'

This seems to be a rather puzzling situation, as many would be inclined to say that whatever evil they do has been already decided, and hence they do not deserve to be punished for it. On the other hand, it does not make sense to say that God waits to see what we are going to do, instead of knowing it beforehand. When faced with this question, many religious scholars seemed equally confounded. The summary of what they said was: God lets us do whatever we want to do, good or bad, within a certain limit.

But this does not answer the original question, does it?

Parallel universe:
Those who are not into sci-fi might not be familiar with this theory. In a nutshell, it suggests that there is more than one to an infinite number of universes, just like the one where we live. So it could be possible that there are an infinite number of 'you', reading an equal number of Rising Stars simultaneously in all those universes.

Another, more recent model suggests that instead of progressing identically, the universes are constantly splitting up into copies based on seemingly insignificant events. Simply put, when you started reading the issue of Rising Stars in this universe this morning, in another universe you did not bother to take a look, and in another universe you saved it as future toilet paper, and so on.

According to this model, there are an infinite number of universes for the infinite number of possibilities that are present every fraction of a second. So next time you are faced with a particularly difficult choice, don't bother to think too much because no matter what choice you make, another you is going to make a different choice in another universe.

Another unplanned reunion:
Going back to the original question, don't you think the parallel universe theory seems to give an explanation of the age-old fate paradox? Think about it, when you are faced with a choice of either doing something wrong, or not doing it, you are actually at the brink of an universal intersection, where the road ahead is about to divide into two.

So for example you took the choice of poisoning your neighbour's dog (the only wrong thing that comes to mind after spending a sleepless night). So now there are two copies of the universe, one in which you have poisoned it, and another where you resisted the urge.

Although you made your own choice in your particular universe, God already knows your fate. Iit is you in that particular universe who is responsible for the death of the dog. Although seemingly impossible at first, the two phenomena can exist simultaneously.

If that sounds too confusing, think of 1000 gallons of water passing through Bangladesh. Let us assume that the exact amount shall start from somewhere in Dinajpur, and pass out of the Bay of Bengal. Let us also assume that we already know the number of ways the water can pass through, e.g. rivers, canals, tributaries, etc.

So we do know that every molecule of this amount of water is passing through Bangladesh, we also know how they are crossing this distance, but the individual identical molecules may pass through any given channels.

Although a crude relationship can be observed between the two, there remain plenty of questions unanswered, both from spiritual and scientific perspectives. But quantum theory seems to have an unshackling effect on the progress of science, where anything and everything could be possible. Don't take life too seriously, and next time something bad happens to you, think about the infinite number of better universes that came to existence because of that.

By Tausif Salim



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