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The sharpener

'Khalammay koise dao dhar deon lagbo,' my household help informs me rather sharply. Apparently there is a sharpener downstairs and our das needs sharpening. I grumble audibly as she brings two curved kitchen blades with stands and haft and gives me 20 taka from mom. Walking down to the gate, I find a man with a goatee and a tupi pedaling a machine with a sharpening stone and diligently checking the sharpness of the da in his hand. He places the blade on the rotating sharpening stone. Sparks fly from the surface. The black da gradually turns silvery.

As I come near, he lifts the blade and looks at me inquiringly. 'Mamu, ei duita dhar kora lagbo,' I say, asking him to sharpen the two das I hold in my hand. He tells me he'll get to them as soon as he finishes with the one in his hand. He also says it'll be 20 taka. I nod in agreement. He feels the blade again and puts it to the test of the stone.

I ask him whether using the machine is dangerous. 'Not really,' he says. You just have to be careful not to push down the blade too hard. It might break and send a splinter at you, or it might slip out of your hand and cut your leg. That's about it.' Not dangerous at all. I look doubtful, he smiles. I ask him if my talking to him might disturb him. He says no, it's fine.

His name is Mohammed Azizul Hasan. He's not sure about his exact age, probably around 55 he says. He lives in Mohammedpur. His village home is surprise for me. He's from Chatok, a part of Sunamgonj. I'm from Sunamgonj. When I tell him that, he's delighted and switches immediately to Sylheti. People from similar parts of Bangladesh have this common tendency of switching dialects when talking to someone who shares their place of origin.

He was a farmer before. Apparently his paternal cousins took his land and chased him out of his village. 'Amare amar baper vitat thakhte dilo na [they didn't let me stay in my father's home],' he says, tears filling his eyes. He stops pedaling and sits on the seat made from a rickshaw seat. I stand there, feeling like an utter idiot with nothing comforting to say. Eventually he heaves a big sigh and says, 'Allahr bichar Allahy korba [God shall judge]' and goes back to his work. I try for a change in topic.

'How does this machine work?' I ask. He patiently explains to me. The pedals turn the rotating stone and there is a little pool of water at the bottom that wets the stone. Without a wet stone, the da might break. You have to place the blade at an angle to sharpen it properly. He bought the machine second hand, for 2000 taka. Of course, it might be third hand, but it was serving him fine. He earns about 200-250 taka a day, so it's not bad business. 'Shadhin bebsha,' he says. I express wonder at the amount. He smiles. In one ten storey apartment, there are 20 flats. People sharpen blades once every two months or so. It's not hard to find ten storey buildings in Dhaka. Then there are restaurants that sharpen blades from him. After that there are the poorer neighbourhoods.

But still, the money is not enough. His wife has illnesses. Kidney troubles, he tells me. And the market prices of almost all edible material are on the rise. Thankfully, he just has three stomachs to feed: himself, his wife and his youngest daughter. His eldest daughter is married to a man who works in the CNG conversion garage; earns pretty well, too. His twelve year old son lives with his eldest sister and brother-in-law. His son apparently doesn't care about his studies at all and is lazy. I imagine myself at this point, sitting around all day, watching TV, playing games and reading books, often bunking classes. I quickly shove the image away. 'Kita kormu baba kou? Aijkalkar furuttay khothao hunoinna [what can I do? Today's kids don't listen to anything],' he says in frustration.

His youngest daughter is in class nine. His daughters are good students. The married one apparently teaches in a kindergarten. I ask him why he still has to work like this if his daughter and son-in-law are well off. He looks uncomfortable for a second. Then he says he doesn't want to intrude on their privacy and it looks bad if a girl's parents follow her to her in-law's home. 'Ar ei kham khoria ami shadhin thakeram [by doing this work, I'm keeping my freedom],' he says. He also says 'things are not too bad' and smiles.

When I pick up my das, he shoulders his machine and takes to the road again.

By Kazim Ibn Sadique

Pump up your PC

PC Gaming is not dead. Contrary to popular opinion that the age of the next-gen gaming console is upon us (in which case it's not next-gen any more, though no one seems to realize that) PC gaming is still alive, well, and kicking hard. With exclusive titles such as Starcraft 2, Diablo 3 (thank you, Blizzard) and Crysis as well as a significant proportion of games from Xbox 360 (Gears of War, Mass Effect, Bioshock and so forth) PC gaming is here to stay.

Which of course, means that to be able to play these games satisfactorily, one needs to have a fairly capable computer to do the job. Most people who buy computers nowadays neglect to get the correct hardware to play games on, though, and it's not just because they don't know better stores themselves are often at loss to supply what you should be trying to get. More often than not, people end up buying expensive processors they don't need, graphics cards that are woefully inadequate for anything after the year 2000, and huge LCD monitors (which have now become incredibly affordable) which the aforesaid graphics subsystem can barely keep up with, let alone let you play games on. All said, things can be improved dramatically if you know the right choices to make when spending your hard-earned money.

Of course, the average gamer's computer needs are somewhat different from that of the graphic designer, or the usual person with a desktop job; accordingly, the computer system you should aim to buy will have to be different, with emphasis on the relevant components. Unfortunately, a number of these components cost a bit more than entry level accessories of the same kind, and the situation is somewhat worse in Bangladesh as only a few dealers bother to carry these components in the first place, so you will have to spend somewhat more than a basic email-and-word-processing box. Taking that as a given, this guide will try to show you what to get and what not to get in order to play games smoothly the way they were meant to be played.

First up, the processor. The processor is aptly called the CPU the central processing unit because it really is at the core of any computer system you can buy. So, you need to have the best you can get in this area, right? Actually, not quite. Most modern processors by Intel or AMD are fairly competent at letting you play current games satisfactorily, as long as they're dual core and are coupled with decent memory. Admittedly, faster processors do help gaming performance but you're better advised to get an entry level processor and spend the money you save elsewhere to improve your overall package.

Of late, Intel's been making some perfectly amazing processors based on their Core 2 architecture. Even clocked at low speed ratings of 1.8-2.4 GHz, these little chips are massively faster than the older Pentium 4 processors running in excess of 3 or 3.5 GHz, even in the dual core varieties. Couple this with the fact that Intel processors are far more readily available than AMD ones in Bangladesh, and you soon come to the conclusion that you can't do better than a recent Intel processor. I say get a Pentium E2200 (2.2GHz) which is a dual-core CPU based on the same Core 2 architecture as the more expensive Core 2 Duo chips such as the E4XXX or E6XXX series. It comes with less cache memory (1MB as opposed to 2MB on the E4XXX and 4MB on the E6XXX) but can be overclocked massively, to compensate for this, and it's the cheapest thing you can buy. I bought my friend's system last week, and his processor cost him around 6500/=. Aim for less, but you're already saving a tidy little sum over the more expensive Core 2 that people will be trying to sell you. Of course, if you want to splurge, buy a basic Quad Core like a Q6600 or more recently, a Q9300 but games are yet to take advantage of the extra cores so you'll probably not notice much of an edge right off the bat. RTS gamers stand to benefit from the extra cores in the future and in one high-profile title now, so if Supreme Commander is the way you live your life now, consider the move up.


Foto Feature

I‘M a drifter. Walking down the rugged streets at the Dhaka University campus with my camera, I reached the dusty roads of Shahbaag. Suddenly I heard it. Like the harps of Thelchtereia, Aglaope, Peisinoe and the three Sirens. It possessed me.

But I'm not Odysseus. Drawn by that enchanted music I crossed the road. There I saw him. In front of Charukola he was playing a flute. I was drunk by his perfect rhythm and he kept playing. I wanted to capture this moment and I did. I was captivated by the music under the soaking sun, the blues above and the magic down below. But alas, I forgot to ask for his name. For me he always will be "The Soul of Sound".

By Zabir Hasan

Book review

Let it bleed

There are some people who go through sudden phases when they obsess on something. Our Emil went through this 'Love song' phase where he was so mesmerised by the Cure song that he went ahead and downloaded every remix or cover of the song he could get his hands on. Sometimes, these phases come as a result of procrastination. Martin Plimmer, from last week's review, discovered his knack for DIY while trying to avoid writing his book, and for several months on end, drove his wife crazy trying to repair and build stuff around the house.

Sometimes, the obsession is spurred by a single event that leaves a lasting impression, and can lead on to great things. For Greg Mortenson, it took the sight of a bunch of kids scratching numbers into the dust to start him off on a lifelong commitment towards building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For Inspector Rebus, it was the haunting image of a pair of teenagers jumping to their death that led him to start digging into a case. Thus begins Ian Rankin's Let it Bleed. It was a botched job at Lothian and Borders that led to one Misper (police slang for 'Missing Person') being connected to a pair of wannabe blackmailers who jumped off a bridge in order to avoid prosecution and ended up as human jam, and the Chief Inspector ending up in the hospital after a car crash during the chase. Everyone else at the station has chalked it up as a bad job and moved on. Everyone except Rebus.

This early Rebus novel shows the stubborn inspector when he was just a little less jaded, and just a little more single-minded. When even alcohol fails to drive away the recurring memory of the young boys in their suicidal dive, and when this event is followed by another bizarre suicide in front of a witness, Rebus begins to have niggling doubts about the case being over. So he starts digging, and ends up uncovering a real can of worms that implicates some well-connected people who raise serious objections to his nosiness.

Adding to the canvas of the investigation are the usual office politics, with Rebus' old flame Gill Templer being brought in as his new superior, and his side-kicks Brian Holmes and the ever-faithful Siobhan Clarke being assigned to desk work to prevent them from indulging the officer in his dogged pursuit of the truth. There's also the matter of Rebus' personal life, with his daughter Sam siding with his ex-lover Dr Patience, and him having to cope with his deficiencies as a father.

As always, Rankin delivers an engaging read that will keep you interested on a number of levels. If you're looking for some serious entertainment, head on to Nilkhet (which seems to be the only place where you're likely to find this author's work) and grab yourself a copy.

By Sabrina F Ahmad



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