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Ration for the nation

'Dam barse to shob kisur, ki ar korbo,' said the musical instrument salesperson, with a blood-boiling grin, trying to justify why I was handing him my entire months' allowance for some guitar strings.

Ofcourse, it wasn't as if he was lying or anything. This was the case with every commodity, basic or otherwise. Everything is twice as expensive as it was two years ago(sometimes even more!). But the most alarming thing about the whole situation is, not only is the price of food and necessities increasing, these things are actually vanishing. And the scariest bit of all: its not just us!

The Problem: Hunger warnings in Nepal, Riots in Bangladesh and Mexico, and draughts in the Northern Territory of Australia: all early warning signs of a situation that might as well prove catastrophic to those that are unprepared. I have looked at some squiggly lines in some online magazines (graphs, they call it), and the figures are really not good. Food prices have DOUBLED since 2004(on average).

The Reason: Many reasons plot together to orchestrate this global disaster. The chain goes like this: we have become over-dependent on oil and fossil fuels. The limited supply is becoming even more limited. The demand keeps rising, whereas the supply keeps falling. The high cost of fuel makes agriculture all the more expensive(hey! Nowadays even cows need petrol). Combined with the looming climate change, global warming due to carbon emissions, and increasing frequency of badly named natural disasters, we get one Double Decker Disaster burger with extra cheese and fries. These events are almost beyond our control, and this problem is most likely to grow worse unless the world leaders decide to think more than 10 minutes into the future.

The possible solution: A three step solution was suggested in the time magazine some time ago. Step 1) follow examples of countries that have successfully battled this problem. Malawi, a small drought prone country in Africa, has devised an ingenious 'Farmer's fund' to help farmers meet with the cost of agriculture.

Step 2) Stop the conversion of food into fuel. Corn is regularly turned into ethanol to fuel the gas guzzling economies of some of the developed countries. Its okay to use parts without food values, but to pump proper corn into the processors is nothing short of using a chicken drumstick and a side of Caesar salad to drive a car.

Step 3) Plan ahead: we should plan for upcoming droughts and floods. That is, the crop should be weatherproofed. A small tent, a small puddle of water, and a few bags of fertilizer might mean the difference between a 'bumper folon' and a 'bumper famine'.

The solutions are as difficult as the problem. But to ensure the continual survival of a growing population, some steps must be taken. Otherwise, maybe a thousand years from now, we'll be where the dinosaurs are.

By Naveed C

Just a little absurd

On a regular day in Dhaka, you might see a number of things. Maybe a robber just cleaned out Shonali Bank. Maybe some well-meaning magistrate discovered another haul of formalin-injected fish. Maybe a lost lover got reunited with his girlfriend after ten years of pining and searching and a few losing of limbs. Yes, anything can happen on a regular day in Dhaka.

Maybe you might be stuck in a traffic jam. Then again, who has lived in Dhaka and not been stuck in a traffic jam? And maybe, while stuck in said traffic jam, you will see a strange…spectacle. Perhaps you'll be looking out the window and making squiggly lines in the fogged-up glass when you'll notice a bus (just a regular bus will do) snaking its way through the traffic. Nothing wrong with that, you tell yourself. But wait and watch. The bus is being hotly pursued by a black car. The car has three young boys in it. They all seem to be yelling and gesticulating for good measure. The harried driver is making rude hand gestures at anyone who cares to glimpse his way. Well, nothing unusual in that, you also tell yourself. Drivers cuss each other out in Dhaka.

But wait. Suddenly the hotly pursued bus comes to a screeching halt. The bus conductor sticks his head out the door and suddenly, all the passengers are leaping out the window into oncoming traffic. The traffic comes to a screeching halt. More drivers stick their heads out car windows and yell and cuss at the passengers. The bus conductor is unfazed. He unceremoniously tosses out the last dawdling passenger, and poof! The bus is off.

The car hotly pursuing the bus chooses this moment to make an appearance. It picks up speed. The three passengers of the car are now positively screaming. The driver charges blindly for the bus, ignoring the jaywalking pedestrians, the traffic sergeant (who really couldn't be bothered), the oncoming traffic, the billboards, the trees, and just about anything that gets in the way. The bus speeds, the car speeds, and all the while the traffic of Dhaka sit blissfully unfazed by whatever is going on.

Then wait. The signal turns red. All the vehicles come to a halt, even the rickshaws. The bus must stop, too. The passengers of the car seize this moment to open the doors of the car in unison and step out. The sun glints off their expensive Ray Ban sunglasses. Their Reebok sneakers sparkle sporty-white against the steaming asphalt of the Dhaka road. They point and jabber, and then troop over to the bus. The bus conductor tries to stop them at the door, but no. the boys hop onto the bus. There is some scuffling. The bus driver seems to be resisting the entrance of the boys. But the boys will not be overcome. They push themselves in.

The signal turns green, but no one gives a damn. The onlookers smell a ganjaam. So they stand and gawk. You watch, too. For two reasons a) it's a ganjaam and you have nothing better to do and b) it's a ganjaam and you have nothing better to do.

But wait! What is this going on? The bus driver has grabbed one of the boys by the neck and has the boy pinned down on the floor. The boy struggles in vain. He kicks and squirms but the bus driver only laughs his nefarious laugh. In the meantime, the second boy is trying to stave off the bus conductor while stealing the bus's keys. The bus conductor cannot keep up; soon he too is on the floor, the arms of the car's brave driver around his flailing legs. The second boy takes the keys and runs. The bus driver looks up and tries to stop the thief, but he's too late. The first boy is out the door. The second boy soon follows. The driver of the car lets go of the flailing bus conductor and jumps out the window.

Once outside in the open air, the victorious boys wave the bus keys over their head. But their smug grins are short-lived. The bus miraculously, it seems has started without the keys, and is now roaring its way down the intersection. The crowd on the road stares after the bus. The policeman at the intersection stares at the bus. The three boys with the bus keys in their possession stare at the bus. But soon the bus becomes a tiny red speck in the horizon, and within seconds it is gone. What a fight, the onlookers say. What a victory.
What an absolutely ordinary day in Dhaka.


One summer afternoon

One sultry summer afternoon. The kind that makes you feel totally powerless. Oh, and this was a decade ago, I forgot to add. Kolkata was at its fiery best, and we were there for a visit.

My parents were out for some important shopping. My brother and I were in the room, thinking of what adventure to pursue. Having arrived merely a day ago without even seeing the room in which we were staying properly, we planned to begin with the inspection of the hotel room first. It was all well and good. Yawn. We advanced towards the washroom. Washrooms are important too, you see. The door was intricately decorated and it was opening with a creak and...

What's that? No really, what's that on the closed bathroom window, I ask you? The black sinister shadowy thing casting its, um, shadow outside. It can't be hair, can it? No, of course not. Why would someone be hanging his or her hair outside our window like that?

Relax. Nothing's going to happen, it won't harm us; but it seems to be moving. Why's it moving? "Is it a ghost?", I asked my brother. We looked at each other with identical expressions of terror, and galloped out of the room in bare feet. Without taking the key, yes- you do not usually remember practical things to do when you believe a ghost is pursuing you, topped with the fact that you are a kid.

We ran all the way a few floors down to the reception. The lift was in perfect working order, all right? It just didn't occur to us to use it at a time of such heightened danger. The man at the reception was, as usual, on the phone. It occurs to me now, he must've been talking to his girlfriend all those times. Our screams slightly unnerved him and he put his phone down. Then he asked us what happened, and we narrated what we clearly thought was a nerve wracking, chilling story. The receptionist took us very seriously, I tell you. He listened to the whole story patiently and seriously, suppressed his smile as best as he could, and then offered a whole big cake just for the two of us to calm our nerves.

Not to go off topic or anything, but it was one of those cakes. Those utterly delicious creamy delicacies that always leave a sweet taste in your mouth forever, only you can't remember what exactly they tasted like- you just remember the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with incredible food.

When my parents arrived, my brother and I were still sitting at the table glumly, because we had had our fill and could not finish the cake. Then we narrated the ghost story again with much gusto and went up to the room together because my parents did have the spare key, yes. It didn't occur to us to check the washroom again, for some reason. Ghosts don't seem scary enough when your parents are with you.

Fast forward to 2008. Science has drilled the fact that 'ghosts do not exist' into my head. We probably saw some black bag stuck to the outside of the washroom window, for I do not believe ghosts exist; but I also believe that I was probably better off believing it was ghost that summer afternoon, because it gave me the kind of thrill of fearful fantasy that I shall, in all probability, never experience again.

By Anika Tabassum

The goa chronicles

Our train was slowing down. We saw the approaching station. It was small but dainty, and I jumped down as the train halted. At last, after a 12 hour-long journey, we were at Thibim, Goa.

The Jellyfish Disaster
We boarded a taxi to Kalangute, checked into a hotel, and made straight for the beach. I had been dieing to see the famous beach. The beach was a sparkly blue under the warm sun. I ran into the sea and splashed into the waves. The Arabian Sea is not a very calm one. I was wading through the waves when suddenly I felt my leg burn as if on fire. I looked down and saw that a thread like thing was wrapped around my leg. My leg had already turned an angry red.

I quickly made for the hotel and put some antiseptic ointment there. But the condition worsened. I was panic-stricken. My mother and I quickly called a taxi and went to the nearest hospital. The doctors and nurses were very efficient. They told us that it was a jellyfish sting. They also told me that I was their sixth patient with jellyfish sting that day. I was given an I.V and was laid on a bed. By this time, I was totally losing my calm. But after about 30 minutes, the pain subsided and I could walk again. I thanked the doctors and left the hospital, never to touch the sea again!

Goa-The City
We have always heard about Goa's sea beaches. But once there, we discovered the beauty of its city, Panjim. Panjim is a very dainty city. It sat on the bank of the Mandavi River, basking in the sun. Goa was once under Portuguese rule. The old fashioned Portuguese houses still remain. White yachts float on the river, and the city is like a fairy tale city. Small houses with slanted roofs and ancient churches are everywhere. And the houses are very colourful-there was a riot of colours. From the distance came the sound of a bell tolling. We could tell that Panjim is a lazy city. Few cars and motorcycles sped past our taxi. Dilapidated shops with missing shingles had souvenirs and spices on display. A girl sits reading a book under a tree. Everything has a pace of its own. We took lunch at a Punjabi restaurant and proceeded to see the Aguada Fort.

The Aguada Fort
The Aguada Fort was built by the Portuguese a long time back, and it was used to store water. Thousands of gallons of water could be stored here. It is now a popular tourist attraction.

The old fort stands on a hill overlooking the sea. The sea was reflecting the sky, and was a cloudy gray colour. Ships floated in the distance; its masts were like matchsticks. We climbed a flight of stairs and were on top of the fort. The view was simply spectacular! From one side we could see the tiny specks of colour, which were the houses in Panjim. And from the other side we could see the vast open sea. Salty air from the sea made our skin sticky. A few seagulls circled the fort. A patch of cloud drifted in and blotted the sun out. A feeling of wetness hung in the air.

After spending some time watching the fort, we took a quick glass of sherbet and got into the taxi.

St Francis Xavier's Church
Panjim can easily be called the city of churches. The city is strewn with churches! And the most famous of these in St Xavier's church.

The facade of the church towers over a large field and a museum. Inside the church lingers an air of holiness. Its walls are engraved with beautiful designs, and the ceiling has amazing carvings. There are gold plated statues of Ignatius of Loyola and Jesus Christ. But this is not the main attraction of this church. This church holds the mummified body of St Francis Xavier! People from all over the world flock to this church to catch a glimpse of his remnants. It lies in a beautiful coffin, and what's more, people can actually photograph it!

By the time we got out of the church, it was raining. We got into the taxi again and went back to the hotel.

There is a lot more to see in Goa, like the Vasco Da Gama city and the various temples. And there are even cool shops in the city! And for people who love food like me, Goa is a sea-food haven. As for the mothers, Goa is very famous for its excellent spices! So until next time, au revoir!



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