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Flowing flowers

One of the main constituents of Valentine's Day is flowers; lots and lots of flowers. In fact, one might go as far as to suggest a Valentine's Day without flowers is like a body without a soul...and chocolate is the body. As it happens with all things, which are in great demand [or come to be in great demand during a special time of the year, like cattle during Eid ul Azha], the price of it soars. To delve more into it, we hit the flower shops in Shahbagh.

As we walk past the shops, two young gentlemen practically drag us into their store, “What do you need brother? Want to place an order?” Their names are Rukon and Bablu and when asked whether they are brothers, Rukon gives a nonchalant reply, “practically.” They are from the same village in Rajbari, Faridpur, and have grown up and come to Dhaka together. The shop is called “Mayer Dowa Pushpabitan”. When we ask whose mother it refers to, Rukon says it refers to his grandmother, since the shop is owned by his maternal uncle's, whose been running to for almost 12 years. He and Bablu joined six years back.

As it is common with florists, their money comes in from decorating weddings. They do stages, cars and wedding beds. The prices are staggering. A full stage takes anywhere from 15000 to 50000. Cars take 3000-15000 while beds take pretty much the same amount. Of course, charges are open for haggling. But business is sweetest during that special day coined by Hallmark.

Apparently, Roses, Rajanigandha and Orchids are the favourites on the 14th, though some ladies like flowers such as Gaada and Beli to put into their hair. When asked how much the flower prices increase, Rukon, the more talkative of the pair, is secretive. 200%? Another badass reply worthy of English nobility, “easily.” How big an installment do you bring in and where the hell does it all come from? “We bring in a pretty big installment. Everyone wants flowers on Valentine's Day. And they come from all over the place, from Savar to India.” India, really? Don't flowers dry out when you bring them from that far away? “Nah! We bring in the longer lasting flowers, sometimes even as plants. They can handle one or two days of journey quite comfortably.” Rukon is like most girls when it comes to admitting his age. He grins at Bablu, they share a private inside joke, and then he looks at us and says, “I'm twenty.” He appears a little older of course. Bablu goes along with his friend and says he's twenty, too. None of them have family here in Dhaka and they live in a mess in Plassey. The two of them share a room with two others guys from the nearby flower stalls. When asked whether they have Valentines, both of them again exchange a grin and answer, “Nah! Don't have anyone.” But something in the smile makes us think that mama better look after his flowers on the 14th.

Another group of people, who supposedly benefit from Valentine's Day, are the rickshaw pullers. Many people blame them for asking for extra fare on Valentine's, when people can't afford to lose face before their dates. So we caught up with Md. Abul Khair, a man who has been pulling rickshaws in Dhaka for nigh on a decade and has seen his fair share of lovebirds. In response to our queries about asking extra fare from people when they are cornered, he denies taking advantage of the situation. He admits though, that it is a festive occasion and it is not unfair or totally uncommon to ask for twelve taka for a ten taka fare. Do they allow charging by the hour? “Not many guys do it anymore. You can earn a 100 taka in an hour, if you try. But if you go by the hour, you never get more than 40-45 taka.”

When we ask him about his family, he says they are back home, in Sirajganj. Does he have any land there? “Yeah, I have land...in the bottom of the river.” I automatically say, “Jamuna.” “Yes,' he sighs, “Jamuna took it.”

We ask him whether he'll go home for Valentine's. He laughs and says Valentine's Day is for the young, not for old geysers like him. When we protest that 50 isn't so old, he laughs again and shakes his head. “Ah well, I will see if I can go home anytime soon.” We thought he'd be a prime customer for some of that “long-time-fresh” Indian flower Rukon and Bablu were dishing out. Just for the record, don't blame Hallmark for the monopoly. Business is good for all involved. Is Valentine's Day a good or a bad thing? Depends on whether you have a date or not.

By Kazim Ibn Sadique
Thanks to Oeshwik Ahmed

Valentine woes

Another Valentine's Day is at knocking distance, and it feels more like it's pinching and poking you too. As V-day comes throwing this huge ball of stress, one can be found doing things that they are usually not supposed to do. Valentine's Day may seem like the most perfect day where there are butterflies in your stomach, where there are fireworks and flaunting of love everywhere! But if you're in a relationship you're in a pickle, and if you're not, you're still in a pickle.

The pressure of Valentine's Day starts from the time when you start thinking of what present to buy for your loved one. Some spend their days starving, some spend their days walking on foot…and some just steal! 'I remember attempting to shoplift when I was in class eight because I did not have any money and I wanted to give him something really special!' says Annanya age 19. And when V-day finally comes, parents become extra cautious of your whereabouts. They will watch your back like a hawk!

And then you'll be introduced to the biggest traffic jam of the month. Imagine, you're stuck in traffic; your significant other is waiting for you. It's an hour she's waiting. Then it's an hour and a half. You're still stuck in traffic. You arrive, two hours late. She thinks you were with someone else. Bam! You're in trouble. A better idea is to not get out at all, and talk on the phone all day. That would be just wrong, though. 'I missed my class last year because of the traffic, and everyone in my class thought I was on a date. The girl I had a crush on stopped talking to me after that!', says Rafi, age 18.

There's worse that can happen, though. You decide it's not working out, and you decide to break the news on Valentine's Day. Of course that would spare you the expense for later on, but think about the pain that you would be inflicting on your significant other. It will be like a scar that will be remembered every year, 14th February. Whatever you do, do NOT breakup on the 14th! Capiche?

For singles, this day is even worse than that for the couples. There's the constant pressure of sappy couples all around them, the continuous mushiness all around, people coupling up, and making them realize how alone they are. Some just crack and sit in the corner of a dark room, and the others become busy 'looking' for love. 'I don't mind being single on Valentine's Day, me and my friends usually have some kind of big plan to crash the day!' says Farhan, age 17. 'The pressure is unimaginable. When you login to Facebook, you'll see everyone sending gifts and super pokes and what not. Their statuses are filled with loooove. Then there's the shows and the ads and the papers…and the reign of terror continues', says Anika Rahman, studying O levels. Then there's the people who just broke up, and are wondering why the cloud of depression veiled them on this day. For them, it's the best time to move on, enjoy your life, and for once be free and independent. There's so much to do! The best part is that you can flirt with anyone without feeling guilty! Quoting a friend, 'Love is just an emotion, like anger or sadness', so stop cursing it, and enjoy!

By Raida Kifait Reza

Book review

Monstrous Regiment

Pat Benatar got it right when she sang 'Love is a battlefield'. Kings and heads of states may declare war, but it's lovers that go to fight them. Indeed, love is a powerful motivation behind warfare, be it a love for one's family, and thus the desire to protect it, or the love for one's country and the need to defend her, or even the passion for an ideal and the urge to uphold it.

This is a question posed at the start of Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment. The title itself is derived from The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, the misogynist 16th century tract by John Knox. A stand-alone Discworld novel, this is a good book as any to start with if you've never read Pratchett's celebrated series. It is set in Borogravia, a conservative nation living under the whimsical decrees of a psychotic deity, Nuggan, whose List of Abominations have left the Borogravians eternally at war with its neighbours.

Polly Perks, in the true fashion of Mulan, dresses up as a young man and joins up with the Ins and Outs Regiment, hoping to track down her brother Paul, who has been missing for a long time. Also signing up are a troll, a vampire, an Igor, and a couple of nervous looking boys. As the journey to the battlefield progresses, Polly discovers that she isn't the only woman in trousers. Each of the 'guys' has a secret agenda; be it the search for the father of a bun in the oven, or an escape from the oppression suffered by women everywhere, or simply the fact that "girls just wanna have fun".

As with all his books, Pratchett layers his narratives with satire. The main theme of this novel is war, and all its faces and manifestations, but he also delves into issues such as religious fascism, and the competence of women in an arena thought to be reserved for men, all the while taking sideswipes at bureaucracy. Pratchett's faithful portrayal of human quirks and fallacies, and all the zany dialogue does allow for the odd chuckle, but this is definitely one of his darker, more serious novels. He offers no solutions to the questions he raises, but he certainly makes you think. Love isn't always rainbows and butterflies. If you need any more convincing about that fact, read this book. In fact, read it anyway, it's that awesome.

By Sabrina F Ahmad



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