mahmud rahman's pages

writer.translator

Category: society (Page 2 of 2)

No room for mistakes

I am riding the No. 6 bus between Gulshan 1 and Farmgate. The bus is crowded, though I managed to get a seat. At Mohakhali, the bus gets into a race with another No. 6 bus. They edge past one another. First the other one gains the advantage. Now ours does. Meanwhile, traffic around us is stalled, so the race doesn't exactly take place at break neck speed. Passengers are however frustrated by this pointless exercise. The bus driver is having a bit of fun. I hear curses under people's breaths.
    At the Mohakhali turn, our bus gets the advantage and leaves the other one behind. We head towards Jahangir Gate, turn left, zip along Airport Road. Our bus still has the advantage. The other one's been left behind.
    At Bijoy Shoroni, our bus driver makes a blunder. For some reason he gets into the middle lane. The middle lane however is for those who will take a right at this intersection. There are cars and buses ahead. Now the other bus comes up from behind, takes the left lane and roars past us. Our bus has lost the race. But it's also now stuck at this intersection until the policeman allows the middle and right hand lanes to move again.
    Now the curses start to really pour from the mouths of passengers. Break the leg of the driver. Hit the helper on the head. Son of a bitch. Swine. It's all words of course, but with words like this, in certain circumstances, words can turn to action. This is a volatile country.

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A trivial event?

I am trying to make sense of the events that started with the Dhaka University students flaring up in protest on Monday, August 20.
Nearly everyone calls the initial event that sparked the rebellion a 'tuccho ghotona' – a trivial or insignificant incident. The next morning, when I wrote in my journal I found myself accepting that description. I called it a 'petty incident.'
On thinking about it more, I'm not so sure.

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Support the BNWLA shelter campaign

My friend Andrew Morris, originally from Wales now living in Dhaka — a teacher, writer with a keen eye and a fast pen, and a musician with a mean mouth on the soprano sax — has launched a campaign to raise funds for a new shelter for survivors of trafficking, rape, domestic slavery, and exploitation. The shelter will include dormitories, school and training facilities, garden and play area, and an auditorium and multi-purpose hall.
    I would like you to visit the campaign's website and donate what you can. There's a PayPal link, but you don't have to sign up with PayPal. You can use a credit card. The campaign's made a great start, and while the target is ambitious, I'm confident they will carry it through.
    
When Andrew introduced me to the campaign, I'd already been reading his articles describing his visits to the present shelter. I asked if I could come along one day.
    On the first Friday in May, a day when the heat passed the 100 degree mark, four of us set out from the Daily Star office towards Agargaon just a couple of miles to the north. Three of us — Hana Shams Ahmed on one side, Andrew on the other, me in the middle — squeezed in the back of a green natural gas driven three-wheeler. The fourth, Zahedul Khan, rode his own motorcycle. He followed us at first, then we lost him in Dhaka's traffic snarls. Hana is an editor at Star Weekend Magazine, Zahed works there as a photographer, and Andrew is a regular contributor.
    Our destination was the shelter of the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA). Hana and Zahed came along to prepare an article about kids at the shelter. Star Weekend Magazine has done a terrific job hammering away at the slavery-like conditions faced by domestic workers in Bangladesh.
    It was the story of one abused child worker that brought me together with this crew. Last fall when I first arrived here, the magazine carried a story about two children found lying on the ground next door to an apartment building in Dhanmondi. Moni, fifteen years old, was dead. Ten-year old Madhabi survived, her bones broken. They had been servants in the building next door. When Madhabi was in the hospital, her employer managed to grab her back. The child was persuaded that she had 'fallen' from the sixth floor roof. Over a four-foot high railing, mind you. The BNWLA rescued her and she recovered in their shelter before returning to her family. The murder case about her co-worker is still pending. Hana told us that not a single employer has ever been convicted of the murder of a domestic worker. Nearly every month there is news of at least one such murder.

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Waterlogged Dhaka

Thursday the 7th of June, it rained 109 mm in Dhaka. Leaving a literary event at the Sheraton I sought a ride home with a friend. Since the entrance was flooded, we agreed to cross over to the other side where his car would pick us up.
    We took off our shoes and I led the way, stepping into the murky water. But I miscalculated the depth and tumbled in, getting wet up to my waist. I skinned my knee but managed to keep my shoes dry. Retreating, we chose the prudent course, walking along the footpath towards the intersection. We crossed there, stepping in knee-deep water in front of buses and cars forced to slow down.
    The traffic barely crawled. Making it only to Karwan Bazaar by 11:30 p.m., it became clear it would be faster to walk to my home in Nakhalpara. On the way, I spied stalled buses and cars being pushed by boys and men. Near Bijoy Shoroni, the footpath was again flooded. I stepped gingerly into the water, remembering that not so long ago there were uncovered manholes in the vicinity. I would read later that at least three people fell into manholes that night. When I went to bed, past midnight, I was thankful that my apartment was above water. Thousands of others, with water above their floors, are of course not so lucky.
    The monsoons have only begun. What will the rest of the season be like for the hapless citizens of Dhaka?

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Troubled waters

Here in northern California, winter rainstorms have thoroughly soaked us. To the north of San Francisco, rivers flooded their banks and some areas were drenched with as much as nine inches of rain from a single storm.
   I wasn’t affected much. Thanks to last year’s patching, my ceiling sprung no leaks this time. The neighbor upstairs wasn’t as fortunate.
   It is winter, so the rains are no surprise. But even before the rains arrived, water was on my mind.

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A mythical place called Bangla Motors

Below is the original post on Bangla Motors that I wrote in November 2005. Since then I revised it twice, the first version appearing in an Eid special of Dhaka’s New Age newspaper in 2006 and the more substantial revision published in the Arts and Letters magazine of the Dhaka Tribune on April 6, 2017. The latest version can be found here.

If you go to Dhaka, Bangladesh, you may come across a place called "Bangla Motors." Buses stop there, and rickshaws, CNG’s, and taxis can get you there. It stands at the intersection of Mymensingh and Moghbazaar roads, roughly halfway between the Shonargaon and Sheraton hotels. Do not, however, look for a business by the name of "Bangla Motors." There isn’t one.
    There never was. The name is testimony to the determined way Bangladeshis were eager to wipe out the legacy of Pakistani rule after the country became independent.

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The end for rickshaws in Kolkata?

For a short minute this summer, it looked like the end had finally come for rickshaws in Kolkata.  But the latest news suggests that the 19th century relic has found a new lease of life.
    In the streets of the capital of West Bengal, more than 20,000 men, mostly poverty-stricken migrants from Bihar, pull human beings on a two-wheeled carriage, walking on their feet.  Among themselves, they share the income from 6,000 licensed rickshaws — of course after paying the owners their ounce of flesh.  This is the only part of the world where humans still pull rickshaws with their feet on the ground.  Rickshaws originally came from China, but after the 1949 revolution, that degrading form of labor was done away with.  
    I have heard many times of plans to do away with Kolkata’s rickshaws, but each time, nothing comes of the effort.

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Hurricanes and regime change

    Often, after Nature hands us the first punch, the second comes from the Man.
    Witness, in the face of Katrina, the shameful failure of response by the most powerful government on earth to the survival needs of its poor, mostly black, residents of New Orleans.
    But Katrina only exposed that long before Nature’s assault, the punches had been raining down from the Man.  Most of those left stranded could not evacuate because they were too poor.  Where would they go without cars, without cash, credit cards, or bank accounts to pay for hotel rooms?
    You cannot kick Nature’s ass for bringing Katrina on shore.  But the disaster made by the Man should have consequences.  “Toss the scoundrels out” is a sentiment that has often been heard, post-Katrina.
    Sometimes it does work out that way.  My memory goes back to the November 1970 cyclone that hit the southern coast of East Pakistan, today’s Bangladesh.

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Refugee?

The week that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, a friend of mine from New Orleans escaped from the storm and drove, first to relatives in the south, then later up north. I spoke to her as she was driving along a highway. I asked her if she’d eaten, and she said she had bought a breakfast sandwich and had not quite finished it yet. Somewhere in the conversation, I called her a refugee and she bristled at my use of the word. I’ve read of other black folks rejecting the word, too, considering it demeaning and not worthy of being used for someone who’s a citizen of the United States. But why?

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