Thursday, November 22, 2007

Marriage to Music or Just an Affair? - Aug 7, 07

"The music business was not safe, but it was FUN. It was like falling in love with a woman you know is bad for you, but you love every minute with her anyway. - Lionel Richie

Music as a career. The very idea seems kind of alien, right? After all, here it’s still pretty much a taboo issue, especially if you’re coming from an average, well-to-do, middle-class family. The so-called ‘bhalo-ghorer-chele-meyera-eshob-korena’ syndrome is paramount in our society. As one friend joked “I’d probably have to kiss getting married goodbye if my biodata said ‘musician’ instead of ‘software engineer’”.

Ironically, most of the musicians I know all had their moms initiating them into the wee world of music. Tanvir Alam, aka Shawjeeb of ‘Chaka’ fame, enthused, “Parents’ interest matter a lot. Yes it’s true that you need a god-gifted talent first. But then when one’s parents recognizes that gift and tries to nurture it, that’s when the whole story begins. But for the story to keep on being told, you yourself must have the realization of what a precious gift you’ve been given and then nurture it. Not at your parent’s prodding.”

However, no parent really wants to encourage their kids to take up music as their sole profession. Parents would rather have doctors or engineers in the family. And their fears have solid grounds. Almost every single musician I chatted with, be it teens in underground bands or seasoned veterans, had to say the same thing about Bangladesh’s music industry, “We need major reforms or else reality bites – way too hard.”

My friend Ali, who is ReBORN’s vocalist, expressed, “Most artists, especially the new entrants and non-commercial ones, are being taken advantage of by major labels. Career wise it’s a bad lookout for musicians here who don't want to make commercial music…like us for instance. International exposure, at least in Calcutta, would be great but the music labels here don’t even do a proper job of promoting your music across your own country, forget distant shores.”

Although having a very musical family to help encourage and support him, independent producer/vocalist/lyricist and CEO of Bengal Music, Shayan Chowdhury aka Arnob has worked hard at making a successful career for himself. He explained “Music as a career is hard. Unless you’ve the grit to sacrifice a lot of things, I’d advice that you have a separate professional career and do music on the side. Otherwise it doesn’t pay. You have to survive by doing jingles, drama/movie scores, etc. Just doing albums won’t be enough even if you’re concentrating only on profit-oriented commercial music. The profits hardly outweigh the costs. Say one wants to work with musicians outside. Who’ll bear the traveling expenses? Exchanging files over the net is all very good but it’s WAY different than creating music together inside a studio. It’s just not financially feasible for most people.”

He and other musicians also expressed their wish for a union or government body who’d implement legal issues dealing with standard pricing, intellectual copyrights, and especially royalties. Aronnya’s guitarist/lyricist/vocalist Dipto pointed out, “The radio channels are playing our songs, there are midis, ringtones being made by telecom companies, websites are giving away our stuff for free downloads…yes, we’re grateful because that’s all helping to contribute to our fame but what about our share of the fortune?”.

Arnob, Dipto and other musicians also stressed that fact that music education needs to see major forefronts. Arnob explained “Chayanot or Dhaka University’s Shongeet O Nattokola are good but teaches only the basics of Eastern music. That starts you off well enough but then what? Music is a process of continuous learning. The whole process of becoming a better musician is a series of 'aha!' experiences. It's not gradual, or steady, or step-wise. And the more you learn the more you can experiment. You need to go on learning your whole life and it doesn’t end with just learning how to sing a particular type of song or playing a certain type of instrument. You need to learn the harmonics of music. The history of music. The different raags in Eastern music. You need to appreciate art in it’s every form, not just in terms of music. Otherwise you can’t think out of the box.”

Triloy’s keyboardist, Apu and I were discussing how it would be wonderful to have people teaching music under one roof – a proper institution so to speak. For that to happen, someone needs to take the initiative to assemble the human resource and other assets required. The lack of good teachers is a major barrier. We don’t really have people in our country who can teach Western music and the respective instruments – the piano, the violin, the sax, the clarinet, etc – professionally. And I seriously wish someone would think of introducing music as a subject in the primary and secondary schools. I mean just think – it’s been scientifically proven that instrumental music enhances one’s mathematical skills and intelligence levels. That should be an incentive in itself!

But is the picture all bleak? If that were the case, why are more and more people trying to enter the industry? Isn’t the mirror always suppose to have two faces?

Well, one positive trend we’re seeing now is the amount of opportunities and resources available to pursue your musical ambitions. There’s easier access to musical instruments and equipment. And instead of scourging for old hand-me-down music magazines, you have the net to do anything from downloading guitar tabs, to advancing your musical knowledge, to promoting your music. Recently I opened my own music page on Myspace, which is brilliant for generating interest - people can hear your music all over the world at the touch of a button and it's a good way of letting people know about your gigs.

Ashiq of RaaGa also mentioned how the advent of music channels like MTV and Vh1 was not only exposing people to different genres of music but was preventing the yester years’ trend of ‘copying’ music. He stated, “Inadvertently this forces you to explore your own talent and make something from scratch. You grow more.”

And these days regular gigs like “Friday 6 PM KOZMO (A)live” at KOZMO Lounge and “Wireless Sessions” at Decagon Café are also helping to create a platform for budding musicians to showcase their talents.

And if you can turn your back on all the social shackles during the initial stages of your struggle and become a rockstar…well, the society then runs after you. And a career in music doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do albums. There are many session artists who’re earning around 1 lakh taka per month just by playing in gigs or working on albums with music producers and artists. That’s big money.

It’s like how Mr. Richie put it above. Here’s a situation where you fall passionately in love with a woman, who’s a tad dangerous but oh so addictive. Who knows? If all goes well, you could just end up marrying her after all and live happily ever after.

Monsoon Magic - June 7, 07

Every….Single….Time. Undeniably. Irrevocably. There’s no avoiding it. Each and every time the skies above me darken as the rumbling clouds gather before opening their arms wide open to set forth the cool, cool monsoon breeze, I wake up.

What I mean to say is that it may be in the wee hours of the early morning, say around 4 a.m., or during a lazy, weekend afternoon, when I’m totally lost in blissful slumber, that without a doubt, an imminent storm will wake me up. There simply has to be an invisible connection between the onslaught of rain and my biological clock. Mind you, I’m no light sleeper. Nothing short of a blaring alarm clock (or my ma banging on the door non-stop) will wake me up. So the only conclusion left to make is that I have an undeniable love affair with monsoon in all its glory.

It all starts with the calm before the storm. The so-called calmness is just a façade. You can actually sense the throbbing pulse of suppressed excitement of the imminent downpour to follow. I can feel it beating in my pulse and it literally makes me pace the floor of my bedroom and veranda… waiting… waiting… when suddenly, out of the blue, I’ll spy some errant leaves swirling in a burst of air and just scant seconds later that sensuous, erotic touch of the wind that’s so much a part of a storm will start ebbing and flowing. Go on. Take a deep, deep breath. Now wouldn’t you say that that has got to be the one of the richest legacies that Mother Nature has given us?

One reason I think I love the rain so much is because of all the wonderful memories that are tied to the monsoon season. I still recall how my ma would help me and my elder brother, Sakib, tear up used pages from our revision copies and make paper boats, big and small, to set adrift on the puddles and streams of rain water that would collect in the cervixes and hollows on the ground. Then there’s getting wet in the rain while feeling your toes sink in the warm, wet earth below and the grass tickling your feet. The best part about this is that you have all your clothes on which somehow heighten the enjoyment of it all. Don’t ask my why for I have no clue.

And how can we forget all the ritualistic food??! Piping hot tea or coffee with crispy muri bhaja with zesty shorishar tel and onions. Or if it’s lunch time then bhuna khichuri with spicy beef or fried fish. And since it is the monsoon season, it means that the dining table will include your homemade, yummy mango chutneys. The ones made by your nani or dadi always taste the best. Oh! Speaking of mangoes, they’re a constant element when it comes to dessert as well! And lichies, which we skin and refrigerate in a box so that they taste like frozen sorbets, makes their perfect dessert-dating partner.

See? It has to be the memories.

Just three days back, right on cue at 6 a.m., I woke up. I was a little disoriented at first and couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly that had broken my sleep. Then I heard it. The wailing sound of the wind rushing through the leaves of the trees. I got up in a flash, all the sleep gone from my eyes and ran towards my window to throw back the drapes and the shutters. And smiled. Because I knew that in just a little while, I’d be on my way to making some more memories. Memories of monsoon magic.

Trip to Tong-land - June 7, 07

Road trips. Or train journeys. Ok. Here’s a quick multiple choice question quiz as to what’s the best part about such sojourns, be it cruising down the roads in your car or chugging down the railways of our country to some far off, distant place.

Yes, yes. I know. Some of you might claim that it’s the beautiful sceneries that zip past the windows. Music aficionados might sing off-key praises about the importance of arranging all the amazing and ‘feel good’ music in your mp3 or your car’s CD collection – the ultimate ‘road trip’ or ‘train journey’ playlist. Alright, I admit that these have to be a quintessential part of the whole traveling experience but aren’t we forgetting the one thing that is absolutely unique to our country? Any guesses? Anyone? No? Sigh! How can we leave out or survive without our tong’er dokans. They should have reached a cult-status by now…

One has to admit that once you start feeling all the cramps and aches and pains down your legs and back (or alternately your bladder starts protesting against incessant pressure), it feels like absolute heaven to stop the car by a quaint, little roadside tea stall and get down to stretch a little (or alternately put your bladder to rest nearby some unresisting shrub).

The creaking, wooden benches, permanent appendages in front of the stall, somehow feel way more comfortable than the seats of your car and the tiny cups seem to be just the perfect size for holding the right amount of tea. Talking about the tea…the guys who run these places seem to have down making sickeningly, sweet dudh cha (milk tea) down pat. But strangely enough, they don’t taste sickening on these trips. In fact, they seem to morph into the best damn tasting tea ever made on the face of this planet. The rong cha (milk-less tea) taste equally good with the water taking on this interesting, slippery texture due to being simmered over the stove non-stop in a metal pot.

As for the proprietors I just mentioned. Well. Somehow my dad, or my uncle, or my brother – yes, it’s this guy thing – always seem to end up striking up with them what seems to be the most riveting conversations this side of a cocktail party. Must be something in the tea.

The road trips aside, the train journeys have their own perks when it comes to these tong’er dokans. There’s not a lot of walking you can do inside a cramped train and not surprisingly the stopovers en-route to your destination feels like mini-trips within your big trip. The tea stalls bear gratifying similarities to their roadside cousins, thank god, and the best part about such stops is that there’s always this little drama involved of making sure one doesn’t miss the train. Yes. Run, baby, run.

For those of you who’re completely in the mist about what I’ve written so far, I’d recommend that you ask someone within your circle of friends, who’s a road trip or train journey connoisseur, to take you on one. After that, if you don’t re-read this article and go “Ah!” then I should take up another career like say…traveling. Here that rapid-fire tinkle of a spinning spoon inside a tea cup? That’s a tonger dokan calling out to me to do just that.

Want to go for a ride?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Showcase of Summer Get-aways - May 19, 07

With temperatures racing upwards every day, you sure don't need to be reminded that summer’s here. The fluctuating temperatures between the hot, humid outdoors and the cool confines of AC’ed rooms have clothes sticking to you as soon as you step outside, not to mention giving you severe cases of dreaded summer colds. Besides, one’s precious ACs are of no use with our famed powercuts and loadshedding. The heat seems to make you more sluggish at work and all you feel is like taking a break from it all and spending some time with mother nature as your only company, albeit with all the basic amenities near at hand so that you don’t need a vacation from the vacation you’re taking! The best part about getting away during the summer is that since it’s off season, the hotel prices are nearly slashed to half their peak rates and the ‘holidaying crowd’ is blessedly minimal. Translation? You can really enjoy a trip in true solace and silence.

Approximately only a 4 hours drive by car or bus from Dhaka, how about traveling to the lush and lovely tea gardens Sylhet is so famous for? There is the beautiful Zakaria City and Jaflong, and you might also want to include a visit to the shrine of Hajrat Shahjalal (R) and take in the mesmerizing effect of the water fall, Madhabkunda. Enjoy the Monipuri Tribal maidens doing their famous dance for you, and besides checking out the shopping malls there, be sure to drop in at London Fried Chicken, a local franchise company in town opened by a guy from London, said to have some of the best fried chicken you’ve had for ages.

Let’s by-pass the rather clichéd Cox’s Bazaar shall we? Let’s foray into a place a little bit more difficult to access but well worth the effort. All you romantics will surely love Kuakata, locally known as Shagor Konnya (Daughter of the Sea), the only beach in Bangladesh where you can enjoy watching both sunrises and sunsets. Kuakata means “digging a well” and there’s a two hundred year old kua (well) here built by the Rakhine tribe, who’ve settled in Kuakata from Myanmar. Keranipara is the nearest Rakhine village from the beach, where you can visit a 100 year old Buddhist temple named “Seema Mandir” with an incarnation of Buddha made of eight different metals. Parjatan Holiday Homes at Kuakata is the safest and coziest place to stay although there are a number of other hotels around the badh (dam).

In Rangamati, you can enjoy the wondrous beauty of Khagrachori waterfall, the blue, blue water of the man-made Kaptai Lake with its hanging bridge, the colorful tribal life and culture, jeep rides through hills and dales, attractive handicrafts…yes the list is seemingly endless. Suvolong, surrounded by the waters of Kaptai Lake, is sure to make even the weariest hearts feel they’re on paradise – yes it’s that beautiful. And oh yes…those of you with a sweet tooth should know that the sweetmeat of Suvolong is famous for their delicious taste. Also, try to spend a night with a good book and your mp3 player on the nearby island resort “Peda Ting Ting”, which in Chakma apparently means “take food, take rest and go”. You can catch the sunset and sunrise over the lakes and mountains. The island has three cottages for rent, named “Radhamon”, “Dhonpuri” and “Tanyabi”, and a restaurant where you can enjoy indigenous specialties like chicken baked in bamboo and grilled fish fresh from the lake. Yum!

Now for all you Indiana Jones types, how about a spell at the Sundarbans or Bandarbans? I have it on good authority from my deshtrotting friends that Bengal Tours and Guide Tours have some of the best deals for these places. They offer a lot of different tour packages depending on how many days you want to stay, what kind of cabins you want in their launches, what kind of food you’d prefer, etc. But the minimum decent package would cost around BDT 5,000 to 6,000.

In Sundarbans, your main accommodation will be the launch and you can go on daily boat rides to sigh in wonder over the mangrove forests and wild deers, and gasp over large and lazy crocs sun tanning on the riverbeds. The large and lazy part is quite deceiving as I’ve seen these beasts disappear with lightening speed into the waters, when a boat gets too close for their comfort. And if you’re really desperate to spot a Royal Bengal Tiger, although chances of that are very slim, you can even stay overnight on a macha (wooden watching tower) at Hiran Point…if you want to, given that the guides won’t stay with you or take any such responsibility otherwise. They’ll simply leave you there around dusk with a lantern, food and blankets. If you survive the ordeal, they’ll come to fetch you come next morning. Unless you have nine lives, best not indulge in such daredevil acts. For those of you not interested in roughing it and prefer soaking in art, history and culture, try visiting the shrine of Lalan Shah or the Shilaidaha Thakur Bari, where you can see the daily usage materials of Rabindranath Tagore’s family.

Bandarban, wilder than the other two hill districts, Khagrachari and Rangamati, boasts deep forests, high hills, innumerable springs and the simple life of the tribes. There are 11 different tribes living in Bandarban, so it’s a town of mixed cultures. Besides the tribal people’s holy places, there are Hindu temples, Kangs (Buddhist temples), mosques and churches. Bandarban is ideal for trekking and hiking. An exciting and popular trekking route is that to Keokradong, the highest peak in Bangladesh, and staying overnight in a tribal village is a requisite of this trip. It’s also possible to cover the second highest peak, Tahjingdong in the same trekking route. And for those of you who might not find all that walking up their pants, you can try out the “Quantum Meditation Resort”, established in Lama, for some spiritual pursuit in natural surroundings.

So if you’re feeling as if the summer heat’s making Dhaka life even more oppressive than usual, simply get away from the chaos of modern life and rejuvenate in the natural surroundings of our beautiful mother land. Just one last word of advice. Do make Odomos your best friend during these trips and not the mosquitoes...haha – bon voyage!

Useful links:

Monday, March 12, 2007

Spiralling Down The Unsafe Sex Road

“Birds do it, Bees do it,
Even educated fleas do it.
Let's do it, Let's fall in love"
~ Cole Porter

Farhana* aged 16, was at a party at a popular club in town with her 19 year old current boyfriend, Jamshed. The drugs and alcohol were flowing freely, she was high on both and at one point, she and Jamshed find an empty room and start getting physical. Jamshed had been asking her a lot lately about having sex. She felt guilty every time he made comments like 'I love you. I want to be with you like forever...marry you, have kids, go the whole way. I think the time's right...we should do it now. Don't you love me? Looks like you don't.” She'd kept dodging the issue but tonight she felt giddy and the inhibitions she'd been having were blissfully absent. And so in a dark, deserted, bare-of-furniture room, Farhana 'made love' with the 'guy of her dreams'. Without a condom.

Bombarded with mixed messages, hormones racing at the speed of light, trapped by taboos that don't answer their questions, more teens these days are doing a whole lot more than just 'falling in love'. If you think promiscuity is just a disease of the West and 'it's better here' where adolescents here are protected by a cocoon of 'culture', you're in for a very rude awakening.

Last week, two of our correspondents got into a conversation with some young people about their views on relationships and dating. What they heard was jarring enough to set them on a quest of discovery, and this week, we share their findings. Be prepared for the disturbing truth...

“It's such a common scene”, exclaims Maheen, aged 17. “The guys make the girls believe that everything's perfect and somehow pursue them to go for it. They sweet-talk the girls. Nowadays having sex means proving your love's true worth. I think they all just want to go physical and are using love as a scapegoat! There's nothing much to do here and girls aren't given a lot of freedom to pursue their interests. They're looking for all the thrills that they can get and this is one of the most forbidden of all the thrills.”

Adnan, aged 20, tells us of his friends who regularly schedule their activities at his place, sometimes even on an everyday basis. I think there's too much sex on TV R-rated movies that don't promote condoms or anything. And there's overuse of drugs and drinks. It's so widely available nowadays. 'Good weed' costs only Taka 80 here. That's cheap. You get high; then you go crazy.”

With more and more of this city's urbane teens falling into this trap, there is increased peer pressure on those who don't have 'someone special' and haven't done 'it'. Furthermore, teens who use alcohol or drugs are more likely to go for it than those who don't, as they're more likely to engage in risky behaviour.

“Teen sex is definitely on the rise”, stated Dr Dilruba Nilufar, consultant gynaecologist at the Dhaka Mahanagar Hospital. While not many studies have been conducted on this subject, the frequency of young, unmarried girls below the age of 18 seeking help regarding pregnancies, STDs and other sex-related problems has increased over the past couple of years. She places the starting age for such cases at 15-16 years.

But even sober teens are having unprotected sex. Why? Mainly because they're either unaware of the risks involved or are living in a sense of false security. Obviously, teens consider casual sex partners risky. Yet teens' decisions to use condoms are based more on a partner's attitudes toward condoms than on their own perception of risk. And teens may feel a false sense of security about main partners. False because so many teens with main partners also have casual partners. And it's false because serial monogamy having one “main” partner for a brief time and then another isn't an effective safe-sex strategy. Sexual health may be jeopardized when one partner views the relationship as a mutually committed one but the other partner doesn't which is the case here most of the time. One must take into account that the starting age for many of these teens is very low. At this point of time, although they cannot really claim complete ignorance about the risks and the import of what they're doing (heck, with the media's obsession with the birds and bees, you have to be a hermit not to know) their knowledge is largely incomplete, and this, combined with their devil-may-care attitude towards the whole thing, is just a time-bomb waiting to explode.

It's absolutely crucial to stress the need for consistent condom use regardless of the teen's feelings toward the partner, sense of the partner's commitment, or the length of the relationship.

Missed Calls

From the heavens to the womb to the heavens again
From ending to ending, never got to begin
~ Flipsyde

As irresponsible as these youngsters are being about their own lives, they are also playing with the lives of others, especially when pregnancy comes to play. According to information gathered from a counselling centre, there are two types of teens who come to the counselling seeking advice regarding pregnancy. A significant number of them are young girls from lower-middle income groups who claim the intercourse was forced on them by older male cousins or other relatives, and who have little or no knowledge about birth control. The other type comprises more affluent college students who are well aware of the consequences of what they are doing. The question remains, though: do they really know?

Anika 18, sadly states “You ask any young kid and they'll know at least three to four girls who have an abortions. I'm sure the number's more as people obviously like to keep such stuff hush-hush. They go with their friends or boyfriends and getting the money is no big deal. Abortion costs around Tk 6,000 or even less. The guy and girl 'go Dutch' or the friends help out and you're done. They're more scared about their parent's reaction to the pregnancy than anything else”.

This being a country with a Muslim majority, abortion is not encouraged or recognised by the government. Pregnancy termination is carried out under the name of Menstrual Regulation (MR), and maybe legally performed on pregnancies up to 12 weeks old. Termination of pregnancies advanced beyond 12 weeks is considered as illegal abortion, and is punishable by law. It must be added here, that even early termination is risky for first-time mothers, as there's an 80% risk of permanent infertility amongst other threats, not least of which is that abortion performed before age 18 increases the risk of developing breast cancer by 150%.

Who's Afraid of The Big Bad Bug?

Most adolescents here are very much ignorant about STDs and how they're transmitted. And when asked whether they practice safe sex and how they felt about accidental pregnancies the answers were nothing if not horrifying. Of the teens we spoke to, while most knew about condoms, many still preferred not to use them, because apparently it is less 'enjoyable'. The girls, many of them relying on sketchy ideas about menstrual cycles, don't insist on their partners using protection.

Very few, if any of our respondents were aware that STD's can occur even when there is no intercourse. With diseases like herpes, mononucleosis, and more spreading through exchange of saliva, you're not safe just because you're not 'going the whole way'.

Also STDs are sexist-they damage women much worse than men (refer to links). In a single act of unprotected sex with an infected partner, a teenage woman has 1% risk of

Let's Talk About Sex

All this shows how very important it's becoming to have comprehensive sex education in schools that include simple, straightforward and positive messages about sex, sexual relationships, reproduction and birth control, sexually-transmitted diseases, and sexual abuse.

Sadat, aged 25 emphasises, “You cannot stop people from having sex. But you can ensure that they practice it safely, which is imperative. Purchase of contraceptives should be made easier. Going to a pharmacy to get condoms, where everybody will smirk behind your back isn't a healthy sexual attitude towards guys let alone girls. There should be dispensaries or vending machines providing contraceptives and things like booklets on safe sex. They should also be available in supermarket shelves so that it saves the blushes to ask for it. And please; it's about high time we had sex education in our schools. Parents, relatives, our education system shy away from a subject still considered taboo. Big mistake. Big.”

Dr Sabin Afrin, gynaecologist, Dhaka Mahanagar Hospital disagrees about the viability of sex education programs in schools. In her opinion, in a conservative society like ours, such programs would not be welcomed by parents. Dr. Dilruba Nilufar, who echoes this sentiment, however, stresses on sex education at home. The Talk, when it happens between parents and preteens, and it must, if we are to protect our kids against these frightening circumstances, should cover more than the basic 'menstrual cycles and stay away from boys' package.

Information is power, and in this high-risk day and age, children and teens need all the information they can get. Refusing to talk about sex doesn't mean that children are safe, that nothing bad will happen to them. When you withhold information about sex, reproduction, the possibility of sexual abuse and contracting STDs from your children you are simply putting all children at risk.

To be more aware of how YOU can be at risk please visit:

By Sabrina F Ahmad and Simin Saifuddin

Special thanks to Dr Dilruba Nilufar and Dr. Sabin Afrin. All names (and places) of our other respondents have been changed to protect privacy.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Lulling on Our Lack of Libraries

My brother got recently married and during Boxing Day, I watched how the happy couple enthusiastically paged through all the books they’d received as gifts. To them the books were as expensive as the next toaster or dinner set. My own immediate thought was “Wow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive Sattyajit Ray’s complete Feluda series as a wedding present?!” But the art of gifting people with cherished tomes seems to be disappearing amidst a visual culture of television, DVDs and the internet. Where to put the blame for this trend? There are simply so many factors to the equation.

I grew up around books. We had cable TV as well, with shows my brother and I were addicted to like the next average kid. But our parents took the time to instill in both us a deep appreciation for reading. They loved filling up the shelves with their favorite authors and introduced us to the magical, transforming power of books – their ability to transport us beyond our puny lives and to shape the very texture of our personalities. But the equation didn’t end there. They also took us on frequent trips to the library based inside the Army cantonment.

In the equation of fostering a reading culture, a library acts as a compounding device, allowing a child to multiply the efforts of parents and the school, and providing the materials to make this process possible. Today, with books and movies more expensive than ever, and television entertainment free-falling to the lowest levels of stupidity, the library provides a place and an incentive for children to progress in reading. Public libraries are also where ordinary citizens with limited funds and knowledge can gain both access and equity. These days they also serve a vital social role as Internet access points for people who’re otherwise unconnected to the information superhighway.

I feel envious when friends and relatives abroad talk to me of neighbourhood libraries that function like a gathering place; where communities find themselves. The book discussions, readings and classes, the homework help after school, the nods and hellos people exchange when they see each other at the library for the second or fifth or twentieth time, the librarians greeting people by name, and even the artwork that reflects the talents and interests of the neighborhood, all contribute to the connections that bind people in a community. People may go to the library looking mainly for information, but they find each other there.

My brother Sakib, a PhD student at the University of Wyoming, USA, pointed out that without libraries, a culture of constructive, thoughtful discussions and sharing of knowledge and information among the young generation can’t take place. People, he finds, even in his generation, don't have the understanding that two plus two makes more than four if knowledge is shared among friends, colleagues and acquaintances. He says that from his experience, it always leads to a win-win situation. Public/private libraries play a big role in developing this kind of ‘intelligentsia’ which can shape and guide the nation to move forward positively in the future.

He also pointed out the quality of writers we, Bangladeshis, possess and demanded that could anyone tell him why we aren’t having writers like Late Shahidullah Kaiser, Late Munir Chowdhury, Late Syed Waliullah or Late Kazi Nazrul Islam. He exclaimed "Forget about Maya Angelou, Milan Kundera, Gabriel García Márquez, Dominique Lapierre, or Naom Chomsky. If you look around, we don't even have quality authors like Shomoresh Majumder, Sunil Gangapadhya or Sattyajit Ray, who are from our neighboring Indian state of West Bengal." He expalined how they played, and are still playing, considerable roles in shaping the minds of the youth, who later become conscious citizens, a crucial factor for a society to progress with the middle class or bourgeois community taking the lead. There is a high probability that a strong middle class can provide us with capable leaders, which a developing country direly needs. He made the wry comment, "Writers like Humayan Ahmed, sorry to say, won’t be able to play a role like this. I believe libraries inspire you to dream and to write, but the quality of our local libraries today can hardly provide such inspiration".

The presence of libraries in Dhaka (forget the rest of the country) is needless to say deplorable. At present we have only six major libraries in the city. There is the British Council Library with audio-visual and internet facilities, the USIS library which has an article-alert service including newspaper microfilms, the Indian Information Service Library and the Bishwa Shahitya Kendra Library, with its unique mobile library service. But the conditions of the two Public libraries of the city – the Armanitola branch, previously known as the Northbrook Hall Library or the Lalkuthi Library, and the Mahanagar Pathagar at the south-eastern corner of Osmany Uddyan – makes me want to cry. The collection hasn’t been updated since time immemorial I’m sure, and whatever there is, is falling to ruins.

Top officials from the government and business sectors should realize the immense importance of having quality libraries and do their part in helping to reverse the current situation. I came across a news of how developers of the Glendale Mall in Indianapolis, USA approached the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library officials with a lease proposal offering over 33,000 Sft of space for a branch library that would serve as an anchor store in the mall. The library has been very successful, helping to revitalize the mall.

The day I see one of the countless urban community development projects like Bashundhara City, Jamuna Future Park or Japan Garden City have included a library in their plans, I will keel over. Not from shock but with the joy of having more opportunities to page through shelves of books stacked into neat rows. Books that whisper of far away kingdoms with fantastic, ethereal creatures; of nerve-wracking mysteries and wild, reckless adventures led by handsome heroes and beautiful heroines; of tales of human triumph and failure; of wisdom, love, hope, fear, despair and every other human emotion there is out there. Books that whisper of life.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Penning Today’s Songs of Patriotism

Mora ekti phul ke bachabo boley judhdho kori…

Amidst all the chaos, confusion and disintegration of the past 30 years, patriotism nowadays is by far a very low-key word for one of the smallest nations of the world. The love for a language which resulted in the freedom and birth of our beautiful nation, now seems to be getting lost further amidst the so-called brainwashing tactics of the Western culture via the media. But is that really the true scenario?

The new age youth of today, regardless of which part of the globe they’re from, do speak out about the socio-political stance of their countries through the one channel or medium that has again and again shown it’s power in reaching the masses, touching the hearts of millions and making an irrevocable stance – music. Although it does remain to be seen whether all the members of the youth are on par with the subject, one only has to look at the recent examples of concerts like LiveAid and the Princes Royal Trust (both of which have been running for years now) to realize one undeniable fact – music can reach the mass public and trigger mass awareness; it can make people come together to celebrate with the music and in turn raise issues or help the needy.

Because of the amount of exposure and coverage bands and musicians get these days, especially due to the much-appreciated entrance of two FM radio stations, Radio Today and Radio Foorti, a lot of people might have the misconception that Cryptic Fate’s latest album “Danob”, with songs like “Danob”, “Raag”, and “Political” and Hyder Hussein’s now-famous number “30 Bochor” are the only examples of how musicians, especially those from the young generation, are expressing their feelings and frustrations about the country’s on-going socio-political status quo.

But be it mainstream or underground, harnessing the power of music to convey social dissatisfaction and political protest has been a trend amongst local bands and musicians for a long time now. Warfaze is undoubtedly the band which has been the most pro-active in this aspect. One of their notable numbers which spring to mind raising serious questions about the socio-political stance of the country is “Jibondhara”. The song, with the signature Warfaze sound of high pitched vocals backed up by loud instruments, claws away at the state of the our plight as the citizens of this country.

Though when they’d started out there were serious doubts how well their works were being conveyed to the mass audience, time and again bands like Warfaze and Aurthohin have raised these issues in their albums, and to this date they still do – with numbers like “Dinbodol” and “Notun Diner Michile” whose lyrics literally shout out about issues on patriotism and winds of change for the country. Miles, in their groundbreaking albums “Protisruti” and “Prottasha”, gave us songs like “Keno Ora Rajpothey” and “Shanti Chai”. Bongabdo 1400 by Feedback gave us two gems of a song called ‘Uchho Podostho Todonto Committee’ and ‘Shamajik Koshtokathinno’.

And the Blacks, Artcells, and Arboviruses are not far behind either. The youth of today are playing their respective parts in penning songs of protest and frustrations. Examples include the heart wrenching patriotic number “Cholo Bangladesh” from Cryptic Fate, RaaGa’s “Ahoban”, and “Ami Protibaader Kotha” in Fuad’s soon to be released album “Bonno”. Though how much these works have brought about any visible change in us – the audience – is a debatable topic, such efforts deserve praise. Young hearts respond most to music – a speech they won’t recall but a great song they will remember and spread around. The air of change lies in the hands of the very youth, and giving the youth the power to bring about that change is integral for any country to progress and prosper.

Tagore might have stated “Shatkoti Shontaner He Mughdho Jononi, Rekhecho Bangali Korey…Manush Koroni”, but one cannot deny the fact that rather than shying away, our youth are very much trying to show their ‘Jononi’ all the love they hold for her in their being, through the universal appeal of music.