Mukti

Libraries…

Posted in family by jrahman on February 21, 2018

… are fun places with lots of books.  I love reading books.  I want to be the class librarian because I want to protect the books and help you read them.

That was the eight year old’s ‘statement’ as he nominated himself for the class librarian on the first day of Grade 3.  He was super excited to tell me about it as we walked home after school.  I shared his excitement as I too had great fun at libraries.

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How many shades of hypocrisy?

Posted in gender, Rights, society by jrahman on December 5, 2017

Guest post by F Rahman

Too much learning is a dangerous thing – it was an op ed by Mehnaaz Pervin Tuli published by the Daily Star on 2 Dec 2016.  The author tried to show, using satire, the daily struggles of women who are meant to never speak up and are thus shouted down when they actually do. 

The satire was missed by Dhaka’s chatterati, and there was a large hue and cry in the social network.  Incensed, Farhana Rahman wrote the following.  The Daily Star agreed to print it, and then changed their mind, pulling Ms Pervin’s original piece from their website instead. 

Hypocrisy comes in all shapes and sizes in Dhaka. This is just another one…

JR

Every culture has it.  Every race has it.  Every era, including our own, has had it.  We have it too.  When you look within yourself, how many shades of hypocrisy do you see?  Of course, I cannot answer that question about anyone but myself, as I am no one to judge. We all should be the judge of our own selves and all the shades we bring along.

So was perhaps what this writer tried to do – perhaps she was looking within herself to see the life of us, as women, as a daughter, as a sister, a wife, a mother, a home maker, or a professional, and at end of the day, just a person.  A writer whom I never heard of, I came across her on facebook, when a friend commented on her piece that has been shared randomly.

I was curious despite the seemingly bland title of the article. (By the way, I think my title is equally bland. Solidarity!).

So she thinks too much learning is a dangerous thing.

She attempts portraying the typical female life in our everyday society, within her household and outside: the different roles she plays and juggles at every step of her life; and how they affect each other. She goes on to further detail how the complexity of our interlinked but different faces are all too often overlooked by people around us whom we save on our call-list as friends and family.  Forget any hope of real support, she reminds us how callous our F&F can be at the time of need!

We have talked enough about the brother getting the big piece of fish and husband getting the fish head or some versions of such, so I don’t want to bore you by explaining that bit – you get the context. Our writer here goes a step further and points out how even just by being a female in Bangladesh we are taken for granted to put on a number of faces, and then simply expected to live each of them with utmost perfection.  And just because we are women, we are not meant to speak up under any circumstances, even if we appear to wear our faces superbly.

As if being a perfect daughter, sister, wife, or a mother – which are supposed to be the only valid roles society had long deemed for us females – isn’t hard enough, the writer mocks how we seem to be deliberately making our own lives even more miserable by facing the outside world with (un)necessary further roles.

We know that there is no easy way, no chance of mistake, no one to lean on or no one to turn to. People will stand by the side, watching, and they will pretend applauding you as a successful woman, but one simple slip up is all that’s needed to reveal their true faces – the hypocrisy within them.

So my unknown writer friend tries expressing her frustrations and disappointments on all the above with “humour”.

Guess what?  It seems she slipped up!

How dare she, with her bad English (as if every other op ed writer in Bangladesh is an Oxford debater)!

Why couldn’t she be just happy with whatever faces she has to hold. Not only she dared to express her opinion, even worse, she made it to the newspapers in Bangladesh.

And from there, all hypocrisy just broke loose.

Sometimes life puts you in a spot that’s so bad that you have to just laugh at things.  It was pretty hilarious discovering how many of us didn’t take a breath criticising the writer’s education, background, or motive, while completely ignoring the fact that we ourselves lacked total empathy to hear the cry of a wounded heart.  Our reaction seemed to be less about what she wanted to say, but whether she had the eligibility to say anything.

I simply couldn’t stop wondering since when did we need “eligibility” to speak our mind! It amazes me that we are ready to reject someone just because she couldn’t express her thoughts “correctly” or offer any solution to our situations.  She dared trying mockery instead and apparently failed to “capture on a foreign language” her satire, never mind the exclamation mark at the end of her article!

How many shades of hypocrisy?  Tricky question.

We are either hypocrites, or we are not.

We cannot keep lecturing in our stuttering, heavily accented English on International Women’s Day to a room full of men about uplifting women, empowerment, justice or such big heavy words, and then go criticising someone who happens to be a woman, for being brave enough to speak her mind on issues we dare not touch, in whatever language she knows to whatever standard with whatever background she has.

When we do that, the shade is solid hypocrisy.

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Gone Girl

Posted in books, Drama, family, gender, movies, Rights, society, thriller, thriller by jrahman on June 26, 2016

 

What are you thinking?  How are you feeling?  What have we done to each other?  What will we do?

The primal questions of any marriage — says, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) as David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl begins.  Wrestling with the unravelling of own marriage, the questions came as a jolt as I watched the scene in a lonely hotel room after a long day of work.

A decade of marriage, and you realise you don’t know who your partner is.  Worse.  You don’t know who you are anymore.

What have we done to each other?  Indeed!

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Ramadanomics

Posted in economics, labour, macro, society by jrahman on June 19, 2016

Ramadan fasting is like no other Islamic ritual.  In the month of Ramadan, those who never perform the pre-dawn Fajr prayer get up even earlier to eat, only to abstain until dusk.  And after a month of that, even those who would otherwise never set foot in a mosque line up in unison to kneel towards Mecca.   For an entire month, from cooking, attire, TV to intimacy — the very lifestyle of a billion plus people change.  Except perhaps the aversion to pork, observance of, or at least respect to, the Ramadan fasting is arguably the most ubiquitous characteristic of Muslims.

Given its prevalence and ubiquity, Ramadan must have observable economic impacts.  Exactly what might they be?  In a fascinating paper, Filipe Campanile and David Yanagizawa-Drott of Harvard’s Kennedy School provide us with some answers.*  Summary — fasting makes us happier, if poorer.

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The case for arranged marriage

Posted in family, music, society by jrahman on April 8, 2016

Update: April 11 425pm BDT at the end

Theirs was the stuff of fairy tale romance.  The son of a Supreme Court judge and a charismatic English professor, he was brought up to be a pukka gentleman.  She came from the wrong side of the poorest of backwater towns, first in the family to make it to university, relying on nothing but her grit.  They were white collar professionals, colleagues who fell in love in their late 20s.  I was there—it happened in my living room actually.  They moved in, and then moved overseas together for greater opportunities, for both.  Careers progressed, and love deepened.  About ten years ago, they got married in a picturesque island.  Couple of years later they returned to a large wooden house with a big backyard to raise a little girl, and then a boy.  Financially secure — they benefitted from the asset booms of that decade — it was a time for career change, to follow their hearts.  She joined politics.  He decided to pursue his passion for writing.

Then the fairy tale ended.  While turning 40, she finds that politics is hard work, and merely willing isn’t enough.  He is in deep blue funk, with writing going nowhere.  Kids are alright, I guess.  But the parents most definitely aren’t.

How about a more conventional couple?  Both from straight forward middle class families.  Met in their 20s through friends, and started seeing each other frequently, and then exclusively.  He had an opportunity to move overseas for work.  Marriage was the only way for them to be together, even though this meant an end to her career.  A decade and three daughters later, she is mostly tired and bitter.  Meanwhile, he wonders what might have been had they never met.

These are not isolated incidences.  Whether in Desh or in the west, I see couples of my age and socioeconomic background, regardless of ethnicity or culture, in stale, unexciting marriages where no one is really at fault, where the fire of passion is buried in repressed memories and forced indifference.  And these are the marriages that survive.  Scarily, I joked recently with a friend that I am more likely now to attend a social shindig marking the end of someone’s marriage than a wedding!

What happens?  In short, life.  It’s hard to navigate the demands of modern life — finances needed for the standard of living we aspire to, but also the expectations of personal achievements we set ourselves, and then there is the social rat race that none of us are really immune from.  All that before we throw in the curve ball of raising kids and the emotional and physical tolls that entail.

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Love is just a four letter word

Posted in comedy, culture, music, romance, society, TV by jrahman on February 9, 2016

I was 14 when a Dhanmondi girl first told me about Valentine’s Day — no, not asking me for a date, rather informing me about hers.  In the quarter century since, in and out of relationships, the day has never really resonated with me.  Call me unromantic?  Not so fast.  You see, I do love rom coms, particularly on the small screen.

And could there be a better show to showcase my case?

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Degenerating the Faith (2)

Posted in books, classics, culture, faith, history, Muslim world, society by jrahman on December 5, 2015

Part 1.

Classical Muslim scholars used to divide travel and travel writing into two categories. First is what they called rihla — a description of what the traveller did, saw or experienced.  Ibn Battuta’s travelogues are the best known in this genre.  However, rihla can also be more than mere narratives and descriptions. They can form the basis of scientific enquiry.  An example of this kind of rihla is the 11th century polymath Al Biruni’s description of India.  Travelling under the protection of Mahmud of Ghazni, Al Biruni studied sciences and mathematics and wrote Tarikh al Hind — one of the most comprehensive books on pre-Islam subcontinent. In fact, great rihla, according to the scholars, had to have some analysis as well as description.

There is another tradition of travel and travel writing among the learned Muslims of yore, that of safr.  Safr is the word for travel or journey in most north and east Indian languages, including Bangla.  To the 11th century Sufi philosopher Al-Ghazali, safr meant any travelling through which a person evolves.  To him, safr meant as well as the physical act of travelling somewhere, mixing with the inhabitants of that land, imbibing oneself with their customs and ways, and evolving into a person closer to Allah.

Al-Ghazali further categorised travellers: those who travel seeking knowledge, the best kind; the Hajis; the immigrants — the Prophet himself was an immigrant; and the refugees, the worst kind.

What is the line between an immigrant and a refugee?  Salman Rushdie and VS Naipaul have both written about the uprooting involved in migration.  Both have noted that at some level or other, all migrants are really refugees.  But for Naipaul, the uprooting is mostly a bad thing.  Rushdie is open to the possibility of migration leading to something new.  Migrants are works of translation, he writes.

Those of you who have read the Quran probably have done so in translation.  Translation then can’t always be bad.

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Degenerating the Faith

Posted in books, classics, culture, current affairs, faith, society by jrahman on December 2, 2015

Being a Bangladeshi student in the urban west of the 1990s wasn’t easy.

Leaving home for a strange place — whether from a village in Maheshkhali for Dhaka University, or from Dhaka to foreign cities — is difficult for anyone in their late teens.  And at any age, student or otherwise, it is hard to move to a city.  Cities, metropoles that are cosmopolitan, dense with information to overload all the senses, and yet a depressing place where you are likely to be all alone amid the teeming multitude.  You seek to belong, because you find solace as part of something that is bigger than your mundane existence.

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Coffee House

Posted in gender, music, Rights, society by jrahman on August 1, 2015

As every educated Bengali knows, decades before a bunch of photogenic New Yorkers made it trendy, hanging out in a cafe — the Coffee House was cool.  Hanging out — adda –with your friends after work, who can’t relate to that?

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The Manna Dey classic suggests the great experience mid-20th century Calcutta would have been for young guys — the Art College graduate drawing sketches for marketing firms before making it to Paris, the reporter who would migrate to Dhaka (and write a great book on 1971), the Goanese guitarist who died young, the amatuer actor suffering from a romantic tragedy related breakdown, the unrecognised poet with cancer….

… and the girl….

Ah, yes, the girl…. the one who is supposed to be happy because she has a millionaire husband who buys her jewellery….

Ray’s Big City wasn’t a great place for women.

Much of the subcontinent still isn’t.

 

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সাতকাহন

Seven trashes collected by the senses.

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