Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Eastern Plaza

Going out in the traffic of Dhaka can be a hassle. You pretty much have to plan your trip well in advance, and if you are going to a far away (relatively speaking, far = 5 km) and traffic is not in your favour, you have to devote the whole day for that trip. Since Eastern Plaza, a famous old mall in Dhaka, was nearby, we decided to go there yesterday.

The best time to go to a popular place in Dhaka, such as Eastern Plaza or Boshundhara City, is to go there during working hours on a weekday. It was virtually empty (again, empty is a relative word).

Eastern Plaza is one of those rare shopping complexes in Asia that have not completely Westernized, but still retains a good mix of the old and the new. You can get anything from cheap DVDs to the latest electronics (top floor) to old, ancient, cultural stuff. This picture is of some holud goods on sale.

One of the top attractions of Eastern Plaza is the whole floor of saree shops.

Almost EVERY shop on that floor is a saree shop. One after another gorgeous sarees line the windows.

An amazing thing I realized, even during my travels in Dubai, is that MEN sell WOMEN's clothes. In Dubai it was common to find men hawking women's lingerie and beautiful Emarati women in burkha waiting to be sized up by a non-chalant Indian man who would stare at their chest then hand them the latest in designer bras. Here too, men sat in saree shops and shouted their wares in top voice.

The traders would target the women who walked by and go "Oh Mishti Apa (sweet sister)! O Didi (sister - reserved if they thought the woman was a Hindu one)! Oh Bhabi (sister-in-law)! Oh Aunty!" The addressing was based on what they thought the woman's age and marital status was. Many Bangladeshi woman counted their age as to when they progressed from one stage to the other. The moment sellers called them as "Oh Aunty" was the time they took a tasbeeh in their hand and started to count themselves as senior citizens.

The sarees themselves were all inspired by Indian designs.

Indeed, most of the top stuff was Indian or Pakistani.

I find an amazing amount of inferiority complex amongst Bangladeshis here. Most people like to boast of how their stuff is 'imported' or 'not local'. Coming from "Proudly Canadian" to "Apa! This saree is good stuff, direct from Bombay!" or "This sandal is good, it's Pakistani!" takes a bit of used to.

Even the dolls look nothing like normal Bengali women! Yes, they call them 'dolls' here. "Apa! Oi doll-er shari ta dekhen na!"

Of course I am surprised by how seemingly expensive stuff is. Yes, if you convert to Canadian dollars it's not that much, but people here don't earn in Canadian dollars. A good saree is 35,000 taka. Can you imagine paying 35,000 for a dress? A gold set is 6 lacs taka. A designer blouse and dupatta set is 4000 taka. And so on.

I am also amazed at how fast people count money. I couldn't count money as fast as normal people here - they are used to handling large bundles of moolah - this trader counted the stack of 500 taka notes as fast as any machine at a bank, and they weren't laid out in the same direction!

One great thing about Bangladesh, and which we in the West should take note of, is how quickly they have completely eradicated polythene bags. All bags are by law paper bags now (been like this for over 3 years). They are strong, don't tear, yet environment friendly, and completely easy to dispose of if needed. Whereas plastic bags used to clog up the drains and litter the streets of Dhaka, these paper bags and the successful implementation of the policy is something Bangladesh can be proud of.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Positive Changes in Dhaka

As our car winded through Airport Road on its way into Dhaka, towards my uncle’s residence, I could not help but notice – the streets were very, very clean. In normal times, the roadside would be littered with garbage, flies hovering and a strange, pungent smell drafting towards the vehicles caught in a traffic jam. Now, there was no litter. There were no tokais. There were dustbins and the garbage was in the bin, with the lid shut.

I asked my uncle about this. It seems the new caretaker government had given thorough instructions to clean up the streets and made many of the roads rickshaw-free, thus preventing them from clogging up traffic. Yes, the roads are still jammed at many places, but for some reasons it seems there’s less pollution than before.

If you read the Western media (in particular Time magazine) you would think Bangladesh was a hotbed of jamaat activists and the country was being taken over by a religious fundamentalist party, choking under Martial law and so on. As I wander through the crowded streets of Dhaka, in my eyes nothing could be further from the truth.

There are a huge number of young women on the streets, heading to work at the large number of multi-national companies that have set up office in Motijheel and Gulshan. Every alley has a computer shop, or a computer literacy program or an English language school. Everyone has a cellphone. Even our maid servant has one!

The biggest benefactor seems to be internet surfers in the country. I came prepared for bad connections, extremely poor speeds and days without the net.This little device above is a USB modem. Inside, it contains a tiny SIM card. All I had to do was install a tiny software. Once it was done, I just plugged in the USB modem. And within seconds I was online.What it does is connect to the cellphone network in Bangladesh. Thus, anywhere you have a cell reception, you have internet. From the tea gardens of Sylhet to the mountains of Chittagong, you are online. Bangladesh seems far ahead of neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bhuttan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, when it comes to the Internet. Even India cannot boast of 100% wi-fi capability, while Bangladesh can (conceding of course India’s huge size). I went shopping today and on the way in the car I was surfing! Speed is not bad (234 kbs) which is good for surfing and browsing, while downloading is not that bad.This is near Ashulia, a popular destination for couples and for picnics. It's hard to imagine a more tranquil spot, right next to some fertilizer factories (!) but Bangladesh is such, a land of contrasts. The old and new, simultaneously co-existing, often with trouble, sometimes without.For me, this contrast is symbolised perfectly by the above love sunset, near a fantastic still green lush paddy field, seen through the hazy smog from nearby factories. Even this peace is welcome, given that in a few weeks I have to return to the sub-zero temperatures of Canada and months before I see any greenery on the trees.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shopping In Dubai

It's so easy getting sucked into this class thing. We were waiting for the bus here in Dubai. I didn't want to get on the bus but rather take a taxi. The reason: "all the people on the bus are this labour class". It's funny how one wouldn't think twice about such factors in Toronto but it's so blatant here in Dubai.

No why would one come into this old place, called Cosmos Lane, leaving behind the glittering malls for which Dubai is famous?

Because it has places like this:

Dubai is crazy. They were tearing up the roads to build more malls and buildings. The remaining roads therefore got busy and jammed. So they decided to relieve the traffic jam by building a metro rail line. So to build the metro line they have to now tear up more roads ...

Then we found this:

Oh, halal unhealthy food! It's great when you can eat anything you want without checking the ingredients or being restricted to vegetables or filet-o-fish.

We had this.

(Note: This was for three people!)

Our bus stop is called Hor Al Anz. Now it's funny when I first heard the name.

"Whore Al What?"

They DO pronounce it 'whore'!

"Yeah," My uncle instructed. "You want to get off at the whore..."

And then, on the bus, "Is it far to get to the Hor?"

"No, no." The Somalian bus driver replied. "The whore is not too far. You sit back ok? Nice ride ..."

The Dubai bus system is awful, a bad copy of a Western system. The most glaring fault was a special section of 6 seats for the ladies. By itself, that is not a bad idea. But then what happens when more than 6 ladies try to get on the bus?

"Sorry, no space!"

Though I wouldn't mind seeing more of Lara Dutta on the side of TTC bus stops.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Immigration was a breeze. No words were exchanged; I just walked and handed over my shiny new blue Canadian passport. The Arab man in a dishdasha behind the counter took, glanced through it, and fed it through a machine, before picking a big peg and stamping my passport. It was given back to me, and I grabbed my bags and headed for fetching my baggage.

As I walked out of Immigration, I glanced back at the section called “Visa Delivery”. A long line of brown men stood impatiently, waiting their turn, while bored policemen dressed in green kept a wary lookout. In another world, that would also have been me in that line, waiting to collect a visa to enter the country. Yet now I just wave the magic Canadian passport and breeze through. Another Sri Lankan man dressed in blue overalls stood waiting with a cart, ready to help me with my luggage.

It’s a strange class system they have here. Brown, uneducated men from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India toil and slave to build the facilities for the Arabs to wine and dine and impress their white business clients, who then sign contracts worth millions to hire more brown workers for sub-minimum wage to build yet another imaginative piece of architecture. The road to Dubai is a highway through the sandy desert. It reminds one of the fact that stripped of all of its artificiality, Dubai could just have been another sand strewn city in the Middle East.Instead, Dubai is about exporting and selling dreams. People buy property because other people are buying property, and thus developers built yet more property. Right from the airport, to the shuttle ferrying me into the city, through huge billboards on the side of the road, all I saw were advertisements from the huge number of real estate on sale here. I had heard that over half the world's cranes were in Dubai, and it seemed to be true.Dubai's most famous landmark - the seven star hotel and the accompanying beach resort. I did think about staying here rather than my relative's place - I just didn't have the $4000 per night on hand.Almost missed this! The Burj Dubai, having now replaced the CN tower as the world's tallest free standing structure, in all it's glory.

I took the pictures from the back of a car, and haven't gone out yet (I am up wide awake in the middle of the night here, still going through jet lag). Hopefully, in the coming few weeks, I will get the chance to explore this fascinating city more.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Meanwhile, in Pakistan ...

WHY is a woman who has been charged with numerous cases of corruption suddenly the best hope for democracy in Pakistan?

WHAT does anyone achieve by killing innocent men, women and children?

WHEN will this madness desist from Muslim countries?

HOW does a bunch of terrorists get the label of an "Islamist" party?

WHO will the fundamentalists blame here? The Jews? The US? The ...

WHERE can I find some solace to numb the anger that I now feel ... the anger that comes from watching the scenes of dead and dying and hurt people, knowing the people who did this, did this without remorse and if, given the chance, will do it again? Can people be truly so monstrous?
Verily, We created man of the best stature (mould),
Then We reduced him to the lowest of the low.
- Surah Tin, 4-5.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

About those virgins ...

Abdul discovered that the benefits of the 72 virgins were perhaps greatly over-exaggerated.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

You Know It Must Be Eid When ...

  1. You have already decided that Eid will be on Saturday, even though there is a chance it could be on Friday, because Saturday is more convenient.

  2. You already have a list of mosques that will 'celebrate' Eid on Saturday just so you have a backup.

  3. worked 364 days a year but you know it will crash today.

  4. Your sister has decided there will be a girls' henna party at your place and you are told you will have to vacate the house. All this without even consulting you.

  5. You don't mind because you are going out for sheesha with friends anyways (hey! Ramadan is over).

  6. Eid is declared on Saturday. Great! Now you can change your MSN nick to "Eid is on Saturday". And still some people will message you "So Eid is on Saturday? Not Friday?". You wonder how they passed university.

A very joyous Eid Mubarak to all my readers.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Goodbye Inzamam

It was a crisp Spring day that March in 1992 and I was just another ten year old waiting to be picked up by my father outside our school yard. As soon as I saw his blue Toyota I ran up and opened the door. Even as he was asking me how my day had been I blurted out, "What's the score?"

He shook his head. "New Zealand has made 262, and Pakistan has already lost their opener."

He drove home quickly, and I ignored all of mom's admonitions as I switched on the TV. Pakistan were in desperate straits - 140-4 and not too many overs left. Pakistan had reached this semi-final with the Mother of All Good Lucks; they needed to win every match and needed EVERY other result to go their way - and it all had happened. But now, New Zealand seemed poised to stop their march to the finals.

Enter Inzamam.

A whirlwind 60 runs of 37 balls later, Pakistan was in the driver's seat, and never looked back.

Those were my first memories of Inzamam. I have grown up watching cricket and of the few of legends that played cricket along this time, Inzamam and Tendulkar would probably rate the most for giving me the greatest pleasure. And now Inzamam is retiring, and Tendulkar may do so soon.

Inzamam was unique - he was a chubby fellow who seemed reluctant to run. When in cricket you win by having more runs than the opposition, he was the enigma. A fat man who just stood at one end and biffed the bowlers all over the park he gave the rest of us mere mortals, the aspiring sports stars without the six-pack or the biceps - the Hope - that yes, we too can make it. He was our hero.

I began to hate the Pakistan team in the mid-90s. A team full of arrogant stars who thought they were the be-and-all of cricket. And in the midst of all those egos, one humble man set himself apart - Inzamam.

I remember his quiet personality before the 2007 World Cup, when someone had accused the team of becoming too religious. "Those who say such things are neither religious nor have they played cricket" was his response. Alas, the World Cup was not too kind for him, and forced him to have an emotional retirement in his last ODI game.

Today, Pakistan once more find themselves in a strife. They lost the first match against South Africa, and need to win here in Lahore to draw the series. South Africa are already ahead by a tall score. The openers are unreliable against a pacy South African attack.

Enter Inzamam. Will he save the day for Pakistan yet again, just as he has done many a time for the last decade, for the last time? In four days, we will know. But for now, I will forget the context, the match situation, the sub-plots. Instead, I would watch Inzamam the legend bat - for the very last time.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Things I Learnt From The Movie Train

When I was a kid, my biggest concern was whether Lion-O would complete the Anointment Trials to become the true Lord of the ThunderCats, or whether my sister was going to finish that last piece of chicken. Apparently, I did not know that Bollywood Indian movie kids on the other hand are very smart and keep up with what their parents are up to, even including details of their love life.

Of course, if you are under stress, haven't talked to your wife properly in months, always sniping and fighting with her, have monetary issues, and your child has a health problem, all it needs to solve ALL those issues is for your wife to ask you for sex.

Using innuendos of course, remember, you are still desi (brown).

I don't know why I cut the next scene - except perhaps because it has the name (almost!) of one of my favourate bloggers.

Well, if after all that (smart kid, horny hot wife, good job and house) you still want to commit adultery, it doesn't hurt that the other lady is oomph!-worthy. Where did you meet her? On "The Train" - hence the name of the movie.

Alas, the only time one hot young lady offered to pay my fare on the subway was ... let's see ... NEVER.

I mean, I even had the drunk-looking "I-am-so-hot" look that Emran Hashmi gives here.

I think my fast has already been lightened, to balance it I think I should go watch some movie that deals with Islamic stuff - you know - like The Kingdom.

Previously: Things I Learnt From The Movie Vivah

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lameass Conversations of The Week - 4

Hena: So are you going to the club social?

Me: If Aaron and Khaled goes, and if Khaled is giving me a ride back, I will go. Otherwise if they can't go, but I am done my studies AND my paper, I will still go. Else I won't go.

Hena: Jeez, You are a computer programmer alright!
* * *

So this newlywed friend of mine, R, dropped in from out of town with his wife. We hooked up with a bunch of other guys and went out for dinner. R was the youngest in our group of friends, and being the youngest and a student, while the rest of us were the working bunch, most of the time we treated R and never let him pay much. So today, R decided to treat us in honour of his newlywed status. He also did not want his new wife to know that this was the first time he was treating the group.

So he took out his gold VISA card, made us order a whole bunch of dishes, and with great pomp and show signed the bill and added a generous tip. It was all going so well for him too - until the over-friendly waitor came back and told him, "Sir, you need to sign the back of the credit card. It looks new, sir, have you never used it before?"

If looks could kill ...
* * *

I go to the IT Help Desk.

"Hi, can you help me configure my laptop for the university wireless network?"

"Um," the guy behind the Help Desk replies. "We have this hour long information session we hold. You have to attend those."

"I don't have an hour." I told him. "It's just a simple thing, can you just take a look?"

"Sorry." He goes. "We can't help you individually. If we help you we have to help every body."

And I am thinking, "And you are called the Help Desk because ..."

Link: Previous Lameness