Monday, February 23, 2009

Ekushey Celebrations and Slumdog Millionaire

February 21 is an important day for Bengalis - we mark this day in celebration of our language and the Language Movement. The UN also celebrates this day in honor of Bangla as International Mother Language Day [source]. Bengalis have a deep pride in their language and February 21 is often marked with passionate events about language, culture and 1971.

In Toronto, the Bangladeshi community is very strong and mostly educated. I attended one event "Liberation 1971" in Scarborough on Friday. Bengali readers of this blog know I have a soft spot for university Bangladesh student associations and usually attend their cultural shows. This show was held by Bangladeshi Students Association-Scarborough (BSAS) and focused on Bangladeshi's struggle for independence.
[Photo Credit:Shahryer Ahmed]

The skits were fabulous. The whole show was mind blowing. The actress pictured above played a mother who receives a letter from her son who went to fight the war. She starts reading the letter, and starts to break down into tears as she reads on. At the end of her skit, she falls down to the ground in tears, and there was not a dry eye in the audience. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant acting.
[Photo Credit:Sharihan Bhuiyan]

There were songs, all brilliantly placed and sung. These are revolutionary songs and evoke strong emotions, and the participants who sang the songs, particularly the singer pictured above, did full justice. Again, they were just superb and the show was fully worth a lot more than the $5 admission they charged.

The Oscars often inaugurate the cultural show season by the BSAs here in the Greater Toronto Area, and this year the bar has been set very high by the BSAS. The downtown St. George BSA usually has the best show, but they would be highly challenged to surpass BSAS's content and performance this year.

There was another event at the Danforth (the hub of the Bengali community here) and they even had their own Shohid Minar!
[Photo Credit:Spriha]

Again, there was singing, dancing, and all-in-all a good celebration of Bangla. The real Shohid Minar is of course in Dhaka.

All this celebration of Bangla underlines the fact how important our language, culture and music is to us! I in fact know of couples where the girl was non-Bengali and the first questions people ask the guy is "Does she know Bengali? Will she learn? Make sure she learns!" Not your "what does her father do?" or "how did you guys meet?" for us! You will find in Bangladesh even religious people send their daughters off to classes for music and singing. Preserving the Bengali identity is a very big thing.
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Speaking of the Oscars, yesterday was perhaps the first Oscar I watched almost, almost, in its entirety. And no, it was not for Hugh Jackman as some girls seem to be doing!

I was cheering for Slumdog Millionaire and it won big time, especially Best Director and Best Picture awards. It truly is a good movie. I attended this movie long before it was released widely and long before it became a "big thing" so in some sense (strange, I know!) I have a special fondness for this movie and am glad to see it do so well. And of course, a Muslim brown man winning TWO awards for music AND invoking God on Hollywood's big stage was just a bonus!

It's actually funny (not to mention strange) to see some Indians' reactions to this movie.

On one hand are all those proud of the movie and glad that "they" made it. Well, it's not an Indian movie! It's made by a British director, written by a British writer, and produced by a Hollywood studio. Granted it has some Indian actors (even the leads are British) and set in India but in the end - it's a Hollywood movie. But, you know, I am happy for them and understand their pride.

And then there are the other Indians who hate the movie and think it promotes cliches and doesn't show the "real" India. That's a stupid debate and this movie not only shows how MOST Indians live but raises poverty on the big screen - a subject many Indians would rather not talk about.

In the end, it's best not to take it so seriously and just enjoy it as a good tale and yarn. It may also be the first time a movie that has cricket in it (the children playing in the airport and one of the questions on the game show) as Best Picture at the Oscars so that's something!


Friday, February 20, 2009

OMG! OMG! OMG! OBAMA ... is.. HERE!!! *faint*

Today, on my drive to work, finally I heard something else on the news other than Barack Obama. Even if it was about the stock market going down by another 200 points. Frankly, the Obamania frenzy is getting a little sickening.

I have nothing against the guy. I think what he did and how he achieved it - is awesome. But .. wtf.. he just started the job!!! Give him some time, and judge him on his actions.

I admit he is doing all he has promised to do, and he seems sincere. But what really cooked my goose was hearing on the radio about a lady who woke up and went to freezing, snowy Parliament Hill at 4.30 AM to get a good spot so she could PERHAPS see the President!!!

Now that's really crazy.

And to everyone who reads this story "the President made an unscheduled stop at an Ottawa Bakery to buy some cookies" and goes "AAWWW... how cute!" I have this piece of news for you.

Nothing is unscheduled. NOTHING. They scoped out the market and bakery long before hand. How did Obama know this bakery is the one to go to, not its neighbour? They just didn't publish it on the itinerary.

Again, in the words of Thomas Walkom, enough with Obamamania already!
Obama may be a fine chap who has a good way with words. But in the end, he's their guy not ours.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

OK I Admit, Star Trek = Geek

I recently realized why a Star Trek fan is held as the ultimate geek. I was watching TV with a female Indian friend and suddenly Voyager came on. Being a Trekkie - I naturally switched to that channel.

"Uffo, what is this? Is that Obama?"

"Er, no." I replied. "That's Tuvok. He's a Vulcan."

"A what? And why is that... my God! A talking fish!"

"That's not a talking fish." I tried to explain. "It's a Talaxian."

I then launched into a "history" lesson.

"Vulcans are a race of intelligent aliens who control their emotions, while Talaxians are a group of another aliens in the Delta Quadrant."

"I see." Probably did not. "And that man with the triangle on his forehead?"

"That's Chakotay. He's an Indian."

"A what?"

"Aboriginal Indian." I hastened to explain. "Not your Indian Indian." I did not add that I have yet to meet a native Indian who had a triangle tattoo on his forehead.

"What's happening here?"

"Oh," I was recalling the episode. "It's a time warp field. Their ship has encounter a, er, anomaly in the, er, space-time continuum ..."

"You know, if they are going back in time, why are they going back to Earth? You said they are 75,000 miles from Earth...."

Not miles dear, I thought, light years.

"Er, I don't know!" (cheaper to shoot episode in LA I guess).

You know what, Bidaii now sounds much more interesting.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Why Are We Bad?

It was a rare rainy day in a small sheikdom in the Middle East when I trooped into the mosque to pray Isha. After prayers, I met an older uncle who asked me about my future plans.

"I am going to Canada". I told him.

"Good," he replied. "Go, study and then come back. Don't stay there. It's not a good place for young Muslim men."

I have mused over that for sometime. Even when I go back to Bangladesh, I have seen that attitude from people that somehow, people in Bangladesh are better Muslims then people who live in Canada (or USA). When I went to the UAE, I met people who snobbishly told me, "Why do anyone live in Canada, that too, a Muslim?"

Here are my reasons why I think we Canadians (and the West) are not only better Muslims, but better human beings that those living in "Muslim" lands.

In Canada our buses have spaces for the handicapped.
In Bangladesh you are lucky to make it to the bus stop if you are handicapped.

In Canada we say "Excuse me" when someone steps on our toes.
In Bangladesh we push people out of the way.

In Canada we live respectfully with the Jews and while we disagree on many things, we treat them as our friends and neighbors.
In Bangladesh Jews are the cause of all problems and the reason why there is so much war all around the world and after all, everything is Israel's fault and part of a conspiracy.

In Canada I can pray and fast on my own terms.
In Saudi I am beaten if I am outside on the streets during prayer times.

In Canada we elect our leaders the way Muslims elected Abu Bakr as their first leader.
In the Arab lands ... well, never mind.

In Canada when it is illegal to discriminate against a person based on his skin color.
In Muslim lands it's all about Fair and Lovely.

In Canada I can run my own business and not take interest if I have to.
In Bangladesh I have to pay bribes at every level and not to mention protection money to local hoodlums for every business.

In Canada molesting a women is against the law.
In some Muslim lands molesting a women IS the law.

In Canada we treat work as noble. A labourer at a construction site (work that the Prophet did) is as much a person as a doctor.
In Bangladesh, "they" are second class citizens and not even worth a mention.

We are open minded. We don't think it's a religious duty to beat our women. We don't believe in forced marriages. We don't believe in killing a woman because she doesn't cover her hair or describe them as "meat".

We pay our workers and sue those who don't. We read, discover and broaden our knowledge. We keep an open mind and don't pretend to act on God's behalf. We live peacefully with our neighbors even if they follow a different religion. Or even a different sect of our religion.

So, to reply to that uncle, "you are wrong. It's a great place to be a Muslim."

Sunday, February 01, 2009

West Coast Diaries - 4. San Diego and Las Vegas

I am going to do two cities in one post to get this series out of the way.

San Diego

San Diego is a bland and active city at the same time. We were here for three days, and the weather ruined one of them.

I found San Diego to be a really rah-rah-American patriotism kind of city. There is an American military base nearby and the city catered to them in a big way. Wherever we went, whether Sea World or Point Loma lighthouse, or even bumper stickers on cars, there were loud and proud signs proclaiming "We Support Our Troops".

Even at Sea World, the hostess would announce, prior to each show, "We would like to reiterate our support for our troops. Sea World supports our troops. If you are a family with a serviceman or in our forces, please stand up and everyone please give a round of applause."

Such in-your-face patriotism gets to you after a while. I am a tourist, I have come to see stuff, keep your troops and your war cries out of sight!

Sea World was pretty good.
It's just amazing how trained those huge orcas and killer whales can be. They would flop around, execute synchronized jumps, twirls and backflips, all at instant signal from the trainers.
Shamu Show

And the dolphins, wow! They could jump 16 feet high!
Dolphin Show

I didn't know if it was safe to buy food (even French Fries) though, given this sign.

Even seals got into the act. The finishing was a night time Christmas special show with Sea World's flagship killer whale, Shamu.
Dolphin Show

It was in San Diego I met Haleem and his lovely wife Mona, who live in Mississuaga, and were visiting San Diego at the same time as us, as well as my friend Suparna and her family who used to live in the Middle East before moving to the US. It's amazing sometimes you live in the same city and never meet up, and then run into each other in some other part of the world!

Las Vegas

Las Vegas was just a mind blowing city. It's one place I wouldn't mind going back to, again. The drive from San Diego to Vegas took about 6 hours and the scenary changed from brilliant green farm land to stark dry desert to mountain peaks filled with ice and snow, and then, as we approached the State of Nevada, back to dry desert again.

The famous Strip was everything I imagined it to be. Loud, gary, with flashing neon lights, music, busy with people, and even guys hanging around street corners, handing out cards with a number and a promise "Girls to your room in 30 minutes".

One famous aspect of the Strip are the themed hotels. Of those, I found the New York New York hotel to be truly huge. It replicated several of the famous New York buildings, and even had a coaster around the hotel/casino resort.

Right next to the Paris Hotel was the Bellagio Hotel. One of the big attractions of Vegas are the Fountains of Bellagio, shown in the movie Ocean's 11. We got a perfect spot by following some Indians who were chatting "Eha se dekho sab dikhta hai" and got the whole show on tape.
A different music was played for each show and those would be repeated every 15 minutes or 30, depending on the time of the day.

The waters would shoot 30 feet up into the air!


They say the Eiffel tower at Hotel Paris is really 1/3 the size of the real one.

We stayed at the Luxor hotel and resort, which is really a good location on the Strip, as well as having the uniqueness of living in a Pyramid!

Here's a picture of it during the day.
The famous Las Vegas sign wasn't too far from our hotel.
Las Vegas Sign
A bus runs along the Strip (it's called Duece) and costs only $5 for 24 hours of unlimited travel. The traffic on this road as well as the construction around reminded me of Sheikh Zayed road in Dubai.

Here's the "Eiffel tower" again in the morning.
Eiffel Tower

I did one silly thing - went to the Stratosphere tower in the morning. It would have been better to go in the evening (but then the lines are LOOOONG) so you get a view of the Strip at night.

I was just amazed at the detail of the themed hotels - the Venetian had the Bridge of Sighs, gondolas and even the arches of the Piazzas all proper!

We went to the Criss Angels show and saw him live! All in all Las Vegas was one truly great touristy city. Lots to do, even if you didn't gamble.