Friday, March 31, 2006

Marriage Strangenesses - Part 1

I opened BBC and saw this news heading.

Pakistan cleric radio station hit.

Wow, I thought. A cleric radio station that is actually a hit with the locals! What does it play? Not music, surely? Maybe cultural or religious issues with a dose of modernity? Eagerly, I clicked on the news link. And the truth shall set you free.

Let's move on to Pakistan's neighbour. Another BBC news article caught my eye. This is about dowry fraud. Foreign Indians return to the mother country to marry a girl, get the dowry and disappear, leaving a girl and her family scarred financially, socially and economically. I don't know if Bangladeshis face this problem - a few months ago the CBC (Canada's BBC) did an equivalent documentary, called Runaway Grooms, on Canadian Indians engaged in this vile act.

For me, the first thing when I saw Runaway Grooms page was this picture.

Runaway Groom

This is the picture from the CBC link. Note that the groom is missing in this ceremony. The girl is getting married to a photograph!

Now before you think this is a Hindu India problem or a rural problem, I have encountered a few such weird wedding practices amongst the educated elite in Bangladesh as well (thankfully no frauds).

    - Phone wedding (guy in Canada says I do, girl in Bangladesh says I do).
    - 'Proxy' Wedding. Guy is here. So he nominates friend or brother who is in Deshland to stand on his behalf. 'You may kiss the bride' not yet part of marriage ceremony there.
    - Text Wedding (now this is verging close to Maniac Muslim's online nikkah, but essentially the guy texts his "I do"s to the girl's cell who stores it in her inbox as 'proof'. Apparently, have not heard of this site.
    - Surprise! Wedding - Guy comes to get engaged, elders decide to get them married.
    - All Inclusive Tour Package For Ladies - Go for vacation back home, see the sights. Hotels, mealplans and one husband included. Usually accompanied by tragic phonecall to non-existent Canadian embassy.

So far, I have not heard of anyone who has gone to bed single yet woken up married (I heard rumours of a reverse case).

All this makes me wonder - WTF?! No, seriously, WHAT THE F***?!!! Has the so-called clerics in these small town villages or back home lost their minds? And what excuse does the immigrant, foreign residing desi have for submitting to this ancient practices? And that's the last part that bugs me.

If someone my parents decided to get me hitched called me up and said, "Ei, listen! I was thinking of saying our Bismillah Kabuls by phone, next Sunday there's a 2-for-1 deal, book an STD line and get an Imam free, how's that for you?" I would probably change my number and get an unlisted line. Not to mention telling my parents not to contact Rishtaa Aunty for any more rishtaas.

I have a bad habit. When I get interested in something, I research that topic thoroughly. I exhaust literature on that topic. A few months ago I got interested in Muslim marriage rules, though for reasons mentioned here. All of which has led me to compile a list of dos and don'ts every Muslim must demand in their prenup, or nikah-naama. Islam is good and beautiful, unfortunately some uneducated Muslims can be SOBs.

Since this post has already grown big, I will make that list part 2, iA.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Hell Hath No Fury ...

I dropped into a friend R's place (the one from Maternity Ward incident) to borrow a few DVDs. At that moment another friend, F, dropped in as well. While I was chatting, Bhabi (R's wife) asked us to stay for dinner - she had prepared chilli chicken.

"Sure, why not?" I replied. I had nothing planned. F consented too. Bhabi said she had to put the baby to sleep and excused herself. So we had 10 minutes to kill before she returned to serve us dinner.

For some reason the conversation turned to marriage and life after marriage. R, being the married man, began to share his profound thoughts.

"Man, marriage can be a constraining affair." R said. "You develop a tail."

"Tail?" We both asked.

"Yes, tail." R explained. "Wife and kids. Wherever I go, I have a tail now. I want to make some plans, I have to clear it with your Bhabi. Weekends, the kids have something to do, or there's some housework to be done."

"I see." This ofcourse, was running counter to my thoughts about marriage, which ran closely to how Bollywood portrayed it. Unrealistic - probably. Pleasant dreams - absolutely! R, a happily married man, was warning us to keep our expectations low.

"When I was in college," R continued, "my four roommates and I used to party into the night. Now I take your Bhabi to the movies - only if I can get my parents to babysit - and that's pretty much it."

"Moreover," R wasn't finished. "marriage is responsibility. You guys should now enjoy yourselves. Don't wear chains, don't ..."

At this moment the bedroom door opened, Bhabi had presumably put the baby to sleep. Since R couldn't trash marriage in front of her, he wisely shut up. Bhabi went to the kitchen, and pretty soon we were told that dinner was served.

As we tucked into the chilli chicken and rice, R commented on how tasty it was.

"Thank you," Bhabi had a smile, "but I am sure one of your 4 college roommates could've cooked better."

R had a puzzled look on his face at the reply, but continued to eat nonchalantly. Me? My spidey sense started to tingle furiously. Something was not right.

Soon, F asked how the new baby was treating her and R.

"Well," Bhabi replied, "the baby does wake up at odd hours, but you expect that. Joys and chains of being a parent, you see." She had subtly placed an emphasis on the word 'chains'.

Even R had a wary look on his face now. F and I exchanged glances. This was getting interesting. She couldn't have overheard R from all the way from behind a closed door in the bedroom, could she?

"Any plans this weekend?" I asked, after some time.

"No," Bhabi interrupted before R could reply. "R has to take us to my mother's. When you get a long tail you have to wag it - you see."

R almost choked on his food. Bhabi had a twinkle in her eye. When she glanced at us she had a hint of a smile. I knew now for sure she had overheard the conversation.

But how?

I finished the dinner quickly. So did F. We both bid adieu in a haste to leave. R looked at us as if we were abandoning him on a sinking ship, escaping with the only lifeboat.

As we crossed the living room where R had regaled us with the talk of chains and 'tails' of marriage, and for which he would now be in the soup, we heard a baby's cry. From behind the sofa. It was coming from a white object on the shelf.

Baby monitor. Ofcourse! Like a two-way walkie-talkie, baby monitors come as a pair. You place one of them near the baby's cot, and another to wherever you were seated. It worked exactly like the walkie-talkie. As soon as the baby cried, his voice would be transmitted to wherever you were seated. On the sofa. And as soon as you talked, let's say on why marriage is bad and has chains and tails, your voice would be transferred to wherever the baby was.

Or wherever the baby was being put to sleep by your wife.

And to top it all off - the baby monitors were a gift from me.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Bornona - The Real BSA Show

So, do you clap, or not clap? At the end of a rendering of your national anthem?

That was what I was wondering as Rachna started to sing Amar Shonar Bangla. My experience with anthems had been restricted to opera pieces sung at the Air Canada Centre during hockey games, where after the anthem is done you clap, cheer, hoot and spill your beverage 'by accident' on the visiting team's supporters. That would probably be against the protocol here.

Shim, the president of BSA (Univ. of Toronto), had changed his MSN nick for the whole of last week to 'the real BSA show is on March 24, Friday'. And I think that aptly sums up my take of Bornona, U of T BSA's signature cultural show this last Friday, at the St Lawrence Theatre of the Arts.

Other universities do put up a BSA show. Some of them even turn out to be very good. But U of T though, puts out something special. It's like the forever favourite that everyone tries to catch up to. Every year you see a couple of good performances and think, well, how will the favourite top that, this year? Well, U of T is the favourtite who always has one last trick to pull out of the bag to blow all competition away. Their shows have always been in a class of their own, regardless of how good the others were. For your $10, you get a seat at a posh theatre - probably the only time so many Toronto Bengalis attend the theatre simultaneously. There are cops to control the crowd, the technical details (lighting, sound, sets) are always professional, and that's just the frills.

The show started EXACTLY on time. I canNOT tell you how impressive this is to me, anytime desis are on time. For the last three years, U of T has started fairly punctually.

A word about MCs at these desi shows. You have all been to these shows where an MC (or a pair of them) will come on stage with microphones, say a few words about the next performance, read the names of the performers like a laundry list and disappear. Often, one will say it in Bengali, then another in English (usually the girl, leading to a few catcalls and jeers of 'Bangla Bol, Beti!!!'). Well, U of T changed that a couple of years ago. That year, the pair of MCs, Sumaiyya and Rifat (the up-and-coming standup comedian), played the part of a couple watching TV and channel surfing, where each program on the TV was a performance on stage.

This year, Sumaiyya played an MTV Bangla program hostess, interviewing 'local' Bangladeshis, while the music videos played between interviews were the performances. The locals being interviewed were a pickpocket (of Pick-pocket Inc.), a rickshaw driver (perhaps hoping to join the Bangladesh Commonwealth cycling team and disappear in Australia) and finally - which brought the house down - rapper Fata Lungi. All played excellently by Rifat.

As for the performances, they were all very good. It was a nice variety of songs, pop and classical, a live vocal performance by Mahbub of The Trap, dances (classical and the enjoyable), poetry and skits about life in Bangladesh (city and village differences being notably portrayed). I enjoyed the performances of Mashala Meye (Spice Girls) and Pichoner Golir Chele (Backstreet Boys) immensely (OK, this is the first time I have EVER used the word 'immensely'). The ending, by the BSA execs with a flashback to past performances, was a great deft touch and a suitable send-off.

After the show, came the after-show party. And that is another post for another day. At the moment, I am posting a few pictures here, but enjoy the full slideshow on flickr.

Rachna sings Amar Shonar Bangla.

Sumaiyya interviews 'Biddut'.

A pop duet.

An MD-digging auntie.

Aisha leads a dance troupe.

Another song.

The work continues for a village woman after sunset ...

... while a city couple prepares for a party ...

.. while some things are the same.

Mosholar Meye (Spice Girls).

Malaysian womens' heart throbs.

The protagonists of the natok.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Bornona Today, T's Birthday Party

I posted my thoughts on the Afghan Christian convert's trial on my political blog here. I don't have too much more to say on that topic except I wish people would just grow up.

Today is University of Toronto's BSA's signature event - their yearly show. This year it's called Bornona. I got a call from Asif two nights ago requesting me to participate in a play in a very miniscule role. I would have to play a village elder smoking the hookah on stage for a few minutes. Cool! - I thought - until I realized I would have to wear the lungi. On stage.

For those who don't know, the lungi is a petticoat-like cloth worn by men in Bangladesh, comparable to the dhoti - or a sack with holes at either end. My problem - I am scared I would tie the knot on the lungi so badly it would unravel on stage. A person's worst fears would be realized. That didn't stop me from telling everyone to watch out for me at the show, smoking hookah on stage. At the end though, due to time constraints, my scene was edited out of the script. So no lungi worries for me.

We threw a surprise birthday party for T recently at Mandarin. It was organized by his sister. Next time though, I should remember not to park my car right near the entrance of the restaurant so that the person who is getting the surprise party thrown in his favour can be truly 'surprised'. In my defense, it was a fantastic parking spot.

J's 'tattoo t-shirt'. The name was because one guy saw this from afar and got the shock of his life when he thought they were all tattoos.

The cake.

Even eating seafood only can still pile up to a lot of food at Mandarin's!

Outside Mandarin


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Illegal Aliens, Jilbab

The Conservative government of Canada is deporting thousands of illegal workers, mainly Portugese and Italians, from Canada. Many have come on a visit visa, some ten years ago, and have stayed on. They worked in mostly construction projects, paid taxes and generally did not leech off the Canadian welfare system. Yet, many are now given less than two weeks notice to depart Canada. As usual, the left is out crying "Amnesty", or the construction industry claiming deporting thousands of workers will hurt a booming sector. The right is leading with sloguns such as "follow the rules" or "join the line" or "illegal is illegal".

I am generally to the left of center, but here I would have to agree with the right. When my dad decided to move here with his family, we paid an exorbitant landing fee, went for an interview, got our skills evaluated, went for a medical exam, waited months, before getting the nod. After coming here, it was another struggle to assimilate, gather experience, education, transfer skills before being integrated into the social fabric. Illegals jump the queue. They come here under false pretenses, get a job and settle down. Then, when found out and ordered to leave, they point to their very act of breaking the law as reason for amnesty.

Illegals also steal jobs. It's no use saying no Canadian wants the jobs. If there is a shortage of Canadians to do the jobs, the government should bring in guest workers under a specific plan, so that employers follow the rules (minimum wage, safety standards and so on). An employer can hire an illegal alien, pay them lower wages, turn a blind eye to safety and workplace regulations, and the illegals won't complain. This also creates a class of work which now has a stigma so that no local will do the job. Witness the US immigration problem, where illegal Mexicans now pluck their fruits, make their beds, wash their cars and so on. Their illegal immigration has grown to such an epidemic that it is now impossible to deport illegals. Canada is doing the right thing by coming down firmly on these workers. I don't doubt their honesty, sincerety and hard work, but you can go back and reapply to come to Canada legally.

In another piece of news, the British Law Lords, Britain's highest court, has ruled against Shabina Begum's right to wear the 'jilbab' to school. The school she originally attended implemented a school uniform, and the jilbab was found contravening the school code. The Lords took into consideration the fact that the school implemented a policy acceptable to most mainstream Muslims, as the uniform was designed in consultation with representatives of Muslim students, who made up more than 79% of the student body. The shalwar kameez was permitted, as was the scarf. Again, I see nothing wrong with this ruling.

In a recent post, Muslim blogger Abu Sinan said women who wear the hijab but also extremely tight, revealing clothes (in other words dress like a whore with a hijab on) cause a disservice to thousands of Muslim women who are trying to win the right to wear the hijab to work, school and so on. I would postulate that women in the other extreme, who fight to wear the nikab, jilbab and the Afghan burkha on their driver's licenses, school and work places also cause a disservice to thousands of mainstream Muslim women who wear the simple hijab. I fail to see what was Shabina's problem, especially when the school took the pains as it did to design a school uniform to fit mainstream Muslim needs. If she indeed believed her religion required such extremism, she should go to a religious school that fits her needs.


Monday, March 20, 2006

A Morning With ATN Hindi

It was Sunday morning, and I was up early to catch the Indian test innings. After that ended, I was flipping through the TV channels to see what was on - I rarely wake up early on Sunday mornings so this was a rare opportunity. The English channels were either Oprah, or some Jesus guy *black men singing hallelujah at top of lungs* or *white man saying how he was cured of thrombonical cancer or some other weird disease by Jesus*, or some infomercial selling vitality pills to the elderly. Then I switched to ATN Hindi.

I have never watched any Hindi programs regularly. I did see a bit of Saregama but that was it. So when I noticed on the guide that the ATN Hindi channel would be showing a few of the famous series, I decided to watch. Started with Saat Phere. Pretty soon, I realized one thing.

Ever seen a child master some new magic trick and then repeatedly show every one that trick until you get sick of it? That seems to be the case with these Hindi programs. They seem to have discovered ... FREEZE FRAME.

Freeze frame is when, near the end of an episode in a dramatic moment, the camera focuses on the protagonist, and the image on the screen stops, freezes and becomes a still shot, with the words 'To Be Continued ...' rolling up. The Indian TV serials have taken this concept and applied it to every *friggin* frame of an episode.

Consider this (made up) scene:
Old Woman: Parvati, Woh tumhara saheli nehi, sautan hai!
(Parvati, she is not your girl friend, but your husband's other wife!)

Immediately Parvati turns her head to the old woman (what, she was not looking at the person who was talking to her for 5 minutes?). Then she turns again. And then she turns again. Three times she has to turn her face, make her eyes go wide, and scream. Accompanied by a dramatic drum beat. Three times. Then ... Freeze frame.

You think the episode is over. But no, Parvati now continues ...
Parvati: Nehi (No)! Ya aapko kaise paata? (How do you know this?)
Old Woman: Yeh saach hai. Sari zaidaat aab uske naam pe (It's true. All the property is in her name now).
Parvati: Nehi!

Repeat face turning scene mentioned above thrice. And again, the episode is not over. It's just a commercial. And pray, what commercial do you see on ATN?
Very sad looking loser guy (to a stranger in the park): I am lost. My life is in ruins. Kya aapke paas Ajmeri Baba ka number hai?
Random Stranger in the park: Ofcourse. For happiness, everyone must have Ajmeri Baba's number.

A number comes up on the screen. An Indian priest's mug shot. And a voice-over announces, 'For 100% guaranteed results, call Ajmeri Baba now'.

A thought. These ads cost money to run. And they are some of the most common ads on ATN Hindi. Which implies someone (and a lot of them) must be buying what they are selling. Hmm, maybe I should make a Muslim equivalent ... oops, already taken! Peer Syed Sahib's ad follows. All that is missing is a Christian dude and a Sikh dude, and we would have the full house. Again, all 100% guaranteed results. I wonder how the refund policy applies.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sony Ericsson w800i

I got my cell phone! After some research, I had asked my Dad to get me the w800i. It's still not released here in Canada, and I love it already. The interface got some time to get used to (there is a learning curve) but once I got the hang of it, it was pretty straight forward. There's tons of features on the phone, and I got Carpal Tunnel Syndrome on the first night - I was playing with those for over two hours! There's the really excellent Walkman (this is now my iPod), and the 2 MP camera is also excellent (you just have to be close to your picture's subject - zoom too much and it might be blurry). Here are some pictures:

My Aquarium

Monster veal sandwich at a Jewish restaurant near Bathurst.

If I have a 'sweet shop' I would probably name it differently.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Answering Machine Message

Sometimes you can comment on a person's outlook and philosophy of life by his answering machine message.

I called Jashim* (guy I know from intramural cricket) the other day and got his answering machine. When I heard it, I went back through all the messages this guy had over university. I remember the gist of those messages as it was a funny comparison to his state of life. So I emailed the following post to him and we had a good laugh. He had no problem with it being on my blog, so here it is.

First time I met him was during my second year - he had just arrived from Bangladesh a few days ago. He was a bit older than us, a transfer student to York, and played good cricket. Couple of days later, I needed a bowler for a match, so I got his number and called him up. He wasn't in, and his message went something like this. This was after a week in Canada.

"Assalam-alaikum-wa-rahmatullah! You have reached Muhammad Jashim Abdus-Sattar Noor [insert full name tracing lineage back to Adam here]. I apologize for not being in, so be kind to leave a message please."

A year later, the language now no longer a problem, and having gotten used to the Canadian way of life, the message went something like this.

"Hi!!!! [a very exuberant 'hi'] You have reached Jashim at xxx-xxxx. I am not in, so please leave a message, and I will get back to you ASAP. Have a nice day!"

Final year, Jashim is now fully entrenched into the student life. His dorm was the place to be for weekend parties, he had a girl friend, he was clubbing, and fully "with it". And the corresponding message (accompanied by a rap song with questionable lyrics) was:

"Yo!!! You reached the J-man!!! You know what to, so do it!"

I wondered if his parents called him ever.

Then came graduation. And the need to find a job to stay in Canada. The answering machine message became anglicized:

"Hi, you have reached Josh. I am out at the moment, so kindly leave a short message after the beep, and have a nice day."

Jashim ==> Josh. Maybe he should have chosen Jason?

Now, three years later, his latest:

"Hello, you have reached the Sattar residence. We are unable to answer the phone now, so please leave a message."

Needless to say, he is now married.

* Real name rhymes with Jashim


Ticket To Malaysia Needed

... the men are causing havoc among local women who fall for their good looks and charms, the Strait Times and AP said ...

[Full Article]

PS. Is there a problem with IE in reading this blog? I use Firefox and it seems fine.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

In Hull

I don't know what to make of this Hull couple I had the misfortune to ask for directions.

I was in Ottawa for the day, drove in early morning, and drove back to TO later (8 hours, never again). The Bangladesh government had decided sometime ago that foreigners who landed in Bangladesh now required a visa that would no longer be granted on arrival. Apparently too many people were coming to Bangladesh, getting the 30-day visa on arrival, and never leaving. Imagine! Bangladesh had an illegal immigration problem!

So I drive to Ottawa to get a visa stamped on my Canadian passport. They take my passport at the High Commission, along with my Bangladeshi citizenship papers, and promise to have everything ready in four hours. So I have four hours to kill. I contact my cousin who works in Hull and he tells me to come over for lunch. Hull and Ottawa are two cities divided by a river between them, and Hull is in the province of Quebec (the French province) while Ottawa is in the province of Ontario. My cousin gives me directions to his office, and I drive off.

After crossing the river and driving around in Hull for a few minutes I realize I am lost. The street names are in French, as well as the parking meters, traffic signs and shop names. I park at a curb on a side street and exit the car. Seeing an older couple walking ahead, I run across to them.

"Excuse me, I am sorry to interrupt you." In my most polite tone possible, I say, "I am looking for this ---- street, there is an HRDC office there opposite a huge watch repair shop. Do you happen to know where it is?"

The man looks at his companion for one second, then replies "Oui." That's yes in French.

"Great." I reply. I am talking in English. "Could you tell me how to get there please?"

Again, they look at each other, then the lady steps forward and rattles off the directions.

In French.

After a few minutes of her 'tournez à droite' and 'après le signe' I interrupt her.

"I am sorry." Still polite tone. "I don't speak French."

The lady replied, in perfect, clipped English, "You are in Quebec."

Then the couple turn and just walk away, leaving me with my jaw on the sidewalk.

Do they feel that strongly about the English oppression in Quebec? I went to Montreal and I never had trouble there - but it was a highly cosmopolitan city. I have always thought the French have it pretty good in Canada. When I was working one summer in the ministry, we had to publish every weather report in English and in French. I mean, who reads the pollen count of Winnipeg in French? Maybe I just ran into the Most Obnoxious Hull Couple of Year award winners.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Greatest ODI Ever!

I am in shock. I was in shock when Taiseer called me up to follow the game. I caught the last 10 overs. My "refresh" button is worn out.

Australia 434/4 (50 ov)
South Africa 438/9 (49.5 ov)
South Africa won by 1 wicket

I am still in shock. This is the greatest ODI ever.

Cricket at its best beats ANY sport for sustained drama, excitement and pure genius.

Ricky Ponting leads his shell shocked team from the field as the scoreboard shows South Africa's World Record score of 438.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Filmfare Awards (yeah, and Oscars too)

Warning: For Bollywood watchers.

My local Indian film store guy is the kind of guy who would probably give you the shirt of his back with a smile. It is because of nice guys like him that people like me can persist in my behavior of promising to return a 4-day rental in only a week and then keep it for two months. After finally returning Ek Ajnabee, I brought home the recently conducted Filmfare awards (the Oscar of Bollywood cinema). After watching the ceremony (thank God for the fast forward button during the boring acceptance speeches and some trademark cringe-worthy Javed jokes), I have a few thoughts.

First, the Oscars.

You suck.

I got tricked into watching the Oscars - that too because Jon Stewart was hosting it - and after the first hour I lost all interest in it. I let it play in the background while I read the reviews of the latest Prince of Persia game. The highlight and most praised act of the Oscars - a performance by Three 6 Mafia - puhleeeze! The Filmfare awards opened with such an act.

Second. Neha Dhupia and Emraan Hashmi. The former looks baaaad without makeup. And the later, boy when Emraan confessed in the outtakes that he couldn't dance - he wasn't kidding. He just stopped being a role model for all young kids out there.

Third. Here's another difference from the Oscars. The Oscars are the Oscars. The Filmfare awards this year was the FairOne Filmfare awards. Last year it was the Manikchand Filmfare Awards. Next year it will be the Saundarya-Sabun-Nirma-Detergent-Pepsi-Bajaj Filmfare Awards.

Fourth. The Best Action Director award was won by a woman (for Dus). A woman. Fighting. In India.

Fifth. Whenever Amitabh Bachchan's name was mentioned, they would show his wife Jaya, and then switch to Rekha. Everytime.

Sixth. Another reason why the Oscars suck. The Filmfare awards stage and the set itself deserved an award. The lights, which flashed and changed colours on cue during the performances, the screens, and the arches were all flashy. The Oscars - drab.

Seventh - Ya, I do notice a lot of things. Shiamak Davar rules. His choreography, in particular the Zinda Hu Mein song by Lara Dutta, was mind blowing. No wonder Will Smith - aka Willu Bhai according to Abhishek - was floored.

One more thing. It was nice to see the filmstars actually come to an awards show with their parents and wives rather than 'partners'. Almost every award winner thanked their families and their parents. Abhishek Bachchan paid a tribute to his father (and then they showed Rekha again).

One reason why Indian films are so much more popular across the world, from Sudan to Indonesia, from Arabia to South Africa, is that they are a lot closer to many cultures than Hollywood. In the Middle East cinema halls (in the countries where cinemas are allowed) it was not uncommon to see an Arab man in a dhobe enter the hall, followed by four women in bukha, all seated beside a Pakistani family in salwaar kameez and sari, to enjoy the latest Indian flick.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday: Fixing The System

"I was on vacation. I didn't want to think about that sort of stuff."
- A friend, recounting how a relative told him of his financial burdens.

It's Friday, and I am eating an apple during lunch hour. Blogging is good for sticking to a diet. I want to go out now and pig out at the dim sum place, but I ... must ... blog. And read the other blogs I read. By the time I am done, lunch hour is over.

I was thinking my friend's comment while stuck in rush hour today. You see, my friend is a good person. Even though his statement may sound insensitive - you are in Bangladesh, you are on vacation, you have stuff to buy and lots to see. And along comes someone you have never heard of but is distantly related to you in some manner, complaining about life. What are you to do? I wanted to explore that a little further.

Whenever our elders will meet, talks will evidently switch to how bad things are back 'over there', with all the corruption, all the breakdown in law and order and so on. As a youngster who has been brought up abroad, I can only listen to it and shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, what do you want me to do?"

Typically, solutions will range from one of the following.

  1. We must go back.
    This is the Swades solution. In my opinion this does nothing. What are you going to do upon going back? Whatever option you choose, soon you will be faced with corruption. Want a phone line, pay a buck to the phone guy on the side. Want to open a business? Pay the hafta to a local mastaan. Soon, you are not fighting the system, you are part of the system. And let's face it, we are not going back. We are too used to our comforts and lifestyle here.
  2. Return to true Islam.
    Whatever that vague statement means.
  3. Nothing will be ever fixed so just get out of the country.
    Usually the attitude taken by those who are already out of the country.

In my mind, there is one way to fix the issue. Education. We must churn out educated people by the droves in our home countries.

Think about it. Of all the many religious instructions we are given, praying, remembering Allah, giving to the poor and so on, what is the first revealed instruction of Allah to mankind?

"Read". (96:1)

What is the first thing Allah did when he created Adam? He taught him the names of everything. Knowledge.

For no other reason did the Prophet stress we have to seek knowledge, even to the 'borders of China'. He also taught us that the "ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr", from which we get the "pen being mightier than the sword". The early Muslims (male AND female) were some of the most educated in the world.

And how can we, individual expatriates, help?

We all send money to our poorer relatives to help them out. Then there is the Zakaat money. I personally spend Qurbani here in Canada, so I am contributing locally, and I give the Zakaat money to relatives in Bangladesh. Next time, when you send money to your relatives, keep a portion of it dedicated solely to their education purposes.

In our villages, there is great pressure on young men to abandon their education and help the father with his business, and for women to not have any education at all. Next time I am in Bangladesh, I would like to use a portion of the Zakaat to help offset the cost of education for any of my needy relatives.

And how would everyone helping their relatives get educated solve anything? Think about it. If you are educated, and get a decent job, will you be an extremist? A racist? A mastaan? If there are a huge number of educated people working, they will demand clean services, proper infrastructure, good law and order, where they live, and the government will be forced to provide these services. Most educated people would continue to live in their home country, helping it develop and prosper. If you are educated, you will be comfortable with your religion, and someone else's religion, and this improves tolerance.

T forwarded this video to me, called India Rising (ABC). India is a great example on how to move forward. This was a country that not too long ago was equal to its neighbours. Yet, a perseverance with democracy and education for its poorer folk are now reaping rich dividends. Check out the parts of India that are educated (Kerala, Bangalore) and the parts that are not (Northern states). You will find that the problems with infrastructure, corruption, law and order are far less serious in the former. If they can do it, anyone can.

I leave you with two sayings of the Prophet (pbuh):

"Seeking knowledge is a (religious) duty on every Muslim."

"Seeking knowledge for one hour is better than praying for seventy years."


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Top 5 Cool Things About Being Desi

I have never been a non-brown person, so don't know if any of these apply to a non-desi. But these are the things that are cool about being a Bengali/Desi.

1. War of the Plates
Ever since I can remember, whenever my mom would make some special dish in the kitchen, she would take a few small plates, fill them with the aforementioned food and send me around the neighbourhood, with clear instructions to bring the plates back. And the aunties who would open the doors would NEVER give the plates back.

"I have to wash them," They would say, or "I will send (insert her son's name here) with it later."

Few days later their son would show up with our plates, plus one or two of theirs, with some delicious food. And now it was my mom's turn to find excuses not to return their plates immediately. As soon as we move to a new neighbourhood and made contact with a few friendly neighbours, this never-ending process would kick-off.

2. Code Language
It's really cool to speak another language that's not the common tongue of the land. Let's say we go to buy a car. The Croatian salesperson is harping on about the bells and whistles. I excuse myself for a minute, turn to my dad and can rapidly shoot off in Bengali. And he can reply with his criticisms of the car, while the salesperson looks on with a nervous-but-polite smile. And being Bengali, we can switch between Bengali, English, Hindi, Urdu or Arabic (lived in the Emirates you know) as the situation demands. I pity the ScotiaBank commercials where the couple meeting a loan officer has to talk in whispers so the banker cannot hear them. With us, the word 'whisper' does not exist. Just switch to Bengali.

3. Desi Parties
Admit it. While we may make fun of them and pretend not to enjoy going to these parties, they are really unique. I remember one of my first white friends (roommate) in Canada making this remark when I told him about a desi party.

"Wait a minute." He scratched his head. "There's no rock music, no alcohol, no intermingling of genders, no dancing, and you manage to have a good time?!! How?"

Yes, I know. Puzzling, is it not? Not that I mind a little intermingling ...

And the food. Let us not forget the food. Especially the food. No wonder the British stayed in India for 400 years. I mean, look at their specials in Britain.

"Today, same as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before .... Fish and chips."

Meanwhile, even our BBQ (the easiest and least 'gourmet' cooking) has flavoured chicken. I cannot believe they BBQ chicken without tandoori masala. Hello? Putting Heinz's BBQ ketchup just does not cut it the same.

4. Nicknames
Every person has a nickname. All over the world, it's a variant of their 'good' name. So Michael becomes Mike, Abraham becomes Abe, and Elizabeth becomes Lisa. Now, switch to desiland.

Good Name: Mohammad Nabeel Abdus Sattar Shamsuddin.

Nickname: Bhola.

Huh? It doesn't make sense. The guy could be the smartest guy, but now for the rest of his life he will be 'Bhola'. And this is also another puzzling matter for our white friends. Once, a Swedish girl I know from our university heard another brown friend's wife call him by his nickname.

"Oh that's so sweet," She told the wife. "You have a nick for your husband."

"Ya," I quickly cut her misconception short. "That nick is also used by his mother, sister, aunt, friends like me ..."

And nicknames stick. We have two friends, both called Jashim. One is older than the other by two years, so we call him 'Boro Jashim' (Big Jashim) and the other 'Choto Jashim' (Small Jashim). For the last twenty years that has been their names in the community, even though Choto Jashim is anything but Choto now.

5. Adda
This is a Bengali word loosely translated to mean a 'get-together'. What it is, is a bunch of friends (usually ALL guys) who just hang around late into the night discussing all the issues of the world. Again, it sounds gay, there are usually no alcohol, no joints (usually), some smoking (NOT me), perhaps a little guitar, but it's amazing how long one can engage in 'Adda'. In university we used to just hang around at someone's place or outside (in summer) and talk about global warming, the new Chemistry professor or our non-existent love lives, and even now we occasionally get together with old friends. The song 'Purani Jeans' by Ali Haider (Pakistani), or 'Coffee House' by Manna Dey (Bengali), that perfectly captures the Adda moments.

Honourable Mentions:
Music and Bollywood.
Fish (Ilish or Hilsha).
Aloo Bhaji, Paratha and omelet.
Your mother calling you long distance at 11 pm to remind you to put oil on your head.
And so much more ...

  • Inspired by Lucky Fatima.
  • Narmeen on Desi Parties.
  • My tips on Iftar Parties.

  • Sunday, March 05, 2006

    Desi Toronto, Skating

    When we first moved to Toronto from the Emirates, the sight of a woman in a scarf (hijab), or in a sari, used to stand out. You did see more such women on public transit, as they were mostly new immigrants who could not yet afford a car perhaps, but the sight of one working as a teller in a bank, or a clerk in an airport Check-in, or entering an office, was always uncommon. I remember in our first years in Canada, my mom would point out a hijab-clad or sari-clad woman to my sister to indicate people wearing such attire did get jobs.

    Now ofcourse, such an exercise is moot. With the Ikea of Edmonton designing hijab uniforms (h/t: Abu Hurayrah), and women in saris (and a coat on the top) a common sight in banks and offices, the face of Toronto has changed drastically in the last few years. Whereas Stoney Creek was once known unofficially as Tony Creek due to the amount of Italians there, now people refer to Agincourt (Scarborough) as Asiancourt, Springdale (Brampton) as Singhdale, while Bramalea (Brampton) gets the nick of Bramladesh. When I started university on the Scarborough campus, our class size (for our program) was 500, with only about 30 desi people. When I finished, that class size was whittled down to 40 (less than 10% finished), and most of us were that same group of 30 desis that started. We are smart!

    Recently I was walking home with a friend, and as we entered our subdivision, we saw a white lady going for a jog, with her dog. We stopped and stared.

    "Look, it's a white woman," I exclaimed in surprise without even thinking. And then added the emphasis, "With A DOG!"

    We both started to laugh. This was Canada. Just a short drive north, east or west of Toronto will show you how white this country is. It is to their credit that they have embraced multiculturalism and immigration the way they have. Kudos to Trudeau.

    The browning of Toronto comes with a price though. One of my friend's working theory was that when you go to a fast-food-place-that-will-not-be-named (I'm loving it), you order drinks without the ice. He explained that the drink was cold anyways, and more ice meant less drinks. Typical desi cheapnesssmartness. And what does the fast food place do? Their working theory (I can't prove this but you try it out) is that if you order ice they fill the cup to the brim. Order 'no ice' and the drink will be filled a little less. And refills are no longer free. Yes, they have also adapted to desi people.


    I don't get brown people who will not let their kids go skating or skiing because it is too dangerous (you could get hurt naa) or because it is not our sport. Which sport is not dangerous? You think having someone hurl a hunk of wood at you at 100 miles per hour (cricket) is not dangerous? And what exactly is our sport?

    My theory is that one should try the local sports of the country you reside in (note: Formula 1 and NASCAR does not count). Isn't there some hadith stating all Muslims should be physically fit, and particularly boys should be good at sports? I know our Prophet (pbuh) was good at wrestling and archery, and encouraged boys to learn swimming (hardly a desert sport) and riding. Similarly, since one is now in Canada, desi people should not shy away from hockey, skating, skiing or curling.

    I tried skating for the first time yesterday, and can offer the following tips:
    1) Wear stretchable pants (for obvious reasons).
    2) Stay away from friends who are better than you but want to give you a helping 'hand' ... by giving you a shove.
    3) Again, don't trust friends who tell you to dress as if you are going skiing (it'll be cold on the ice yaar) so you put on ski gloves, triple layering and inners.

    Jokes aside, it's a wonderful way to spend a few hours, and I soon got the hang of it (I never went rollerblading either, so was a complete beginner). Just like skiing, the more you practice the better you get at it, and it gets more fun.

    It was a beautiful day.

    Harbourfront Centre, downtown Toronto.

    Yes, I can skate.


    Saturday, March 04, 2006

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    An Inspiring True Love Story

    The following is a true story of a Bengali girl named Sharmeen. I have changed the name and settings, but everything else is fact.

    Brought up in Saudi Arabia where her dad worked as an engineer, Sharmeen was sent to Bangladesh at the age of 18 to study at Dhaka University and stay with her uncle. Around a year later, her parents arranged her marriage to a young lecturer at the university. Five years her senior, coming from a good family, with a good job and reputation, the match seemed very compatible.

    Sharmeen recalls entering her marriage with all the hopes of a new bride, however fate had a different future for her. Her husband was not the good man he appeared to be prior to her marriage. He beat her. He had a temper and would avail the smallest excuse to find faults with her. He would resent her going to college to attend classes, and began to restrict her movements.

    Having been brought up in a sheltered life for 18 years, before moving on to her uncle's, and then marriage, Sharmeen felt lost. She turned to her friends for help, who upon hearing her marital troubles, deserted her. She did not tell her uncle nor her parents about her plight, fearing it would grieve them too much. She confided in a local Imam and asked for his help.

    "It is the will of Allah for a woman to obey her husband." He told her, "He has the right to beat her if necessary. You should just comply with your fate and pray."

    Sharmeen accepted this faulty logic. For two years she remained stuck in the marriage. Finally, after one night of violence, she made a decision. The next day, after her husband left for work, she packed a suitcase and left for her uncle's place. After she broke the story to her stunned relatives, she took her cousins with her and went to the police station to register a complaint against her husband.

    With the marks of her beating still fresh, the police had no problem registering the FIR, and her husband was placed under arrest, and spent three nights in jail. Sharmeen was now on a mission to free herself. She then filed for a 'Khula' divorce.

    Again, the Imam came to her and tried to persuade her to return to her marriage, calling on the weight of countless hadith and selected phrases of the Quran to implore her to do so. It was at that moment when Sharmeen got the full support of her family. Usually, in Bangladesh, the girl's parents try their utmost to make a bad marriage stick. Sharmeen's father, who had come to Dhaka, told the Imam that his daughter was not going back.

    It was then the Imam unveiled the husband's demands. As a condition of the divorce, he wanted so many rickshaws, so much in cash, so much in electronics and so on. And again, the Imam said, "This is a Khula divorce. The woman is asking for the divorce. Under Islamic law, the husband has the right to set the price."

    However, Sharmeen's father was no ignorant slouch. He replied, "At most, under Islamic law, Sharmeen has to pay back the dowry (Mahr), which was 50,000 taka. She does not have to pay a taka more, and you know it."

    When it went to court, it was here that Sharmeen got more help. The judge, on finding that it was a case of domestic violence, gave Sharmeen the option of paying absolutely nothing to dissolve the marriage. However, she chose to pay back the dowry, claiming she did not want a single favour from 'that man'. Her marriage was dissolved, and her father took her back to Saudi Arabia.

    She lived there for another three years. As is usual in the community, she was talked about in a derogatory manner. A divorcee! That too, the initiator! Why could she not tame her husband! Now who would choose her, and so on. In spite of all this, Sharmeen said she never lost her faith, and would always thank Allah for small favours, such as having no children from that marriage.

    It was after these tests that Faisal met her. He was an architect who had just moved to that city, and saw Sharmeen at a Bengali Eid party. In a very filmy manner, four days later he showed up at her parent's house, with his own parents.

    "I have seen your daughter at that Eid gathering." He told Sharmeen's flabbergasted father. "I have made some enquiries about your family, and all have spoken very highly of you. I want to marry her, and have come to seek your permission."

    It was very sudden and straightforward, so Sharmeen's family asked for a few days to consider. Their biggest dilemma, whether to tell Faisal about her previous marriage. From their talk, it was clear neither he, nor his family, knew. When Sharmeen heard them discussing the matter, she went to the next room, picked up the phone, and called Faisal. Without wasting words, she disclosed the tale of her previous marriage and divorce to him. To which Faisal had replied, "Are you married NOW?"

    Faisal and Sharmeen are now married for seven years with two kids. They moved to Canada around four years ago. When I had first heard of this story, through Faisal's brother who is a good friend of mine, I could not believe it. It was too filmy to be true. But it is true.

    Guess miracles and true love happens even in the modern age.


    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    I Need A Phone, Suggestions?

    I need a new cellphone. I wanted to order one sometime back but decided to stick with my current one.

    Now, my soon-to-be-ex cellphone has started to exhibit all the signs of old age. It shuts down when showing full power, cuts off conversations (this has to led to some *interesting* situations with some people). And, much to my chagrin and amusement, at times it randomly calls up people on my phonebook (Aitraaz-style). This feature, combined with the afore-mentioned cutting off conversations, has led me to conclude that I need a new phone. Since my brother and parents are vacationing in Dubai and Bangladesh, I have decided to get a phone from Dubai.

    Just as some people do not know the difference between 2 GHz and 256 Mb when buying computers, I have no idea of what the terms 3Gp, quad-band or MMS mean. I know I need a phone that
    1) has a clear reception and long battery life
    2) has excellent camera options (2 MegaPixels is what I want)
    3) has MP3 capabilities and bluetooth
    4) looks 'cool' and will last long.

    The last part is important, I am very reluctant to change gadgets. I graduated directly from tape Walkmans to MP3 players, skipping CD players completely. My first cellphone was an analog one that weighed a ton. If not for my phone company threatening to cut off services if I did not upgrade I would still have that.

    So far I have looked at Nokia 3250, and Sony Ericsson w900i. My budget is around $500. Any suggestions from more hip and informed people on this topic will be much appreciated.