Sunday, December 30, 2007

Taare Zameen Par - A Review

I saw the movie Taare Zameen Par yesterday. It was a choice of either that or Kite Runner. And frankly, I am glad I chose Taare Zameen Par.

Without giving the story away, it's about a kid who has a problem and his teacher, Aamir Khan, who deals with it and teaches the rest of us a thing or two.

This year saw two movies (Chak De and Taare Zameen Par) that were both away from the run-of-the-mill romances, minus heroines and starring the leading man in equal footage with the rest of the cast - and yet both look to be big hits. It is proof that there is space in Bollywood for non-formulaic movies - as a long as its well made.

Taare Zameen Par has a solid script, excellent acting and does not drag on or insert unnecessary drama when there is no need to. It is a simple story, told well. You can take your whole family to the movie and enjoy a great Eid and New Year's treat. Two songs from the movie, Maa and Bum Bole are very good and well picturized.

If you have not seen this movie yet, you should.

Rating: 5 stars.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Eid Can Be Fun, No... Really!

I was watching Little Mosque on the Prairie. I admit - I had given up on the show in the first season - only to fall in love with it in its second season. It's a perfect blend of comedy, satire, poignancy and awareness, all packaged in appropriate sized doses of humour. And the last episode was about Eid and Christmas.

Admit it, Christmas looks great. Decorating the Christmas tree, shopping for gifts, hiding presents, caroling, cookies, family gathering, decorating the house and lighting the streets - it all looks fun. And what do we have for Eid?

I used to remember Eids of my childhood in the Middle East and it was mostly fun. We would have similar activities - waking up early for the morning prayers, chanting "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Walillahil Hamd!", going around the houses, eating gulab jamun and roshogolla and shaan papri and parathas, wearing the new clothes (I remember as a kid loving the new Eid clothes so much I slept with the shoes next to me), opening the new gifts (the gun that let out smoke was great!) and then on top - Eidi! I mean - free money AND gifts - Eid beats Christmas, or so I thought.

Well, nowadays Eid in the West sucks. I am going to come and say it plainly what Muslims want to shy away from - Eid here sucks. And the fault is mostly of the Muslims.

First of all, not everyone celebrates Eid on the same day. Admit it or not, and don't chalk it up to "diversity of Muslims" - Eid needs to be celebrated on the same day by Muslims in the city. The fault is entirely on (parts of) the community, who want to celebrate Eid in union with their relatives back home. On the other hand you have our some others (hello Babar) who still wants to sight the moon with the naked eye and says no to calculations. So... I just wish we would ALL PICK ONE SYSTEM and stick with it. Whatever it is.

It's no fun calling up someone to say "Eid Mubarak" and they go "Ya? Well good for you I am still fasting!". Immediately you lose half the community there.

Second, it seems Muslims go out of their way to have other stuff on Eid. When this wonderful country gives you a perfect excuse to defer exams, get personal days or other reasons to avoid work and studies, citing "religious reasons", there is NO VALID EXCUSE to have exams on Eid day, or not take off even 2 hours off work for Eid prayers, or have other commitments not Eid related on Eid day.

"Where's Montu?"

"Oh he's at school - he had exams today."

"Montu, why didn't you defer the exams? It's Eid!"

"Oh, I just wanted to get it over with. Besides, Eid sucks anyways."

Third, do you plan on how to make Eid fun?

If you are a kid growing up in the West, how will that kid appreciate Islam when supposedly the most fun thing associated with Islam - Eid - sucks? Anything that has to be fun has to be planned. And Eid has stuff associated with it that is, believe it or not, fun.

If you are a young girl, did you plan a henna party? Call up other girls and arrange to have everyone come over to someone's house and have a henna party. Get some music, get some dance beats, and get it on. No, music is not haraam and it's all girls anyways.

If you are a parent, did you buy new clothes for all your kids? It IS a Eid tradition and yes, it is almost fard. Save some money, and don't say you don't have as it should be part of the budget, but GET SOME NEW CLOTHES for Eid. If you can buy new clothes on Boxing Day you can buy them for Eid day.

If you are a guy what are you doing? If the weather permits you should plan a family or friends day thing. BBQ, games, outing, movies, whatever! Make it a tradition. We had a tradition of a huge cricket game on Eid when we lived in the Middle East (Petrol Pump East versus Electra Road). Ever since we came to Canada it has changed to going bowling with the neighbors in the evening. Traditions change but having fun should not.

Right now our community here always has a Eid dinner on the weekend after Eid - and it's full of cultural programs (Bengali dances, music, songs and of course FOOD), but bottom line - the practises, the cooking (women complain about it but they secretly love it - truthful about most things related to women) - etc. but bottom line, it is fun.

Eid should not just be going to prayers in the morning in a badly organized mosque and then coming home, calling some few relatives and then going to the mall by yourself. Eid should be fun and it's on you to make it so.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Please Give Liya Your Support

My friend Liya's uncle is fighting a discrimination case today. Please head over there and give her your support.

This shit really pisses me off, especially after the Vancouver airport taser event.

And what pisses me off even more is the attitude of some people who then go "oh our police can do no wrong the guy must have deserved it, they get a lot of shit for doing their job".

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"I am not on Facebook"

A conversation with a good friend of mine.

Him: Give me the link to your album of your Bangladesh trip.

Me: It's on Facebook.

Him: I disabled my Facebook account.

Me: So you are not returning to Facebook?

Him: Yes, I am not going back to Facebook. I am making a point. It takes too much of my time and people are very immature on Facebook. I would rather not see that side of them.

Me: But the only online album I have is on Facebook.

Him: Go to the album and copy the public link URL and give that to me so I can see your albums without going on Facebook.

Me: But you will be seeing my albums which are on Facebook.

Him: But I won't be going into Facebook. Oh yeah, and send me those other albums as well, plus ... blah blah...

Me: So you will be seeing my Facebook albums, as well as those others, all of which are on Facebook, but you will not be going into Facebook, and thus still be making your point about how Facebook is encroaching into our lives and how you reject such encroachment?

Him: Exactly.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

News Around The World As I See It

So Bill Clinton thinks the media should focus better on his wife's "record". He also said "I would pick her and be here if we weren't married.".

For the, er, record, Bill Clinton DID pick someone else while he was married, and the only record I can think of Hillary is that she is Bill's wife (and she must not have done a very good job there too).

I don't know what bugs me most about Hillary. To me she is someone who sniffs the polls and decides her position of the day. I remember she kissed Arafat's wife once and the Jews in New York made a big deal out of it - then she became vehemently pro-Israel to appease them.

Then there's Barack Obama. The guy is all nice guy and then he wants to bomb Pakistan (hey, gotta show them I am tough, eh). Then people say he's not really like that just pretending to be tough to appeal to those who won't vote for him any way. Uh, sure. Whatever.

We also have Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (if you can't pronounce that think A-Mad-Dinner-Jacket) who wants to build a "World Islamic Court".
"Some international organizations, specially the Security Council, have not been formed based on justice. The way this council is governed is a symbol of injustice with global effects," the Iranian president said.
Er, sure. Justice, right? Given Iran's fantastic justice system, where women are put into jail for not wearing the proper scarf or be beaten to death for photographing a building, I am sure other countries are begging to sign up.

In Dubai they have smashed a major vice ring.
Dubai is considered to be the most liberal of the seven-emirate group, with a booming sex industry.Anti-trafficking campaigners say Dubai authorities often turn a blind eye to prostitution for economic reasons.
I mean, when you hire lots of poor South Asian men, pay them 4 Dhs a day, forbid them from going home except once every 2 years, and that too for mere 2 weeks, you'd think sex would be the last thing on their minds, right? Then again, earning 4 Dhs a day, and prostitution reportedly a "booming" business, the customers must be getting a bargain. No wonder Dubai is called the Shopper's Paradise.

Meanwhile, you know those Sardar jokes you are forwarding to me? Very bad news if you are in India.

Toronto is now the most multi-cultural city in the world. Someone now wants to build a 'black only' school here. What a stupid idea. I mean, next, what if Asians now want a whole chunk of Toronto to themselves (besides Scarborough, that is)?

And that's the News Around The World, as I see it, this week.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Woman Arrested For Naming Horse After Prophet

Medina News Network (MNN): A young housewife who is charged in Medina with insulting Islam and showing contempt for religious beliefs will be brought to court on Friday, the Shariah court has announced. Aisha bint Abu Bakr was arrested after complaints that she had named her toy horse "Sulaiman".

"It is true." Her husband, Muhammad, is reported to have confessed. "I entered the house and I saw her playing with her dolls and toy horses. When I asked her what game she was playing, she answered 'Sulaiman's horses'."

In her defense statement, Aisha stated that she did not intend to cause offense, and only mentioned that "Sulaiman's horses also had wings" in reply to a query by her husband as to why her toy horses had wings.

Some Islamist groups are also upset at Muhammad's reaction to his wife's 'travesty'.

"Rather than admonishing Aisha, Muhammad laughed until his molar teeth could be seen." A community member commented under anonymity. "His failure to 'correct' his wife is clearly another insult to our Prophet."

Medina's top clerics have called for the full measure of the law to be used against Ms. Aisha and labeled her actions part of a Meccan plot against Islam.

But in Mecca, the Islamic Human Rights Commission was among the many (secret) Muslim groups to call for her immediate release.

Chairman Abbas ibn Muttalib said: "Both the Government of Medina, and the media, must refrain from using Islam and Islamic principles to legitimise this fiasco, which may result in the unjust conviction of an innocent person, and which will only lead to the promotion of Medinaphobia and further demonization of Islam." He also stressed that Islam was the fastest growing religion in Arabia.

In a separate news, charges were filed against Aisha's husband Muhammad himself for insulting the name of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace be upon him) and hurting religious sentiments of Muslims. During the treaty of Hudaibiyah, Muhammad was reported to have crossed out the words "Muhammad the Prophet of God" and replaced it with "Muhammad son of Abdullah".

In issuing the arrest warrants for Muhammad and Aisha, the lead prosecutor stated: "We are an Islamic nation that cannot tolerate, be silent or be lax when someone, whoever he or she is, insults our Prophet and sanctities."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Do You Believe in Feng Shui?

I have started to become a big believer in that whole Feng Shui thing. I have been very grumpy and tired recently, and I have noticed that it may have something to do with the state of my room. I haven't really gotten down to cleaning up my room, ever since I came back, and everything is still in a clutter all around. ORGANIZED clutter though, I should add.

I mean like, I can say, "Oh, the charger for my cell? It's in pile no. 3. Should be under the receipt for the DVD writer I bought 4 years ago." See what I mean, everything is in a mess in my room, but I know where is it.

Or may be my grumpiness has to do with the fact that I have an exam tomorrow that I am absolutely NOT prepared for, and I am blogging when I should rather be studying.

I can't help it - the more I study - the more I don't know - and the more I am tempted to Facebook or blog. I mean, I am even secretly willing other people to update their blogs so I can have something else to read beside cost curves and consumer surplus and willingness to pay.

My life is now progressing from deadline to deadline. On this day I have this exam. Then from this day to that day I have this assignment due. Then start studying for this other exam. I mean, it's gotten to the state where I am unhappy November has 30 days, as that means 1 less day till December 4 which is when my term project is due. Oh yea, I work too, so have to squeeze those 8 hours in somehow. And it doesn't also help that Ahmed praised Heroes so much, that I got the whole season 1 on DVD, and now am hooked.

I will be so glad once the break starts.

On another note, I am leaving, again, for yet another conference during the Christmas holidays. And no, I have not confirmed the hotel yet, and still have to clear the credit card bills from the last trip. You deal with travel agents and shocking bank statements and international hotel receptionists who can't speak English and study 200 pages of demand equal to P=100-2Q with marginal cost = marginal revenue, and you will start to believe in Feng Shui as well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Things That Puzzle Me

  1. Why is it that no matter how much I work out, it's either:

    a. My weight drops but my tummy remains the same,


    b. My tummy shapes up but my weight shows no sign of dropping!

  2. Why are people in a hurry in the morning? What are you rushing to... to WORK? You want to be early FOR WORK?!!! Slow down, enjoy the sights... such as ... the following.

  3. Catholic school girls. Aren't you supposed to be going to a, oh-I-don't-know, RELIGIOUS school? Then why is your skirt so short? And it's the mandated uniform?!!!

    My question is: with that skirt, how do you keep warm in the winter? I know you think you are hot, but are you that hot?

  4. The Toronto police are calling a suspected revenge killing involving a gang member "disturbing". Why is it disturbing when a gang member shoots another gang member? I say let 'em shoot each other up and you arrest the last guy standing.

  5. Why do pedestrians get a mind freeze when crossing the street? Just because it's your right-of-way doesn't mean I can stop a 3-tonne car on the slippery ice going downhill if you just decide to step out in front of my car when the lights are green. You'll be right ... DEAD right.

  6. Why do I start getting hungry at exactly 11.45 am?

  7. When is my nagging cold going to go away?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sidr Anger

It is hard to be a Bangladeshi and not think about Sidr.

First, I was reading an aid worker's diary.
Then there are local policemen, people who are meant to be trustworthy, who are using this disaster for their own ends.

I heard one story of a policeman stroking a young girl's cheek and telling her that if she went with him, he would give her some biscuits.

The girl, who had lost her mother in the disaster, told him that he should bring the biscuits out if he had some.

But how long will they be able to resist these kinds of men?
Doesn't it make your blood boil?

Second, I was reading Rezwan's post on Operation Sea Angel. To summarize, in 1991, Bangladesh was overwhelmed by a huge cyclone. The United States responded on May 10 1991 by launching Operation Sea Angel, a relief operation that involved over 7000 US soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen. The relief efforts of U.S. troops are credited with having saved as many as 200,000 lives.

Think of this vast number and contrast it with this story. Last month, when I was in Dubai, I was at a store buying some bread, and got talking with the Indian owner. When he found out I was from Canada, he asked me, "so have you seen the California fires?"

Before I could reply, he continued, "Praise be to God! So many people dead and may God kill some more!"

I just ... did not know ... what to reply.

To be honest, it's not a one-way ingratitude. Hardly many people know Bangladesh contributed $1 million in aid to USA (that still sounds funny) during Katrina. Yet on my travels down South, especially in the Bible Belt, people were hardly bothered by what's going on outside their state.

"We should make the Middle East one big glass bowl," said one (it's a slang, meaning "nuke 'em"). "India, Pakistan, what's the difference?" Said another. "You guys are all weird." This was another (and I am not even from one of the two!). This ignorance and callousness goes both ways. Why?

"Bangladesh is being over-run by the militants." Said one New York junkie to me. "I know people are being dragged from their homes by the fundamentalists. They are raping Hindus on the street. We should send in the army."

*shakes head*

I don't know what the point of this post is. I am just upset at the scale of destruction and the callousness of people involved. I guess we can take relief from one thing - in 1991 the death toll was 138,000. This time it's officially 6000 and unofficially 10,000. It seems the early warning system and storm shelters have helped.

International Federation and Red Cross and Red Crescent Society:
Bangladesh Red Crescent Society
A/C No. 01-1336274-01
Standard Chartered Bank
Dhaka Bangladesh

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Hunt for A Red October Turkey

This happened during the Canadian Thanksgiving (Oct. 8), but I never wrote about it, so might as well post it now.

It was 3 pm Sunday and next day was Thanksgiving. We never celebrated it as such and for me it was mostly just another day I would not have to go to work. But suddenly, I felt the deepest, darkest desire to sink my teeth into a juicy, well cooked, stuffed turkey.

At that moment one of my Brampton buddies called. "Hey, what you doing?"

"I am going to No Frills." I told him. "They have a halal section and I saw turkeys there."

"Oh great! I am off too!"

I went to No Frills. Damn! The halal section was COMPLETELY empty. I never saw it like that. It was the first time I thought "man! they let too many Muslims into this country when a man can't find a decent halal turkey!"

Next stop - the local Muslim butcher store.

"Of course we have turkey, brother!" The Afghani guy told me. "It's X dollars per pound."

I did a quick calculation, and my jaw dropped. The guy was going to charge me $60 for a turkey! A turkey that is perfectly available in the non-halal section for $20!

And this is where I thought of a perfect rant - Muslim butchers who deliberately over charge you for meat because they know they got you. In fact I see no valid reason why halal chicken should be costlier - it's chicken! Which is why the No Frills halal section is good, the prices are comparable.

At that moment my Brampton buddy calls me, "Hey thanx! That was a great suggestion! I got the last turkey at our No Frills!"

@#!$^#@% him!

"Did you get yours?" He continued.

What can you reply? Of course I lied. "Yeah sure, I got mine."

"How much did you pay?" He asked.

"Well, how much did you pay?"

"It cost me $20." He informed me. "It's so many pounds."

"Ah," I answered. "Mine was only $15, and it's way bigger." Of course.

Dejected, I decided to head to the local Walmart - had to get some toiletries.

And guess what? They have a halal section too!

AND they had a turkey, for $15, at so many pounds heavy.

Moral of the story: Turkey is tasty. Yum!

Happy Thanksgiving to my US readers.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Things I Missed About Toronto

Yes, I am back! While a trip abroad without the stress of work and school can be fun, it's always good to be back. Home Sweet Home and all that. Here's what I missed about Toronto:
  1. Hot water and cold water from the taps.

    Unlike hot water and even hotter water (Dubai) or just ice cold water (Dhaka).

  2. Proper sized tea MUGS.

    Unlike the plastic cups (Dubai) or the miniature airplane-cup-sized-cups (Dhaka).

  3. Courteous drivers on the road.

    Unlike rodeo drivers (UAE) or naam-ka-wasta drivers (Dhaka).

    I just drove for a week in UAE and already my driving skills have deteriorated. People are amazed here if I speed up and try to cut in (oops). And I wouldn't have thought it was possible to drive rashly at 20 kmh, but Dhaka proved me wrong.

  4. Tim Hortons.

    No comment! :-D

  5. PROPER Chinese food.

    It's amazing how Bangladeshis are convinced there's no Chinese food like Bangladeshi Chinese food. It is almost a sign of patriotism to sing praises of Chinese restaurants in Dhaka. I have been to a few. SWEET! It's like they dip everything in sugar. Think Manchurian Roshogolla and you get the idea. Blech! Toronto is great that way, you got authentic cuisines from everywhere in the world.

    Of course Abu Dhabi is still the King when it comes to food. Even the pizza of UAE tastes ten times better. Next time I have to schedule a few days in Abu Dhabi just to eat. *drool*

  6. My car.

    May not deserve it's own entry but there's nothing like slipping into the driver's seat of your own car and just taking in the familiarity of it all.

  7. Just going to bed.

    Without having to bother with mosquito nets, Aerosol or the coil that gives you second-hand-smoke.

  8. Old people not farting or burping whenever they feel like it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Rongpur - Day 2

One thing about villagers, no matter what their level of education - the men and the kids are eager to be photographed. As soon as they see a lens they strike a pose. The women, on the other hand, run like rabbits at the sight of a camera.

Here I was trying to take a picture of the cow eating peacefully. As soon as the cow saw me, she charged up. Enter the cow farmer to the rescue. "Sir, let ME help you." And of course I had to click his picture with his prized possession.

People here are extremely proud, regardless of how little they have. And when they saw us coming, they would insist we sit at their house and take some tea. I had to engage all my negotiations skills to squirm away without causing offense. At times, their overt hospitality gets irritating to one's "Western" sensibilities.

The following picture is of the village washrooms.

I was surprised here when my uncle said villagers had a tendency to use the 'open space' to attend to the call of nature. Which is probably why it's not a good idea if you are a newlywed couple to go romping in the fields - you don' know who's been, er, busy, there.

"I built this pair of washrooms," my uncle said, "and have hired two people to clean them regularly, yet the hard part was getting all the villagers to use them rather than go for it in the open." Thankfully most of the villagers now use the washrooms. Baby steps for Bangladesh.

The above is the ancient way people still farm here in Bangladesh. Most farmers are too poor to buy modern machinery and the government is too busy fighting amongst themselves to help. It is such a shame that despite such high quality fertile land, hard working people and year-round-utilization of the farm land, Bangladesh is still not self-sufficient in food.

Most of the villagers I meet have a bad tobacco habit. At 50 taka per pack for the cheap ones, it's not an inexpensive hobby either. They sell their valuable land, stop their daughter's education, borrow more money to pay for a wedding, and yet will not quit smoking. And EVERY one chews beetle leaf (paan). Their teeth are red (and gone by the time they are 45) and they STINK - yet they won't leave their bad habits. A lack of education is the direct cause of most of Bangladesh's woes, it seems to me.

The above is a single kitchen unit. The room inside is where they store the cooked food. The room outside is the kitchen. Women use clay stoves to cook the food. And the fuel?

What are these stuff on those sticks?

Dried cow dung.

Very good as a fuel, I am told.

As I said, the people are very friendly. When I tried to take a picture of some ducks and hens feeding, they ran away. One little girl told me, "Don't worry." She then went back in, brought out more food (and chicken feed is expensive recently) without any thought and called the ducks to her again.

This was the strangest thing. The white dome like thing is the mimbar of the local Eid-gah.

Right next to it is a small shelf full of little cubicles. In each of those slots is a bottle of water, with the cap left open.

I am told when someone is ill or there is some misfortune in a family, the head of the family will take a bottle of water, read some prayers, then leave it here in the Eid-gah for the night. The place has a graveyard where lots of saints are buried. The villagers believe the spirits of those saints come and 'bless' the water in the middle of the night. In the morning the villagers come and get their respective bottles and drink the water. The problem is then supposedly 'resolved'.

Of course I didn't have time to test this theory, but I find it funny that Islam has been co-opted into superstition with such imagination by these unlettered folks.

Rongpur is an interesting place - too bad I don't have much more time and have to leave tomorrow.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Rongpur - Day 1

My uncle's house in Rongpur.

When I was asking him to pose for a picture, I told him, "Imagine you are a jomidaar (landlord) and pose like that." Very indignantly my uncle turned to me and said, "What do you mean imagine? I AM a jomidaar!"

The view of the house's main courtyard from inside.

In the whole village this is probably the most developed house (or so the guardian of the house tells me). Apparently people when they go by, stop and come to look at the house.

I am just glad the washroom is comparable to those fancy ones in Dhaka. Wherever I go, the washroom has to be good. Before, I had to, er, calculate and plan bathroom breaks for the whole trip.

The multi purpose pond behind the house.

My uncle had let some fry in the pond, the guardian used to feed them daily. Now those fish are really huge (pangash, ruhi, mrigel, kaatla, silvercup and more). And undoubtedly no food beats the taste of freshly slaughtered chicken and fresh caught fish, prepared and cooked right there with those unique spicy style that Rongpur people have.

This hen found this corner of the house, gathered some straw and built itself a nest. Now it spends its time here, incubating the eggs. My uncle says they are almost ready to hatch.

Other hens run around the tube-well. My uncles have built a tube-well for every residence in the village.

It was hard to refuse to drink water at every house we visited, but man - the water had a terrible taste! It was pure and clean alright, after all it's fresh spring water, but in these parts the water has a lot of Iron in it (Fe). They give the water a ... unique ... taste, not to mention a slight reddish tinge.

This hen called her chicks to her as soon as she saw me. And the chicks responded immediately to the cry, gathering under her as fast as you could say snap. "If only my kids listened to me that well!" My aunt complained.

The hen and I eyed each other for a moment. Seeing that I was not moving, she cautiously led her chicks, single file, to some other place, keeping maximum distance between as as much as possible.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

On The Way To Rongpur

I can't believe I am blogging while I am ON A BUS. In an hour I should be at our ancestral village in Rongpur, and the little modem that I talked about here is allowing me to check my email and surf and upload pictures while in between villages that don't even seem to have electricity.

Our trip started early in the morning, when we drove to the bus terminal just outside Dhaka.

Our bus was the 'executive coach' style - air-conditioned, lots of leg space, overhead bag cabins, separate luggage storage and comfortable reclining seats. And surprisingly, it's only 330 taka (at this time 1 CND is roughly 72 taka).

We passed many a local market (like the one showed above). Even while passing through sparsely populated villages I got why Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world - there seems to be a crowd EVERY where.

Perhaps this is why the government is sponsoring signs and banners like this one.

Roughly translated, it means "No more than two children, one is actually better." Rezwan talks on this issue here.

The following is a (bad) view on Jamuna Bridge.

Jamuna Bridge is the eleventh longest bridge in the world and the second longest in South Asia [wikipedia]. I remember before this bridge was built, we would have to disembark at this point and wait for a ferry to take us, cars and all, across the mightiest of the three rivers in Bangladesh. The ferry trip alone would take 3 hours. Now the whole Dhaka-Rongpur trip took 6 hours.

This is a food / rest stop the bus made half way into the journey.

I was a bit apprehensive about eating outside, but my uncle assured me it was safe. And not only was I impressed at the cleanliness of the kitchen and eating area (which was air conditioned, again), but more importantly the washrooms were CLEAN! Spotless!

Of course it was a bit weird to have a washroom which was both for males AND females. I mean it's strange to try and blow your nose in one sink while a woman was fixing her makeup next to you.

Bus names on the road are interesting. There's this line called Digantor, which means 'far and wide'. Except maybe the bus is perhaps travelling only 40 km. Bengalis have a tendancy to exaggerate. There's also the Digantor Express, which means it's moving 0.5 km per hour faster.

If you were slightly religious, you can fly Borak. Of course with the way these drivers drove, ANY one would start praying. See the picture below.

Now imagine that bus in front is coming TOWARDS you. At 80 km per hour. And you are going at the same speed as your driver is trying to overtake a rickshaw. Somehow, at the last minute, someone swerves, and you heave a sigh of relief. Until the next minute.

It's winter in Bangladesh. Unlike some other countries, Bangladesh has a crop for every season, and the scenery outside at times was truly beautiful.

Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to wake up early morning and capture some of the village scenes.

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