imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for the ‘Impressions’ Category

Aug 23,2009

Delwar Hussain writes about  ” the frenetic urban growth of Bangladesh’s capital..”

Apr 15,2008

Jacqui Spliff

The procession of Labour cabinet ministers visiting Bangladesh continued this month. Jacqui Spliff, correction Smith, had a few things to say at the British High Commisioner’s residence the other day. Like her predecessor, the offensive John Reid, this Home Secretary also is obsessed focussed on terror. I wonder if she will flesh out some of the points she made below. They elevate the status of Bangladesh as a terror exporting country. Certainly, last January, this assessment by the foreign powers had something to do with what transpired in the country.

And this week Jacqui revealed that there were currently 30 active and ongoing terror plots in the UK. And some 2000 people involved. Well, I never…whoa etc. Like in true Tony Blair style, this government wants people to be scared. And scared people will accept anything including of course the lengthening of detention of terror suspects to an unprecedented 42 days. ( If you recall Tony tried 90 days and was defeated).

The labour party no longer uses the phrase “war on terror” but otherwise all things remain the same. Anyway, this is what Jacqui had to say in Dhaka:

There is a potential linkage between terrorists in Britain and terrorists in Bangladesh and we have shared interest and endeavor to tackle it through both short- and long-term measures…


We agree with the US analyses about HUJI-B [Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh] as a potential threat.


We value our counter-terrorism relationship with Bangladesh very highly.

Feb 12,2008

Did you read with glee that the beach at Cox’s Bazaar and the forests of the Sunderbans have been voted the top two natural wonders of the world. Yep, so did I. But I also read with trepidation that the army is engaged in 15 beautification projects? Oh dear.

League table here

Video here 

Jan 15,2008

Lonely Planet Guide on Bangladesh

If you drive around Dhaka, you will find street urchins and adults approach you with paperback books. Copyright is not a major headache in Bangladesh, and facsimiles of popular books will be on offer - just like the foreign DVD market. Anyway, a couple of years ago I let slip my high moral principles about intellectual property and bought a Lonely Planet Guide for 100 takas. I have lots to say about parts of it…but overall it was not that bad. I say this grudgingly because Lonely Planet guides are notoriously xenophobic in my opinion. Its guides to Ecuador, Peru and Colombia - my honeymoon destinations - were all full of xenophobic bilge. Anyway, I look forward to this new installment on Bangladesh. And just by chance, whilst using the social network browser Flock ( its damn good - try it!) I discovered these photos on Flickr from a recce trip by the Lonely Planet Guide photographer ( presumably). Take a look. Very interesting shots.

Lonely Planet Guide on Bangladesh?

Odious blogs

Jul 6,2007

I came across a particularly odious Bangladesh related blog recently. I could only read one article and so really I cannot comment on the rest of this cretin’s blog. The particular post I refer to is entitled “What kind of culture embraces wrestling but rejects toilet paper?” He is on a PRA exercise in Sylhet with his NGO and makes this puerile and stupid observation. I guess he wants to appear funny and smart to his mates back home.

It was many years ago when I first read Robert Chambers’ eloquent critique of PRA techniques. They are a move away from traditional and fruitless methods used by geographers, anthroplogists, economists etc but like any social technique there are inherent weaknesses. And with people like the cretin above, deeply mired in prejudice and his own “values,” such methods don’t have a hope in hell.

Jun 20,2007

According to the 2007 Worldwide Quality of Living Survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Dhaka is one of the worst places you could find yourself in. At first I thought this consulting outfit was simply reproducing the views of Mohiuddin (the recently repatriated murderer of Sheikh Mujib) but it turns out their assessment is based on levels of medical service provision and sanitation. The dear old city ranks just above Baku in Ajerbaijan BUT below hell-holes in Madagascar and Haiti! Of course North America turns out to have the best cities. Again Mohiuddin and his supporters would agree there.

Check out the summary HERE.  Mercer’s own site HERE.

Yunus cocks up again

May 9,2007

How does he do it? This man has gone to pots after his Nobel award. It is one thing not to want to enter politics but its another to pass on the chance of presenting a case for the Bangladeshi garment industry at the US Senate for duty free access…yes read that again…DUTY FREE ACCESS to the US market. Read HERE. The garments industry has employed expensive lobbyists and has banked all hopes on this access. And what does he do? He is too busy to go…..Its probably his night-in when he hand polishes his nobel award? The term “wally” does not describe it…..He is liked by all and sundry and especially the unthinking and uninformed. So it would have been a walkover at the senate. And he bottles it…

On second thoughts I will reproduce the article below because Daily Star links are notoriously ephemeral these days:


Love…Baul style

Feb 14,2007

Well if you want a slightly stereotypical view of Bauls read this piece in the Newropean Magazine. Actually it is such fun that i will reproduce it below. I don’t mean to criticise the learned Rene Wadlow but i wonder if he has spent any time with Bauls? I have a little, and these days they are as different from each other as you and I. Anyway that is a minor point. Here is what the learned professor has to say ( and keep reading otherwise you will miss the bit about tantric sex. Yummy):

The Bauls: The Dionysiac Minstrels of Bengal

“Why do you keep looking for the Man of the Heart
in the forests, in solitude?
Turn your attention this time
To the grace and beauty within your soul.”

So begins one of the songs of Lalon Shah of Bangladesh probably the greatest of the Baul singers. The message is simple, yet its appeal is universal. In his songs, he tears down the barriers of caste and creed, the walls that separate man from man. Lalon Shah who died in 1890 composed many thousands of songs, passed down orally from disciple to disciple, only a small number have survived such as his song on the moon, which is a strong Baul symbol:

By great good luck one may see that moon.
It has no dark spots.
In it lies the golden abode of the Unknowable.
In the world of the moon there is no play of day or night.

Who are these Bauls? The Bauls are a class of minstrel, wandering singers of mystic songs. They sing of love and friendship in the search for the Creator who dwells within each person, and of the beauty of all created things.

The Bauls came into prominence as a socio-religious group during the 19th century, and became more widely known as their songs were written down by Rabindranath Tagore Bengal’s great poet and social reformer. One of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite songs “If there is no one that heeds your call, then go on ahead alone” is a Tagore song with a distinctly Baul melody and rhythm.

The Bauls today, number around half a million persons, living largely in communal establishments called akharas, the largest number in Kushtia, Bangladesh on the frontier of the Indian state of West Bengal. The Bauls live under a spiritual preceptor, the Murshed. Life in the Akharas is very simple. The Bauls have no personal possessions other than a single piece of cloth garment, often saffron in color, a reminder of a period when Bengal was largely Buddhist. Today, Bangladesh is largely Muslim and the Bauls are considered by most as Sufis, Muslim mystic preachers who also travel from village to village.

The Bauls play a two-stringed banjo-type musical instrument, the “do-tara”. Women Bauls put on a white single-piece dress; they do not use ornaments. The Bauls sing for the unlettered, a school for the poor and the down-trodden masses. They sing of the primacy of the spirit in a world where many would prefer material wealth and luxury.

The Bauls also carry on esoteric tantric practices which were developed by the Sahajiyas, early Buddhist mystics of Bengal who considered the sex act as the key ritual in their worship form. The Bauls believe that inner enlightenment comes by sexual union with a specially selected and trained woman. The sex act is performed to help both the man and the woman to attain their spiritual destiny. Sexual union is part of the “Deha Tattva” the doctrine of the body said to be composed of the four elements: earth, water, air, fire, and its powers as a way of reaching “Shain” -the God within. The Bauls are looked down upon by the more legalistic Muslims of Bangladesh or thought of as only “folk singers” but their search for the inner man, for the indwelling light has a message for each of us.

Dreams versus reality

Oct 21,2006

My google bot has a sense of humour I think. This afternoon I suspect it decided I needed cheering up , and it fetched me a variety of stories based on the keywords I have given it - some laughable stories, some sad, some bizarre. I don’t know which ones to tell you about they are all so……dreamy, I think is the word.

There is the sincerely felt but sickly-sweet appeal on DP about the water shed that the Yunus prize should bring about in Bangladesh. It finishes “Let us dream. Let us believe. And then let us get to work.” Yes. Then I read about the dreams and beliefs and work of the opposition Awami League. And do you know what they consist of? Dreaming and believing in massive danda power. They are busy preparing 200,000 sticks and staves to beat the crap out of anyone and anything if the issues around the caretaker government demands are not resolved. And they don’t mind talking openly to the press about these stick/oar making extra-curricular acitivities . They must be worried about the “feel good factor” the prize has generated and all this talk about dreams, and are eager to use lathi and baash power to reverse it.

And then my google bot found another Yunus inspired soul. A disgruntled and disappointed zionist, Ida Nudel wonders whether Bangladesh will replace Israel as a “light unto the nations.” Dear me, Yunus-mania has hit Israel as hard as that? And there was no letting up on the part of my little bot - it found the Chicago Tribune describing Yunus as one of America’s own (as a force for capitalism effectively but said with nicer words) : “Give them a hand up, not a handout, he wrote. That’s an American-sounding notion, courtesy of Bangladesh.”

And finally I will leave you with the dreamiest of all of these. Yes it is by the eminent Prof himself. He reckons North Korea could do with a dose of his Grameen medicine. Someone needs to puncture his bubble, and bring the good professor down to earth and tell him about dreams and effective reality.

Dhaka Architects

Oct 19,2006

Having spent the last three years knocking my house about and creating various structures and openings in glass, I feel like a real dilettante and am often to be found telling architects where to shove it. The conservatism of architecture and architects in the affluent bits of Dhaka - particularly social conservatism - is staggering and especially so when it comes to apartment design. I suspect the handful of developers that exist have imposed a total ceiling on creativity, and so architects are only able to tinker with the internal space and the external facade. The aim of the developers is to maximise their profit and that means building to a standard and well tested set of plans with your drawing room invariably to the left or right as you enter, the large living space/dining area off of which comes the bedrooms, and the disgracefully tiny quarters for the domestics and the de rigeur squat toilet for them…..It is so formulaic it is actually quite laughable that some developers like Concorde go to the bother of giving you a CD with walk through animations….BUT ITS ALL THE SAME I KEEP TELLING THEM…to no avail.

You see, there I go again…. I will stop there and instead point you to a great web site featuring prominent Dhaka/bangladeshi architects. If only all their work was as good as this:

bangali architect
tall building


Jun 11,2006

…75% of the tea which is grown in Bangladesh is drunk within the country. The only significant export markets are Pakistan and Russia. And the farms of Sylhet have a problem. A drought last year killed one in 10 of the tea bushes, which haven’t yet been replaced….

Read more HERE

I know a top director from Duncan Brothers. He never mentions the tea problems. He only takes of diversification and company politics.

Razi Azmi on Bangladesh

Jun 2,2006

One or two interesting observations in an article otherwise full of perverse observations and chauvinism. This is apparently the second parter of a two part piece.

Here is an interesting bit below:

Also during my last visit, I wanted to see the spot in Dhaka’s Race Course Ground, now turned into a park, where the Pakistan Army had formally surrendered. I was curious to see how this piece of history had been preserved.

With considerable difficulty my Bangladeshi friend and I were able to locate a small, neglected plaque overgrown with bush which recorded (in Bengali only): “This is where, on December 16, 1971, the aggressor Pakistan Army surrendered before the Mukti Bahini and allied forces”.

For those not familiar with the history, the unnamed “allied forces” (an auxiliary to the Mukti Bahini, according to this account) could have been from Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, or India. National pride and Islamic resurgence probably prevent a direct admission of the crucial Indian military role.

May 11,2006

If the Bangladesh government is still looking for an image consultant, they should hastily get in touch with Isobel Shirlaw of the Daily Telegraph. Just read this article here. In an extremely positive piece packed with lyrical descriptions, she goes as far as to say that “it is difficult to imagine a more diverse and beautiful area of the world to visit..”


She recommends Srimangal and old Dhaka. And that should tell you that she knows what is what. And she even has a picture of a rickshaw babe in the article. How remiss of me - I have completely forgotten to put up babe no2 as I promised earlier.

Apr 2,2006

Niko is a Canadian company engaged in gas exploration in Bangladesh. Last year it developed an image problem after two gas fields had blowouts within a short space of time. This article HERE by Geoffrey York upon first reading appears like Niko’s PR campaign kicking into action. Undoubtedly sympathetic to Niko it describes the problems of investment in Bangladesh - the “headaches of dealing with balky politicians, hostile journalists, angry activists and protesting villagers.” Nevertheless it is worth a read as it exposes Niko’s perspective very nicely. The number of condescending remarks coming out of their corporate mouths is illuminating and reveal their thinking. One thing is for sure, their production superintendent - Allen Rose - I suspect needs to go on a “dealing with the media” course or some such. He declares “From an economic standpoint, these people are farther ahead because of the blowouts. It’s been devastating for Niko, but it’s been positive for the community.” Hmmm. And their environmental consultant, Randal Glaholt, also needs a refresher course. He reckons the blowouts were a trauma for “these people” becase they were “poor and uneducated.” Right!? Of course! A gas explosion is a trifling matter if you are educated and well-to-do. It was really nothing to worry about just a “fear of the unknown” for these Bangladeshi retards…

Niko complains they have had a hard time from the press and other interest groups. My own recollections of the coverage in the english and bangla press was that the response was rather muted ( I was in Dhaka for the entire period at the time). I distinctly remember remarking to a World Bank chap in Dhaka that if this had happened in the west - all hell would have been let loose upon the polluter. Niko’s points about the general investment environment given the “ferociously partisan” political climate are worth noting. They claim they have been at the losing end of this. Most would argue they got the contract because of such a set up….