Following on from my post yesterday concerning the Bangladeshi workers camping out near the airport without food etc., here is another little vignette of life from lovely Malaysia. In a land where only 2 or 3 years ago a husband could divorce by SMS ( now I think you need prior approval of Shariah court to send that sms), there comes this news from Kota Bahru in Kelantan. City officials have sent out a circular directing women not to wear heavy make-up, lipstick and high-heeled shoes “that gave a tapping sound.”
All these are seen as frightfully arousing and could result in sexual assault or, heaven forbid, illicit sex.
click picture to see more!
Peculiar graphic design, buxom wenches, explicit action, wanton violence - yes this caretaker government has had an impact on all of these! Dhallywood has been facing some serious restructuring with so-called “obscene” films finding it more and more difficult to surface. But as always there is a peculiar history…..the state’s involvement in both the production of such films in the first place and then their censorship is often overlooked! I will be discussing this more and more this coming year. So here is a little taster from my modest poster collection ( standing at about 500 now….!). I have uploaded a miserly eight for your delectatation and edification. No particular reason behind the choice - they are the first that came to hand. And they are by no means the best..nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Follow the link HERE.
That is the thundering title of a play by a theatre group working with the intersex (hijra) community of Bangladesh. The play was written and directed by Subhas Biswas Shuvo and performed by Rongberong theatre group. The objective was to create greater awareness of the marginilisation this community faces in mainstream society. READ MORE HERE. You will note the presence of heavyweight politician A Noor (noted in the text of the report). Yet in what capacity was he there? I hope as a human being, as an actor and as a politician (and not Hasina underling).
A friend of mine - a film editor - wants to do a short doc on this community. He is collecting information currently. Any help from any experts out there would be greatly appreciated. Get in touch with me.
Our subject matter overlaps a little. I have started finding out about prostitution in the context of rickshaw drivers and their lives. A very brave woman film-maker and I are hoping to explore and see if we can get anywhere with this subject. Its not a ride in the park this. He he..I couldn’t resist the pun there. She ( and I will reveal her name shortly) has already made some headway in getting herself accepted by the rickshaw drivers. I am impressed by the small NGOs and activists who are doing the hard slog, unrecognised and poorly supported. Anyway, here is an interesting article about the sustainability of prostitution by Md. Khairul Alam.
….In some countries, including Bangladesh, presence of prostitution and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is systematically denied, being considered a taboo by the majority of the society. There is no official record of the prevalence of residence base & fleeting sex workers in Bangladesh. Lack of any reliable records of the underground sex industry makes the data shaky. Sex workers in Bangladesh are suffering from unavailability of medical services and knowledge about STIs. Social stigmatization stops these resource-deprived women from seeking proper medical care.
Ah yes my lifelong interest in all things prurient has led me here….So dear audience here below for your delectation is a phonetic transcription of a song that accompanies an incredibly vulgar dance sequence in a Dhallywood movie. For non-bangla readers, apologies….you are missing out on the outpourings of a young girl wedded to an old git whose “machinery” isn’t working….And did i say part 1? Well if you want more, you will have to wait for my Dhallywood book..
Here is a taster:
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.
The headline news in today’s Daily Telegraph (London) is the rape and abuse of children by UN peace keeping troops in Sudan. The problem started almost two years ago, and was noted in a UNICEF report. The Sudanese government has been gathering evidence presumably as part of its challenge to the UN, and apparently has footage of Bangladeshi UN workers having sex with three young girls. The Sudan Tribune reprints the article and even carries a picture purportedly of Bangladeshi troops in Juba.
I wonder how the story will unfold. Whatever the outcome, one thing for sure is that newspapers should avoid the kind of hyperbole employed by a certain Lt Col Nazrul Islam in an article last year for the Daily Star. Not only is it totally over the top BUT IT IGNORES all that has been going on over the years in Bangladesh itself - namely in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Anyway, let me quote you the colonel’s words:
It is widely acclaimed that the most outstanding national achievement in independent Bangladesh is the name and fame earned for the country by the peacekeepers of Bangladesh Armed Forces. Despite negative publicity for the country as a whole, the indomitable valour, firm commitment, exemplary leadership, outstanding competence, unflinching patriotism, and superb discipline shown by the Bangladeshi peacekeepers have earned plaudits for the country.
It is also now also widely acknowledged that we are well-trained and highly professional armed forces, and that we are armed forces of a democracy, one that leads in pursuit of democratic values. Our quest for excellence and determination for upholding the ideals of peace and security will remain ever unflinching. …..blah blah blah
I am in the middle of writing a small book about Dhallywood, believe it or not. It began as quite a fun project even though it dealt with the serious issue of censorship. In the course of researching it, and as I talked to more and more people, I am finding that Bengali intellectuals remain located in a statist mode, and only a few are able to think seriously beyond the state. Bizarre and sad - and I will explain why elsewhere. You will hopefully read it ( and buy it!) at some point next year.
As part of this I went to interview a couple of banner artists in old Dhaka. They are a dying breed, and I discuss their woes in a small section in the book. There is of course nothing like wondering about in old Dhaka. It is unfailingly interesting, and never shows the meanness and arrogance that I see in Gulshan.
The International Herald Tribune today reports the comments of a foregin aid agency chief: Bangladeshis don’t talk much about sex and this could help spread HIV/AIDS.
The New Nation reports that upto 18.2 percent of students of colleges and universities use sex workers -female, male and transvestites. 64.7 percent dont use condoms. And lonely housewives with husbands working abroad are suffering from sexual diseases acquired through extra marital relationships. This article also has more information about rickshaw drivers and truck drivers - I have posted about these professions before HERE.
Are members of the female sex fit for political office and indeed is it religiously sanctioned in an Islamic state? Shah Abdul Halim engages in the usual obscure Hadith searching, and lo and behold comes up with an affirmative answer. Hasina and Khaleda will breathe easy.
“Male-to-male sex is also common among certain professions in South Asia. For example, 49 percent of truck drivers surveyed in Lahore, Pakistan, reported having sex with other men, along with 22 percent of rickshaw drivers in Bangladesh. Access to information and condoms is also limited, with prevention programs available to only 2 percent of MSM (men who have sex with men)Â in 16 Asia-Pacific countries.”
American Foundation for Aids Research report as reported HERE.
Not even the most creative anti-indian agitator could have dreamt this one up: Dhaka owls are being killed for their brains and eyes. Why? To cure sexual deficiencies across the border in India. Sex maniacs have created such a demand that six adult owls fetch about $350. Read HERE and HERE.
There is some noise these days about a third force exploiting the stalemate and “dysfunctional governance” created by the two ladies in Bangladesh. Shahid Alam discusses how such a scenario might come about.
And under National News on the Awami League web site, we have the announcement that a computer programmer from the US is arriving tomorrow in Dhaka. So what, i hear you say? Well it is Hasina’s son and so I guess her party webmasters decided that this was news that needed to go on the front page. Or they were told to put up this non-news. Whatever….but today’s capture of militants is still not up on their site…..
The liberal and the conservative libertarian view of immigration is that it is good for society. Immigrants fill the demand for particular categories of jobs, they work hard and contribute to wealth creation. It was a view I encountered in a slightly unexpected setting: a taxi ride in Cambridge, UK. The conversation with the driver went like this:
Taxi Driver: So where are you from?
me: Scotland, mate.
Taxi Driver: (Laughs) No I mean originally.
me: Oh I see. Originally from Bangladesh. And you? (knowing well that he is a local chap)
Taxi Driver: (Laughs) So you must be a millionaire then?
me: em..What? Sorry I don’t follow…
Taxi Driver: All you Bangladeshis come over here with twenty pounds in your pockets and then you become millionaires….
I twigged what he meant. He was referring to the phenomenal success of Bangladeshi owned restaurants in the UK.Â I was astonished by this summary of Bangladeshis. I was still under the impression that Bangladesh is exclusively associated with floods or the George Harrison concert but here was a view where Bangladesh is associated with wealth and, more importantly, wealth creation. For a second I got nervous.Â Â Was his a liberal/libertarian view or was his comment tinged with xenophobia? Was he begrudging the success of Bangladeshi entrepreneurs ? I tested him:
me: So, do you like curries?
Taxi Driver: I love ‘em mate. Been to all the curry houses in the area. Know the owners of….
He reeled off a long list and asked whether I knew some of these formidable restaurateurs..He counted some as his friends. As we discussed restaurants and as I bemoaned the bastardization of the curry in the UK, I tested him further. Tell me, I said, what else do you know about Bangladesh. His answer was not totally unexpected: “Well there’s that bird Fariah Alam.” He even got her name right…I suppose that is only to be expected, as I do believe Fariah has received more headline news coverage in the UK than any other Bangladeshi woman ever!Â So there you have it. The new image we are projecting here in the UK is that we are successful entrepreneurs and we have a b-list celebrity who bonks top football officials. I gave the chap a huge tip and wished he was a PR consultant for the Bangladesh High Commission here. Believe me, I would rather project this image than one associated with fundamentalism, bombs and carnage.
I went to see a Drik photography exhibition last year in Dhaka. The exhibition was called Tales from a Globalizing World. It contained some of the best street photography I have seen. I recently took delivery of the book of the exhibition and I have taken the liberty to scan this pic below and reproduce the associated text. I hope the publishers don’t get upset.
THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN who take refuge in the big buildings of Kamlapur Railway Station and Sadarghat Ferry Terminal. They try to earn a living by helping passengers carry their luggage to and from their trains and boats, or by selling cigarettes and fruit on the ferries. They sleep in a group, almost on top of each other, in order to protect themselves. Men, older street children, drug addicts, even policemen often try to use them sexually. Sometimes these children serve a purpose for the politicains and policemen. When the police cannot find enough trouble-makers for the required quota, they come here and pick up street children instead. Dhaka, Bangladesh, November 2001.
Pic and text by Shehzad Noorani in chapter entitled Childhood Denied, Nepal, India, Bangladesh: the struggle to survive.
I was in Sadarghat terminal in December 2005. Don’t think things have changed…..
Smut (including kissing) will get you a jail term. On 1st February, Broadcasting minister Shamsul Islam brought in this new law after a “threadbare discussion” in parliament. Well they know best, don’t they, these MPs?! See my earlier post about porn in Bangladesh cinema.
There is a strange but interesting report on The World - an online radio thing co-produced by PRI (supplier of non-commercial audio content) , the BBC World Service, and WGBH ( a Boston public radio outfit) - which was picked up by a blogger called Taggert. The report claims that protectionism within the government-owned Bangladesh film industry or Dhallywood has resulted in “bad, formulaic, and banal movies.” Not only that, the producers cut and paste hard-core porn to liven things up. Wahaay! They get round the ineffective censoring system by bribes etc. The consequences of this protectionism are dire - no one buys these films and the bhadrolok do not patronise cinema halls. That is all fine. However what bothers me about this report by Patrick Cox is the central claim that foreign films are totally banned in cinema theatres in the country. Erm….but they are not!
Or check HERE for the latest foreign film playing in the cineplex at “Bashundhara City.”
And here is a Dhallywood poster on one of these “disreputable” cinema halls (Anarkoli Cinema). No I haven’t seen it. Waiting for the DVD…