Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Problems new-age travelers face

Sakub Amin

In this day and age of gridlock, commotion and the constant chase for making ends meet, journeys to faraway places seem both like a luxury and a necessity. It is a getaway of the most crucial importance, for the body is tired and the soul yearns for some searching. This has given rise to the young travellers who often ignore the conventional norms of the society and embrace a lifestyle of gypsies; in other words, the rise of new-age travellers.
When thinking of traveling destinations, it’s surprising how we often overlook places in our own country. Gifted with over 700 rivers, Bangladesh is the most beautiful delta one could ever witness. Scenic natural places, mangrove forest of epic proportion, the longest sea-beach, you name it, Bangladesh has lots to offer.
Let us talk about a trip to Tanguar Haor as an example to highlight the numerous troubles travelers today might face. It is located in the Sunamganj district of Bangladesh. Haor basically means low wetland. Known for its outstanding natural beauty, migratory birds, endless horizon of panoramic view, you are bound to fall in love with this place. However, the journey is not a hassle-free experience. Travellers travelling to Tanguar Haor is bound to face some common problems. Some of the common problems are:
  1. The Journey Itself: The conventional way of travelling to Tanguar Haor is by taking a bus to Sunamganj. After that, one needs to take a bike, auto-rickshaw and reach the destination. It is a troublesome experience that is uncomfortable, especially in summer when the heat is unbearable. And then there is an issue with the quality of the buses as well. In most cases they are in abysmal state. One can always opt for the boat ride which covers the entire journey. It comes with its fair share of trouble as well which will be discussed in a while.

  1. Hygienic Food and Drinking Water: Journey is a long commitment to time and takes a toll on your body. One needs to replenish oneself to look forward to the best part of the journey. Unfortunately, journey to Tanguar Haor by bus or boat means you will be missing out on good quality food and of course, safe drinking water unless you buy the packaged ones.

  1. Sanitation: Taking a boat ride means lack of access to sanitation. Although some boats come with sanitation facilities these days, the state of the washrooms is terrible. This is a problem specially for a traveler who is willing to go to Tanguar Haor and spend a few days. A bus journey doesn’t solve this problem either.

  1. Security: Security is a big concern when travelling. Unfortunately, the situation isn’t getting any better. A bus or boat ride fails to ensure the security of the travellers.

  1. First Aid Facilities: Travelling often means unwanted injuries and at times severe ones. Lack of first aid facilities is a key problem in the journey to Tanguar Haor.

  1. Internet Connectivity: The modern day traveller stores all the records of his/her journey in social media. Photos, life events and everything else is categorized in the form of a journal in social media. Internet comes in handy in emergencies as well. Needless to say, a journey of such sort means goodbye to internet connectivity.

  1. Comfort: All these lack of facilities and more lead to an uncomfortable journey devoid of the basic necessities a traveller needs. Sure at the end of the day, you might end up in Tanguar Haor but wouldn’t it be better if it could be done without sacrificing comfort?
Thankfully, times have changed and there are comfortable ways of enjoying your visit to the magnificent Tanguar Haor. Tiger Tours Limited, a leading touring company in Bangladesh arranges state of the art overnight cruises to Tanguar Haor. Such a comfortable journey not only eliminates the drawbacks already mentioned but also adds convenience, luxury and ultimately the much needed comfort. Air conditioned spacious rooms, WiFi availability, access to delicious and hygienic food, RO and UV treated drinking water, refrigeration for preservation of food, first aid facilities, CCTV cameras all around with professionally trained staff etc. make this journey an adventure of a lifetime.
Their inherent commitment to ensuring the ultimate convenience and comfort of guests has made such a dream possible. Tiger Tours Limited earnestly believes that travelers deserve nothing but the best and nothing should deter them from the conquest of peace of mind. Wouldn’t it be amazing to enjoy the glorious sight of a million stars in the sky all in the comfort of a splendid cruise?

Friday, April 14, 2017

The spirit of Boishakh

Niloy Alam

The spirit of Boishakh
Two women dressed in Boishakhwear on a scooter in Karwan Bazar in Dhaka on April 13, 2017
Courtesy: Sushobhan Sarker

Maybe you saw the photo on Facebook today, maybe you did not.

A pair of women on a scooter – the picture speaks volumes about empowerment. The women are not riding on the backseat with their arms wrapped around their “husband/boyfriend’s” waist or on their shoulders.

The photo perhaps captures Bangladesh in its flight for the future.

A woman is driving the scooter herself. The passenger she carries perhaps feels butterflies in her stomach, perhaps they both feel a gleam of pride. Perhaps they wear a shadow of a smile as they ride on.

The scooter is not just another fuel-guzzling, environment-polluting contraption. It is an electric scooter.

Women’s empowerment and environmental awareness – these are two major issues that are among the cornerstones of discourses in Bangladesh today.

In 2017 Anno Domini, we stand on the cusp of the 1424 Bangla year, and as we bid farewell to the decaying, shrivelled husk of yesteryear, we spread our arms wide open to embrace the New Year that is perhaps a step towards freedom for all.

Shared from Dhaka Tribune

Friday, March 24, 2017

Relive 26th March, 1971: An anecdote of the places where history was made

Nusrat Noshin

The history behind 26th March, 1971 is encrusted with stories that still give us excitement and

chills every time we are reminded of them, which just sheds light on how important this date is.

The incident starts in the year 1970, when East Pakistan finally got a fair chance in gaining

political prowess and the ability to correct the tyranny they have been facing for years. The first

ever free election of Pakistan took place where the Awami League led by Bangabandhu Sheikh

Mujibur Rahman unanimously won the election in both provinces. He was promised the prompt

transfer of power from Yahya Khan but the negotiation was later broken off due to opposition

from the Pakistani army. The party was barred from taking over the parliament.

The Ramna Race Course:

Realizing that East Pakistan could not usurp the suppression and discrimination they were

facing from the other side through fair means, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman decided to take a radical

step. On 7th March, 1971 he delivered his legendary speech at the Ramna Race Course in front

of thousands of civilians where he urged them to prepare themselves for a war; the fight for

freedom. He motivated them into thinking that it was honorable to sacrifice and die fighting as

long as it was for the independence of the country. This was his way of preparing the nation for

the biggest war to be embossed in our country’s history.

Yahya Khan and Benazir Bhutto were yet to deal with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his rapidly

growing popularity. They stayed back in Dhaka for further negotiations but soon had to leave

because of what the Pakistani army was brewing.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s well-received speech not only amalgamated the East Pakistanis as a

united nation, it also made them a force to be reckoned with. This was very bad news for West

Pakistan and hence, to stir things up the West Pakistani army planned a crackdown which was

later known to be as the infamous “Operation Searchlight”. On the evening of 25th March

Bangabandhu and the other party leaders were informed of the impending ambush from Bengali

army insiders after which all the leaders fled to Kolkata except Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Despite

heart-felt persuasions to flee with his peers, he granted them freedom and asked them to

preserve the independence of Bangladesh while saying farewell. At 10pm, the Pakistani army

commenced with the operation.

University of Dhaka:

The raid targeted many crucial places of the city like Pilkhana but one of the memorable and

tragic incidents of that night was the massacre of the students of the University of Dhaka. The

Pakistanis held a grudge against the people associated with this institution since 1952 when the

students gallantly stepped forward to disobey the section 144 rule which subsequently led to the

language movement. This made the students a crucial part in the fight for freedom.

The army broke into the halls and murdered thousands of unarmed students, along with other

civilians and intellectuals within Dhaka. Not being able to tolerate it anymore, Sheikh Mujibur

Rahman sent a wireless telegram to Chittagong and instructed the other party leaders to

proclaim independence. The message was sent at around midnight of the 25th March and

shortly after that he was arrested by the attacking army as a part of their operation.

Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra:

The Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra radio station was widely used by the Bengali Nationalists

during the war; it was first famously utilized by Major Ziaur Rahman. After the message

transmission was made by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Major Ziaur Rahman made the first

historical declaration of independence on the afternoon of 26th March. The session lasted for

around seven minutes but due to poor quality, it was broadcasted again the next evening.

26 th March is considered as the day of independence for Bangladesh because it was the day

when Bangladesh as a nation decided that she will no longer be a part of Pakistan and instead

give her people an independent land and identity. This neither meant that other countries

considered Bangladesh as free entity, nor did it indicate that Bangladesh attained free

governance, because it took the following nine months to earn full freedom from the Pakistanis.

This day simply marks the day when the fight for our liberation started.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The advertising man from Manikganj

Tim Steel

Though largely forgotten, Hiralal Sen was a trailblazer in the film industry

Manikganj, in the latter part of the 19th century, was an area of flourishing agricultural activity, of which traces still exist in some of the lavish palaces of the Zamindari of the area. Baliati and Teota palaces, amongst others, even in their semi-ruinous state today, bear testament to that affluence.

Born in 1866, in Manikganj, Hiralal Sen was the son of a successful lawyer and judge, from a zamindar family, like so many. His father’s work, eventually, took him to Calcutta. It was there that he developed a fascination with the relatively new art and technology of photography.

Such an interest, alone, together with the opportunity to indulge it offered, presumably, by his family wealth and connections, would identify him as, what we now know as “an early adopter,” ready to embrace and explore innovation in its early stages.

But it was moving film that became his true vocation following his first exposure to it in 1898. He was to go on to become, it is believed, the first maker of film for entertainment, advertising, and even political propaganda “commercials” in India, advertising, amongst other popular consumer products of the time, Jabakusum Hair Oil and Edwards Tonic.

Such, “commercials” were, just as today, aired during public showings in the developing, early cinematic world.

He might be regarded, especially, as the innovator of such film material for political propaganda purposes, influencing viewers’ political attitudes.

This was made for the Swadeshi Movement, resisting the partition of Bengal; and the film finished with the rousing slogan: “Vande Mataram!” It was aired at Calcutta Town hall in 1905.

In the international pantheon of early film makers, no doubt Sen would have had even wider recognition … not least for his turning his hand to using the medium for advertising, were it not for the fact that the entire collection of his work was accidentally destroyed by fire, a few days before his death, in 1917.

Advertising, of course, is an ancient form of communication.

My former business partner in the advertising business we founded in London, the late great Don White, president of the Creative Circle in London, and former creative director of McCann Erickson Advertising, in its heyday of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, in London, always swore, when lecturing on the history of advertising, that the earliest piece of “modern” advertising material was to be found in the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, in Asia Minor.

The material comprised footprints engraved in a pavement, leading to a bawdy house; even in my life in advertising I have seen such promotional form of the floors of supermarkets, leading to a particular product display!

Even the United States had to wait, it seems, until the 1904 advent of “Cohen’s Advertising Scheme,” for film to be used as an advertising medium, which puts Sen’s efforts right at the leading edge of advertising innovation, worldwide, in his work with film.

By the time Sen arrived in Calcutta, photography had already, certainly, become a popular passion. The chemical processes of photography arrived in India early in the 19th century, and there is no doubt that, by the time of Sen’s arrival, probably in the late 1870s, it had become a popular pastime, especially amongst the better educated and wealthier, for whom Calcutta was the main Indian social and economic honey pot of the time.

Official photography, in the early days, had become the prerogative of the British, and, even for official photographic purposes, skills were often imported from Britain.

There can, however, be no doubt that, by the time Sen decided to make his career in the art, he was already pioneering in making a living from it as a photographic specialist. Indeed, his life might well be considered that of a technical and commercial pioneer.

By the time he was first exposed to moving images, in 1898, he had already created his own flourishing photographic business.

It was in 1898, that, alongside a stage show, “The Flower of Persia,” at the Star Theatre in Calcutta, he saw a presentation of film — the moving image — by Professor Stevenson, one of the earliest protagonists of this innovative entertainment.

Recognising, immediately, the appeal of this new form of visual communication, Sen teamed up with his brother to acquire an Urban Bioscope, projector, and camera, from the Warwick Trading Company of London.

The kit had been developed, in 1897, by Walter Isaacs, for Charles Urban of the Warwick Company. It was based on patents held by the French developer George Demeny and development work in the USA.

In 1899, Sen, together with his brother Motilal Sen, formed The Royal Bioscope Company, based in Calcutta. They had immediately recognised the potential for using the small spools of film that the machine included for recording brief episodes with which to intersperse live stage performances.

It was an entirely new medium, for both entertainment, and, as Sen had immediately appreciated, for information, and an evidently compelling one. A fact that the brothers determined to exploit.

Initially, Sen, the man who managed the business, was reliant on imported film recordings to fill the theatrical spaces, but he was soon recording his own material.

Between 1901 and 1904, his material was, mostly, recordings of stage productions at the Classic Theatre, but, in 1903, he produced his longest piece, Alibaba and the Forty Thieves, based, also, on a stage presentation at the Classic.

He quickly found that the demand, for both public and private entertainment, was enormous. It was in that early period that he evidently realised, also, its potential as a medium for publicising products, services, and political beliefs.

By 1913, however, newer forms of film-making and projection were arriving on the Indian, especially the Calcutta, market, and Jamshedji Framji Madan of the Elphinstone Bioscope Company had taken from him much of his market.

His growing disappointment and financial difficulties were then compounded by the discovery that he was suffering from cancer.

Between 1900 and 1912, Sen, and two of his brothers, made 12 films, 10 documentaries, and three “commercials.”

There is little doubt that, at the leading edge of such innovation, Sen blazed a trail that others rapidly followed. There is, of course, a saying in the communications business: “Pioneers are the ones the Indians kill!”

In the case of Sen’s innovative business, it was, literally, true. The cliché was, of course, being of American origin, a reference to American Indians, but, sadly, in Sen’s case, it was both the unhealthy atmosphere of late 19th and early 20th century Calcutta, together with the unquestionable stresses of commercial and technical innovation, that combined to contrive his somewhat early demise, both physically and commercially.

But, equally, there is no doubting his early appreciation of the cultural and commercial potential of moving images, and his unquestionable skills in production.

Were it not for the loss of his archive of work, one suspects that Sen would, today, be a name that might resonate in the international world of film and television advertising, the multi-billion dollar industry that can nowadays afford to pay its most senior executives upward of $80 million a year as a reward for the endeavours of their businesses.

Sen was, perhaps, yet another of those world leaders in innovation, born in Bangladesh.

Shared from Dhaka Tribune

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

All is confusion

Tim Steel

Comilla remains one of the most remarkable cities of Bangladesh

All is confusion

Nowhere in Bangladesh, perhaps, better illustrates the myriad of confusions that swirl around the history of the country, than the history of Comilla, both city and district. In a country where history so often appears to be what a modern people want it to be, such confusion is perhaps, inevitable.

Indeed, the history of Comilla, in the usually fairly reliable and authoritative, if often somewhat cursory, Wikipedia, clearly illustrates that such a history should always be approached with caution and independent cross references.

It contains a manifest inaccuracy. “Queen Victoria visited Comilla several times.” Since it is well known that Victoria seldom travelled outside Britain, and never outside Europe, certainly never visiting the Indian sub-continent, in that developing age of transportation, common sense would recognise the likelihood of further inaccuracy in such references.

It is hard to imagine how such a howler could have been entered; and, inevitably, casts doubt on all the rest of the fairly sketchy information readily available online; such information as there is that is, comes replete with the common anti-British sentiment. Although, in that, it appears, it probably reflects something of late 19th and early 20th century reality thereabouts. Certainly Comilla manifested itself as a hotbed resistance to the Raj, and all its works. “Through a glass, darkly” indeed!

However, with what we know of this remarkable city, and the district around it, it is hard for anyone to resolve any clear picture through some of these swirling mists of time.

Indeed, given the number of universities in Bangladesh today, including one, at least, in Comilla itself, one is tempted to wonder just how much original work, if any, is carried out, into researching, and making sense of, timelines, causes, activities, and outcomes that might lead us to true appreciation of the history, heritage, and roots of today’s culture, in one of the greatest cities of today’s Bangladesh.

Like the history of most nations, the history of this nation and people of Bangladesh reminds us that national history often also comprises parts of that of other peoples; in much the same way that British history ranges across much of the world for the activities and origins of its people. And, inevitably, in the process, also combining the histories of other peoples and nations.

The history of today’s Bangladesh is, or could be, readily regarded as a foundation of the history of most of its neighbouring states as well, including, especially India itself, and indeed, many other parts of today’s global world.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland comprises, in large part, the very early history of the Indo-European migration, and the more recent history of some of those peoples. Peoples, such as the Romans and the “Norsemen,” the Anglo Saxons, Danes, and Norwegians, all of whom once ruled parts of today’s lands of Britain.

These are histories that are recognised and revelled in by most Britons today. Except, perhaps, those Britons, who never studied history anyway, and who are content with their own, usually fairly ill informed and somewhat myopic notions of nationalism.

It is possible, given the proximity of the city to the world’s largest river delta, that of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers, that both research and archaeology are slowly revealing as one of the world’s earliest centers of wealth generation and international trade… That much of the history of early and medieval Bangladesh “happened hereabouts.” And it is, then, unsurprising that the history of Comilla should encompass so many apparent changes of control and attempts at control.

Settlers have arrived in these lands in and around Comilla for millennia, and created the pattern of the extraordinarily rich history. Even in the era of documented history have arrived the well armed refugees from around Afghanistan, fleeing the Mongols, and replacing the Empires from west and north Bengal, and beyond. Most of whom have left behind their enduring traces … Mauryan, Gupta, Pala amongst them.

They brought with them a more militant Islamic faith than that experienced before, that would, in modern times, finally overwhelm the animists, the Hindus, the Jains, the Buddhists, all of whom saw the blossoming of their beliefs in the region. Beliefs that have also left their enduring traces, as much around Comilla, as anywhere in Bangladesh.

The Mughals, like the earlier invaders, also from lands around today’s Afghnanistan, fought long and hard to conquer and keep these lands. But, in the course of their struggles, they were forced to abdicate the rule, conceded by their predecessors to, for a time, possibly, the Arakanese; but certainly to the Tripurans, and eventually, of course, the British. All of whom, like the Pakistani successors to the British, left their marks.

It was, indeed, only during Pakistan time, in about 1960, that the city became known as Comilla, changed from being named for Tripura.

Today, the once great Tripuran heritage, now somewhat tattered, even across the border, in the Indian state that still bears the name, remains reflected in Comilla in the Queen of Tripura’s bungalow, on the banks of one of the city’s great tanks — another of the great landmarks of the Tripuran rule.

The District of Comilla, now a part of the large Chittagong Division, lies astride the Tropic of Cancer, bearing signs of being neither such a center of wealth and influence as either Dhaka or Chittagong, yet still, with some justification, claiming to be the third most ancient city in Bangladesh.

With the ruins of upwards of forty Buddhist Vihara, those great centers of worship, education, and trade of the 1st millennium CE/AD, it is not hard to imagine how, about a millennium and a half ago, the area thronged with “industry,” whether education, agriculture, or manufacturing. Small wonder that it was, from earlier years, a focus for the changing rule of the region.

Even today, in neighbouring Feni and Noakhali, Khiji rule can be found reflected in the extensive use, for example, of the name “Sikander.”

This might suggest that the early Sultnanate era rulers, themselves possibly descended from men of Alexander’s army, left behind in the lands around today’s Afghanistan, made themselves very much at home in the lands east and south east of Comilla.

It is not hard to imagine that, with their main base in the region at Sonargaon, Comilla itself must have been a significant part of their lands of interest.

But, when we consider the earlier occupation by Buddhist rulers, who facilitated and sponsored one of the largest concentrations of Buddhist centers in the sub-continent — much of which remains unexplored in detail — we can probably only speculate on the significance of today’s Comilla in those earlier times.

Fortunately, much tangible evidence remains of those earlier times, even if we cannot be sure who sponsored and protected, such substantial monuments to such impressive times.

Amongst the splendid diversity of the architectural treasures that mark the rich history and heritage of both city and district, are of course those Vihara, easily the most intriguing and significant.

It is estimated that there are, in fact, ruins of at least fifty such Vihara, Buddhist monasteries, and places of learning, spreading for many kilometers across the countryside around the district. Such a manifestation of wealth and sophistication!

Forts, Hindu and Jain temples, mosques from earliest times, mansions, schools and colleges, also abound. They, too, speak volumes for a heritage of wealth, faith, sophistication and education.

But in attempting to cut through the apparent complexity, confusion, even, of the marks of history, heritage, and culture, perhaps it is those Vihara that could bear the closest examination.

The sheer scale of such development represent wealth, artisan skills, and international connections of a gigantic proportion. Wealth, that we can only assume derived from trade through the waters and across the lands. But that cannot necessarily begin to explain the reason, and point to those who invested so heavily in both faith and learning.

Oddments of archaeological recovery offer some clues to origin, but, it seems they merely scratch the surface of our ability to identify the true significance of the considerable presence.

From some paucity of archaeological artifact recovery, we can probably assume wholesale looting at the time of destruction, and, such as they are, cannot really explain the reason for their very existence.

Or, more importantly, perhaps, identify, not just the rulers who patronised such development, but also those who gave their lives in it.

The fact remains, however, that they certainly once represented an enormous investment of wealth and humanity, right around the Comilla we know today. Why? Who? How?

Perhaps we shall never know, being left with speculation and theorising; or possibly an investment in considerable archaeological activity could begin to unravel an answer to the mystery.

For now however, much, if not all, remains a confusion to trace the evolution of what is surely one of the most fascinating parts of today’s rising nation of Bangladesh.

Shared from Dhaka Tribune

Monday, February 27, 2017

City of Ruins

Rubab Nayeem Khan

Popularly known as the City of Ruins, this Mughal Bengal city is bursting with sights and sounds that one can’t possibly find within the bustling streets of Dhaka. Rubab Nayeem Khan points out some landmarks to check out.

Lalbagh Fort
Also known as Fort Aurangabad, the Lalbagh Fort is an incomplete structure that was built during the 17th century by Mughal Subahdar Muhammad Azam Shah, the son of Emperor Aurangzeb. The three highlights to the architecture are the Diwan-I-Aam, the Lalbagh Fort Mosque and the Tomb of Pari Bibi. The three buildings connect from east to west and north to south via a water channel with fountains. The Diwan- I-Aam is a two storied building located in the east. A single storied Hammam is attached to its west. On the eastern side, you will find the three-domed Lalbagh Fort Mosque attached to a water tank. The Tomb of Pari Bibi stands between the two buildings in one line. Pari Bibi, also known as Iran Dukt, was the daughter of Shaista Khan and had been  buried inside the tomb. The construction of the fort was stopped right after her death.

Armenian Church
Armenian Church: Located at Armanitola, the Armenian Church was built during the 17th century as a significance for the Armenian community in the city during that era. Before the construction of the church, it was an Armenian graveyard. The tombstones salvaged from the site signify the Armenian lifestyle.

Old Dhaka’s Shakhari Bazar is an equally vibrant neighbourhood. Here, you will be able to learn about the significance of Hinduism. A rickshaw ride through their Shakhas will take you to markets which sell items for religious festivities such as musical instruments, fireworks, statues of gods/goddesses etc. You may also come across oodles of small temples in this neighbourhood. If you’re around Wari and Thathari Bazaar, expect to stumble upon the Joy Kaali Temple there.

For the foodies, Old Dhaka should be an absolute delight. Places like Royal Restaurant, Nanna Shahi Morog Polao and Hajir Biriyani will satisfy your appetite at very reasonable prices. Also, Chawkbazar is known best for their Moghlais. Old Dhaka holds a lifestyle which has a hint of tradition in almost every aspect; starting from their horse drawn tom toms to their local food. This is your go-to place if you want a change of scenery.


Chawk Bazar
Chawkbazar Shahi Mosque: Founded by Shaista Khan, the mosque was built in Chawk bazar in 1676. This mosque is said to be the earliest structure in the History of Muslim Architecture. This mosque is a great influence on mosque architectures in Dhaka and Murshidabad.

Shahi Mosque
Ahsan Manzil: Also known as the Pink Palace, Ahsan Manzil is the official residence of the Dhaka Nawab Family. The construction of this palace started in 1859 and was completed in 1872.  There are two buildings: The Rangmahal and the Andarmahal.

Shared from ICE TODAY

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Shaheed Minar and a Forgotten Artist

Fatema Nashrah

The Shaheed Minar, established in 1956 to commemorate the martyrs of the Bengali Language Movement, is one of the ultimate emblems of Bangladeshi patriotism. The iconic design of the half-circular arrangement of columns, symbolizing the mother with her fallen sons, standing on the monument's central dais, backed by a blazing red sun, has become synonymous with the Bangladeshi spirit of nationalism, courage, language and cultural progress. The Shaheed Minar is a homage to the martyrs we fondly remember; a tribute to what their valor has accomplished which will be remembered for years to come. However, few know about the history of the monument itself and the brains behind the architecture.

The first Shaheed Minar was built immediately after the bloodshed on February 21 and 22, 1952 by the students of Dhaka Medical College. It was soon demolished on February 26 by the police and Pakistani Army as the monument was rapidly becoming a symbol of protests. Finally, in 1957, after many complications, the construction of the official Shaheed Minar began under the supervision of celebrated sculptor, Hamidur Rahman. However, the fact that the original designs and conception of the monument was by a female sculptor, a pioneer in her field, is often quickly glossed over.

Novera Ahmed has had immense contributions in the creation of Shaheed Minar. While the bulk of the acknowledgment went to Hamidur Rahman, not many know of Novera’s major role in the culmination of one of our nation’s most iconic monuments. Hence, she’s led a life of anonymity, hardly receiving any credit for her efforts. A gifted sculptor, she had worked on about a 100 sculptures in Dhaka within a short period of time. Many of these, unfortunately, have fallen into disuse while some are on display in Bangladesh National Museum.

Novera Ahmed, the first modern sculptor of Bangladesh, was born in 1930 in Kolkata. After the Partition in 1947, her father was posted in Comilla, and she got admitted in the Comilla Victoria College. Later, they started living in Chittagong. Her marriage to a police officer soon fell apart and she began pursuing her interests in the fine arts. In 1950, Novera enrolled in the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London where she made the acquaintance of Hamidur Rahman. Under the tutelage of the likes of Karel Vogel, Jacob Epstein and VenturinoVenturi, she achieved a fusion of knowledge and art and enriched her understanding of the avant-garde.

Her artistic might was finally demonstrated in the Dhaka art scene upon her return in 1955. She hinged her practice upon monolithic sculptural tropes, with her Western modernism dispersed in its many facets. However, her works also demonstrated subconsciously internalized cultural heritage. This showed her alignment with the European modern diction but rooted it in the structural models inherent in our culture by using tropes or motifs from our own locale. A common theme for Novera has been “womanhood” or “motherhood”. This theme appeared again in her design of the Shaheed Minar where the arrangement of columns exhibited the loss of a mother in her martyred sons.

The remaining of Novera’s life following 1960 remains shrouded in mystery. Myths began circulating around her persona among the artistic circle including a speculation of her death in 1995. Her lifestyle was antagonistic to the then-prevailing social norms and sculpting was regarded as an inferior vocation in the milieu of social and cultural constraints of East Pakistan. She embraced a life of seclusion in Paris, Franceat a significant phase of her life, severing any contact with the thriving cultural environment of her homeland right before the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971. More discussions were triggered when she turned down the prestigious Ekushey Padak in 1997 and chose to remain hidden from public view, cloistered in her exilic life abroad. It can be ventured that not receiving appreciation or any recognition from her contemporary artists at the time and the restrains in following an innovative art form in a prohibitive social environment led her to choose an exiled life. She died on May 5, 2015 in Paris at the age of 85.

Despite having been the brains behind the iconic Shaheed Minar and a trailblazer in the Bangladeshi art scene, it is quite startling that Novera Ahmed gained no accreditation among her peers. Her keen understanding of locational identity, coupled with the Western avant-garde makes her a pioneer in modern art as well as an abstract presence in the Bangladeshi art scene. Novera’s sculptural prowess and knowledge of the fine arts have long been neglected. It is now high time that artists of her caliber are given proper accreditation and her contributions are recognized. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Language Movement

Adiba Mahbub Proma

1947 marked the end of the 200-year British rule with the second partition taking place. After much agitation the British Empire of India was finally divided. Thus, India and Pakistan were born. The new East Pakistanis had dreamt of a new beginning- one of freedom and peace. However, their happiness was rather short-lived as the ruling parties from West Pakistan began attacking the culture and heritage of their Bengal motherland. The first stab taken was at our sweet mother-tongue Bangla.

The beginning

In November 1947, the Pakistan Educational Conference proposed that Urdu will be the only national language. This meant that the educated society of East Bengal would lose its edge on jobs and government positions because of language restrictions. Making Urdu the national language would certainly put Bengalis at a major disadvantage. After many meetings and demonstrations, the first Rastra bhasa  Sangram Parishad or National Language Action Committee was formed by the students of East Pakistan just a month later in retaliation to this proposal.

Attempts were made for a peaceful solution with the assembly member Dhirendranath Datta proposing legislation at the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan to let members speak and use Bangla in offices. However, the Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and the Muslim League of West dismissed the legislation, labeling it as an attempt to divide the Pakistanis.

Agitations increased throughout the year of 1948. Triggered by the Governor General Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speeches on how “Urdu, and only Urdu!” will be the state language upon his arrival on the Racecourse Ground and at Curzon Hall of University of Dhaka, more meetings and demonstrations opposing the decision continued. While political arrests were on the rise, the spirit of the Bengalis in protecting their mother language was high and mighty!

1952 blood-battle

The issue was again brought up in 1952 when Jinnah's successor, Governor-General Khawaja Nazimuddin defended the "Urdu-only" policy in a speech on January. The National Language Action committee called for a massive protest on 21 February, with strikes and rallies.

While the government banned all gatherings that day, the early morning of 21st February saw students gathering at the University of Dhaka in defiance. The brave students marched on despite warnings with tear gas from the police. Arresting several students did nothing to reduce their spirits. More students gathered around the East Bengal Legislative Assembly and blocked the legislators' way, asking them to support their cause. And when a group of students tried to enter the building, the police opened fire on the students. The streets of Dhaka were bloodied by student martyrs such as Salam, Rafiq, Barkat and Jabbar.

The blood battle continued till the 22nd. Finally, throughout the night of 23rd February, the students of Dhaka Medical College constructed a Shaheed Smritistombho, or Monument of Martyrs to commemorate those that gave their lives on the 21st and the 22nd. Completed at dawn on 24 February and inaugurated by the father of the slain activist Sofiur Rahman, the monument’s name was attached to it on a handwritten note, representing the love of Bengalis for their mother language. However, it was soon destroyed by the police on the 26th.

Shaheed Minars through the ages

Two years after the destruction, a new Shaheed Minar with exactly the same design as the previous was constructed. Inaugurated by the then Professor of Dhaka University, Natyaguru Nurul Momen, it was a symbol of the ongoing struggle to give Bangla its rightful place.

With the support of the United Front ministry, the architect Hamidur Rahman started designing a larger monument in 1957. It consisted of a half-circular column which symbolized a mother with her martyred sons standing elevated in the center. Despite much interruption due to ongoing tension between the East and the West, the Shaheed Minar was completed and inaugurated on 21 February 1963 by Abul Barkat's mother, Hasina Begum. Alas, the monument was demolished by the Pakistani army during the Liberation War of 1971.

Following the 1963 design, a committee headed by the then president Abu Sayeed Chowdhury was formed in 1972 to rebuild the monument.  The monument was completed quite quickly, and the area was once again filled with flowers from grievers on National Mother Language Day. Finally during the 1983 renovation, marble stones were used, giving us our current Shaheed Minar.

The Language Movement had a major cultural impact on Bengali society. It has inspired the development and celebration of the Bengali language, literature and culture. On 17th November 1999, UNESCO supported Bangladesh’s proposal to declare 21 February as International Mother Language Day. From the Ekushey boi mela to the Ekushey Padak, Bangladesh had found various ways to celebrate the Language movement and mourn its martyrs. In fact, even the world joins in this celebration, taking a moment to appreciate their own mother languages, and marveling at the bravery shown by the sons of Bengal during the Language Movement. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Alexander’s footprints

Tim Steel

Alexander never came to Bangladesh, but he tried

To paraphrase the famous British military anthem: Some talk of Alexander, and some of Megasthenes; of Ptolemy and Virgil, and such great names as these …

British grenadiers, of course, made their own military mark on the history of Bangladesh; and writers of the famous Roman and Greek classical period of Europe also made theirs.

Writing, in some cases, over 2,000 years ago, they presented a reality of their age, of familiarity with the lands that are now those of Bangladesh.

As well as of being as fascinating with perhaps even greater worldwide familiarity than today’s Bangladesh. How ironic, in the age of information.

I wonder, in those ancient times, how often writers were asked, “Where is Gangaridai?” compared with how often I am asked today, “Where is Bangladesh?”

There can, indeed, be little doubt that the educated, and especially, the traders and merchants, were familiar with not only Gangaridai, but also its location, and that of lands beyond. Deep into the Ganges basin, and north towards an inland city, called Thina, and the great difficulties in reaching it.

However, the great Roman geographer late in the last century BCE, Strabo, writing in his famous work Geographia, comments: “Concerning those who sail from Egypt, even to the Ganges, they are but private citizens with no knowledge of the history of places they visit.” The earliest known example of academic snobbery.

It was a much valued destination, of that there can be little doubt.

Poets, historians, and businessmen of the half millennium, known as the “classical period” of European history, wrote about its location and both its trade and, it seems, especially the military prowess of its people.

Prowess that always, inevitably throughout human history, has involved wealth.

Even with all the aids, technology, and progress of modern archaeology, and advances that have facilitated a better appreciation of such significant places and events in pre-history, we continue to be unable to take any definitive view on periods and locations of the emerging — we might say — embryonic, modern, commercially-based civilisation, that certainly emerged in these lands of Bangladesh over two millennia ago.

Even the duration of the Kingdom of Gangaridai, if kingdom it was, is hazy. Was it a kingdom?
Archaeological development of appreciation of the very early Harappan civilisation further west suggests an absence of mansions and palaces in urban sites, which to some archaeologists suggests that some form of true democracy was an early form of governance.

Around histories of Vanga, Magadha, and Mauryan periods swirl such questions; perhaps only Megasthenes’ commentary of the Aleaxandrian invasion goes some way towards offering a definite period within the history of Gangaridai.

Modern politics also thickens the swirling mists of time that have left us with dateable sites and artefacts, but no certainties.

Gangaridai, we are told, were a people dwelling on the east side of the Ganges. Knowing as we do, the mobility of river courses in the Gangetic plains, even that fails to locate with certainty.

Naturally, India, recognising the inevitability of archaeological and historical definition of the existence and significance, of Gangaridai internationally, have laid claim to a capital city close to Calcutta. Since that is a fringe of the delta, it seems an improbable claim.

Within the lands of the delta, one modern claim is made for a location of the capital at Gopalganj; others suggest the site, with its 5km rampart on the banks of the Old Brahmaputra at Wari Bateshwar; or even Egarosindur, a largely unexplored site at Kishoreganj.

Of Gangaridai however, we have early writers to thank for our certainty that it not only existed, but was, in its time, internationally significant, as a major crossroads of international trade and commerce.

Megathenes was a traveller, born in modern Turkey, who arrived in the city of Pataliputra (modern Patna), capital of both Magadha and later, Mauryan Empires.

Those who believe that Chandragupta, the first of the Mauryan Emperors, built the east/west Grand Trunk Road may well be as confused as historians seem to be about times and places, since Megasthenes is said to have arrived at Pataliputra along the “great” highway.

Surely the Grand Trunk Road is said to have been constructed by Chandragupta? Or, perhaps, simply following the footprints of Alexander?

However, it appears that he arrived there shortly after the failure of Alexander and his army to cross the Ganges, a crossing that — it may be reasonable to suppose, across a wide river, perhaps in flood — beyond which it was intended to seize the wealth of the flourishing trading centre with the lands of Gangaridai.

Every army sought financial rewards for their endeavours, and Alexander’s was, certainly, no exception.

Whilst most of the great writers of Alexander’s endeavour, over the subsequent seven or eight hundred years, write of his eventual failure, his military achievements before his death at the age of 32 still resonate down the centuries.

Focusing on military issues, there are also mercantile and geographical commentaries that confirm the importance for perhaps as much as nearly a millennium, of Gangaridai, to a wider world.
The world map, produced in the late 3rd century BCE by Eratosthenes, is remarkable for the evidently detailed knowledge of the Ganges and its major tributaries, such as Jamuna.

Such maps reveal very evident sources of information, and familiarity with such destinations.
Similarly, Strabo also shows great familiarity with the delta and its components in both his commentaries and cartography.

The publication of mid 1st century CE, Periplus of the Erythaean Sea, a merchants guide to trade, not only provides detailed instructions for approaching the delta, but also prime items for trade.

And, of course, Ptolemy, the great mid 2nd century CE cartographer, whose detailed sources for his remarkably accurate maps of the known world made his own map of the deltaic lands, with remarkable accuracy; including the mark of a settlement called Ramcu, exactly where Ramu stands, today.

But it is the military historians that throw the most revealing light onto to sheer strength, in population numbers, military resources, and evidently, wealth that we may reasonably suppose derived from manufacturing and trade of the deltaic lands.

The earliest writer, describing the military strength of Gangaridai, was of course Megasthenes, writing with the benefit of his experience of the geography; and, certainly familiarity around Patna, of those who could recall the circumstances of Alexander’s advance.

He describes a River Ganges, that faced Alexander’s army, at least eight miles wide and 20 at its maximum, and an estimated 100 feet deep.

The forces assembled to resist any attempt by Alexander to make a crossing, comprised, he wrote of 1,000 horses (interesting, considering horses were not native, and over subsequent centuries, until recent times, originated in Bhutan), 700 elephants, and 60,000 infantry (“in apparatus of war”).

Diodorus Siculus, a Roman historian, writing in the second half of the last century BCE, may well have derived some of his information from Megasthenes.

However, his estimate of assembled forces were far greater. “An army of 20,000 horses, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots, and 4,000 elephants trained and equipped for war.”

All subsequent historians agree that the forces of Gangaridai had by far the largest number of war elephants in India.

A very clear comment on the wealth and prowess of the military might of the “kingdom.”

More of them also increase the estimate of numbers; Quintus Curtius Rufus, Plutarch, and Pliny the Elder, as, like most Romans, great admirers of Alexander, may well have considered that only unbelievable geographic and military hurdles could possibly have daunted Alexander and his army.
They, and others, such as the 3rd century Dionysius Periegetes, add geographic descriptions to their writing of what was for centuries regarded as the edge of the known world.

Even Ptolemy’s usually accurate mapping fails at mapping territories beyond east and south-east of the lands of Bangladesh.

For them, it seems, Alexander did in fact march to the ends of the known world, only to be confronted by unsurpassable obstacles to further advance.

Indeed might the old song go, “Some talk of Alexander,” it was unquestionably the ill-fated attempt by Alexander to conquer the peoples and lands that are now Bangladesh to add to his, hitherto, unparalleled adventure in international conquest, that opened the ancient, early worldwide awareness of these lands of Bangladesh.

To the successful rebuff by nature, and the power and courage of the peoples themselves, we owe such knowledge that has put early times in the lands of Bangladesh into the ancient history of world civilisation, and well as on some of the earliest maps of the world.

Shared from Dhaka Tribune

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sailing on Antiques

When the Rocket Steamers service was introduced almost a century ago, it was used mostly by the elite classes and considered the fastest mode of water transport; thus, many believe that it is the reason behind the name.

They were basically ships, motorised by steam engines that drive paddle wheels to help the ships run through the water. Rocket steamers are designed in a way that there are very rare chances of sinking. However, in the mid nineties, the steam engines were converted into diesel-run engines; and afterwards, were replaced by electro-hydraulic engines. The roofs have also been replaced with tin sheets that have now rusted and retain an archaic look.

Currently, after so many ups and downs, rocket steamers—namely PS Ostrich, PS Lepcha, PS Tern, MV Madhumati and MV Bangali are being operated once a day (starts at 4 pm), from Badamtali Ghat, Sadarghat to Morelganj. Apart from these, another significant steamer, PS Mashud has been kept in the dockyard, as it is undergoing repair. Each steamer has an arrangement to accommodate around 700-800 passengers at a time. 

At first sight, the dilapidated torpedo-shaped two storey vessels may generate a simple question in your mind --how can this be a sign of aristocracy? The wide-loaded junks, damp decks, the bad odour from the contaminated waters may seem to be just the opposite.

However, a closer look at the ramshackle ships will give you a splendid idea of their unique designs. 

Most of them were made in the Garden Rich Workshop of Calcutta, nearly a hundred year ago, while the PS Ostrich was made in the dockyards of Clydebank, Scotland.

According to historians, the paddle steamer service was introduced in the late 18th century by the British India General Navigation Railway Company (IGNRC).

The article published by The Daily Star