Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio

20Apr/070

Scarred for life (with Kate Day)

Hasina’s beautiful long hair gracefully brushes her back as she hurries through her office. It is one of those stiflingly hot April days and the air seems heavy with the expectation of the first rainfall of the season, but Hasina looks serenely confident in her striking black shalwar kameez. She is a successful young woman – she has a job, friends and a badly scarred face.

Just over three years ago, on the night of January 23, 2004, Hasina lay down to sleep little knowing she would wake in agonising pain, with her face and half her body disfigured for a lifetime by a single splash of acid. She was then just fourteen years old.

‘It was a cold winter night,’ she remembers. ‘I felt heat - it was unbearable. I couldn’t see anything and I was so scared that I started shouting.’ It took over half an hour to wake her family, who threw water over her burning body in a desperate attempt to stop the pain. ‘There was no electricity so they had not seen my face and thought it was something minor.’

But daylight soon revealed the true horror of the attack. ‘I couldn’t believe that the horrifying face before the mirror was mine,’ she says. Hasina was rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), where she received treatment for two months. She was later taken to the Dhaka-based NGO Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) where she stayed for a further three months.

She fights back tears as she speaks of the man who threw acid on her. ‘I called him uncle and he was my father’s helper. He had lived with us for fourteen years and we never had any kind of problem except the simple disagreements over little things.’ Hasina’s father a farmer in Naryanganj, trusted this forty-year old man but he secretly started taking an interest in his young daughter. ‘I had no idea that he wanted to marry me. He was just very possessive about me especially when it came to friends who were boys and said he would throw acid on my face if I did not stop meeting them,’ she adds quietly. ‘But I never even dreamt that he would actually do something like that. Now that he has escaped, I wonder what he got out of destroying my face forever.’

Last week, ASF honored seventeen acid victims like Hasina at a ceremony at the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka. This comes less than a week since the foundation presented twenty-eight month old Durjoy on his return from treatment in Hong Kong after his aunt poured acid down his throat when he was just 49 days old. ‘He was the family’s only son and would inherit all the property,’ says Dr Kishore Kumar Das of the DMCH, where Durjoy was treated prior to his latest operation at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong. ‘His aunt said she was vaccinating him against polio,’ he adds.

Durjoy was taken to Jessore Sadar Hospital where the doctors detected the case as an acid attack. They referred him to Khulna Medical College Hospital where he remained for 35 days. But then his parents took him home and without proper care his burns became infected. He was admitted to DCMH several months later with his chin melted into his chest. Two years on and after a series of operations, Durjoy is at last able to say ‘amma’ but he is still unable to eat.

According to figures collected by ASF, over two hundred people were attacked with acid last year. Of these, the vast majority were women but 57 men and 30 children were also among the cases recorded. DMCH reports that 6 per cent of all patients admitted by the burns unit have suffered acid burns and of these, 19 per cent have burns to their face, 15 per cent to their neck and 19 per cent to their body. Along with all burns victims, acid survivors suffer not only the pain of the initial attack but also humiliation and rejection by their families and by society because of their disfigurement.

New laws introduced in 2002 have helped to stem the rise in attacks and treatment has improved since the specialist burns unit was opened at DMCH in 2004, but there is still little psychological help for victims. Those who come through extensive treatment and successfully rebuilt their lives, like Hasina, have done so without the support of trained psychiatrists to help them to come to terms with the stigma their injuries bring.

Dr SL Sen, one of three plastic surgeons at the DMCH burns unit, says patients arrive at the unit hoping that the surgeons can transform them back to how they looked before the attack. ‘It is very difficult to make their face normal again,’ he explains. ‘Acid damages all the skin, everything is melted. It is so deep a burn that everything is destroyed. We need to use local tissue but often it is completely destroyed with an acid burn. All the surrounding blood supply is damaged.’

‘When they come to us they become very helpless,’ he adds. ‘Treatment we are giving them, but there should be more psychological help and rehabilitation. It’s very important. If they can get a job, they can stand on their own two feet.’

Acid attacks can also be difficult for family members to come to terms with. Parul, 27, was too frightened to speak about the attacks her daughter Babli suffered at the hands of her father. He refused to accept his newborn daughter because he wanted a son, Babli’s mother says. ‘He used a dropper to put in drops of acid on her toes, then her thigh, her ear then on her bottom and finally in her mouth,’ she says fighting back tears.

‘The mother hid the true story for over two years and said it was a fungal skin disease,’’ says Dr Kishore Kumar Dus of DHCH. She repeatedly took the child to various hospitals until eventually doctors recognized that her injuries were caused by acid and referred her to DMCH’s burns unit.

Now eight, Babli hops and jumps around the table at the ASF where her mother works as a tailor. But her smiles and youthful energy only half conceal a restless sadness. ‘I do not like school much,’ she says in broken speech. When asked why, she runs away. ‘She has been emotionally affected and does not express herself,’ her mother explains. ‘But she knows her father did all this to her and she hates him. She will never forget the horrific truth about her life.’

‘She stays with me at work all day, but when we go on the street, people surround us and keep asking questions which makes it more difficult to live with the harsh fact.’

For Hasina, life is sharply divided into a time before and after her attack. She laughs awkwardly at any mention of other people’s reaction to her. ‘I live on my own with the other survivors like me in the BRAC hostel and I am happy. I am working as an intern in ASF and get Tk 3,000 per month. I hope they keep me after the internship is over.’ She is reluctant to speak about her family’s behaviour towards her, covering her ears with her hands and vigorously shaking her head. ‘I do not stay with them or take their help, because I guess it is better off.’

‘Look at me! I am not the same person anymore,’ she says ruefully. ‘People on the streets think I am scary and ugly and constantly make me feel, as though I am an alien, but that’s the way life goes for us.’

After a long silence she smiles and looks up. ‘Okay enough, if I say one bit more, I won’t be strong.’

Filed under: Children No Comments
13Apr/070

Bastion of Bengali Culture

Songs of spring, the rhythm of the tabla, and the wheezing of the harmonium waft in from unseen rooms. The atmosphere pulsates with energy. Dressed in colourful cotton sarees and kurtas, the musicians, teachers, singers, organisers and cultural icons dart to and fro. Chhayanaut—the cultural nerve centre of Dhaka’s Ramna Batamul celebrations on Pahela Baishakh—takes on a life of its own in the weeks leading to the Bangla new year.

Chhayanaut has come a long way in the last four decades. What began as a trickle in the 1960’s has come to be recognised, four decades later, as a watershed in modern Bengali cutlure. As yet another Bengali new year begins, and we prepare to celebrate the most colourful of our festivals, Pahela Baishakh, everyone at Chhayanaut is busy making last minute preparations at the enormous red-brick building that stands high above everything else on Dhanmondi’s noisy Sat Masjid Road.

From children as young as ten to adults, everyone seems to be involved in the preparations. In a hall titled Romesh Chandra Datta Smriti Milon Kendra, a group of over fifty students are chanting Tagore’s ‘Nirmolo koro, ujjolo koro, shundoro koro’.

Chhayanaut as a phenomenon first came into being in 1961 - an initiative led by a group of cultural activists including the late Wahidul Huque, poet Sufia Kamal, Sanjida Khatun and Mukhlesur Rahman better known as Sidhu Mian, all of whom would go on to become icons of Bengali culture.

‘It was during the celebration of Rabindranath Tagore’s birth centenary that the need for a cultural organisation of the kind that Chhayanaut is, was truly sensed in Dhaka, a city which was then just coming into its own,’ explains Khairul Anam Shakil, general secretary of Chhayanaut, and a maestro of Nazrul sangeet.

Involved with this centre for more than fifteen years has been incredible, he says. ‘In the beginning, programmes were organised on a small scale. But our first public function, Purano Ganer Asar, was held in Dhaka under the direction of Abdul Ahad. It was later in 1963, that the Chhayanaut Sangeet Bidyayatan, a music school was established on Pahela Baikshakh, which explains the umbilical chord that links the institute to the Baishakh celebrations.’ Pahela Baishakh celebrations have been organised by this centre since then, under the batamul in Ramna Park. Early at dawn, thousands of people gather and celebrate with the Chhayanaut artists who open the day with Tagore’s Esho hey Baishakh esho esho, and go on to fill the remainder of the morning with more from the songbooks of Tagore, Nazrul, as well as those by DL Roy, Rajanikanto, Atul Prasad and prayer and folk songs.

Apart from the new year’s celebration, the anniversaries of the birth of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, seasonal festivals such as Pahela Falgun, Barsa Baran, Sharadiya Utsab are important events on the Chhayanaut calendar. ‘We try to include wide-ranging variety of songs Jagarani Gan, shyamasangit, songs of devotion, songs of inspiration, ghazal, classical songs and others that relate to our culture,’ adds Shakil.

The five-storied Bhaban that now covers a third of an acre of land and houses more than 2,300 students and 30 teachers and includes state-of-the art facilities, is the fruit of a long struggle for a permanent home for the institution.

Before 1971, the organisation used to hold classes irregularly at Dhaka schools like Udayan and Azimpur School. After the war of independence, the then Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University provided a space for Chhayanaut at the University Laboratory School, where Chhayanaut operated for many years.

‘As the students increased, we also felt the need for extending our values to a whole new generation, who had little idea about our rich culture and its art forms. We needed a bigger place, where we could offer all forms of art. Fortunately in 1999, we were allotted a plot of land by the government.’

‘We began the initial construction with the existing funds but we needed much more to complete it. Instead of taking loans, we approached the general people, because Chhayanaut after all, has always been a people’s organisation,’ says Shakil. Chhayanaut’s appeals received an enormous response from both ordinary people and cultural icons, who donated money and enabled construction to began.

‘The building is still incomplete; we are working on furnishing the library and raising more funds. We plan to collect songs from different regions of Bangladesh. The new generation needs to know the different genre of Bangla songs, especially those which are several hundred years old but strongly embedded with our culture. People who are interested in doing research work on old Bangla songs will be able to get their material in this library. We also have plans to set up a painting gallery and introduce classes for painting,’ says Shakil.

As we chat, the president of the institute, Sanjida Khatun, climbs the stairs leading to the hall where the children are rehearsing. She had joined the centre as a teacher of Tagore songs in 1963 and has since become an icon whose name is synonymous with Chhayanaut.

For the last six years, the institute has also been running a full-time school for children up to class six. ‘The students here study maths, science and other subjects as in any other school, but we teach them in a friendly environment that encourages them to learn about their rich cultural heritage that dates back thousand years,’ explains Shakil. The school also offers classes in both Manipuri and classical dance. ‘We have a whole range of ideas of offering music appreciation courses, professional course and much more.’

As evening proceeds, people start flocking in almost drawn in by the power of the music. It’s almost like a festival—singers, dancers, renowned artistes milling about, chatting, proud parents sitting back and watching their children sing. ‘I think our greatest achievement has been that all these people, young and old, keep coming back and remain a part of our effort to preserve and uphold our culture,’ says Shakil. As the refrains of one after another Spring lullaby rings through the corridors, its difficult not to believe that music can indeed cleanse the past and inspire new beginnings.

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6Apr/070

‘We need to train more professionals, psychologists and doctors’

Sunlight is streaming in through the open window and three-year-old Ahnaf has been spinning around for what feels like an eternity. He is lost in his own world, and appears unaware of his surroundings. He does not react to and possibly doesn’t hear the piercing wails of a child nearby who is refusing to let the doctor weigh him. A few moments later, he trips over one of the toys and falls on the floor, yet his face wears the same blank expression that he has had since he was a year old.

Ahnaf is autistic and cases like his are not rare. Studies indicate that the incidence of diagnosed autism is on the rise. It is estimated that 0.04 percent of people in the UK suffer from autism and the condition is much more prevalent in the US. A recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the UK stated that ‘as a best conservative estimate’ 1 in 1000 suffer from the condition.

As numbers escalate, and increased research is conducted around the world to enable better treatment of autism, Bangladesh has some distance to catch up in terms of research and improvements to training facilities. ‘There has not been any research undertaken on autism in Bangladesh, as of yet, and we therefore do not know exact figures or the prevalence of autism here,’ says Dr Helen McConachie, a professor of child clinical psychology at Newcastle University, who is internationally renowned for her work on disability, and autism in particular. ‘We plan to conduct research but before that we have to train an adequate number of doctors and design manuals for autism, because simply finding out the prevalence without being able to do anything about it is useless.’

This week as international autism day was observed, staff at the Dhaka-based Shishu Bikash Kendra (SBK) is receiving training from McConachie. Her recent research published in the Journal of Paediatrics entitled More than Words has demonstrated that the use of fun games, toys and other colourful objects can improve the vocabulary development of autistic children as young as 2-4 years old.

From her experience of working closely with the Dhaka Shishu Hospital and the network of SBK since 1993, McConachie has observed a dramatic shift in the recent trends. ‘If we look at the experience of child development centres here, they have seen a great change since the 1990’s. In the 90’s there were more cases of cerebral palsy and epilepsy, but towards 2000, half of the children who came in for treatment were found to have language, cognitive and behavioural disorders. A large number of them were found to be autistic.’

According to her, children with the most severe cases of autism behave similarly to Ahnaf. ‘They tend to be more withdrawn, have learning difficulties, repetitive behaviour patterns and are unable to cope. But there are variations and this is called the Autism spectrum disorder.’

Autism spectrum disorder is the group of developmental impairments that includes autism and a milder disorder called Asperger syndrome. ‘All of the disorders involve varying degrees of impairment in communication, social interaction and behaviour,’ she points out. According to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), autism spectrum disorder involves one in every 150 children.

‘Asperger Sydrome is a rather complex form of autism,’ she says. ‘It is often difficult to detect and although the child seems to progress, there will be a continuing vulnerability and in times of stress, children are more likely to show symptoms,’ she explains. Studies have found that many individuals with a high level of intellectual functioning have Asperger Syndrome.

Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime explores the story of a fifteen-year-old boy called Christopher who has Asperger Syndrome. In the beginning, as Christopher introduces himself, it is unclear to the reader if he is a ‘geek’ or if something is really wrong with him.

‘My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,507.’

As the novel progresses, we see little behavioural traits that could be shared with many people we may have met. He knows a great deal about maths and its different outcomes. He loves lists, patterns and he seems to be repeating his actions at various times.

‘These are some of the marked characteristics of Asperger Syndrome, explains McConachie. Often parents seem to ignore the abnormality of their child not playing or having an imaginary friend. They do not notice that their child’s development is following an uneven pattern. Sometimes some children tend to have a very strong will regarding what they want to do. They want to have their own agenda and parents give in to that. But when it comes to going to school or even following someone else’s orders, they find it extremely difficult. There could also be cases of children being insusceptible to changes like going to university or living alone.’

However, she feels early detection and intervention through therapy and education can lead to less severe cases of autism. ‘Autism can be detected before the age of three,’ she says. In fact, she and her colleagues found that her study, More Than Words, helped parents of autistic children between the ages 2-4 years to improve their development.

The programme taught parents how to interact with their children in a playful manner using words, games, musical speech and other tactics in order to aid their language development. A total of 56 parents attended a weekly, 20-hour training course that taught them to interact with their preschoolers in particular ways designed to stimulate language development.

‘We compared this group with another group of parents who had not attended the programme. A few months later, the children in the programme had a larger

vocabulary than the others,’ she explains.

A similar study is soon to be undertaken in Bangladesh. ‘Right now, we are training people to improve diagnosis of autism. Before conducting the research, we need to train more professionals, psychologists and doctors, as well as developing more services such as special schools,’ she says. McConachie is designing manuals and developing methodologies that are appropriate for Bangladesh, with the help of Dhaka Shishu Hospital.

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6Apr/070

Advertising the Tigers

As the heart-rending music begins in the background, the picturesque and beautifully cinematographed glimpse of rural Bangladesh brings the essence of the country into life. It moves on to capture daily life and brings out the simplest thoughts, the gestures, actions and the little things that sometimes slip away. The old lady throwing the ball back, the little boy splashing into the water just to grab a catch and of course the mesmerising jingle lal shobijer potaka. Cricket seems to be everywhere- in lazy classrooms, metropolitan roof tops, street games, within a stern teacher, imaginations and computer games. For the millions, looking on into their television sets, this 150 second advert that celebrates the spirit of Bangladesh cricket and its reinforcing jingle- is simply intense and captivating.

Born out of the passion for cricket and the will to keep the spirits of our tigers as they fight out the world cup, this advertisement has captured the hearts of every Bangladeshi- from the hip teenager, to street children to self-sacrificing mother. Grameen phone’s ‘We, Cricket and Bangladesh’ is one out of the host of other adverts that share a common spirit of boosting the Bangladesh cricket team.

‘It’s lovely to see how these companies along with some brilliant group of creative advertisement agencies and directors promoting Bangladesh cricket and boosting the confidence of the team,’ says Tasneem Zaria, a student of economics, in a private university. ‘The best thing is the spirit with which they are coming together and rendering the message of unity through cricket. Whether Bangladesh wins or not, these adverts have been able to boost the energy, confidence and the overall status of Bangladesh cricket team.’

While the television adverts in Bangladesh has undergone dynamic and persistent evolution in the last few years, these TV cricket adverts like Grameen Phone, Aktel, Mojo, Lemu, channel-i, and a host of others have added to the excitement of world cup fever.

‘It’s wonderful to see these adverts that are not just aimed for commercial aspects, rather made for the love of cricket and Bangladesh,’ says Shampa Huq, a working mother. ‘It is something that raises your spirit to support your team, whether you are crazy about cricket or not. You just feel proud to know that the Bangladesh cricket team is out there in the grand world cup and the least we can do is cheer for them.’

Another advert that has captured the attention of many viewers is the giant sized bat is Lemu. ‘I think the idea of the biggest bat was a stroke of genius!’ says Tanveer Ahsan, a school teacher. ‘Initially when you see the cool dude drinking Lemu, there is no way you can guess that in the next few seconds you will be witnessing a giant cricket bat where anyone and everyone can sign to support Bangladesh team. Hilarious idea!’

Adcomm’s creative idea of introducing the biggest bat – a 70” bat has been unheard of and it has gone beyond the usual storylines by introducing the biggest bat in the world. ‘The idea came up in one of our brainstorming sessions,’ says Arafat Kazi, the Associate Creative Director of Adcomm Limited. ‘Our client servicing people thought of it as a grand joke — something that would be cool if it were possible — but then the client wanted to take it forward. And the idea of making the biggest bat turned out to be awesome. We actually do come together in solidarity to sign our support on this bat for our boys in West Indies.’

‘Even though advertisements are thought to be crass and commercial, there are certain occasions for which we always go above and beyond what is anticipated and the Bangladesh cricket team is exactly that,’ he adds. ‘The Bangladeshi cricket team has been bringing us international recognition for a while now and the big bat in Lemu was our way of saying that Bangladesh cricket team rocks.’

‘I think the best advert has been Lal Shobuj er… Potaka — because it does justice to the effort, energy and achievements of Bangladesh cricket team,’ says an avid cricket fan Dr Sizan Ahmed. ‘I love the music, the direction and the images that have been captured beautifully.’

‘The best thing about this particular advert was the fact that it had no commercial appeal, it was rather GP’s corporate responsibility and it’s will to support Bangladesh cricket,’ says Razeeb H Chowdhury, creative director of Cogito Marketing Solutions, the creative force behind the Grameenphone ad. ‘ Our goal was to bring the little things about our lives and create such a music, that people from all walks of life can hum — it was more like having our own cricket song and portray the game as a sign of unity.’

‘Most of the times things like the little boy jumping in the river to catch the ball, the boys stopping the game when a girl passes by – are thought to be superficial images although they are so real. The essence of this advert was bringing these real images of life and its association with cricket together,’ says the director of the advert, Amitabh Reza.

‘We, cricket and Bangladesh’ was made with more than 500 people and took about five days in the making. The music director Fuad Ibne Rubbi and Tanim Ehsan’s lyrics came together in a catchy yet meaningful jingle. ‘The lyrics needed to represent Bangladesh and it’s unity in supporting cricket- what could be better than adding the colours of our flag,’ says Tanim, an anthropologist, who is working in a Dhaka-based NGO.

‘I think the Aktel advert where they show people from different walks of life and age, pretending to drive a car and the symbolic use of the cricket bat and helmet is a nice one too,’ says fifteen-year-old, O’level student Kiyushi. A creation of Grey, Aktel’s World Cup sms quiz has gained popularity as well, the first prize being a car. ‘They are also offering tonnes of gifts and we have our eyes fixed on television now.’

Be it GP’s beautiful message of unity, or the humorous advert Lemu, or the special cricket offers- these adverts have been able to raise to spirit of Bangladesh cricket lovers and it’s tigers.

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1Apr/070

Q&A: Shimul Yousuff

A thespian from head to toe, actor-singer Shimul Yousuff tells Tahmina Shafique about her love for the stage and her family

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being able to keep everyone around me happy

What is your greatest fear? Before stepping on stage, I feel extremely scared

Which historical figure do you most identify with? Shaheed Altaf Mahmud - I want to be like him

Which living person do you most admire? Nasir Uddin Yousuff and Selim Al-Din

Which living person do you most despise? Anyone who lies

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? My laziness

What is the trait you most deplore in others? Dishonesty and lying

What is your favourite journey? Journeys to my small farm house in Manikganj

What is your greatest regret? I am never satisfied with my performance

What or who is the greatest love of your life? My daughter, Esha Yousuff

What is your current state of mind? I owe a lot of love to people around me, it’s time for me to do something in return

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Yet to come

What is your most treasured possession? The fact that I am a Bengali girl from the war of independence

What is your most marked characteristic? I listen, observe and love others and I don’t need to express it as others understand it

What do you most value in your friends? Selfless love

Who are your favourite writers? Rabindranath Tagore, Jibanananda Das, Selim Al-Din, Syed Shamsul Huq, Abul Hassan and so many others

Who is your favourite hero of fiction? Nasiruddin Yousuff (laughs)

On what occasion do you lie? I don’t allow such occasions to occur

What do you dislike most about your appearance? My height (I should have been taller) and my prominent forehead

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Bhishon

When and where are you happiest? When my daughter Esha comes from abroad and Bachchu and I chat with her all day.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what or who do you think it would be? I would like to come as myself but as the oldest sibling

If you had to do something other than your current occupation, what would you like to be? I can’t be happier than this in any other occupation

What is the quality you most like in a man? Strong personality

What is the quality you most like in a woman? The ability to carry herself gracefully and elegantly.

Who are your heroes in real life? Nasiruddin Yousuff and Shaheed Altaf Mahmud

What is it that you most dislike? Lies

How would you like to die? On stage

If your house was burning down and you could take along one possession, what would it be? It would be Altaf Bhai’s portrait taken during the 1971 war

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