Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio


The early victim

This past week, on the foggy morning of January 20, countless bouquets of flowers and garlands rested silently at the Asad Memorial plaque. For many, even thirty-eight years later, martyr Asad’s spirit is still alive in each and every nook and corner of Bangladesh.

Chiefly re-called through the renowned Asad Gate in Mohammadpur, Shaheed Asaduzzaman remains to be on the top list of countless other martyrs. For those who lived through the period of the student’s movement in 1969 and others conscious of his contribution in Bangladesh’s independence, Asad’s spirit is immortal.

The student leader of the 1969- mass upsurge, Asad was not just a leader, rather a unique organizer, thinker and a relentless fighter. Thirty-eight years ago, on the morning of January 20, he was shot by the Pakistani police. The incident changed the nature of the student-mass movement and turned into a mass-upsurge against the Ayub Khan regime and its repressive measures. Moreover, Asad was one of those young men, who led to the emergence of Bangladesh into what it is today- an independent nation.

The student’s movement or the Mass Upsurge had started with the student’s protest against the tyrannical rule of Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan back in 1968. ‘The fight was not only for a specific city- rather for the whole country,’ says Yousuff, who was then a member of the student’s committee. ‘It was not just a movement masterminded and carried out by the students only. People from all walks of life joined the movement; it was truly the beginning of coming together of our people and their fight for freedom.’

The student’s movement became more intense when Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani had asked others to besiege the Governors House and declared his plans. Consequently, that led to the historical public meeting at Paltan Maidan to observe the Repression Resistance Day on December 6, 1968 and the processions that followed.

On January 4 1969, leaders of the East Pakistan Students Union (Menon Group), East Pakistan Students League, East Pakistan Students’ Union (Matia Group) and a section of the National Students’ Federation formed the Students’ Action Committee (SAC), of which Asad, a masters student of History in University of Dhaka, was the leader.

‘He was a leftist. His political activities were not limited only to organisation of students and peasants or programmes for mass-education. He was aware of the necessity of a party with developed political ideas. His thoughts were that of a progressive leaders’ and he had so much potential. It was all planned by the Pakistanis to kill him,’ says Yousuff. ‘I have believed it till now that he was murdered, not just shot in the middle of the procession. He was murdered,’ he mutters silently. For students like Yousuff who saw Asad as the driving force of the movement and his organization and ideals were unparalleled.

Asad and the committee had declared their 11-point Programme which included the release of Sheikh Mujib, provincial autonomy; the students’ own demands. It also presented the demands relating to the problems of the workers and withdrawal of the Agartala conspiracy case.

‘Together with the Dhaka University Central Students’ Union, the student leaders of SAC holding different positions throughout East Bengal played a very important role in the 1969 mass upsurge,’ remembers Kazi Shahabuddin Shahjahan, also a member of the SAC.

On January 8, immediately after the 11-point programme had been launched eight political parties joined the movement. The Democratic Action Committee (DAC) was formed, which demanded Federal form of government, election on the basis of universal adult franchise, immediate withdrawal of emergency and release of all political detainees including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Khan Abdul Wali Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

‘To draw attention to the protest against the government’s repression, the students arranged a meeting at the Dhaka University’s battala and resolved to bring out a procession,’ remembers Yousuff. ‘Consequently, on January 20, Asad was shot.’

Students of different colleges assembled at the University campus and after a brief meeting nearly ten thousand students brought out a procession at about 12 noon of that fateful day.

‘When the procession reached near the then Post Graduate Medical College, the police charged upon the procession. After clashes for nearly an hour, some student leaders including Asad tried to lead the procession towards the centre of the town by the side of the Dhaka Hall,’ recalls Yousuff. ‘When the police charged into the procession, most of us managed to escape. But soon, we realised Asad who was at the centre of it all was shot. He was lying on the ground and with his hands outstretched, reaching out to us.’

‘His death, amazingly, shook the nation and instilled within them the power to stand up, it was undoubtedly the turning point and what actually led to the war of independence,’ says Shahjahan.

Hours after his death, in many places, people had brought down the nameplates of Ayub Khan and replaced them with the name of Asad engraved on them. ‘Asad had left us with something unique,’ remembers Yousuff. ‘In his death, he gave us the voice and spirit to fight.’

Soon, the Ayub gate was renamed as ‘Asad Gate’ and Ayub Avenue got the new name of ‘Asad Avenue’. Since then the name of Asad has became a symbol for struggle against repression. Even then, as we remember him on his death anniversary, the question of whether his due recognition has been paid, or if the stories of many other martyrs like him have been passed on to the younger generation effectively remain unanswered.

‘But sadly, his contribution to Bangladesh’s cause has never been recognised properly,’ says Shahjahan silently. ‘He deserved much more than the homage we pay him and till date the respect he deserved is due.’

‘Asad’s contribution in bringing in the progressive movement during the 1960’s is simply inexplicable,’ says Yousuff. ‘He was a leader who not only led the group but instilled within them values and beliefs, which ultimately led the country to stand strong for freedom. Moreover, student politics back then was well organised and was the impetus behind it. He created peasant organisations and fought to have their voices heard.’

Indeed, Asad’s role during 1969 and his other contributions are beyond what the pages of history perhaps say. Asad was an earnest peasant leader, who had recognized the role of workers from the very beginning and worked tirelessly in forming a powerful peasant organisation in Shibpur-Hatirdia-Manohardi and the neighbouring areas of Narsingdi district. Asad also believed in educating the poor and he had established a night school with the help of the members of the Students Union at Shibpur.

His dream of an exploitation-free land may not have been fulfilled in the true essence, yet his spirit in bringing a democratic and independent state has transpired. ‘It’s now for the younger generation to know and pay him that due respect,’ adds Shahjahan.

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Married to fate

‘She had told me so many times,’ mutters the woman in her early 60s. There is barely any expression of pain on Hazera’s face or in her voice. Often she repeats the same things about her daughter and at other times, she chants, ‘She had told me so many times: “Ma, he never looks at my face. Ever since we got married, he has never looked at me. It is as if I were a curse — as if I were wrong.” I just thought everything would be fine.’

In 2001, when Hazera’s twenty-six year old daughter, Shahida Sultana Lovely was taken to the USA by her older sister, her mother had thought it would change their lives for good and also give her daughter a wealth of happiness —marriage with a green card holder, an apartment, a settled life in the US and financial support.

‘We had gone through so much. My husband is dead and my sons are all settled, I had put all my hopes on Shahida supporting me,’ says her mother. ‘She had told me, she was beaten up by her husband. She had told me that whenever she spoke of getting the citizenship papers signed, he would hit her and create chaos. I thought she would pull through and be fine. But I was wrong.’

A few days before her murder, Shahida had called home for the last time. ‘Ma, I need to speak to you and you need to listen to me for once,’ she had said in low whispering voice.

‘It was Eid day,’ remembers Hazera. ‘I needed to pray; she promised she would call me back and tell me what was wrong, but she never did. And the next time I got a call from the US, it was tell me that my young daughter had died.’

Almost a month after the brutal murder of her daughter by her husband Solaiman, Hazera Khatun is yet to find that the feelings of loss and guilt have sunk in. ‘I do not know why she was killed. I do not know why this happened.’

On the morning of December 22, just a few days after that conversation with her mother, Shahida was stabbed to death by her husband, while she was asleep in her apartment at Queens’ Jamaica in New York, 10,000 miles away from her mother’s house in Rajshahi. Her four-year-old daughter, Tasnia Zenifar, now under the custody of her aunt, was found sleeping peacefully beside her.

‘Shahida was always ambitious and wanted to make it big,’ says her cousin Habibur Rahman. ‘She never mentioned any problem and the death was so sudden. The last time I spoke to her she was talking about finding a job as a nurse.’

Shahida grew up in Jotgosai village in Godagari upazila, Rajshahi. After her father’s death, the family suffered financial problems. In 1996, her older sister Ferdousi Begum, moved to the USA with her husband and children.

Meanwhile, Shahida had to look after her mother, and after completing a diploma in nursing, she worked for a while at the Islami Bank Hospital.

‘Her older sister took her to the US with a visit visa and Shahida was confident that she would get a job,’ says Habibur. It was her khalu (maternal aunt’s husband) who worked as a driver in New York who suggested that Shahida should get married to Solaiman, a green-card holder, originally from Chittagong. This meant Shahida would not only have a settled life, but also acquire American citizenship. ‘Khalu organised the wedding and we hoped she would be happy.’

‘We had no idea what he did,’ says Shahida’s mother. Even after six years of marriage, Shahida did not know her husband’s occupation. ‘As she told us that he never spoke or looked at her, we just assumed that he was the conservative and silent type,’ explains Habibur. ‘Besides, she never spoke of any serious problem other than the occasional row.’

While her statements to her mother and reported comments by neighbours show that Shahida was unhappy throughout her marriage, what led to that incident that morning died with Shahida. Her husband, now in custody, admitted he had killed her but refused to give any reasons.

Needless to say: Shahida’s case is not an isolated one. Her murder once again, indicates that women like her need desperate help. Since the mid 1960s and ‘70s a significant chunk of migrants have settled in countries such as the US, the UK and other parts of Europe.

While migration is often presented as beneficial for South Asian individuals, it can pose specific problems for women, particularly uneducated women, struggling to learn a new language and adapt to a new environment. Over the years, forced marriage has become one of the most prevalent problems. Women, like Shahida, are being married off to men abroad and end up badly, isolated, tortured or dead.

Apart from forced marriage cases, there are countless cases, most of which are unreported, of not just murder and domestic violence, but also cases where women find it increasingly difficult to cope with the new surroundings. That domestic violence and torture is prevalent in Bangladesh and all across the world, is a fact. But what makes it more difficult for women like Shahida, is the fact that they are miles away from home, in a completely foreign country.

For one, most often their husbands are not supportive or are completely different than they had expected and secondly, once they are subject to any kind of abuse or are frustrated, they have no where to go or do not know how to deal with it.

‘Most Asian men marry from back home, because they need a maid or because their parents want them to,’ writes Nazia Saman, a student of law at SOAS in England.

Most reported cases, show few significant reasons- most Bangladeshi and Asian women do not know the language well and as a result, they cannot speak up or communicate in any way and seek help or even support from others. Secondly, most often, such marriages are arranged by parents, rather than the couples themselves.

‘My husband married me because his parents wanted him to,’ says twenty-six year old Tasmin Mahnaz (name changed) ruefully. ‘He also needed a maid- someone who could keep his house clean and entertain him when his white girl-friend was away.’

At twenty-two, Tasmin had dropped out of university in Dhaka and married. Her in-laws had assured her that she could complete her education abroad. ‘I had met my husband twice before marriage and he seemed to be willing to work on a marriage and be understanding and all of that was so deceiving.’

Even though Tasmin was well-educated and had good command over her English and was well aware that she cannot take the torture, it took her three years to walk out of that marriage. ‘I had always stood up against abuse and all sorts of torture inflicted upon those around me, but when it came upon me— I did not know what to do,’ she says fighting back tears. ‘He had the scariest temper and when I spoke back, he would hit me and torture me in all sorts of ways. When I wanted to walk out of the marriage, he would promise me, he would never repeat it, so that I gave him another chance.’

‘I waited for the longest time for him to change,’ says Tasnim, who left Canada a year ago and came back to Dhaka. ‘I also wanted to make sure my parents do not suffer because of me. My father is a heart patient and my mother has been ill —the last thing I wanted to do, is see them hurt and suffer. And more than anything else, I did not want a broken marriage.’

Despite such cases, there are increasing numbers of people going abroad each year and a high number of women are married off, in the hope of a good future. ‘For some reason or the other, the whole idea of getting your daughter married to a man who lives in Bidesh is the dream of every mother in Asia,’ adds Nazia.

It is no wonder that in about 100 years America’s population will climb to 600 million and the white (European Caucasian) people will be a minority. A significant number of Bangladeshis, in fact, have been migrating to Britain since the early ‘60s. According to the 2001 census there are around 282,000 Bangladeshis in Britain. Of these, 46 per cent were born in Britain and half of these migrants live in London, but there are many in the West Midlands and north-west of England. Almost 40 per cent are under 16.

There have been countless women’s campaigns, many of which have enjoyed great prominence, especially in the UK. Monica Ali’s best-selling novel, Brick Lane, which was recently adapted for the screen, is among the few attempts to show the lives of such women.

According to researchers and experts, much of this problem lies in the social structure and beliefs in countries like Bangladesh. ‘Being able to marry off a daughter to a man who has foreign citizenship and a settled life is a blessing,’ says Promila Rahman, a mother of two young girls. ‘Most often proposals such as these are hard to get and who wants to miss an opportunity like that? Going abroad and being settled is not an easy thing, is it?’

‘Points of view such as these within the social framework has been damaging,’ explains Sara Hossain, a lawyer with Dr Kamal Hossain and Associates. ‘The quality of a woman’s existence is not taken into consideration. The problem lies in the fact that there is so much control over the rights and choices of a woman. We are not against the concept of arranged marriage, but the marriage needs to take place on the basis of mutual agreement and respect. Moreover, the woman must be able to adapt herself to the new environment and for that she needs to be old enough and also facilities need to be provided for her, so that the transition is as smooth as possible.’ Sara cites international Human Rights law where ‘the Individual’s Right to Decide If, When and Whom to Marry’ is clearly stated. ‘This is not reflected in countless marriages in Bangladesh,’ she laments.

In 2006, a 22-year-old Bangladeshi girl, Musammat Mumtahana, hanged herself, 5,000 miles away in her husband’s house in Birmingham in the UK. Her final act before taking her own life was to kill her own sons — Reheem, aged two, and Nahim, aged one. According to reports, neighbours had heard her crying and screaming after rows with her husband, who often did not return home after work until the early hours of the morning. She spoke little English and seemed to have difficulty in coping with her surroundings. Her death left the British-Bangladeshi community in shock.

‘But we wanted her to live in happiness and peace, to never be poor again,’ said her mother, Mahmuda, to the Guardian newspaper, days after her death. ‘London is the kingdom of dreams —how could we know she would not find peace there?’

‘One of the major problems is the parents’ lack of awareness,’ points out Ayesha Khanam, general secretary of Mohila Parishad. ‘There are various factors that have led to such incidents —poverty, the need for security, a lack of literacy and, of course, the ownership of a woman’s decision.’

Mohila Parishad, a women’s rights organisation has about 500 legal aid cells across the country. ‘At the moment, we are focusing on increasing public awareness to change attitudes of parents and young people,’ explains Ayesha.

For centuries, arranged marriages have been a social norm in Asia especially in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Research suggests that the trend of marrying off daughters to men living abroad, despite the dangers, is on the rise.

‘It is a transnational issue,’ says Sara. ‘As soon as a woman moves abroad for marriage or otherwise, there are two states involved. It is here that we come across important issues such as language, rights extended to this person and also the question of who’s responsibility it is to ensure protection and support.’

Indeed, one of the major problems that is yet to be addressed is that of language, in cases like that Mumtahana’s, where proficiency in language or some form of assistance in communication may have helped her to solve her problems. ‘It is the responsibility of that state to ensure that translation facilities are provided, so that when such problems occur, they can speak up and also know where to go to find respite, instead of living with it or ending it right there.’

Britain’s Race Relations Act, for example, simply says that every member of the community is entitled to access the public services. The Human Rights Act only requires translation if someone is arrested or charged with a criminal offence. ‘So, what does a woman do, if she is isolated or experiencing domestic abuse? How does she communicate?’ writes Fareeha Khan, a UK resident and student of Sociology.

‘We need to not only look at marriages that are being approved but also make sure the embassies play a role in the protection of these women,’ points out Sara Hossain. ‘The British government’s policies are in line with the assistance of such women; other countries need to follow suit. Often, when a woman needs assistance, because she does not have legal citizenship, she needs the signature of her husband, in order to file a case. Policies must be such that the woman knows that this is not the end and that she can find a way out.’

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s recently formed Forced-Marriage Unit has indeed been a significant step. According to the FCO website, over 1,250 British nationals have been victims of forced marriage since 2000 and on average the FCO’s Consular staffs abroad help, rescue and repatriate around 200 people a year. The Forced Marriage Unit reportedly handled 90 immigration-related forced-marriage cases in 2006 alone. The Consular staffs of the British High Commission in Bangladesh are informed of and intervene in around one case per week of a forced marriage of a British national in Bangladesh.

Evidence suggests that these cases are also prevalent in middle-class and upper-middle-class families. More recent cases of educated women being tortured or killed by their husbands throw further light on the fact that the issue is more widespread than thought to be. ‘There are extraordinary characters, who have fought through and some who have managed to step out of the marriage, and regain their existence,’ says Sara.

Over the years, campaigns for the protection of women have gained significant momentum. Organisations such as the London-based South Hall Black Sisters have invariably stood tall and made themselves heard. Meanwhile communities in the UK struggle to ensure that they work together to prevent such issues. ‘Inside the community, more and more Bangladeshis are working on welcoming newcomers and their wives. Although most often, when there are rows or evident problems among the couple, it is normal not to get involved as it is deemed to be a ‘personal matter’. However, there are families who come forward to help resolve such issues,’ writes Aftab Hossain in an email to New Age, a student of journalism at Greenwich University, who has lived in central London for over nine years.

‘We need more visible campaigns and adverts,’ suggests Sara. There needs to be posters and adverts that brief women on what to do when such incidents occur and also how to help themselves.’

In all, the social view that a marriage abroad brings happiness is not necessarily a wise step, especially when the woman concerned has little or no idea as to how she will end up. The control over women’s decision of marriage hence needs to be reduced, if not prevented. ‘It could be that Hazera’s daughter could have been happier with someone living here but someone not all that well off. Her parent needed to look at her happiness and more than anything else, her security,’ adds Sara.

While, the issue needs to be addressed nationally and awareness needs to be widespread, there is also a need to have some form of transnational agreement, upon which, a woman or a man who migrates abroad, can expect support, protection and security, from the foreign state. So, the next time an Asian woman seeks help, she is not asked to leave the country or get her husband’s signature, as she is not a citizen. So that, the next time, another woman, does not die a lonely death.

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The promised land

‘When we were born in this country, even before knowing that we are human beings, we were told we are “Pakistanis”,’ says an eighteen-year-old Bihari living in Geneva camp. ‘Often, the first thing that we heard in the morning would be that we are stateless and we do not have a home. But, for some of us, Bangladesh is our home- we have grown up here, even though the country refuses to give us that right.’

‘I have waited thirty-six years. I have dreamt of my own home, every night. Tell me now, where is my home, where does my existence lie?’ asks Khaleda, a Bihari woman in her late 60’s.

For many decades, about 160,000 Biharis reside in isolated camps and settlements across Bangladesh. This issue of much discussion and debate is yet to be resolved, and the result is that these Biharis- the young and the old, remain stateless and are yet to receive recognition.

Left behind by their own country Pakistan, which feared a mass influx of Biharis who could destabilise the fragile and culturally mixed population which share no similarity, these people, till date, even after decades of settlement, find themselves unwelcome in Bangladesh.

Tanvir Mokammel’s recent documentary Shapno Bhumi- The Promised Land, captures the lives of this community and goes on to explore their roots and their suffering that dates back to 1947.

‘This community has been abandoned twice- once in 1947 and again in 1971. They were promised a land of their own and none of those promises were kept,’ says the director, Mokammel. ‘This documentary does not aim to minimize the sensitive issues associated with it, rather the core of this film is simply the plight of this community and the need for support.’

The Promised Land is originally another name for the Land of Israel. According to the Bible, the land was promised by God as an everlasting possession to the descendants of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The title of Mokammel’s movie is significant, perhaps because it aims to throw light to the yearning of this community whose promised land was never given to them.

The documentary begins from the roots of the Bihari’s and their plight that began during 1947, when they migrated from Bihar to East Bengal before and after the partition of India in 1947. The communal riots in Bihar immediately before and after the partition led to a large scale migration of the Muslims to East Bengal from Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. Mokammel’s documentary captures the footage of these riots and more.

The most reawakening scenes captured by the young director, are the settlement’s of these bihari’s, their 8”x8” houses, the desperate bids of a father to see her daughter’s wedding back in Pakistan, the struggles of people and the smiles of children, through the odds that they live through, each day.

There are countless visual scenes of the various overcrowded camps in Dhaka and elsewhere. Moreover, the documentary includes footage of the genocide during 1971 and captures the many settlements of this community in places like Dinajpur, Shantahar and others, where people speak of their experiences and memories.

Apart from the scenes brilliantly captured by the director, the documentary includes interviews of Bihari victims, Bangali victims of 1971 genocide, researchers, the Pakistani High Commissioner Alamgir Babar and many others who bring light to the present situation surrounding Biharis and the need for taking into considerations of their fundamental rights.

More importantly, Mokammel does not minimize the incidents that occurred during 1971- when the Pakistanis used the Biharis to attack the Bangladeshi people. Naturally, during post independence Bangladesh scorned the Biharis for having supporting the Pakistan army. To this the director says, ‘Indeed, there has been much loss. But years have passed by and for the sake of the new generation, their rights need to be taken into account.’

With neither country offering citizenship, the Biharis have remained stateless for years. Organisations like refugees international have urged the government of Pakistan and Bangladesh to “grant citizenship to the hundreds of thousands of people who remain without effective nationality.”

Moreover, Mokammel interviews international figures such as the representative of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who states that, after all these years of settlement, ‘these people are also Bangladeshis- the only difference is their language and nothing more.’

According to UNHCR report in 2006, it is estimated that there are about 240,000 and 300,000 Biharis in Bangladesh who live in 66 crowded camps in Dhaka and 13 other regions across Bangladesh.

In all, the documentary not only deals with a serious issue and urges the much awaited recognition of this community, but also brings back to life the images of history. The cinematography of the documentary is brilliant. Effortlessly, as Mokammel’s lens captures each alley, homes, expressions of Biharis across Bangladesh and flashbacks of history- it pulsates the lingering emotions of not just Biharis but also those who lived through the periods of genocide and more.

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The rice market (with Turaj Ahmad)

Had the government taken steps beforehand the crises would not have been as disastrous as it has turned out, believes the beggar on the street as do economists.

‘It is always the poor who are affected,’ says a frustrated garment worker and a mother of three, Mumtaz Khatun. ‘In the last one year, tell me about one thing that has been done by the government that would benefit us?’

The recent rice crisis and spiralling prices have indeed hit the poor hard this time. In the past one month, the price of coarse rice increased by 26 to 30 per cent and the increase in last one year was by around 70 per cent, shows the data of the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.

According to the corporation, price of rice rose by 65 to 77 per cent in a year. This past week, however, the rice prices have been the highest rate recorded in the past years.

Last Friday, the prices of coarse rice soared up to Tk 35 per kilogramme and in some retail stores it was as much as Tk 42 to Tk 45. According to market sources, the rice price rose by more than Tk 10, in a span of less than one month.

The government on the other hand, has taken a number of measures including steps to import 10 lakh tonnes of rice from different rice exporting countries, including India, Thailand and Vietnam to contain the price hike.

According to wholesalers in Karwan Bazar, the demand is beginning to fall as the 40 BDR-run fair price shops in the capital sell rice at Tk 25 for a kilogramme. ‘We are supplying coarse rice imported from India and selling it at Tk 25 per kg,’ says a BDR official at the fair prices shop located in the field on Dhanmondi road 8.

‘Each individual is allowed to buy three kgs a day. The prices have been fixed at this amount, so as to bring the market prices down.’

Although, since last Monday, the prices of rice began to decline by about Tk 1 to Tk 2 in the wholesale markets, it was not reflected in the retail prices at kitchen markets. ‘We have not seen a decline as of yet,’ says a retailer at Mohammadpur. ‘We are buying rice at Tk 38 and selling it at Tk 40. We are not to be blamed for the high price, rather it is a section of rice sellers and top officials who set the market prices and manipulates the situation. The government needs to take more concrete steps to handle this.’

Some traders in Karwan Bazar say that they could not sell rice as the number of customers declined and others said that customers bought extra rice stock well ahead, fearing the rise in price. ‘The overall market situation has been rather distorted,’ says seller Barkat in Karwan Bazar. ‘The issue is more complicated and it is concerned with the syndicates and price games.’

On January 9, the wholesale markets including Kawran Bazar and Mohammadpur are selling coarse rice at Tk 31 to Tk 32 per kilogram.

On average, the prices for all varieties of rice have decreased by Tk 1 in most kitchen markets in the city. The lowest price as of Monday was Tk 31 a kg which was Tk 33 two days ago. According to retailers, the Swarna and Parija, two varieties of rice imported from India, were Tk 32 and 33 per kg while they cost Tk 33-34 in the retail market. The price of Guti and Irri dropped to Tk 31-32 per kg from Tk 32-33 a day before.

The continuing crisis of rice is a result of the government’s failure to ensure timely import, point out economists. Although, the twin floods and cyclone Sidr hampered rice production, experts feel, the market could be stabilised had concrete and faster steps been taken.

Reportedly, the economists have mentioned that at least 18 lakh tonnes of rice was needed to be imported in the first seven months of the last fiscal year to prevent the shortfall against the domestic demand.

‘Short term price fluctuations have been triggered mainly due to non economic reasons, namely, injudicious comments by government officials as well as syndicates,’ says economist MM Akash, who also believes that the philosophy of the government should alter.

‘At the moment, we have an open market economy but the government needs to intervene to tackle these spiralling prices,’ he adds. According to Akash, the insufficient buffer stock of rice which has triggered the import of rice from other countries —where the minimum cost price of the commodity is much higher— also needs to be addressed before the next Boro cultivation in April.

‘A possible solution to this circumstance could be the introduction of a subsidised food committee,’ he concludes.

Meanwhile the open market sale of rice began on Wednesday, January 9. According to officials of the food and disaster management ministry, the programme will start in around 1,990 centers across the country, in an attempt to supply rice to the lower income people and also to arrest the price.

While the capital awaits the fall in wholesale market prices to be reflected in the retail prices, other parts of the country such as Khulna show no sign of solving the problem of overheated rice market.

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The torchbearer of Tagore

THIRTY-SIX years ago, on the day when Bangladesh won her freedom, a woman in her late thirties broke down – her tears were of pride and inexplicable joy. The end of humiliation, the end of not being able speak up, the end of the seemingly endless struggle to survive the bloody war had come. ‘I had held them back for so long and it was time that I let them out,’ says Sanjida Khatun.

Samjida has made a long and arduous journey – from being one of the first women to speak in public meetings to being under constant surveillance of the government of the erstwhile East Pakistan and its cohorts; from the formation of Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Sangstha to the foundation of Chhayanaut.
Widely known as prominent Tagore exponent and researcher, Sanjida has always been at the forefront of the struggle to revive the Bengali culture and tradition. ‘I was oppressed, forced to leave places where I had wanted to make a difference and frequently criticised,’ she says.
Yet, at 74, Sanjida stands tall as she always has, and exudes confidence and a strong personality. Her eyes speak of the vast experience gleaned over the decades in pursuit of what she believes in.
Having spent years shying away from the media and maintaining silence over the many resentments that she has had, she spoke to New Age recently. At her cosy apartment, on that chilly evening, she spoke of the memories that had shaped her into what she was – uncompromising and a woman in her own right.
Born in 1933, to a family that had-deep rooted traditional values, Sanjida was inspired by her father, the late Kazi Motahar Hossain, a famous poet of the time and a dear friend of Kazi Nazrul Islam. ‘There were these distinct values that were instilled within in my early childhood – honesty, patriotism, self-belief and each one of these have paved my life.’
Since childhood, Sanjida had faced acute financial problems. ‘It was difficult for my father to bring up eleven children with the limited income. Yet, my childhood was spent dancing, singing and being involved in various kinds of cultural activities.’
By the time Sanjida was five, the harmonium was her best friend. ‘We could not afford to keep a music teacher and my only way of learning was through the radio. When I was ten, my father arranged for a student to teach me in exchange for ten taka.’
Later, Sanjida was trained under Ustad Md. Hussain, a thumri singer of that time.
While completing her honours in Bangla, Sanjida continued singing. Although renowned for her extraordinary rendition Tagore songs, her first performance began with Nazrul Sangeet. ‘I sang Nazrul Sangeet for three years and later moved on to Tagore songs and did extensive research on them.’
By 1952 Sanjida had become a visible part of the cultural movement. ‘In fact, that was the year when I spoke before a women’s group at a meeting near Kamrun Nessa School. I was not prepared nor was I even sure what to say; however, I knew I wanted to speak about the 21st that had given me this language.’
Sanjida says she is very sensitive about the language and that is perhaps the reason why she researched on Bangla Language extensively. ‘I love the sound of each word and that is why I continue to teach.’
After completing her masters in Bangla Literature at Shanti Niketan, Sanjida got married. ‘During this time, around 1955, I noticed ignorance and fear to sing Rabindra Sangeet. It was as though it was absolutely prohibited – it was then that I moved on to singing Rabindra Sangeet. Yet even much of what would be telecast would be edited due to so-called religious and fundamental reasons.’
Even though Sanjida was involved in acting, she moved away from it, as the scripts began to change. Later, she moved on to become the president of the students’ union, girl’s branch at the university. ‘I was one of the first to begin with campaigns and that year also saw women arranging public meetings.’
While spending years often fighting for Rabindra Sangeet programmes to be held or cultural movements, Sanjida continued to face acute financial problems. ‘I taught at a government college and it was so difficult to keep up with it. At various times, there would be reports sent against my work. Soon, with the order of the chief secretary, I was forced to move to Rangpur.’
‘It was during that time, in 1961, that Chhayanaut was formed. So, I had to come all the way from Rangpur and arrange the programmes. There had been so many obstacles to forming Chhayanaut but we did not give up.’
Courtesy of the untiring work of Wahedul Huq and her, Chhayanaut became the umbrella organisation for dancers, singers and musicians and achieved a symbolic status.
‘And then came 1971. The war has left lasting memories in my mind. I do not know how I managed with three children and escaped. Even after that, there were constant financial problems. It made me so humiliated when I had to ask for favours from people.
‘That was also the time when I along with Mahmudur Rahman Benu formed Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Sangstha.’ While the group went across the borders to sing songs and keep up the spirits of the people and those in the battlefield, Sanjida continued her research fellowship at Shanti Niketan.
‘When independence was announced I could not believe it. I had given up the day I had escaped, taking my children in my lap and traveling by boats and on the dirty floors of the train and hearing the ruthless killings by the Pakistani army.’
After coming back, Sanjida continued singing until the time she felt Rabindra Sangeet was not being given the respect it deserved on television. ‘I walked out of the set – on television they would get the worst producers and amateur sound system officials and it made me feel so bad. I guess I went through so much because of this uncompromising nature of mine.
‘I moved away from radio and television because the commercial aspect of it was something that I could not put up with.’
After more than five decades of singing, Sanjida suffered from chronic Lauintis and retired. But that did not stop her from building a platform for young artistes. ‘Despite the various allegations against me, I continued my fight for restoring our culture. At Chhayanaut, we continue to add more and more ways of providing cultural education to children who can pass it on and keep the beauty of it alive.’
Having won countless recognition and worked extensively on Bangla language, poetry and Tagore, Sanjida regrets having not done more. ‘I regret the fact that, in my fight for so many issues, I could not work on the language as much as I would have liked to.’

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Special people

THERE is an unmistakeable spark of recognition in her eyes when she runs her fingers slowly and softly on her gold medals and poses for a photograph. She is concerned about the gold and silver medals not coming well in the photograph. All of a sudden, the sound of the plane flying overhead disrupts her attention from the camera.

As she looks up through the open balcony, her doe-shaped, innocent eyes follow the plane. ‘I got on one of those,’ she tells me excitedly. ‘It went up, up and away. I was scared at first but then it was all right. And then we went to this dream town Shanghai!’ she giggles and mumbles a bit more, trying to remember the things she did.
For eighteen-year-old Shiuli Shaathi, these medals are the most precious thing in her life. In fact, these medals and her badminton racket have for the first time instilled within her self-confidence and strength to live through the sheer adversity of her life.
Having spent her entire childhood being called pagal (mad) and always taunted by the kids in the Gulistan slum that she lived in, Shiuli had started to believe that she was mad. ‘I wanted to play with the kids in the neighborhood, but no one would play with me. Everyone would say I am crazy and should be stayed away from. Even the parents and people around would say I am not normal and I did not know why I am not like others.’
Indeed, Shiuli is not normal; she is, in fact, special. She laughs and plays like there is no tomorrow; she dances as though no one is watching her. At eighteen, she has a cherubic face and thinks like an eight-year old. It is difficult for her to keep track of things around her or often she fails to remember what she was saying, about five minutes ago. She repeats most of the things and loses her temper when she cannot express herself.
And, it is Shiuli who has brought back two gold and silver medals for her outstanding performance in badminton at the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2007 in Shanghai, China. She is one of the 49 intellectually and multi-challenged children who participated in this year’s international event where more than 165 countries participated.
‘We did not know there was something wrong with her until she was four,’ says her mother, Kulsum. ‘She would not talk and respond to anything. As she grew up, my worst fears came true. My child was not normal.’
Shiuli’s father is a rickshaw-puller and can barely afford a day’s meals for his six children. ‘We never thought our daughter would actually do something so big,’ says her mother. ‘I have so long cried about her fate but now my tears are of pride – my daughter is special.’
Shiuli goes to a school that was formed by the Society for Welfare of Challenged. It is through the school’s students that Kulsum got to know about the Special Olympics office in Bangladesh. ‘They learn singing, reading and much more, but nothing changed her as much as sports,’ she says.
‘We have had so many special children who were teary, silent and often uncontrollable and it’s amazing how sports changed them,’ says Ashraf-UD-Dowla, chairman of Special Olympics, Bangladesh. ‘Being a parent of a multi-challenged child myself, I know exactly how it feels and that is the reason why, despite the many barriers, I never gave up and formed the Bangladesh Special Olympics team.’
In was through a unique opportunity that Ashraf, who was then on in the oard for the Society for Education and Care for Mentally Challenged, was invited to Menopolis in 1991 by the Special Olympics director.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of the slain US president John F Kennedy, founded the organisation in 1962, inspired by her late sister Rosemary, who was intellectually challenged. It has the objective of helping people with intellectual disabilities develop self-confidence and social skills through sports training and competition. Among other activities, Special Olympics conducts the Special Olympics World Games every four years. In 1988, it was recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
‘We headed out with five athletes and two coaches and had no expectation. But that small team performed so well that we were asked to start a programme. The formation process was perhaps the most challenging part.’
While Ashraf was adamant about forming a team and participating in the next event, he received no support. ‘The issue of Special Olympics was sadly a matter of least importance on the government’s agenda. When there was no other alternative, we arranged the money from our own pocket.’
By 1994, it had been accredited and Bangladesh was officially recognised as a participating team. ‘We participated in the first Asia-Pacific Special Olympics in 1996 with a total of 15 athletes and 7 coaches at our own cost.’
As the team succeeded and brought back medals and recognition, it finally began to capture the attention of many who had earlier refused to recognise it. ‘By 1999, we had received full government support to participate in the Special Olympics and also train our teams,’ says Ashraf. ‘The whole procedure was so lengthy. Yet, as I look back, I know that each bit of energy I put in running like crazy and making sure this programme survives has been worth it.’
This year, at Shanghai, Bangladesh won 31 gold, 16 silver and 18 bronze medals in the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2007 held in October 2-11. The Bangladesh team won the medals from athletics, badminton, table tennis, bocce, swimming and cricket competing against 165 countries across the world.
‘It’s more like training your own child,’ says Nazneen Farhad, a coach for the Special Olympics team. ‘We get so emotionally involved with them, simply because, we don’t just teach them how to play; rather, we support them, stand by them and help them understand each and every move and step.’
‘Hats off to the trainers, coaches and volunteers,’ Ashraf says. ‘It would have been impossible without them.’
‘I love all the coaches – they are my friends,’ says Rusho Muhammad Bin Abdullah, one of the intellectually challenged athletes. ‘I loved the training. The place had a huge field and trees,’ he says referring to the three-month training at Bangladesh Krira Shiksha Pratisthan.
‘Now I have so many friends and she is also my friend and we play together a lot,’ says Shiuli pointing at a girl sitting in the distant chair lost in her own world and humming something.
As Shiuli tells her to sing a song for us, Shammi (19) sings ‘Bhalo lage’ in her angelic voice. As soon as Rusho stands up to sing along, these special athletes clap, smile and sing along joyously and unstintingly.

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So which school is your child going to?

Not long after your child has graduated from a crawl to walk, and has learnt to pronounce ‘ammu’ and ‘abbu’ clearly, you are face to face with one of the biggest headaches of your life. Which school do I send him to?

Over the last decade and a half, with the gap between English medium education and Bengali medium education becoming stark, an increasing number of parents now prefer to send their children to English medium school to ensure a better future. Catching on to the demand, English mediums schools have sprouted up in almost every corner of Dhaka city. So, which school do I send him to? You ask.

The best schools in town require a child to be registered nearly two years prior to entry that would mean for a first time entrant, when the child has barely turned two. You will have to prepare the child for an interview, prepare for an interview yourself, know people with influence who can recommend your child, your education and financial background will come under scrutiny, buy expensive admission forms, and keep in touch with the school regularly where you might receive at times rude, and in most occasions indifferent treatment by overworked school staff.

If you are amongst the rare lucky ones admitted, (it feels like you have been admitted more than your child), your real struggle begins. First up, you pay the admission fees of anywhere between Tk 20,000 to Tk 50,000 for the admission. Your tuition fees vary from Tk 2,000 to Tk 10,000 for any mid to top range school. You buy the school uniform, the text and exercise books right down to the pencil and erasers from the shop or shops referred to by the schools. Every month you make special payments for school development, school picnic etc.

The side-effects of this very good education is that your child is loaded with homework, which most often requires a private tutor to sort out. As he grows, you need private tutors for different subjects before finally when he is ready for O Level exams where you pay the school their fees, pay the examination authorities astronomical fees and pay individual subject teachers their fees and may be one or two extra home tutors for the really difficult subjects.

Before you know it, from dawn to dusk, your life revolves around your child’s education.

Even about a decade ago, getting a child into a school was not a terror, as much as it is today. Ask any parent who has been hunting schools, who has had her child enrolled in a good school- you will know it’s not just the hard-earned-income that they put in, but also a lot of time, energy and patience.

‘I still remember the painstaking hours of sorting out the long list, speaking to people, and standing in long endless lines for hours under the sun and even being interviewed to get my child into a school!’ says Ehsan Rahman, a banker.

‘The whole procedure of getting a child into a good school has become so frustrating,’ says Tanzila Rahman, a 35 year-old mother. ‘For one, there are limited number of schools that provide quality education and as a result they are hard to impress! Next, for a normal middle-class family, it’s hard to be able to afford the ever increasing costs of this education.’

Surging Demand

Over the years, the demand for quality education or rather English education has increased dramatically with the dramatic slide in the public education system.

‘Having your child attend an English medium school is not only a statement of identity, but also a ticket to success,’ agrees Selina Aman, whose two children attend Sunbeams. ‘The admission procedure is complex and strict, but it is not the fault of the schools – there is just so much demand, they must be able to meet it and make the best of the situation.’

The demand for English Medium schools has indeed surged in the last ten years, and it continues to increase significantly each year. ‘These schools used to only cater to the affluent people in the country. Today, more and more middle class and lower middle class families seek admission,’ points out a senior teacher at Sunnydale. ‘Now we have parents who actually go out of their way to afford the expenses and ensure their children receive a sound education.’

‘There are more young people and hence a greater need to more quality education,’ points out Kaiser Huq, professor department of English at Dhaka University. ‘There is dire need to provide quality education.’

Complicated admission forms

The academic year for almost all schools begins from June, but the sale of admission forms for next year’s admission begins the previous July. ‘First, there is very little time during which the forms are sold, and second, the prices of forms are even high!’ points out Mahjabeen Khanam, mother of two.

Further, today’s admission forms require very detailed and complex information. ‘In some schools, we are asked to give our income, family, job descriptions and much more,’ says Jafan Karim, a mother of a six-year-old attending Aga Khan School.

‘The reason we ask for so much information is because we are looking for a sound, long-term relationship. We therefore want to know as much as possible about the family and the child,’ says Yasmeen Murshed, chairperson of Scholastica, the leading English-medium school in the country.

Selection procedures

Some schools are even adopting a lottery system which totally ignores merit in their selection process, say parents who have to go through a big hassle to compile all the relevant information. ‘I think the system of lottery is just utterly ridiculous,’ says Nargis Khanam, mother of a student who goes to Sunnydale. ‘It is simply unfair, since whether or not you get the chance to put your child in a leading school depends upon your luck, and not on merit.’

While some schools are adopting the lottery method in an attempt to make the procedure less lengthy, others stick to selecting individually. ‘There are personal reasons behind it,’ explains Yasmeen Murshed. ‘We have to take into consideration siblings and relatives of our existing students and staff members. We also want to ensure that we look at each application and consider them.’

‘When there are thousands of students applying for these schools each year, there ought to be a strict selection procedure,’ points out Batool Sarwar, Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Dhaka.

Parent and student interviews

‘Some leading schools require interviews of parents of students,’ retorts a parent, Fazle Sahan Karim, a father of three children. ‘In the interviews, you are asked about your educational background, income and other personal details! My question is, isn’t it my fundamental right to admit my child in a good school? Do my qualifications and job details decide my child’s abilities and future?’

‘We do so in an attempt to ensure personalised service,’ explains a senior teacher of a reputed school. ‘As far as I know, parents are not harassed in the interview; rather we want to ensure that we get to know them better. It is true that we do have certain criteria and we have a tough admission process, but only to ensure a quality education.’

Admission exams

Most parents worry about the entry exams that are prerequisites to admission. ‘We must prepare children months before the admission, as most exams are so nerve wracking and difficult,’ complains Sujoy Alam, a father of two. ‘The exam is followed by an interview for successful candidates, which makes the whole experience scary and demotivating for the child.’

‘The entry examinations are very important,’ says a principal of an English medium school. ‘We aim to test not only the merit of the student but also be able to understand how we can accommodate a child. Moreover, in order to ensure quality you must ensure selection. Add to that, we make a promise of commitment to the parents, so isn’t it important for us to know if we can keep it or not?’

Irrational conditions

‘What about the conditions that are attached with the admission of a child?’ asks Nabiha Sultana, a mother of a Scholastica student. ‘They actually make us sign an agreement under which we cannot sue the school under any circumstances.’

‘This rule came after a bitter experience,’ explains Yasmeen Murshed. ‘But, we mention clearly in our school handbook that, if there are problems, we are more than willing to sort it out with the parents and we always welcome parents to discuss problems.’

Admission fees

‘We are aware of the rising living costs and the hardships that parents must go through to get in a good school. But then again, it’s a conscious decision you must make,’ says Yasmeen Murshed. ‘We are a private organization and we have to pay very high taxes and receive no funding what so ever. Hence, it is difficult on our part as well.’

To most parents, the whole admissions procedure is not worth it, as students often have to seek private tuition anyway. However, despite these debates, others feel that the quality of education offered is as good as in schools abroad. ‘The leading schools offer much more than just good education. They have extra-curricular activities, participation in various issues and much more,’ points out Shaheena Amin, who moved with her children to Dhaka recently. ‘Whether it is in terms of prospects of further education, or in terms of educational and cultural values, they do make a significant contribution.’

‘We must remember that, at the end, these are private schools and more importantly, these English schools do not have any form of funding or subsidies and depend entirely on their own resources. The schools are recruiting skilled instructors which is a huge expense itself,’ says Batool Sarwar. ‘Moreover, at the end of the day, these schools are private. In a market economy, in order to ensure quality which is scarce, they have to charge higher amounts.’

Failure of public education

Over the years, the debate of private schools- surging demand, atrociously high fees and painful procedures, invariably stem from the failure of the public education.

‘Had there been a quality public education for students, middle class families would not have to worry about getting their children in private schools,’ points out Sabina Zaman, a mother of three and a teacher. ‘It’s a fact- the public education is such that it won’t get you anywhere, except for, of course handful of schools.’

‘Ideally education is ought to be free, at least up to secondary level,’ points out Kaiser. ‘What we have however is up to primary education which is mandatory. Then again, primary schools are suffering from sheer mismanagement.’

Indeed, one would not be incorrect in stating that the primary education system in Bangladesh is in shambles. ‘In terms of quality it lacks even the basic requirements.

Less and less well-trained teachers are opting for primary teaching positions,’ points out an expert.

‘Then again, we must also see that there are various factors at work. For one there is more demand and need for training. Compared to that we have limited resources,’ explains Kaiser Huq. ‘The quality nevertheless remains to be a serious problem. Thus causing the huge demand in private education. While attempts to improve are being taken, we face the question of as to, even in a private system, should education be left uncontrolled?’

‘There is need to control the rising fees and the sense of accountability,’ adds Huq.

Formation of a

regulatory board

Against the backdrop of much debate concerning the quality of english schools, the government last year announced its decision to set up a separate education board to regulate and bring uniformity to the English-medium education system in the country. According to sources, the committees on regulating English-medium schools are reviewing their curriculum and verifying their teachers’ training have already completed first drafts of their proposed reforms.

Across all echelons society, the general idea is being welcomed by not only parents but also by teachers and principals of the top English medium schools. ‘This may very well make our lives easier,’ says Nasib Khan, a father and a teacher. ‘The erratic conditions and “miscellaneous expenses” that we pay may be reduced, if not end altogether.’

‘We welcome the idea,’ says Yasmeen Murshed. ‘It is a positive move and I believe it will induct us into the mainstream and recognize the contribution we make to society.’

‘I think the formation of a board is not going to effective in anyway. For one, the government regulators lack any knowledge of the curriculum it self. It is going to be yet another board of corruption and red tapism,’ says a principal preferring anonymity.

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The road less traveled

‘My work has defined my life,’ he tells me, taking a deep puff from the cigarette. There is something extremely mysterious and eccentric about him-in the way he speaks and gets lost in the middle. Yet his passion for theatre is evident. ‘Even if my work is not well recognised, I believe in it because I know I have always chosen the less travelled roads and tried to assemble the many forms of theatre and art and create something meaningful.’

Despite his sheer eccentricity, researcher, artistic designer and playwright Ashish Khondker has undoubtedly, made a mark in the world of theatre. In a career that has spanned more than two decades, Ashish has constantly explored and experimented. His more visible achievements have been in that of contemporary Bangladeshi theatre-specifically in environmental theatre.

The director of several plays- original, environmental and translated, Ashish continues to focus on rare and social issues. Some of his celebrated work remains to be Ekti Shironamheen Natok, Mohammad Amin, Raja Protap Aditya, Bouder Pathshala (translation), The Freedom of the City (translation) and Mirershorer Pala.

On the chilly winter afternoon, when I caught up with Ashish, he speaks of his countless experiments, his ideas, thoughts and the sheer zeal that drives him to introduce more work. For his theatre troupe, Ashish is impulsive yet focused; for children whom he teaches theatre on Fridays, he is a source of inspiration.

Born on March 13, 1964, Ashish was always silent and observant. His mother was a teacher and father was into politics. ‘So I grew up in an environment where I was bombarded by stimuli and constantly debated the issues of the time,’ he says. According to him, it is that environment that went on to build within him the knowledge of literature, art and the social issues.

By 1970s, Ashish was a part of the theatre movement. Initially he began as a member of Dhaka Padatik and acted in popular plays like Comrade, Ingit and Goni Mia Ek din. The turning point in his life, however, was yet to come. In the late ‘80s Ashish went to National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi, India to study performance studies, and that was exactly when his life and perception changed forever. ‘It opened my eyes and it was there, that I was introduced to the different forms of theatre,’ he says.

On his return in 1991, Ashish wanted to do something innovative. ‘Performance study is an art form and rich in context. Despite the so-called movements, little has been done in terms of research and innovative contemporary theatre form in this part of the world,’ says the playwright, with a hint of disappointment. It was then that Ashish began to work with environmental theatre (a unique theatre form that includes participation of the audience).

‘Environmental theatre fosters new involvements and ideas — variations on space, time, and focus. The form tries to reach beyond the boundaries of space. The intention is to explore the architecture, textural qualities, acoustics, and so on. At times these elements in performing space are more important than the performers. The play takes shape through synchronisation of images concerning the environment. It is this essence of experimental theatre form that excites me and I had an urge to practice it in Dhaka,’ he says and seems to be lost in his thoughts for the longest moment.

Ashish is at a loss for word regarding the effect, environmental theatre has had on his life and work. The practice of environmental theatre has made an unmistakable impact on his writing skills and thinking process, he says. ‘I think very deeply- research, read and also bring in the darker sides of life- which makes up the most prominent part of our existence.’

He shares with New Age that he constantly tries to introduce social and national issues in his experimental environmental plays. In 1991, his first play ‘Protno’ - a play revolving Ray Bazar site and the genocide, stirred much emotion. This followed the formation of Ashish’s own theatre troupe - Space and Acting Research Centre, a member of Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation.

Ashish’s plays are indeed, fascinating and unique. His sets are perhaps one of the major attractions as he likes to arrange them in open spaces. In his children’s play such as Alladin that has received much response in the recent year, is a reflection of the kind of colour and perfection that brings to life.

Ashish is working on several scripts at the moment and refuses to share them. ‘They will keep changing, until I am satisfied.’ But is he really ever satisfied? ‘I have not been able to do the standard of work that NSD had taught and instilled within me. Not yet.’

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