Bangladesh Slideshow

26 September, 2008

The Studio Salon and Beautiful Me

Everyone who knows me also knows that I have really bad hair. It's too fine, has no body, and is a stylist's nightmare. In fact, it really makes no difference whether I brush it or not because it looks pretty much the same eitherway. Now with such terrible hair, I've had a hard time almost all my life getting it cut and styled to my satisfaction. So many imes I have walked into a salon brimming with excitement over the anticipation of the new look, and walked out in abject dejection over the actual new look. In my mid-twenties, living in London, I happened to find Maria, who performed a miracle with my hair, and transformed me from an ugly duckling into beautiful swan.

Sadly, my decision to return to Bangladesh for good, also meant transformation back into the ugly duckling, and no matter which salon I patronized, the before and after results were the same. Shorter hair, certainly, but a very similar look. I had pretty much resigned myself to fate when one fine Summer day a year or so ago, on the reference of a coworker, I found Naureen.

Naureen is the proprietress of Studio Salon. She studied fashion designing in India, and then was inspired by her mother's legendary talents in the world of beauty styling to venture into the world of hair and makeup. She trained at Toni and Guy in Singapore for cut, at L'Oreal for color and in makeup at Lancome. She then returned to Dhaka in 2005 and opened the gates of Studio Salon.

Compared to the 'beauty parlours' of Dhaka, Naureen's place is small in terms of sqaure footage, but her talents have quickly earned her an exclusive clientele. Her salon caters to both women and men, and once you have been spoiled by this young and energetic cut and color specialist, you would not dream of venturing anywhere else. She has even converted my husband, a die-hard 'men's hair should be cut by male stylists because women stylists don't understand it' believer. He literally preens after a trip to Naureen's, while I suppress a smile, and a wicked desire to gloat - I told you she's the best!

Naureen is popular with both expats and locals, and she 'understands' different kinds of hair, instictively knowing what style would best suit the person. She possesses a trait missing in most stylists - she's a good listener. She always listens to what haircut you want , how long you want your hair and what color you want it. Equally important, she is able to follow through and provide you with the exact look you found on Kate Holmes in last month's Elle.

Naureen is also a talented makeup artist, and she has triumphs such as the Prestige Bengal Show (Bvlgari at the Westin and Givenchy at the Radisson), and the recent BGMEA fashion event to her credit. The models all looked drop-dead gorgeous, thanks to Naureen's magic touch. In fact, I'd say that she will soon be giving the leading beauticians of the country - the Farzana Shakils and Kaniz Almas Khans and Sadia Moyeens - a run for their money.

The Studio Salon has all the modern facilities for hair styling and makeup and also specializes in skin care. It is clean, well-lit and has genuinely friendly and helpful staff, not those made-up-from-tip-to-toe snobby asistants who make you look and feel inferior because you are in need of some styling, and who come across as oh so superior just because of their specialized knowledge.

Not only does Naureen make my hair look fabulous which in turn makes me feel beautiful (now please allow me some flights of fancy!), but we get along really well. She is friendly and gracious, and the advice she gives on hair care products, different hair styles and hair care equipment is the genuinely caring advice of a friend who happens to be a professional. The best combination! She is also a kind and compassionate human being, and we share a love for dogs and other animals. Take a look at the two goldfish she has in a bowl to keep her company at work. She is very, very careful about caring for them. Over the months that I have known her, I have started to think of her as a younger sister, and we swap travel and family/friends stories with great familiarity.

Naureen, I want to tell you that you are not only a talented stylist, but everyone that you work with seems to love you as a person! And that is undoubtedly the secret to your success.

So if any of my readers are living in Dhaka and are trying to find an experienced stylist with enthusiasm, knowledge and a pleasing personality, look no further. Studio Salon is open for business Saturday-Thursday, from 11am to 8pm. It is located at Road 11, Banani, above Trendz/Baskin Robbins/Coffee World.

24 September, 2008

The Dark Side of Life

A few days ago, a colleague's mother was drugged by their young maid. The young girl stole a substantial amount of money from the house. My colleague's 10 month-old son was spending the night at his grandmother's that night. While the grandmother lay unconscious, the baby was left completely unattended for almost 13 hours!!

Notified by the panicking househelp who arrived in the morning to find the newspaper on the doormat and the doorbell unanswered, my colleague and her husband had to break into the apartment, to find her mother unconscious and the baby sitting on the bed, patting his grandmother.

It appears that the maid had drugged the food or drink that was served at Iftar - apparently only my colleague's mother's portions because the driver and househelp had also shared the same Iftar and suffered no ill effects. After the two old staffers left, the young maid had the place to herself and she ransacked it for cash and jewelry. She left the house soon after, telling the security guards that she had been sent on a shopping errand. And that if course, was the last anyone saw of her.

In my colleague's words: "I don't think I can ever explain the horror that went through my head during that 7 minute ride from my place to Amma's. I seriously thought I had lost the two most important people in my life. We broke open the balcony door and found my mother lying unconscious on the bed and my son wide awake, patting her on her hands. it was as if Amol was watching over his Nani. "

It must have been a sight of sheer horror but at the same time, a testament of something supernatural. For 13 hours - throughout the evening and night and early morning, a 10 month old baby was completely by himself, and a hundred mishaps could have befallen him, but he had not a scratch on him. For 13 hours a 50 plus woman with heart condition lay drugged, but did not suffer a stroke or pass into a coma.

The family is totally traumatised, shaking from disaster narrowly averted. Sad to say, crimes like this are on the rise. After relating this incident to family and friends, I heard of many similar cases, and worst ones. We need to be very careful of who we let into our houses, espcially with today's urban life of nuclear families and strangers for neighbours. Please make sure your househelp comes on solid reference (in this instance, the maid was recommended by a very close relative of the family who gave the impression that she was well known to them. After the incident they are now saying that they did not actually know her properly). Please take the contact details and photographs of your househelp and register it with your nearest police station. Nowadays, most everyone has a national ID card, so please keep a photocopy. Evem with the highest security at the building entrances, we are still vulnerable to attacks from those within the building. It's probably a horribly mean thing to suggest, especially during Ramadan, but please don't place your trust blindly in anyone.

Let's try to be on guard, and keep our families safe.

21 September, 2008

Shopping Frenzy

Ramadan around Dhaka city has always been very special - more than any other time of the year. Educational institutions and private and public sectors change their working hours to suit the fasting month. Shopping malls, however, remain the main attraction during the month with shops open until late hours of the night. Streets around the city are crowded with hawkers and shoppers.

Like I said in an earlier post, we all try to buy gifts for family and friends for Eid. And as Ramadan progresses, the shopping tempo picks up. Shops cater for every taste and budget, and we go into a frenzy to buy buy buy…

Saaries and kurtas for the ladies.

Oh what lovely colors and textures...

Kurtas, shirts and fatuas for the men

Children’s clothes are bright and colourful, whether they are sold in an exclusive shop or in a makeshift stall on the footpath.

No ensemble is complete without accessories. There has to be the right footwear and handbag.

And new socks.

Jewellery is always tempting.

Shops nowadays have such unusual names...

The very names tempt buyers to venture inside.

There is also a brisk trade in prayer mats and beads, caps and religious books. And fragrant attar.
And let us not forget those not quite so fortunate as us. It is quite the norm in Bangladesh to pay zak'aat not only in cash but also in kind. A lot of shops sell zak'aat clothes.

People also try to dress up their houses. They buy furniture and furnishings

Wouldn't it be lovely if the Eid meal could be served on new dinnerware...

Accessories including exotic plants are added to make the dwelling more attractive.

But Eid shopping isn't over until the very last minute. It is customary for some residents of Old Dhaka to start their shopping only on the eve of Eid, after the moon has been sighted. I've never yet been to that part of town on that particular evening, but maybe this year...

14 September, 2008

Month of Ramadan

This is the month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic year, and the holiest of months for Muslims. Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid ul-Fitr.

Ramadan is believed to be the month in which the Qur'an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad by Allah, via Angel Gabriel.

It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which Muslims do not eat or drink anything from dawn until sunset. Fasting is meant to teach one patience, sacrifice and humility. Those with severe health problems are exempt from fasting.

During Ramadan we ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance into the future, ask for help in refraining from everyday evils and try to purify ourselves through self-restraint and good deeds. Ramadan is also a time when Muslims focus on self-reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment, establishing a link between ourselves and Allah through prayer, supplication, charity, kindness and good deeds.

Since Eid-ul-Fitr is a festival of giving and sharing, we buy gifts for family and friends and also for the poor and needy. We are required to pay the Zak’aat (Islamic tax) during this month. This can involve giving money to the less fortunate...

buying them new clothes...

and sharing Iftar (the meal to break the Fast) with them.

Sadly, Ramadan has become too commercialized nowadays. We fast, it is true, but our thoughts are on feasting. Kitchens are busy from noon onwards preparing item after item for Iftar – chana, lentil fritters (piyaju), aubergine fritters (beguni), jalebi, haleem, cucumber, puffed rice and dates are considered essentials. Not a very healthy diet on an empty stomach.

Every restaurant sells Iftar items, sometimes at exorbitant prices

and one would be hard pressed to find a table during the Iftar/dinner buffets.

Every street corner, from the most exclusive neighbourhood to the poorest of slums, has a makeshift Iftar stall.

Old Dhaka has the best Iftar in town.

But going there and coming back is a big hassle.

We all want to wear new clothes at Eid, and there are shops to cater for every budget and every taste. From designer boutiques selling the top global and local brands...

to the hawkers on the footpath.

We tried to buy the best gifts for our circle of family and friends.

A saarie and a kurta in different shades of green. And the jamdani that just begged to come home with me.

The men would look absoluetly dashing in their crisp white kurtas with intricate embroidery.

The favourite cousin visited the 'cool' stores for clothes, and got an Iftar treat at KFC.

And the blogging girl would be pretty in pink.
And blue... and a host of other colors...
And it is a sign of my maturity (finally?!) that I am putting photos of my Eid collection on a blog for the world to see, weeks ahead of Eid. As a child, I remember hiding Eid clothes in the deepest recesses of my Mother's locked almirah, for if anyone outside the family saw them, they wouldn't be 'new' anymore, you know.

Prices of every essential commodity also soars during this month, despite efforts by the government to keep prices in check. For the affluent, this presents no problem, but for the low-waged workers who are hard pressed to make ends meet during normal times, Ramadan’s ever escalating prices, plus family expectations for new clothes, create a severe burden.

Islam however, is a very egalitarian religion. Apart from general charity, Islam has made compulsory a tax on one's wealth, known as Zak’aat, to be spent on the welfare of the disadvantaged. Zak’aat is one of the five pillars of Islam and consists of giving a specified fraction of one's wealth every year. Paying Zak’aat is a religious duty - given out of obedience to Allah and sympathy for people. However, things given in charity must have been earned or acquired lawfully by the person giving them away.

If eligible people of Bangladesh all paid their Zak’aat properly, and there was a properly managed Zak'aat fund, we would perhaps no longer have such high levels of poverty.