Bangladesh Slideshow

14 August, 2011

Highway to Death

Bangladesh used to have very good road networks – compared to its level of development. That unfortunately, is a thing of the past. Oh the roads are still there on the map. Whether you can use them to go from one place to another is a different issue altogether.

Of the things that bother me about Bangladesh, lack of safety on roads is near the top of the list. Poor road conditions, old vehicles, inept drivers and reckless driving make our roads deathtraps - both city roads and highways. Not a day goes by that we don't hear of a road accident claiming multiple lives. And it gets worse in the monsoon season, when heavy rains aggravate the problem. Around 12,000 people die in road accidents every year and thrice that number are injured.

I am NOT exaggerating!

44 schoolboys were killed and 15 seriously injured just last month when the truck they were traveling in skidded off a highway and plunged into a six-feet deep canal in southeast Chittagong district.
The boys, aged 10 to 13, were from the Mirsarai sub-district of Chittagong and were returning to their villages after watching their school take part in a soccer tournament. The villagers were stunned into silence - too shocked to even mourn as the small white-shrouded bodies were lowered into graves. Will life ever be the same there?

In the same month, three separate road accidents in Bogra, Gazipur and Narayanganj left 24 people dead and 65 others injured. In Bogra, a bus collided head-on with a truck on Dhaka-Rangpur highway, leaving 17 people dead and 30 others injured.

In another accident, a head-on collision between a truck and a bus on the Dhaka-Tangail highway bypass road in Gazipur, left four people dead and 20 injured. Another head-on collision between a bus and a truck on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway in Narayanganj left three more dead and 15 injured.

And just yesterday, renowned film-naker Tareque Masud (of Muktir Gaan and Matir Moyna fame) lost his life when a bus turned a corner at high speed and rammed into their vehicle on the Dhaka-Aricha highway in Manikganj. The impact of the collision flattened and nearly tore the smaller vehicle in half.

Of the four others who died on the spot was media personality Mishuk Munier, the best thing to have happened to journalism in Bangladesh in recent years. Three others were critically injured in the crash including Tareque's wife Catherine, co-director and film editor.

Our political leaders dutifully express shock at the accidents, pray for the salvation of the departed souls and express sympathy for the bereaved families. Empty promises are made to punish the guilty (bus and truck drivers somehow always manage to escape and evade the law enforcement agencies). Enquiry committees are sometimes formed to investigate the accident. The public never hears the committee reports, and I doubt the government pays any heed to their recommendations - if indeed, any are made.

The government knows perfectly well what should be done. There must be improvement of the enforcement of traffic laws - including driving rules and vehicle condition. The training of drivers (especially for heavy duty vehicles) must be under rigorous inspection (it's laughably easy to get a license in Bangladesh - even if you can barely drive). Capital punishment for reckless drivers should be reintroduced (at least for the time being) for its deterrent value. And last but not the least, physical conditions of the roads must be optimum. This should be done. But will it get done? Corruption has so deeply penetrated this sector (as others) that it is hard for the people to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

According to one study, the annual fatality rate from road accidents in Bangladesh is 85.6 per 10,000 vehicles, making us one of the most road accident-prone countries of the world. However, apart from the human tragedies, the economic costs of such accidents are also quite high.

Many of the country’s highways are in a sorry state. And when I say sorry, I mean hiding-away-in-shame kind of sorry. Sloppy construction and lack of maintenance for years have led to this state. A part of the 120 km Dhaka-Mymensingh highway has deteriorated to such an extent that buses and trucks are overturning in the potholes (well, they are more like craters!). A two-hour journey takes eight or nine, sometimes more. Little wonder that transport owners have suspended services until the highway is repaired to a motorable condition. Transport owners have also suspended service to a part of the highway serving northern Bangladesh. I won't be surprised if transport owners in other areas of the country follow suit.

The message that is ringing out loud and clear to the government is that negligence to maintenance of infrastructure (and our infrastructure is already inadequate to begin with) must stop and repair work must take priority. Is the government paying heed? Doesn't seem like it.

Our government is so ‘concerned’ about the big things - rewriting the Constitution, debating what to call the indigenous people of the country, sewing up tight corruption cases against top opposition leaders, harassing the one 'wrongly awarded' the Nobel prize… They seem to think they can, and should be, forgiven for viewing road maintenance and safety for the people as a low priority! Winning the next election at any cost is their life’s objective. If corruption has to run rampant in the party (and in the bodies that will help the party achieve its goal) then so be it. But I wonder if they have considered that at this rate, there might not be anyone left to vote for them come election time? And those who are left alive, might just say no to a party who has failed so spectacularly to ensure safety on the roads?

11 August, 2011

Rain Rain

The sky is overcast with clouds and the rain is ceaseless.

It is the Monsoon season in Bangladesh and the skies have well and truly opened up over the past few days. We get 80 percent of our annual rainfall during this season (the Bengali calendar months of Ashar and Srabon begin mid-June and end in mid-August) so this isn’t a surprise really.

We love the monsoon. It brings a welcome respite from the intolerable summer heat. It irrigates our crop fields and breathes new life into flora and fauna. This is the season which Bengali poets have written most about. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore is often called the ‘Monsoon Poet’. See how vividly he describes the rain:

Sullen clouds are gathering fast over the black fringe of the forest...
The crows with their dragged wings are silent on the tamarind branches, and the eastern bank of the riveris haunted by a deepening gloom…
The sky seems to ride fast upon the madly rushing rain; the water in the river is loud and impatient…
The road to the market is desolate; the lane to the river is slippery.
The wind is roaring and struggling among the bamboo branches like a wild beast tangled in a net.
(Rainy Day)

We have monsoon songs and monsoon dances. It is traditional to stage a “Borsha Boron” program - welcoming the monsoon.

With the advent of dark rain clouds, peacocks start their courtship rain-dance.

Children also have great fun in the rain.

As do dogs :-)

We have monsoon flowers (Kodom).

And monsoon food - fried hilsha and fried aubergine, served with khichuri.

Of course, on the other side of the beauty lurks the dark side of Monsoon.

Waterlogged roads.

Floods caused by overflowing rivers.


Heightened misery of slum-dwellers.

And as heavy showers continue to lash the towns and villages, waterborne diseases raise their ugly head, with children falling the easiest victims.

But despite the hardships, rain clouds touch a happy note in our hearts. Parents lovingly name their children after the rain (Brishti) and even the floods (Bonna). The beauty of rain is truly a sight to behold.

So I sing: Let it Rain. Let it Rain. Let it Rain.

(Most of the photos in this post are mine, but some I took from various sites on the internet.)

03 August, 2011

First Day of Ramadan

Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan in Bangladesh and I’d been cranky all day. First, I had to wake up at 4am to drink a glass of water (I don’t eat Sehri - the pre-sunrise meal, but my Mom absolutely insists that I have to take something), and then had trouble falling asleep. Second, my stomach doesn’t yet know it’s Ramadan and had been growling (sometimes embarrassingly loudly) since noon. Third, I’d been thinking all day about what I would eat for Iftar (the meal with which we break the fast) and berating myself simultaneously for having such un-Ramadan-like thoughts.

I stopped at a couple of restaurants on my way home and bought more food than we could possibly eat in one meal. My excuse (to myself) was that we were going to have a guest for Iftar. It was also convenient to pretend temporary amnesia - you see, I had instructed the cook to prepare a number of items before I left for work in the morning.

So, all in all, this is what the Iftar table carried:

Chilled lemonade (it looked great and tasted even better!!!)

Ajwa Dates - from the Prophet Muhammad’s ((PBUH) own gardens (we bought these from Saudi Arabia). A fasting body benefits from the date's high level of natural sugars. Dates are also high in vitamins A and B6, folic acid, and a number of minerals. Eating dates is like taking a daily dose of natural multivitamin.

Fresh cucumber slices - another thirst quencher. Cucumber has a high mineral content - ideal for a starving body.

Sliced Orange - the Vitamin C rush!

Chhola (cooked chick peas).

Piyaju (deep fried mashed lentil and onion patties).

Beguni (batter fried aubergines) - my favourite!

Muri (puffed rice) - an Iftar staple.

Mutton Haleem - meat cooked with a wheat/lentil mix.

Vegetable Khichuri (rice and moong dal with carrot and potato).

Grilled Chicken.

Crunchy Jalebis - deep friend flour and curd batter. They just melt in your mouth!

Mitha Tukda - bread slices in thickened milk with almond and pistachio.

and Birthday Pastry!!

Number of Iftar items: 14. Number of people eating this Iftar: 4.

Did I eat all that? Of course not!! But I really do need to practice not being so easily tempted - especially during Ramadan.

02 August, 2011

Amazing Yosemite!

My husband and I were vacationing in July on the West Coast of the US. On our itinerary was a visit to Yosemite National Park in California. And when I tell you it is one of the most beautiful places on earth, I won’t be exaggerating one bit!!! Read on and see for yourself.

Upon entering the park, we headed to Glacier Point, a viewpoint located on the south wall of Yosemite Valley at an elevation of 7,214 ft. The point offers a superb view of the valley, including Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and Clouds Rest. I’ve read that the glacial origin of the area is definitely proved by the presence in it of rocks derived from Little Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.

The focal point of the amazing vista that lay before us was the majestic Half Dome - possibly Yosemite's most familiar rock formation. The granite crest rises more than 4,737 ft above the valley floor.

After walking around the Glacier Point area for a bit we drove on, going through the Wawona Tunnel

to emerge at Tunnel View vista point on State Route 41. The view looks east into Yosemite Valley including the southwest face of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridal Veil Falls. And what a mindblowing view it was!!!

El Capitan is a 3,000 ft vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, located on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end.

The granite monolith is one of the world's favorite challenges for rock climbers. The formation was named "El Capitan" by the Mariposa Battalion when it explored the valley in 1851. El Capitán ("the captain", "the chief") was taken to be a loose Spanish translation of the local Native American name for the cliff, variously transcribed as "To-to-kon oo-lah" or "To-tock-ah-noo-lah".

The glaciers that carved Yosemite Valley left many hanging valleys which spawned the waterfalls that pour into the valley. Bridal Veil Fall is one of the most prominent waterfalls in the Park.

Bridal Veil Fall is 617 ft and flows year round. When the wind blows briskly, the waterfall will appear to be falling sideways. During lesser water flow, the falls often don't reach the ground. Because of this, the Ahwahneechee tribe called this waterfall Pohono, which means Spirit of the Puffing Wind. Thee believed that Bridalveil Fall was home to Pohono which guarded the entrance to the valley, and that those leaving the valley must not look directly into the waterfall lest they be cursed (Pohono was a vengeful spirit, apparently). They also believed that inhaling the mist of Bridal Veil Fall would improve one's chances of marriage. Had I been single I might have been tempted :)

We drove on towards the valley floor, the road running parallel to the Merced River

and wounding through massive California Redwoods.

The Merced River is a 145 mile long river flowing from the Sierra Nevada. It is most well known for its swift and steep course through the southern part of Yosemite Park.

The river's character changes dramatically once it reaches the foothills and the lowlands, becoming a slow-moving meandering waterway.

The Miwok and Paiute tribes lived along the river for thousands of years, thriving on the bountiful flora and fauna supported by the river and its diverse lower course, aided by fertile soils eroded from the mountains.

The drive afforded us spectacular views of the Yosemite Falls - the highest measured waterfall in North America.

The total 2,425 ft from the top of the upper falls to the base of the lower falls qualifies Yosemite Falls as the seventh highest waterfall in the world. The upper fall (a 1,430 ft plunge)is formed by the swift waters of Yosemite Creek, which, after meandering through Eagle Creek Meadow, hurl themselves over the edge of a hanging valley in a spectacular and deafening show of force. The Lower Falls (a 320 ft drop) provides the best viewing point for the waterfalls. Yosemite Creek emerges from the base of the Lower Falls and flows into the Merced River nearby. Between the two obvious main plunges there are a series of five smaller plunges collectively referred to as the Middle Cascades. Taken together these account for a total drop of 675 ft.

After lunch in Curry Village on the valley floor,

we headed out of the Park through the 10,000 ft high Tioga Pass, but that tale I’ll save for another day.