Saturday, November 24, 2007

City of No Lights...

Last week, Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh. On looking at the bright sunshine and calm blue skies of this afternoon, one would never have imagined what hell had wrought through just 7 days ago, leaving the shambles that remain all over the country today. And in all of this, I am ashamed to say I have done an insignificant amount to help so far…

On Thursday night (November 15th), I had gone with my friend to see 2 of Dhaka’s great musicians (yes, maybe that’s just my opinion) -Arnob and Andrew Morris- in concert at the Dhaka Club. Apparently, these clubs have restricted access; Dhaka Club being particularly infamous for its exclusivity. Lucky for me, the American passport would have come handy if my friend’s father had failed in getting me in. That morning when I had woken up, the air had felt much cooler and wetter than other days. There was a continuous drizzle all morning and afternoon- reminding me of the rainy days in New York. I had heard warnings of the approaching “bad weather,” but it all went unheeded in my head. I was looking forward to seeing two amazing people in concert, one of whom has become an inspiration for me and my writings. The incoming cyclone was far from our minds as we headed to the Dhaka Club. In typical hypocritical fashion all that we worried about was hearing the song “Tomar Jonno” being played that night, and not what the increasing wind and rain might be bringing. The concert began late, and while we waited I received text messages from a colleague of mine informing of the increasing bad weather and to “be careful” when going home. I then thought of what I heard in the news earlier that morning- that the southern part of the country was in grave danger, and more was coming. During the concert, I looked over the heads of the musicians at the window and could see the trees blowing violently. At about midnight, the audience was informed that the concert had to be cut short due to the inclement weather, and out of consideration for the hundreds of people losing their homes as we sat there,… the loss of electricity… What I found appalling was the cries of “just one more song!” even after such a statement was made about the impropriety of such a concert going on despite what was going on. There were a few drunken cries of a similar nature, but the band had more sense than to carry on… I admit to hypocrisy, but I felt that was just plain idiocy…

When we left the club, the air was quite cold, and a mixture of rain and wind made it very difficult to see. It was dark in the house, as the electricity had gone out awhile before. My aunt told me that the driver’s wife had called from his village- their tin roof had been blown off, their crops were gone, and they were in a temporary shelter. One of the women who work in the house (I refuse to call them ‘servants’) and whose village is in the south, hadn’t heard from her brother or her parents, and had no way of knowing if her little boy was safe…. I lay in the silence of the room and listened to the winds outside. At times, I heard branches breaking and falling. I was tired beyond words, and the last thought I remember having was that I was so lucky to be inside a warm and safe room, only listening to the raging storm outside,… only listening. The next morning we found that the electricity had still not returned. In fact, the entire country was without electricity, and there was no telling when it would return. My phone ran out of charge within a couple of hours. The whole of Bangladesh was in darkness; generators were running out- the city of so many people and so much life had been silenced. A blanket had been thrown over it.

There was no more rain, but the air was steeped with something- you could smell the storm all around. We could only imagine what had happened in the rest of the country in just a few hours as news trickled in of uprooted trees, cattle, crops. As fate would have it, the 16th of November was my niece’s very first birthday, and a party had been planned for weeks. We carried on with setting up for the party as planned, tying streamers to balloons, hanging them up, and setting out plenty of candles. Our guests arrived on time, and we had a candle-lit birthday party where people entered and said general hellos, peering at each other’s faces, trying to recognize familiar ones. I felt it wasn’t quite right; to enjoy ourselves like this, to eat good food, knowing what was happening throughout the country, knowing how many thousands and thousands had become homeless, orphaned, landless. But as was put to me quite blatantly, what else was there to do? I did not have the capability to go out and physically do anything right then. Perhaps I could have found some way, though….

The full extent of the damage Sidr had done came to us within the upcoming days. People have nothing left anymore. Their crops, their cattle, their homes, their very lands have been turned upside down, uprooted and left shattered. Relief and aid are coming, but there are so many… too many. Unfortunately, I have only helped one person so far who has been affected by the storm. The storm has uprooted the massive trees in his home in such a way that they look as if someone had used their fingers to twist and upturn them. The man broke into tears when talking about what was left- or wasn’t. There is more to do, as there always will be. I will join in on relief work, but that makes me wonder… how much (or how little) can we really do? At least with the floods, many had their homes still standing, or were able to save their livestock before the waters hit. But now,… now there was nothing but twisted and tattered remains. What crops will grow next year? The guava trees, the amra trees, they have all been destroyed. What will people live on? What is the solution??

Monday, November 12, 2007

An amusing musing on music (and Muse?)

I’m happy just because, I found out I am really no one.

Yes, I got quite a kick out of that title up there. Would have been better if I had said “on Music and Muse and music in general,” as in referring to the bands named Music and Muse… but I’m not talking about them so I’ll just stop myself from making silly statements simply for the sake of alliteration and wordplay. In fact, I’m sure my musing will be anything but amusing.

I love wordplay. And I’m happy to say I know quite a few others who do, too. At least two of my really close friends are ones who I can call up with a statement like, “is it too redundant to say ‘you are such a cantankerous curmudgeon!, or do you think I could pass that by people without them realizing?” without worrying about what the person will think of me. In fact, I’m guaranteed a good response to that. (Yes, I can say that – if for no other reason than that most people won’t even know what it means… Also, because in such a case, cantankerous works more as an enhancer than a redundancy). It’s amazing what words can do, really. What I love particularly are those that have double meanings and when used with that aim. Or when words are used as literal meanings in sentences that are quite obviously figurative. It gives such a humorous twist to what people say and what people mean. I think this is why I love children’s literature- or rather, the study of children’s literature. It is children who make literal things that are figurative, and that helps us see how absurd our world really is. And of course, absurdity makes the world a better place. No wonder Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of my most favorite works….

Ahh yes, music. That was the original intention of this posting, not wordplay. For most people, it is the inspiration of life… maybe I should say “for many people,” actually. When I come across those who have a very detached outlook towards music, I always wonder what it is that really makes them tick; what really drives their emotions, if not music. Music is what feeds my soul when touch cannot. Music is something that is always there to set a soul to fire, or subdue its tears, or simply lull one into serenity.

At The Bottom of Everything. As a rule, Bright Eyes takes me back to the first year of graduate school, where I would sit and try to write my final papers surrounded by Conor Oberst’s broken voice, and memories of a pleasant weekend gone by. Sometimes it was hard to concentrate because his voice is so distracting, but at the same time, it was the best to write to. It’s not just his voice, or just the way he incorporates his music. It’s that soul- that aura, that tugging feeling at the bottom of your heart when you hear his voice and it wrenches you- and you know that soul is all there is at the bottom of everything. The rawness of his voice, the stark reality of the words and images he creates- those are what give his music ‘soul.’ Anyone who knows me knows that U2 is the love of my life. But there is one song that is the love of my life- the song that I want to marry (whatever that may mean to you.) It’s Bright Eyes’ Easy Lucky Free. This song epitomizes all that is beautiful in the world. All that is beautiful and all that is broken and sad at the same time- one seems to go hand in hand with the other; and for me this song is it. It is sadness, it is heartbreak, it is beauty, it is sorrow, it is happiness, it is the in-between, it is love, it is life. It gives my life soul.

Into the caverns of tomorrow with just our flashlights and our love, we must plunge, we must plunge, we must plunge.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

i have to update this thing more properly....

Since those last emails, I haven't written many more worth noting. The next one I wrote was all about asking for funds for flood victims.... my friends and I bought bags of rice - massive, 80kg bags- and distributed into smaller bags for about 100 families at a 'bosti' in Banani, Dhaka, called ‘Purbo Matha.’ A 'bosti' is the makeshift housings for people who really have no land of their own. They move around from place to place, making their homes from tin and bamboo, or whatever else they can find or afford. They are usually asked to move off areas at will, and usually can be found living on the outskirts of nice areas. Because of the floods, the people from this bosti were living on the side of the road, using plastic tarp sheets and bamboo to make shelter... my friends and I visited them a number of times before the floods hit badly. My friends found this bosti via this little boy named Hosen, who was part of the crew of little boys who collect and sort garbage. All the garbage disposed of by households are collected and/or sorted- and as awful a job it is for anyone, it’s obviously more distressing to see an 8 or 9 year old boy do it, for whom school is not an option…

Every time we went to Purbo Matha, the bosti kids would come running up to our rickshaws, or running alongside, with beaming smiles radiating on their faces, saying “Apa! Bhalo asen?” (‘Apa’ is the term for ‘elder sister’; ‘bhalo asen’ is ‘are you well’) …And every time we asked them in return how they were, they did the half-nod and smilingly replied, “bhalo.” It always fascinated me that these poor children, who barely had enough to make one meal a day of rice and daal (lentils), were so ready with their smiles, so ready with the answer that they were doing well, even if in reality that was questionable. They would run up to us and take our hands and melt us with their smiles. And then would begin the onslaught of “Apa, amar akta chobi tulen na...” (Apa, please take a picture of me…) The requests for pictures were never-ending. Some of the little girls were particularly aggressive, and would show up every fifteen seconds with another sibling or infant relative, asking for a picture with the little one. The little boys never were keen on pictures; it was always the little girls. We did take tons of pictures, but it never was enough… after our visits, we would sit in the tiny little stalls and have tea and puris. The children would show us how they travel from their flooded shacks on the river to their temporary housing on the sidewalk. They would use these floatation devices created from large cement bags, filled with Styrofoam or the like to keep them afloat. One of our friends was even brave enough to go on a “boat ride” on one of those things…!

The packaging of rice into small bags was work, but fun work. Our fingers were kind of sore from tying the raw string around the bags, but every bit of discomfort was worth the while when we saw the people in the bosti later on and how happy they were just for this little bit of help. We had previously asked them to arrange matters such that fights and arguments won’t break out over how many bags of rice and how many families and etc, and after overcoming the first few obstacles, we were pleasantly surprised to find they really did take care of it- and it was mainly three or four women who did so. But on the whole, the distribution went well, and we left feeling like we have finally done something worthwhile in this world….