First Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/qurbani-eid-then-now/
Date: Sunday, October 13, 2013

Standing at the long veranda of our family home in old Dhaka, watching men of the house getting the cows in through the main gate marked the beginning of Qurbani Eid, when I was a child. Everyone would gather either at the courtyard or the veranda and make observations about the cows.
quarbani EidOf course the elderly people would scrutinize and provide running commentary on the cow being too thin or something unsatisfactory about the teeth. The women of the house would instantly start booking pieces of the cow for nehari, kebab, roasted cold cuts and meat loaf/pies. The kids would be just excited to have a short term, limited edition zoo in the house. Kids would be feeding the animals and cleaning up after them, under the supervision of the guard of the house. The cows would be given names. We, kids, would rush to the backyard after returning from school. As it was a joint family, every year we had more than five cows and several goats.
On the eve of Eid, we used to get dreadful insights into the psyche of the cattle from the guard or the help. They used to tell us things like “these animals know they will be slaughtered tomorrow morning, look they are crying, all of them are saying goodbye to each other”. Listening to such gut-wrenching stories, we used to get strange feelings, and I remember I couldn’t eat meat for a long time. I was convinced that the cows were aware of their fate.
Then came the morning; all dressed up we used to stand at the veranda, watching the poor animals being slaughtered. One of the boys from our family would do the honour of making the first cut, then the Maulana would complete the formalities, and finally the butcher would get to work. By afternoon as the kolija or brain would get all spiced up, ready to be consumed, at the upstairs kitchen, the yard would be cleaned with bleaching powder — leaving the entire house smell weird. That was Qurbani Eid for us. The entire city smelling of innards and bleaching powder for days.
After getting married I went to the rural home of my in-laws to be with them during Eid. There, all the cows are taken to a particular field and the rest is taken care of by the people in charge. The one-third of the total meat that is for the house would naturally arrive, another share would be for the relatives, and the rest would get equally distributed among the poor households who can’t afford a Qurbani. It isn’t like what we see in the city — the same people asking for meat and getting more than they can consume, and on the other hand some not getting any.
As I’m supposedly a “grown-up” now, I stand in my mother’s shoes — thinking and planning, browsing the recipe sites, deciding on a menu focusing on beef, stocking up spices and making all preparations. I haven’t noticed this shift so thoroughly until I started writing this. The men still talk about the market price, which haat to go to, and the kids are again partly excited and partly traumatised.
Have a great Eid!

Ten years back on such autumn morning a group of 40 people started a 28 hours long journey to Cox’s Bazaar for Eid photo shoot of the summer fashion catalog. Like strangers we met, amidst countless waves, There I met a man who swept me off my feet and made me float on the water. No matter how much I loved the sea I always avoided getting deep inside. For me I was falling into the big blue ocean twice at the same time. First, I was literally falling into the sea and secondly into his arms.

People are always strangers. No matter how much habit you get used to with, no matter if you remember how much sugar the other person likes in his tea, how strong the coffee would be, which side of the bed he prefers to sleep or which his favorite song, he changes. The other person might start taking less sugar, lighter coffee or listens to a complete new genre of music. Then you adapt again. And the process goes on. It is a constant process of change, shuffle and adjust.

We still remain strangers. We still learn to cope with each others illness, mood swings and minor-major changes in habit that changes the entire being altogether. Now after ten long years, I started to know you all over once again. The journey begins once more. I wonder if I should again take up the tedious work of knowing someone deep or just let it be and try not knowing at all. There is nothing ‘absolute’ in human nature. Life is a constant process of change, for better or for worse. The real adventure lies in managing thyself. It is more challenging to know what we want for ourselves. If you know and understand yourself, everything else will fall into the right place. I want my wings back, to fly and feel, if you care tag along. I want to fly high, fly with me, dive in-dive out, swirl, toss, shake and fly.

First published: http://blogs.dw.de/womentalkonline/2013/09/18/rape-how-many-times/
Date: 18.09.2013 | 14:09

The Viqarunnisa Noon School is one of the most prestigious and well-known educational institution for girls in Bangladesh. In July 2011, the school witnessed an incident of rape. According to reports, Parimal Jaydhar, a teacher at this school, had been harassing a student sexually and blackmailing her when she went to his house for private tuitions. He recorded these instances on video and also threatened to post these videos on the internet if she were to go and report his abuse to the police. However, the girl decided to complain to her parents, following which her father filed a case against the teacher.

Students of that school broke into protest to arrest Parimal and ensure justice for the victim. The girl was lucky as all of Bangladesh stood by her and ensured punishment for the rapist, but I wonder what happens to those victims who go unnoticed.

Some of them commit suicide and many face other social problems. Dr. Mohit Kamal, a famous psychologist in Bangladesh, says that rape causes various short and long term disorders in the victim. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a very common disorder among the victims. This could take even thirty years to heal. Patients of such disorders face long-term mental and physical illness. Some develop abusing attributes in their characters, some become violent and some become numb for life. Rape victims require constant support and encouragement from people around them. They require extra care for a long time.

While researching for this blog, I got to see the form used by the police in Bangladesh for interrogating a rape victim. Every small detail of her body is described in this form which is produced in court. The lawyers then read out the details in the presence of the victim, not once, but many times, which is like being raped for a second time and that too in front of a room full of people who are amused to be a part of such “mouthwatering” issues.

This causes the victims further trauma and stress. In one case a 13-year-old girl was abducted and kept in a single room for over a month and then repeatedly raped by a group of men who were from families with a lot of clout. The police recorded the report in favor of the rapist and described the young girl in a manner which seemed to suggest that the girl was used to regular sex and that her body had developed accordingly.

A girl who has been raped four to five times a day for more than a month will experience changes in her body, but this point was categorically avoided. The five men were freed and the girl didn’t get any justice. Most importantly, her body and her age or any other attribute of the victim doesn’t justify the act. Her age, height, the size of her breasts and other details have no role to play in the act. She was forced to have sex.

But such long forms and legal loopholes make it easier for the perpetrators to escape as they can make the incident look like consensual sex or in most cases, brand the girl as a person of low moral sense or a prostitute.

Another thing, which needs to be talked about, is the role of the media. In the case of Viqarunnisa student, the elite, educationists, activists, NGO workers and people from all walks of life in Bangladesh rallied for justice, but many newspapers published her name, her photographs and even her address.

The identities of rape victims need to be kept secret so she does not go through additional trauma, but many people still believe that a rape victim has an active role to play in the entire incident. She may have dressed inappropriately, which provoked the rapist’s attack on her or she may have given him some hint of acknowledgment because of which he dared to attack.

We saw the Indian media play a commendable role in the Delhi rape case earlier this year. Every newspaper and other media agencies referred the victim “Nirbhaya,” which is the Hindi word for fearless. Her name and identification was never made public. They published an illustration an avoided real pictures of the crime scene or the criminals.

The trauma a victim goes through ensures that she suffers for a very long time. However, we can take measures to ensure justice and support for such women in need.

Author: Aziza Ahmed

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

First Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/unattended-books-on-my-shelf/
Date: September 15, 2013.

During schools days, challenged with class tests every week, I had an immense eagerness to read books. I used to have yellow lights in my room so that I could read after my parents went to bed. I used to carry books with me to the dining table, journeys everywhere. Gone are those days when I couldn’t eat or sleep without a book. These days, months go by without reading a single book. Not that I am working so hard that I don’t get the time. It is just that after the daily, mundane chores I do not have the energy left to read anything other than what I MUST read (e.g. grocery list).
Now, “the must read” part is a bit tricky, certainly recipes and Facebook statues are not a must read. However, I realised, the amount of recipes I read in a week, if I accumulate all, it would be two fat novels a week or more perhaps. Also the time I spend on Facebook — reading not so important memes, statuses, notes, comments and shares — affects my desire to do some actual reading.
If you really think about it, 24 hours is a lot of time. You can sleep, eat, work, socialize, do more and still have some time left. If you spend time efficiently, you do get to do things you want. I hate any issue that makes me look or feel inefficient; money and time top that list. Each month, towards the end, I sit looking up at the sky and wonder where did my money and time go, what fun I had in exchange of the two most precious resources I have.
Traffic jams are the best time when you can engage in reading. Every day I spend almost two to three hours on the road, in traffic. From now, my traffic jam resolution is to finish those 26 books on my shelf. Or I can become “digital” and go for audio books. My son loves his books too; he spends quite a good amount of time each day turning the pages and trying to read, or rather pretending to read. I can’t explain how grateful I am for this. His recent interest in books has inspired me a great deal to get back to reading too. I better get started; it’s a long list of books.

First published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/back-to-school/
Date: Sunday, August 25, 2013

I love stationeries. Pens, pencils, pencil box, geometry sets, page markers, paperclips, files, new books — all these thrill me. I always need new, sharp, colourful and varieties of stationeries to keep me glued to my desk (now my work station). Good and attractive stationeries motivate me, to at least attempt to get going. Even now, in my handbag, besides finding a lipstick or an eye pencil, you will certainly find a stationary kit with two to three kinds and colours of pens, pencils, markers, erasers, sharpeners and much more (if you’re lucky, might even find a small stapler). I’ve always possessed bright and of course less durable fancy geometry boxes. My geometry boxes usually were loved by the entire class. That couldn’t help me get great grades in geometry but that’s a different topic altogether.
Another thing I love is “back to school day”. No matter how bad the results were, or how traumatising the previous class teacher was, I always loved going back to school, to a new class with new books and a set of new stationeries. I always needed everything new. My mother told me, it is a tradition to use the old ink pen for years and how people have used it for generations. I, however, never felt that way. I wanted EVERYTHING new. I still vividly remember the first time I bought a fountain pen and an ink bottle. My mother bought me a silver capped, green Parker pen and Pelikan royal blue ink. The refilling sessions were overwhelming in the first few days.
I never realised I missed those days until very recently, when I was wrapping my son’s textbooks. It took me back to the good old days; a walk down memory lane. “The Radiant Way” character Tom, who sings, or Little Miss Muffet suddenly seemed like long-lost relatives. While organising his pencil box, colour pencils, notebooks etc, I suddenly got this urge for that first Parker pen, that green and yellow geometry box my uncle got me from Germany, and that pretty pencil set my father bought me after I recovered from paratyphoid in class three. My rhyme books, “Amar Boi” or even the Wren and Martin grammar book — I wanted them all. All those memories were rushing back to me. I am glad — thanks to my son — I got to reconnect with them.
Starting this year, I have decided to celebrate the “back to school day” with my son. I have decided to bake a cake (my idea of celebration, on any occasion) and prepare him for the challenges ahead. “Back to school day” is again back in my life — in a different form. More challenging days this time. I bet the rewards will be sweeter and failures will be harder to accept. It is back, nevertheless. With that I wish all the best to all the mothers who are going back to school once again.

First Published: http://blogs.dw.de/womentalkonline/2013/08/16/victims-of-love/
Date: 16.08.2013 | 14:36

Rumana Manzur, a graduate of Dhaka University, was doing her post-graduation as a Fulbright scholar in the University of British Columbia. In June 2011, she returned to Bangladesh to visit her five-year-old daughter Anushey and husband, Syed. But Syed was not very happy with his wife’s choices.They were having arguments about this. On June 2011 one day he suddenly attacked her from behind as she was working at her computer. He pulled her her hair, bit her face and chewed her nose. He also scratched her eyes with his fingers and made her blind forever. Manzur was working on her thesis around that time. She was rushed to the hospital as she was bleeding severely. Later, she was taken to Chennai in India for further treatment.

Syed was always jealous of his wife’s career. He himself was jobless and less successful in his life compared to Manzur. He was arrested 10 days after the incident took place. Later he was found dead in his prison cell.

However, Rumana persued her studies once she was better. Her weak eyes couldn’t stop her from achieving what she wanted. After the incident she left the country with her daughter Anushey and her parents and settled in Canada. Life was not easy, she had to fight the new climate, new culture, deal with being a single mother, all this after having lost her eyesight. Manzur learnt how to read and write in the Braille system. Finally in June 2013, she received her second Master’s degree. Rumana Manzur is an epitome of courage, strength and zeal.

Manzur is not the only one who faced the “consequences” of trying to study and come up in life. A similar incident happened in the same year. On December 4, 2011 Hawa Akhter Jui lost her fingers as she was persung her studies without the permission of her husband, Rafikul Islam, a laborer working in the Middle East. Hawa was going ahead with her education despite vehement opposition from her husband. She had always wanted to finish her education.

After losing her finger, she took a while to adjust to it. In February 2012 she completed higher secondary school certificate examination. Special arrangements were made by the education ministry to help her and a person was hired to write on behalf of Hawa as she spoke out the answers lying on a sick bed in the examination hall. Artificial fingers now help her in carrying out basic activities like writing.

Strong women like Hawa and Rumana are today’s role models. One lost her eyes at the hands of her husband and another lost her fingers, but nothing could stop these women from achieving their goals. Life has been brutal, society was critical and above all there was severe mental stress and trauma.

Author: Aziza Ahmed

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

First Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/a-gift-from-heaven-at-my-make-believe-lawn/
Date: Sunday, July 28, 2013

There are times when something small and otherwise unnoticeable makes your day. This was one of those mornings for me. After waking up, I opened the door to the balcony and was overwhelmed by this heavenly perfume. My heart skipped a beat — beautiful, pearly white gondhoraj in full bloom. Oh My God! After much perseverance, effort, and praying from my end, they finally decided to show up. I felt like looking at the flowers all day.
A significant part of my time has been invested in the garden I have tried to create at my balcony. I grow a few kitchen herbs, decorative plants and white flowers that can grow in limited space, with minimum direct sunlight and air. I also have a pot of grass; I call it my make-believe lawn.
In a city like Dhaka where life is anything but “fresh”, this is a little piece of heaven I possess. In the beginning when I started gardening, I could never keep the greens look, well, quite as green as I wanted. Slowly, with time I started to understand them — when should I water more, if I should move the tubs and so on. It comes naturally to you, not much effort is required. However the two men at home are totally oblivious to my green thumb. I dragged both to the balcony to admire the beautiful vision. Both said “Oh…flowers.” “Oh…flowers”? And that’s all the enthusiasm I heard for the remarkable sight and smell.
I asked myself, did I start gardening for them, or for anyone else? Do I want applause for my accomplishments, or is it for myself only? I came to the conclusion that I did this entirely for myself. Because it makes me happy; makes my balcony smell heavenly; gives me a reason to smile, a reason to wake up early in the morning, go to my make-believe lawn and feel like I’m walking barefoot on a green carpet of grass.
Very recently I started doing yoga at the balcony. But then I figured I have turned into a local entertainer, and decided to take my act indoor. Early in the morning, five to ten minutes of absolute silence at the green balcony gives me a certain kind of bliss that replenishes my energy.
These are feelings you need to feel, need to have inside. Maybe everyone at home will not understand the importance of that particular white flower, but as long as it makes you happy, stimulates your mind, and gives you a positive feeling — by all means, cherish it.
Bohemian Soul is a working mother of a 6-year-old. She would much rather bake and write poetry all day but knows how to keep it real.

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