Friday, February 6, 2009

Old Dhaka

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sala'am: fascinating. I note that some of your pictures -- rickshaws, or whatever they call the pedal-cabs -- are very "Hindu". In any Islamic nation, one would not dare show the representation of a human face or body; that would be idolatry at best. Design art, and notably Arabic calligraphy is key to Islamic expression: one only needs to see pictures of the Alhambra to visualize the lushness of such imaging. To sculpt the walls with sayings from the Koran is an artform unique to the Islamic world and highly expressive in the Mozarabic architecture of Spain. Even a great Catholic prince of one of the many Iberian kingdoms fell under the spell of such design when he built the Alcazar Palace -- that raised many eyebrows in the court of the Catholic King and Queen Ferdinand and Isabella.

But here you give us the "innocence" of a pedal-cab decked out in the image of a Hindu goddess amidst the Islamic nation of Bangladesh. Is it a political statement or is it simply an example of how easily the two religions coexist? I doubt the latter given the explosive Kashmiri situation across the border in India. Even the rabid Hindus are known to attack and defile the temples of other religions -- the latest being the slaughter and rape of Catholic nuns by Hindu extremists.

Ah the lands of extremes! The orange and yellow ship; the "gaudy" patterns and colours -- these only enhance the bright whiteness of everyday smiles on the faces of people you meet. Curious, yet cautious -- that is what I see in the faces of the men. Curious and comical is what I see in the faces of children. But I see no faces -- or even any presence -- of women.

I recently saw one of those TV travel shows with two goofy young men making asses of themselves in other people's backyards. They were in Egypt this time and were committing minor rampage through the city of Ghiza -- more an wadi or oasis than a city like Cairo. They meandered through the city streets which were more alleys and mazes than anything else -- of course, they were playing a variation of hide and seek [give me a break]. At one point, to get a better view on things [as part of hide and seek, mind you] they went roof-top. There is a maze of pathways that connected building to building...this was the women's path, because women were not allowed to walk in full sight on the ground through the alleys and into the markets. Of course, if you saw what these alleys were like [narrow, dark, closed in, and obviously dangerous] one would accept this approach as normal. Add to this the other "normal" -- religious restrictions on women in public -- and you have a fuller picture of Islamic culture.

I am also struck by how nice looking Bangladeshis are. The kids are beautiful -- wide eyes, fresh looking, handsome, quick to smile, and so on....relatively happy. But the men, even the hard workers and older ones, are also relatively pleasing to look major "odd" characteristics, like bad teeth among the English and Scots, or pasty-faced blandness among northern Europeans, or floppy big ears among the Ozzies and Brits, or round squat hairy bodies among the southern Italians and Spaniards. There is a natural elegance, and not a feigned elegance to these people. That's my immediate impression just from observing the people in your photos.

One last thing struck me as I went from photo to photo, esp the harbour pictures -- what's the smell like? As I saw things floating in the water, I was reminded of what a friend described on his recent trip to Mumbai. He's with the Canadian military and is chief advisor to the CF triathlon team [he's also a triathlete]. There's an international series of triathlons for military personnel [NATO, Commonweath, etc armies], and he's one of the international arrangers. Last year, the race was in Mumbai, with the "water segment" being a swim through the Mumbai harbour. Well, that was a stopper for some. And he told me the smell alone was a killer -- esp in 45 degree heat. Wretch.

In the summer, Shanghai has a characteristic odor that hovers over the city, in addition to the pollution you can chew on. The Suzhou Creek that runs into the Huangpu River in the northern downtown used to be pitch black with pollution. Now it's only dirty green, as is the Huangpu, which divides the city into east [pu xi] and west [pu dong]. That smell is not chlorinated water coming out of the faucets.

Even in Toronto, the smell of faucet [presumably drinking] water in summer has a characteristic algae smell -- again, definitely not chlorine. This is why I rarely drink water from any faucet in any city around the world, except New York -- which is spring fed from the Adirondock Mountains.

So as you hopped along the harbor, looking at orange and yellow painted boats, I kept thinking "smells" and wondering what it is like. Not that you have to report on such things!

Keep well and safe, but most of all be happy and enjoy. Thanks for re-opening the blog.


PS It's Sunday, Feb 8. This week we went from minus 27 to plus 8 in a matter of days. It is cold and damp today, grey and sunless. Almost a typical spring day in Toronto, if it weren't for this being February. I fly to Winnipeg on Tuesday to give a keynote talk at a regional conference. It is minus 30 without windchill in Manitoba....see what you're missing.