The Economics of Our Loins

When i re-read this article I realized that my subconscious is fairly colonized. Where I made an attempt to highlight women from marginalized communities, my references were only to Bengali (and arguably Muslim women). As if non-Bengali, non-Muslim women should always be reserved for a “separate piece” and cannot be featured in a conversation on “women in Bangladesh”.


Originally published in Forum:
(here with translations)

The Economics of Our Loins

Life, they say, and death, for sure, are beyond our control. Just like my worth. “Ajke tumi 100,000 taka, kalke 50,000, porshu 25,000, aar tar porer din … NAI!” is what he said to me when I told him I am in my twenties and not interested in getting married at the moment. “Boyosh toh are kom holona!” he said, “Taar upor dekhteo eto bhalona. Kaalo. Shomoy thakte thakte biyeta kore felo. Eto porashuna-ghuraghuri-chakri-bakri diye ki hobe?”(You’re not getting younger! On top of that you’re not that good-looking. Dark-skinned. Tie the knot while you still have time. What are you going to do with all this education-travelling-work?)

A couple of years back, I had gone to this monk with flowery expectations – spiritual detoxification, carnal detachment, cathartic solace … blah blah blah. Clearly, I got none. And if you’re thinking he stopped with the spiel on my age, looks and depreciating market value, you are mistaken. He ended with a death threat.

He gloated about how he has Jinns; how an elephant once bowed down to him; how someone was once rude to him and he broke that guy’s neck just by lightly stroking it and immediately healed it with another stroke; how a recovering alcoholic once promised him he’d never touch liquor again, but did, and died. Yes, he told me the guy died solely because he broke his promise. I lost my attention somewhere around him telling me how he cured his own “purushali okkhomota” with his special powers.

I do a pretty neat job of zoning out while making a person think I am paying attention. So I launched my tried and tested method of staring and nodding at skewed frequencies. All of a sudden I snapped out of my daze when he said “Shotti toh?” (Really?) I just smiled not knowing what he was talking about. He continued, “Ei chaar deyaler moddhe bole jokhon diso, tomar agami bochhorer jonmodiner moddhe biye na korle kintu tumi moray jaba. Aami chaina tumi moro, kintu amar kacche je protiggya bhange, shey moray jaye.” (Since you have made a promise within these four walls, you will die if you don’t get married by your next birthday. I don’t want you to die, but whoever breaks a promise made to me, does.)

But I didn’t say a word! He said my nod was my proxy for a verbal promise. Talk about backfire! Continue reading “The Economics of Our Loins”


The Trouble With Naik

Co-authored with Jyoti Rahman for Forum (February 2011)

Zakir Naik is a doctor by training. But that’s not what he is known for. It’s actually hard to describe him. His acolytes would call him a scholar of Islam — an aleem. But the traditional ulema, from both his native India as well as from elsewhere, don’t consider his scholarly bona fides. And in the way he uses the television and the English language, he isn’t like any traditional aleem either. One might say he is the closest thing in the subcontinent resembling an American televangelist. He says his mission is to reconvert the Muslim youth to the path of faith — not dissimilar to the American preachers seeking to create born again Christians.

Dr. Naik visited Dhaka in early December, giving a series of lectures. The reader would recall, that was a time when the hartal politics seemed to have made a return. It was also a time when the Indian film star Shah Rukh Khan’s Dhaka concert captured the attention of Dhakaites. Naik’s visit was overshadowed by these events. And yet, Naik’s visit may be portent of things to come in a more significant way than most other recent developments. Continue reading “The Trouble With Naik”

This Land is Your Land, This Land is Our Land

Originally in:

There are a few things I want to say to my peers.

Dost, we the “new-new,” don’t know much about our history other than the heroism of our relatives, the brutality of the hanadar bahini, some specific dates, some illustrious names and some songs.

When we wear a Che t-shirt, he looks like Michael Jackson. Most of us haven’t read his biography. Most of us are unaware of his flaws. Yes, he had some. You’d know if you dug beyond the translation of “Hasta La Victoria Siempre.”

When we buy a t-shirt with “Joy Bangla” printed on it, we kind of know what it means. To us it resonates as something parallel to “carpe diem/noctem” or “veni, vidi, vici” sort of a deal or even a yin-yang tattoo.

History is not a thing of the past for us to relish on particular days. It is what we make everyday, whether we know it or not – just by virtue of existing. When we were too busy being the Converse All-star, Old Navy hoodie and gaamchha clad ‘casually classy’ generation, Bengali settlers burnt down over 200 homes of Bangladeshis who don’t look like us. The army joined in and brushed-fire killing several of them. And we were here making history – once again with our silence. Continue reading “This Land is Your Land, This Land is Our Land”

The Unbearable Heaviness of Being a Child

(abridged version in Forum:

When I lifted the most adorable two-year old in the world to sit her on my lap, she started screaming “Amar lengtu! Amar lengtu!” with an angry and disturbed look on her face. I didn’t realize I had accidentally pulled her dress upto her waist. Perplexed and alarmed by her premature recognition of her ‘shame’ zone that would in a few years evolve into her ‘fear’ zone, I worried about what grounds her intuition was building up on. As I fixed her dress, she lightly slapped my arm to ‘punish’ me for revealing her shame. She seems to be perfectly fine with bare arms and legs. I was as disheartened as I was resentful to see how aware she is of the hierarchy of fear/shame attached to different parts of her body. Why has it arrived so soon – her terrorized conscious?

Her five year old sister wanted to show off how her little sister is able to identify different parts of her body.

“Tomar chul dekhao toh!”

The little one pulled on one of her curls, “Eita amar chul.”

“Aar tomar chokh?”

She pointed at the corner of her eye, “Eta amar chokh.” Then she took over. “Eije amar naak! Eita amar kopaal …Eita amar gaal.” Extending her arms she said, “Egula amar haath.” Then she lifted her frock, and said, “Eita amar pet … aar eije amar dudu…” Right then, a male staff of the house walked into the room to get something. Before I knew it, I quickly pulled down her dress, pulled her close, and asked her to tell me that story about two girls and their tea-drinking cockroach friend that she had made up a few days back. “Ekta telapoka aar duita meye boshe acche…” Why did it creep up on me without any warning – my terrified conscience? Continue reading “The Unbearable Heaviness of Being a Child”

Miskins, Misfits and Mothers

(In Forum without translations:

With translation:

Zehal-e miskin makun taghaful,

Duraye naina banaye batiyan;

Kitaab-e hijran nadaram ay jaan,

Na leho kaahe lagaye chhatiyan?

(Do not overlook my misery

Blandishing your eyes, and weaving tales;
My patience has over-brimmed, O sweetheart,
Why do you not take me to your bosom?)

– original by Hazrat Amir Khusrau, translation by “Unknown”

Borsha* did not know she had no right to fall in love. In fact, she did not even know, she had no right to be. She was one of the many floating prostitutes of a mazaar area, who existed, but not really. She was a fool who made the mistake of falling in love, an imbecile who forgot she was not a human-being, and tricked herself into believing the promises her customer-turned-lover made of marrying her.

She was a dweller of a mazaar, the place where hundreds of people flock on a weekly basis to conduct wish-fulfilling rituals. And apparently they work. So why wouldn’t her wishes come true when she lived amidst all that magic?

She forgot magic wasn’t for her either.

So her eyes were pulled out, and she was killed by her lover in the Shaheed Minar area. An unfit awakening for fitness freaks who workout there early in the morning and discovered her dead body dangling from a tree.

She needed to exist to cater to our needs, but she had no right to exist. Her story is the perfect example of filth permeating through what we would like to believe is our holy and untainted society. Not the filth we accuse her of diffusing, but the filth we create and conveniently shove under the rug. Borsha lived her life to hone our selfishness, and died at the hands of our nonchalant cowardice. Continue reading “Miskins, Misfits and Mothers”

Who’s My Main Bane?

(in FORUM under “My Main Bane” :


“Oh Sister when I come knock on your door

You should not treat me like a stranger


And is our purpose not the same on this earth?


Don’t turn away you’ll create sorrow”

-“Oh, Sister,” Bob Dylan

Role Call: “Girly Girl…” “Present, Please!”

I don’t wake up to Sultana’s Dream everyday. I wake up to my own very rose-tinted, idealistic, maybe even immature daydream of a perfect, balanced, free, equal and generally hatred-free world, where disparities are eradicated, and battles are fought in unity.

Wow, that made me queasy the way bubble-gum pop music does. But the good thing is, there are many interruptions to my day-dream. Or should I call them reality-checks?

So what are they?

Many human (usually acknowledged to be men), institutional and socio-cultural sergeants of suppression, actually. The demoralization, exhaustion and dehumanization propelled by the turbines of these stifling underpinnings are as tacky and have become as normal as caveman tactics. Fighting them is a given. They don’t shock me. The tiff with them is old and consistent. In that regard, they are quite sincere

The ones who intrigue me are the ones who devalue themselves. The ones who sadden me are the ones who degrade others of their own. The ones who anger me are the ones who just don’t know how to stay out of the way. The ones who crush me are the ones I have accepted as comrades without asking or being asked. The ones who shock and sabotage me the most, are these serpents in my sorority. Continue reading “Who’s My Main Bane?”