Bangladesh ranked 11th happiest country

A facebook friend recently put up this extremely inspiring and well-put status:

 

Determination – The young women who starts at daybreak to reach the garments factory where she works to support her family.

 

Resilience – The young boy who starts selling newspaper at the stroke of dawn to pay for the medical expenses of his ailing mother.

 

Vision – The City Corporation worker who does odd jobs all day long so that he can build a better future for his son.

 

Indulgence – The pampered ‘Daddy’s Princess’ whose biggest worry is to look better than her friend.

Wasted – The arrogant rich brat whose life revolves from one hangout to the next.
Misguided – The self-made millionaire who is leaving all the wealth to his children but precious few values.
Stories of inspiration and moral decay running parallel in this city of ours.

Bangladesh, the 11th Happiest Country in the World; ahead of Pakistan, India and even the USA in happiness

For those of us who were brought up and have lived in new Dhaka during the economic boon, parallelism and contradictions in our society have been integral parts of our lives. In a country the size of Scotland, but a population of at least 160 million people, we live in a vastly unequal culture and society. According to Al-Jazeera English, 30 million people in Bangladesh make up the middle-income bracket, a number higher than those of the wealthier European states of Norway and Sweden, yet the country remains largely an underdeveloped state. Roughly 30% of the population live under the international poverty line, with around 3.5 million of them being children according to the UN, while 38% of the overall populace remains illiterate.
Life here is undoubtedly difficult for most of us. But although ‘living’ is the only keyword, we believe in little pleasures and happiness. With the traditional subcontinental familial and religious values we are desperately conservative about our culture and customs. And this is why despite all our hurdles everyday Bangladesh has been placed 11th out of 151 countries in the World’s Happiest Countries list by the Happy Planet Index 2012.
In sharp contrast to this placement is a list compiled by another survey of the World’s Most Unlivable Cities. Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, ranks first on that list because of widespread social inequality, lack of resources, a faltering justice system and political turbulence. But as it turns out none of those materialistic values impede a nation that wants to be happy. The happiness index was based on three criteria: life-expectancy, well-being and ecological footprint. Costa Rica has been declared number one, followed by Vietnam and Colombia. The countries which have hit the bottom of the list constitute mainly the sub-Saharan ones.
What is more important on this list is the fact that materialistic values do not always constitute a happy nation. Spiritual and mental satisfaction, socialism and family-life are also imperative to be happy; and as the countless homeless people all across Bangladesh demonstrate through this list, a nation can still be happy despite being terribly bereft of resources. This aspect of happiness is strongly ingrained in the Bengali culture, in the Bangladeshi experience where familial and religious duties–regardless of which religion or ethnicity you belong to—- are integral constituents.
After all, where in the world will you find a nation that is terribly in love with its language? That has given up and will always be ready to give up lives when its language or land is denigrated and oppressed? Where in the world will you find a nation where secularism and equality of all religions is so much appreciated, where all religions, ethnicities and tribes live and socialize with each other harmoniously? Where will you find a country that is immersed in its music, folklore and traditional dance? Where will you find a nation that stays
awake all night to see its national cricket team win or lose matches and then celebrate any win or a good fight as if they have won the entire World Cup?
There are definitely a good many reasons that make Bangladesh different from the rest of the world. It is true that we are an underdeveloped, extremely unequal and exploited nation but even amidst our poisonous capitalistic system, we are a happy species.
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Eccentricities in a Bangladeshi Gaa’ye Holud

Gaa’ye holud is an essential part of Bangladeshi marriage traditions. It is the first of the 4/3-day long celebrations carried out to celebrate the unity of two families through marriage. On this occasion, traditionally bride and bridegrooms used to be rubbed on the face with mustard paste by all sorts of people—sometimes on the same day and sometimes on separate days—–but in the past one decade or so, as Bangladesh became increasingly globalized and make up, gold, facebook photos and expensive imported dresses from Pakistan and India rapidly made it impossible to rub mustard paste on the faces of the bride and her groom, gaa’ye holuds began to use mustard paste as decoration items only. Nowadays it is more about wearing good clothes, going to the beauty salon and the DJ playing hard and fast dance beats to which everyone would dance around. At least that’s the picture in the urban cities now.

Photo credit: nudratowens.com

 

Although an indispensable part of the traditional 4-day long Bengali marriage ceremony, gaa’ye holud, in my opinion, is an event most ceremonies can easily do without. In fact, before the latest one I attended whose tales would soon ensue, I can’t even properly recall the last time I went to a gaa’ye holud invitation. To me, as an observer, the event seemed to waste a lot of money, time and other resources for no good reason at all, and the material side of me always sighed to think of all the expenditure going on behind the scenes of a lavish gaaye holud. And there was the philosophy of personal beliefs as well. Around two and a half years back when I turned into an Islamic fundamentalist——-courtesy of the Islamophobic blog-networks———and increasingly shifted towards a more pan-Islamic school of thought and belief system (although I do suffer from intermittent bouts of agnosticism and atheism as well), I began to find the style of dancing and singing in a gaa’ye holud absolutely abhorrent. And with these foundations for a thought-process, my penchant for skipping all sorts of gaa’ye holud grew in an unprecedented manner.

But the latest one was from a series of occasions I could have never refused. It happened to be a classmate-since-class-four’s elder brother’s holud, and my family and I were specifically invited by none other than the mother of the bridegroom herself. It was virtually impossible to escape this one unless and until there was a darn good reason to do so. And hence I had to accede to the request.

But since my mom couldn’t go because of her last minute health-constraints I was left alone. I put on some ironed cotton trousers and punjabi, showered with my new Moroccan rosewater flavored liquid soap and after climbing through an hour-long traffic in a route which would have taken me 20 minutes to reach my destination in anywhere other than the city of Dhaka on a normal Wednesday evening, I finally landed myself in Trust Milonayton on Mohakhali.

Now there’s absolutely no reason to suppose that this was going to be an occasion where the lazy Bengalis will finally decide to be punctual. So although the event was scheduled to be at 7:30 pm, when I entered the grandiloquent hall at around 8:30 pm, there was but a score of people sitting and whiling away their time. I slid myself through the slightly opened façade and was glared at by the cameraman when I almost tripped on his gargantuan wires. That’s nothing new though. I have this thing for slipping whenever I try to walk properly. I raised a hand and punched the air around me to show my disregard for the man’s glare. In a further effort to boost up my lost confidence, I even heaved up my chest and poised my breasts outwards in a malicious attempt to imitate the Bollywood actor Salman Khan. But in return I was met by more stares. And then immediately, just before that Salman Khan-ish feeling decided to leave me, I felt the need to set up a new facebook status through my phone: Letzz rockzz peoplezzz. Fromzz Salzzzmanzzz Khanzz.

Feeling weird, I strode on and scoured the place for anyone I knew. Unfortunately, there was none.

But fortunately, there was an unknown, gorgeous-looking girl sitting just in front the sofa I had taken refuge in; and like me she seemed to be all alone as well. My heart skipped a beat when she turned around and our gazes met, and I could perceive her beautiful multicolored sari draped elegantly over her maroon blouse, hiding her presumptuously poised out breasts in a manner too provocative and too feminine to lower my gaze.

দূর হতে আমি তারে সাধিবো
গোপনে বিরহ ডরে বাধিবো………………...

Kill me woman! Kill me! I thought to myself as she turned backwards again to see the people entering through the red carpet.

I chuckled as I noticed her lavishly made up face and the henna-designed hands. I wondered whether it would be deemed too inappropriate in a public place like that to start a nice little chat with her.

Preoccupied with this dilemma, and wondering whether I possessed enough charisma to charm up an unfamiliar girl, I suddenly noticed a middle-aged woman with her two young (and severely attractive!) post-teenage daughters approach my sofa. The woman sat beside my seat and shifted towards me with a forgive-me smile.

“Ami ki shore jaabo?” Complemented by a smile, in the most pleasant-hearing shuddho Bengali accent I possessed, I asked her whether I should change seats.

“It will be good for us,” the lady smiled back and then looked at her daughters. I changed seats and had to appease my back for shelter in a more uncomfortable chair. Weird. Aren’t these the same ladies calling for equal rights for both men and women? What kind of man would’ve asked the lady or her daughters to shift seats for the men’s convenience when there were many other seats available?

#Such-an-unequal-country!

And it was at that point when the lazy, fat and gluttonous Bengalis found food. A food corner had popped up and was offering the first of the two course meal of the event to the guests. I, being the typical food-loving Bengali, found the smell of jilapis and pakoras wafting through the hall as irresistible as the ladies around me. Very soon I had had stomached around 10 pakoras with chutney and a few incredibly tasty jilapis to counter the sour taste. I also took a plate of chotpoti from the fuchka-chotpoti corner. And then finally, when I had decided that it was enough, I finished off with a few glasses of hot coffee.

It was a further half-an-hour before the bride and her groom arrived. The DJ made a point of stopping all other sounds to play the song Ajib Aur Shaan Shahenshah as loudly as possibleto make the entrance sound as grand as that of Akbar in the Indian film Jodhaa-Akbar. But by then, my heart had skipped beats for several times as more and more beautiful young ladies filed onto the red carpet and took seats around me. I went to deposit my vacant chotpoti plate back to the food corner and then met my friend and host for the evening.

“Aaare doctor sahib. How do you do?”

As we hug slightly and look at each other, my friend has something to say.

“Let me show you an `angle`.” He whispered to my ears over the roar of the music.

“`Angle`?” I asked back, perplexed.

“Yes; an `angle`. The girl in the red sari, standing directly opposite to me over there on the food corner,” he used his eyes to indicate, “I have had a crush on that cousin since class five. Don’t point. Do you like her?”

I turned around 360 degrees to look at the hapless-looking, massively-foundationed and a-conspicuously-dark-shade-of-mascara-wearing girl. “Well. Pretty workable.” And then, as an afterthought I added, “You should see Vina Arsara*. The only girl I ever felt physically attracted to. She used to turn me on; trust me.”

“Oh you know what? I have a pretty-looking friend on facebook with that name.”

“Dude there could be a million other Vina Arsaras on facebook….”

“Yeah but she had a few mutual friends with me. So I guess she is the one.”

“Still it’s a pleasure to behold her. All the boys in Maths class used to run after her when the class ended. And she ran away from all of them.” This culminated in somewhat of a laughter. Even the people around us who were standing with prying ears smirked at our girl-watching conversation. But what exactly do you expect two adolescent males who have known each other for most of their lives to talk about in a place swarming with beautiful girls if not about the opposite sex and their fantasies?

“Oh come on,” my friend brought me back to my senses. “I will show you another `angle`. This cousin is at the bottom of my list though.”

As we walk he suddenly points to another absolutely ravishing, wealthily-dressed girl.

“Holy shit!” The words poured out from my mouth before I could stop them. “Dude, this one really, really is a bubbling piece of hot shit.”

My friend on the other hand grimaced a wide-toothed smile. On his face it was clearly written ‘I told you so’.

After all the ogling was over, when we had both become heavily sinned, and when I was confused whether gaa’ye holud should be renamed as girl-watching or not, it was time for dinner. Morog-polau complemented with Shammi Kebab and khashir rezala. I took a seat at an almost empty table, with only a few weird-looking people sitting around lazily.

But as soon as the waiter had arrived, everyone was filled with a vigor that multiplied by many folds as each plate began to be piled up with the multitude of items.

A middle-aged lady and one of her acquaintances was sitting across from me. On the other side of the woman was probably her maid servant. She piled up her servant’s plate with food and then after some time, all of a sudden, probably thinking that it was beneath her to sit with her servant for the victuals, she got up leaving her plate untouched. It was pretty obvious from the manner she left after thinking it through for sometime that she was affected by problems of class and castes in her decision. And my reasoning behind her eccentric demeanor was further substantiated by how she materialized minutes later at the table out of nowhere and then, instead of resuming her position, she tried to shower both her servant and the acquaintance she had left behind with food from the table. In her mind maybe, she knew that she had behaved unjustly. And thus out of that feeling of guilt, she was trying to make repercussions by being overly kind and entertaining to her servant who had been left behind feeling small and undignified at the mistress’ behavior.

I wondered how I would have behaved if I had been in the woman’s shoes. Surely I don’t mind sharing the same table with our servants or driver in a wedding party. But I reconsidered my mom; I was absolutely sure, given the high level of sobriety and demeanor she maintains, that my mom would have never sat on the same table with her helpers.

It’s a weird world indeed. The formation of Pakistan during the 1947 partition and Bangladesh during the 1971 war stemmed out precisely from class difference. Pakistan was formed to get rid of the Zamindar and landlord-based caste system. And then Bangladesh was shaped because of the class difference and discrimination between East Pakistan and West Pakistan. But today in the modern-day parties of urbanized Dhaka, the issue has largely been scraped away from everyone’s mind.

When I returned back home my mom summoned me to her room.

“What the—?” she stopped in mid-speech as she looked at me.

“Yes?” I wondered how I had disapproved her now.

“Please don’t tell me you wore this simple-looking punjabi to the holud. Please don’t.”

“Well mom. I must disappoint you on that. Because this is the one I wore.”

My mom was ready to erupt. “Why is it that you have to earn my disapproval for your weird style of clothing during every single occasion? Can you never put on something decent?”

“Well you know, don’t you? Half the time I don’t even look at what I have put on. But this punjabi looks okay. Maybe a bit mismatched but workable nevertheless….”

“What’s wrong with you? Don’t you get provided enough to buy you a gorgeous punjabi? And I thought you have your own savings now. I am sure your host did not even look at you once throughout the holud. You are so un-presentable.”

“On the contrary I actually had quite a great time. And anyways, my friend wouldn’t have been my friend if he chose people through their outlook. So please: stop.”

With that I impudently left her room. I got undressed and switched off my bedroom lights to get some sleep. Reclining on my bed, I reflected back on the events of the evening.

So yes, if I am to end this write-up in the traditional SAT essay style, I should probably conclude that that was one fucking eccentric evening!

But then again, my life itself is an eccentric one. So I don’t really think I ought to complain about eccentricities in a Bangladeshi gaa’ye holud.

 

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*Names in this article have been changed in order to protect people’s privacy.