The Journey That Begun

"So, where is Jamal?" Laila asked again, fear in her eyes. 

"I don't know...We got seperated by the mob on the way, and...and...I don't know what happened to him." Fear was a very contagious thing, I suppose. My heartbeat was increasing at the thought of Jamal, all alone, in the middle of the charging armies of protesters and riot police. 

"Have faith on Allah," Nishi told us, but her voice gave away her fear. A nervous bubble was forming in the room, invisible, yet felt, trying to engulf us all. 

"Who's Adil, then?" Laila feigned a cheery voice to reduce the tension. 

"He's -- well, he was-- my boyfriend." I would have blushed and smiled and acted shy and sweet, but I just wasn't in the mood anymore. I just hoped Jamal wasn't in any trouble because of me. 

"Is he rich?" Laila inquired.

"His father is rich!" A sudden bubble of anger was forming inside me. "His father is a rich, corrupt, hypocrite!" 

"Like everyone else here!" Laila the Cynic was back in business. "Everyone is a hypocrite! All talks of morality disappear when money comes! Everyone sells their soul for money, but it's the ones without a choice that the society calls prostitutes! No one will ever dare say anything to those rich, immoral dogs! "

"But I did!" I protested. "I called him a lying, scheming, immoral glutton!" 

"Azim Ali is one of the big names in the ready-made garments industry in Bangladesh, owner of the Ali & Co garments factories." I informed Nishi, who was looking clueless.

"And how exactly are you related to them?" Laila asked

"When researching modern Bangladesh, the first thing I came across was the garments industry. Adil's mother is from my grandmother's village. When they first came to Dhaka, she worked as a housemaid in my grandmother's house. Dadi still remembers how aunty got married in Dadi's saree. Back then, they were too poor to afford even a saree, yet today, she has more sarees than she can count."

"Adil's father worked as stock buyer for some garments factory, back then. That's how he learned his trade. As a buyer, he had formed some good contacts, and with a bank loan, he set up the first factory, with 50 workers. Over the years, that turned into 5 factories, employing more than 25,000 people and making millions. Ali & Co today produce top Western branded clothes. "

"After Adil's birth, they moved into the bungalow next to ours; well technically ours, since we hadn't set foot in there for the last 19 years, since my parents and grandparents left shifted abroad."

"Hmm. So how did Adil become your boyfriend?" Laila quizzed, frowning.

"That was just...well, when we came here, in October, I wasn't expecting anything more than a shanty town. So our Porsche-driving,  iPhone-using, Halloween celebrating neighbours were clearly a shock. Adil surprised me. He was modern Bangladesh, the youth, the 21st century, globalised, dynamic, future super-power."

"I had felt a real connection with him. It seemed so real. Well, I was a fool. I thought he was what real Bangladesh was: dynamic, modern. He and his friends wore Converses, ate at Pizza Hut and KFC, watched the latest 3D films, showed off the latest gadgets, spoke Bengali with an English accent...I could go on and on!"

"So you fell for Mr Rich, as he was Mr Rich?" Laila wondered allowed.

"Not really. I thought we understood each other. When we first met, he seemed so lost to me. He wanted to study law at University, but his dad expected him to take over the business after him, especially since his brother Adam's --" I stopped quickly. Adam is Adil and his family's personal issue, and I shouldn't be sharing it to everyone.

"I couldn't sleep in the night, due to the time-zone jump. We would talk over the balcony every night. He told me how worried he was about his future. I told him how much I wanted to see the world and wanted to see how people survived without the luxuries we both had."

"With Adil and his friends, I enjoyed the best of Bangladesh. We traveled the whole of Bangladesh and visited every single tourist destination you could imagine." 

"We stared our trip from Paharpur, the cradle of civilization in Bangladesh." The words of our tour guide, Shohid rolled into my tongue, as I felt myself being transformed back to the great experience once again.

"The Great Monastery,  Somapura Vihara was built by the Pala Emperor Dharmapala in the 7th century, as a Buddhist center of education and religion." Shohid informed a very bored-looking crowd of Adil's friends, most of whom I didn't know, apart from his best friend Roy, and the coordinator of our trip, Lina.

Lina was a year older than Adil, but was still coming to school to avoid needing to make the inevitable choice of going into further education. Her ambition was to make documentary films, something her affluent, traditional family absolutely disregarded. Lina was, however, a lot cleverer than everyone presumed. Not ready to leave her sole goal, she was exploiting a loop-hole in the 'English-medium' education system: as students have to register and pay for their own A-Level (& IGCSE) exams, many wait until 'they have had ample time to prepare'. As a result, students attending classes & tuition are often from different schools, ages and social standing. Only thing that unites these young people is probably the financial ability of their parents to fund their hugely expensive private education and the amount of pressure they are under to succeed over the 'Bangla-medium' kids, the inferiors in their parents' opinion.

"The modern-day university system still borrows from the idea of monasteries, in being the epicenter of art, culture and scholastic activities."  Lina whispered to me, camera focusing on the architecture. The walls were decorated in carved stones and terracotta plaques, reflecting the building's religious function, which is greatly influenced by Buddhist architecture. I felt slightly guilty in knowing this due to countless trips to different parts of Asia: Thailand, Japan, Indonesia on family holidays in my childhood. Why, oh why, did my parents never bring me to Bangladesh for a holiday. 

Shohid ushered our group to walk along, as more tourists were approaching, this time a group of Japanese tourists, walking with their noses deep in guide books, their guide trying to lead them in his heavily accented broken English.

The monastery was quadrangular in form, with a colossal temple of a cross-shaped floor plan in the centre of the courtyard and with an elaborate gateway complex on the north.

"There are 45 cells on the north and 44 in each of the other three side, making a total number of 177 monastic cells along the enclosure walls on the four sides and covers an area of about 11 ha." Shohid's informed us. That's the same as 11 Trafalgar Squares put together! And they say Bangladesh is over crowded.  The entire establishment, which occupies a quadrangular court measuring more than 275 m, externally on each side, has high enclosure-walls about 5 m thick and 3-5 Tm high.

Evidence of the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in Bengal from the 7th century onwards, Somapura Mahavira (Great Monastery) was a renowned intellectual centre until the 12th century. Its layout perfectly adapted to its religious function, this monastery-city represents a unique artistic achievement. With its simple, harmonious lines and its profusion of carved decoration, it influenced Buddhist architecture as far away as Cambodia.

A small site-museum built in 1956-57 houses the representative collection of objects recovered from the area. The excavated finds have also been preserved at the Varendra Research Museum at Rajshahi. The antiquities of the Museum include terracotta plaques, images of different gods and goddesses, pottery, coins, inscriptions, ornamental bricks, and other minor clay objects.


"Dadi thought 

which employs over 4,00,000 people, out of which, 87% are young women

The End

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