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|Volume 11 |Issue 31| August 03, 2012 ||
How are we Seen?
Shah Husain Imam
Bangladesh's Olympic participation is a classic example of tokenism that too topped up by a track record by some melting into one or the other host country to big game events as virtual fugitives. Amidst such disappointments, we have got something to perk us up with.
A paper published in the Lancet 'timed to coincide with the Olympics' places Bangladeshis high on the activity index. Just five percent of our adults fail to get enough exercise. This means that the vast majority of our compatriots pass the physical activity criterion defined as 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three days a week.
The comparisons are incredibly interesting. Bearing in mind the world average of 31 percent of adults not having enough physical activity, you scroll through the figures for Malta at 72 percent in most 'slothful' category followed by Swaziland and Saudi Arabia at 69 percent. The statistics for US, UK and India are six in ten Americans, four in ten Britons and more than eight among every ten Indians are on the 'active' list.
The positive light in which Bangladesh emerges as a physically active nation can evoke any number of reactions -- from complimentary to introspective to critical. Mind you, it is not formal workouts of going into gym or jogging in a park or simple walking (still confined to an urban minority anyway) that are being conjured up in the case of Bangladesh. Basically, it depicts the life of a struggling Bangladeshi people, a people constantly on its feet and at some kind of manual work to make both ends meet. To keep mobile in Bangladesh takes a lot of doing – agonisingly painful, mentally and physically demanding. Thanks to mismanagement of traffic and lack of spoon feeding technologies Bangladeshis are inherently hardship-prone and out of the comfort zone that many advanced country citizens are placed in.
But activity is not the same thing as fitness, the latter having to do with nutritional status. Living off adulterated foods and being in an environ rife with surface and air pollution, the dividends of physical activity are considerably lost.
Drawing comparisons between nations on one kind of index or another and ranking them according to findings based on a set of criteria have become pretty much a global phenomenon. Leave aside heavy stuff like business competitiveness and status on corruption or human rights violation scales, the above aesthetic and softer versions of global indices you feel instantly beholden to and savour.
If only the stamina and the resourcefulness of new Bangladeshi generations were utilised we indeed could have worked wonders.
The captivating part of certain research work is in its springing surprises, exploding myths or decoding truths that lay encrusted through lack of a little bit of mental excavation. Incredulity is an instant reaction to such revelations but before long you really start believing in them. Anything enhancing self-esteem in a deluge of mind dampers is to be greeted with open arms. And when it comes as an appellation to a nation your patriotism kicks in amid a sea of poverty and political leadership bankruptcy.
When Bangladeshis were placed on the topside of the most happy people index, many of us found ourselves over the moon. But then came in a reality check: most of our people are content with whatever little they have; their demands are limited, they can endure hardships, they are resilient in the face of adversity. So what would they be but happy? A young boy on top of a tin-shed house almost fully submerged in a devastating flood had been seen on a precarious perch holding aloft a fluttering small flag of Bangladesh. The international media picked it up at once, the photographed hero becoming an instant metaphor for the spirit of survivability of a struggling Bangladeshi people.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.
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