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     Volume 4 Issue 19 | October 29, 2004 |

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in the



I like to refer to myself as a dreamer. I used to think this was a good thing, that the world needed more dreamers and idealists in order to balance out all the evil and madness that surrounds us. I think that attributes to the reason why I love watching Bollywood movies so much. I love the idea of the unthinkable being made possible -- two star-crossed lovers fighting outside circumstances to be together, unrequited love finally being blessed with some kind of completion or closure, people embedded in their notions of class differentiations and religion-based discriminations being enlightened, religion- and sectarian-based violence coming to an end, or some kind of standstill, the bad guy either dying in the end, or coming to some kind of epiphany where he realises that he was wrong too be evil, good prevailing, evil falling -- happy happy happy. All's well that ends well. It's very rare that reality really bites in a Hindi movie without some kind of respite for the hero and heroine -- some Novocain to ease whatever trauma and pain they have encountered, some sugar to go along with those tiny, but strong grains of salt that we all at some point, have to inevitably swallow. Wouldn't life be easier for all of us if we all had the relief of knowing that something better and worth every ounce of pain that we endure is waiting right around the corner?

Unfortunately reality is not as pretty and starry-eyed as it seems in the movies. It has taken me a long time to figure that one out -- chalk it up to years and years of living in my own cocoon of books and movies and surrounding myself around people who think just like me. But now I see more and more that this world has no room for dreamers.

Dhaka city and the society I claim as my own has been particularly integral in jolting me into this reality check. In a group full of twenty- and thirty-somethings, where most of us try to find the most simplicity -- is where I see the most complexities and contradictions. What I find disturbing is the fact that people -- people my age, who have been educated with, or in an environment similar to me -- are so quick to judge others based on random, unimportant information -- who your father is, how much money your family has, which family member of yours has been involved in what scandal, what kind of scandals have you been involved in, whether you are capable of being involved in another scandal and can someone link you to a completely unrelated scandal just because you were a part of one scandal? Notice how the words scandal and family repeat endlessly? Yes. Because in the Bangladesh I have grown up in, who you are and what kind of person you are holds no bearing. What you wear, how you act in public, what fortune you are the heir or heiress to, how powerful and credible your father is, how social and acceptable your mother is -- these are all the things that really matter. And people wonder why everyone thinks we are backward. Newsflash: we are. And the fact is that if the youth -- meaning the people who are exposed to the outside world and/or are exposed to environments which should make them more open-minded -- are carrying on this tradition of narrow-mindedness, which will therefore reflect on our society.

It doesn't stop there. Our society, apart from being corroded with judgmental people, is also infested with hypocrisy. Tycoons who make money off of exploiting other people actually have the nerve to stand on their soap boxes and make a judgment call on who is acceptable in society and who is not. Apparantly religious men who take the law into their own hands, by killing and victimising innocent people have the gall to preach to us and tell us what is right and what is not. Women's rights are conditional -- a woman only deserves common decency and respect if she conducts herself in a way that is socially suitable. Men, on the other hand, are able to get away with much more, and still come out shining on top.

Hypocrisy is so obvious in Dhaka that you can actually capture it in a photograph on the streets of Dhaka it's easy, just take a picture of the big beautiful mansions with slums running alongside it, or find a big SUV terrorising a small rickshaw into moving out of the way on a small road which is built for smaller cars. Yes, one can argue that these are small things that are inevitable in every society, but are they not also indications of how far we have traveled in the wrong direction?

A friend of mine once kindly told me in answer to a very heartfelt question of what was really important in life, that loyalty and goodness, kind-heartedness and simplicity, are characteristics that have no place in today's world. They are qualities that would be perfect in an ideal world, one which, yes, would end up like one of my wonderful Bollywood movies but in reality, the world has absolutely no mercy for dreamers and idealists. Accept the problems that come with being in this society and try to do the best you can without hurting or harming anyone, but it's a jungle out there -- survival of the fittest.

I suppose at some point I have to make a decision. Do I take my friend's advice and do the best I can, not taking any of these issues and problems to heart? Or do I instead, fight it, which invariably will be the road less traveled and therefore, harder to bear? For now, I think I'll come back to my Bollywood world, and hide in my happy endings. Maybe the next time I surface, all this madness will stop. Or maybe it'll get worse. Until then I guess I'll keep dreaming.

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