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     Volume 6 Issue 31 | August 10, 2007 |

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Ever since the first Bangalee evolved on planet earth, Man has found many uses for the tall, supple grass known as bamboo.

From time immemorial it has been used for making houses, bridges, embankments and fences. It became legendary in Shaheed Titumir's fort. It is still popular for making furniture, baskets and household goods, and even hats. The concerned planter till today takes its support to keep a tree upright. Although not put into practice in the same fashion, time and again it has also been useful for keeping Man upright. Executed well, its single wallop on the rear can leave a lifelong impression.

The East Asians took the bamboo a notch higher, towards the mouth that is. They have mastered the art of making it a delicacy, now savoured in our posh hotels. However, when the bill arrives, it is often said that the bamboo has been served.

And many of you already know about the Bangalee politician, who frustrated as he was with the lack of drive amongst his fellow countrymen, bellowed out at a public meeting: 'The English have risen; the Americans have risen … (and so on). To rise, will you people have to be pushed up with a bamboo?'

Despite such fatherly concern, the continuing ramming and the whipping, particularly since the beginning of the infamous 'decade of progress' (!) under Ayub Khan's Martial Law, the outcome has neither been satisfactory nor savoury? As a danda it has a long, sad and sadistic history.

It has become a part of our daily life. In the classroom the teacher can give the student a bamboo without even raising his hand or holding one, but by simply giving the pupil more homework. When a subordinate fails in his task the boss in the office, instead of resorting to punitive measure by taking away something, completes his purpose by giving the employee the bamboo.

Although in these floods we see bhelas made of banana tree trunks, in our riverine country, bamboo rafts are also common, as they are in many Asian countries.

And we owe today's article to Ts'ai Lun, a eunuch attached to the court of the Chinese emperor Ho Ti, who having all the free time in the world made the first paper in AD 105. Wonder what he used it for.

Talking of the Chinese, we recall the Bamboo Curtain, which is not to be taken literally, but akin to the Iron version, it was an ideological self-imposed barrier isolating Communist China from Western countries since the Communist revolution of 1949 until China took up glasnost in the late 1980s.

Even English proverbs owe their origin to bamboo. 'If a bamboo tube sounds loudly it is empty' is a Philippine proverb. Unless your head makes a lot of noise that should definitely ring a bell.

Bamboo instruments have been delighting us for ages. The intoxicating melody of the flute blends into the very soul of a being. There are musical drums made of bamboo, which is useful to beat whenever this 'taken-for-granted' tropical plant seeks some publicity. They even have a bamboo ensemble in the Minahassa island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, where since the Dutch invasion of the 1800s, the islanders have copied their brass instruments in bamboo. The sound is unbelievable, especially of the bamboo xylophone of Cambodia.

Regardless of its wide use, there has never been any shortage of bamboo in this country. Bangladesh produces annually so much bamboo that statisticians have not got round to finding the production figures. It is not possible, primarily because it is a fantastically fast-growing grass. By the time you finish counting at one end, some have been used for building, travelling, writing, eating, fighting, and so forth, whilst simultaneously some new ones have come up. Little wonder that it is therefore always being given.

Now with repeated failures at national level, in governance, marketing, politics, cricket, and what not, the following mathematical folk tale has once again surfaced. This is the one where a monkey has fallen into a ditch. He is in agony but to his relief (Guess what?) he is given a bamboo. Unfortunately the bamboo is well-oiled. So the poor monkey can only climb up three feet each day, but he slips down one foot. The challenge is to find out in how many days the monkey will be relieved of his misery.

Drawing an analogy someone asked the same question a few days back. Are we not in trouble as a nation like the monkey trying to climb up a well-oiled bamboo pole, going up three feet but falling down one? When will we ever rise? He seemed concerned.

His friend came up to his rescue with an appeasing answer: 'The way the price of oil is increasing, soon it will be unaffordable and no one will be able to oil the bamboo, and all our problems will be resolved'.

Does that mean that the rescue bamboo will be removed too, considering that it is inseparable with oil? Will we remain in the ditch forever? Or will we be able to separate the two and rise like other great nations?

The answer my friend lies within you.

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