On the 31st of October Halloween was celebrated throughout the world. Even until 10 years ago, it was something we only got to see in movies, cartoons or TV shows. The costumes, stories of trick or treating and everything in between fascinated us. Our generation fed on things like ‘The Addams Family’, ‘Hocus Pocus’, ‘Halloween Town’ and much more. It didn’t come as much of a surprise when we grew up people started embracing and celebrating the culture.
What is Halloween anyway?
This tradition has somehow managed to influence us although it has pagan origins. The tradition goes back to a two thousand years old ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. People wore costumes to avert ghosts and spirits. After the Romans took over, most of the Celtic regions and some of their traditions got mixed in with this old tradition. Later American people started following their own version of the rituals. Gradually, other cultures around the world mixed, matched and adapted versions of Halloween into their merrymaking. In the same way, Halloween is now celebrated in Bangladesh.
What does Dhaka have to offer
There are tons of things to do in the city of Dhaka. If you are into movies, Cineplex presents the latest horror movies. You can reminisce your childhood by dressing up as your favorite characters. Attend cosplay competitions. Go to the various private Halloween parties that are held throughout the city. Even five years ago these events weren’t as prevalent into our mainstream city culture in such a scale. Almost every well-known hotel has different arrangements for Halloween.
A recurring event is the Haunted House at Four Seasons. They trap participants into a resort for a horrifying experience. This year the Haunted House will be spooking their guests till the 3rd of November. Some say its like living through a horror movie. Also, hotels like Pan Pacific Sonargaon, Regency, and Six Season all hosted special events such as Halloween Party 2018, Halloween carnival, Halloween Haul 2018, Halloween Expo etc. In these people participated in cosplays, watched magic shows, storytelling and much more.
Let your inner Morticia Addams come out. Once a year revisit or enact the inner child, bring back your best Scooby Doo, X-File, Pikachu and all. Dhaka’s Halloween craze is something that we millennial and young adult have been craving for a significant while. So we wish you an eerie, spooky, hair-raising, spell-binding Halloween and may you have a bag full of candy, bones, bats and amazing memories.
This past week, artists, poets, dancers and musicians from different walks of life had come together at Jatra Biroti, under the glistening full moon, for the occasion of LAL; the celebration of the natural phenomenon of menstruation.
What is LAL?
Jatra Biroti, a locus of art and culture in Dhaka, had organized a five-day long event, aligned with the dates of the full moon, to celebrate menstruation and its connection with the divine moon cycle. This event aimed to break the stigma that is often associated with period. It aimed to educate people of all ages and genders about menstruation. And create a space where people could come together to talk freely about “that time of the month”.
It was an event unlike any other; from children to senior citizens, openly discussing and even rejoicing about period positivity.
In a society like Bangladesh, where we shut down any conversation regarding this ordinary bodily function of women, it is necessary that we take measures to normalize such topics. And Lal acts as a groundbreaking event which is opening new spaces of conversation and subverting the age-old stigmas related to menstruation.
Breaking stigma through art
LAL has used the powerful tool of art in various forms; such as poetry, artworks, music, dance and more. In the process, dismantling the preconceived notions that people often hold about menstruation.
Art can be a compelling vehicle that can bring about change in how we perceive things; it can help us to identify ourselves with matters that may otherwise seem unfamiliar to us. It can spur thinking, engagement and even action and that is what this event dedicated to menstruation aspired to achieve.
The exhibition, located on the third floor of Jatra Biroti, opens with a massive vagina tunnel entry (it doesn’t get more unconventional than that). It then leads the pathway to numerous artworks representing menstruation. Weeks before the event, Jatra Biroti had announced an open call to artists and enthusiasts for submissions of artworks. The call received an overwhelming response from several artists who wanted to contribute to this initiative. Each artist had brought in their own unique perspectives and representations through their fearless artworks.
One of the artists that I conversed with said, “I tried to bring in humor to my work so people can become comfortable talking about menstruation. It doesn’t have to be this sacred thing, because I’m literally bleeding from down there every month”. Another said, “I feel like I’m gaining autonomy over my own body as I draw about menstruation”.
Being a participant myself, it was truly rewarding to witness how art can disrupt people’s predetermined ideas about matters like the menstrual stigma.
Dance, Music, Poetry
This five-day long celebration was also filled with various performances and music sessions by several other artists. Some of the major highlights of LAL were the moving poetry recitations by Munia Islam and Bokulful, the powerful performances by Arthy, Krishnokoli, Preema Nazia and the soulful musical evenings by Shourik SK and UNY, Sovotta, Vee, Anusheh Anadil, Baul Shofi Mondol and the Ghaashforing Choir to name a few.
Some interactive workshop sessions were also held by organizations like Astha Foundation, Kotha, Project Konna, Naripokkho. All of them were aimed at normalizing the topic of menstruation in their own distinctive ways. Each session took a different and creative approach in order to explore the topic of period with their audience. For instance, Astha Foundation took on a more humorous approach where they debunked period myths, created awareness about menstrual hygiene and PMS with a touch of sarcasm.
Project Konna aimed to create a more intimate experience between couples so they can be comfortable about the topic of period.
Kotha held a class conscious interactive workshop on menstruation. With the help of participants, they built 3 characters and walked through their unique menstruating experiences to highlight how accessibility differs vastly as we move across different classes.
Recyclable sanitary products
While the event set out to challenge the stigma around menstruation, it had also taken the initiative to raise awareness of plastic in disposable menstrual products, and how we can work to minimize this by using biodegradable and reusable sanitary products in order to protect our environment. Several hundred pads are disposed on a daily basis, just inside Dhaka, which pollute our environment inconceivably. Under the name Lal Peyala, Jatra is selling reusable pads which are available in a variety of designs. They are also selling menstrual cups in order to create a more sustainable way of managing our periods.
An event like LAL is momentous. Because, even though it may not solve the problems regarding menstruation in Bangladesh overnight, it can help to change the conversation around it by ending the shame that we associate with it.
A vital step for us to make any substantial progress.
This bloody menstruation taboo has loomed over us for far too long, so lets all just come out in the open and say it, all women bleed. Period.
Raba Khan – a well-known video blogger, YouTuber and comedian – made her mark at the 2018 Dhaka Lit Fest as a panellist, alongside a number of famous writers and poets. Known for her satirical videos, she was invited to the panel “Women and Wit”, with Fariha Panni. The session began by addressing struggles in the relationship between women and wit all over the world, touching on how women are not expected to be funny in our patriarchal society. People always appreciate a man for being funny but when it comes to a woman, she is termed a “goofball”. “Women are not desirable when they are funny,” says the 19-year-old Raba, who has her own cult following on Bangladeshi social media and is a rising star among the youth of Dhaka’s varied urban culture. On the other hand, there is an immense pressure on men and their need to be humorous or entertaining.
Questions were raised on social media about her place in such an event when it was clear that Raba would be attending DLF as a panellist. She commented on the lack of women all around the world in the comedy entertainment industry. She said that there isn’t anyone she knows or could look up to with a career in comedy, whereas there are many male comedians like Hanif Sanket, Naveed Mahbub and Mosharof Karim, just to name a few. Since she hasn’t come across any woman who pursued this line of work, it was twice as challenging for her. There will always be people who won’t take her work as having any importance. She also questioned who else they should have brought on this panel to talk about this specific topic.
Later the session diverted to the ever going clash between humour and seriousness. Fariha Panni asked the audience – “Why can’t someone be serious and funny at the same time?” – which the audience countered by saying how people who use sarcasm in their remarks are hardly ever taken seriously. What people fail to realize is that through a sarcastic tone one can easily take on issues that are difficult to address otherwise. It’s a way of telling the truth in a much lighter manner, without coming off as confrontational.
Raba said that there isn’t anyone she knows or could look up to with a career in comedy, whereas there are many male comedians like Hanif Sanket, Naveed Mahbub and Mosharof Karim, just to name a few.
When asked about the stereotypes in our society that she addresses in her videos, Raba says, “I make these stereotypes to break them”. She wants to change these stereotypes that are present in our society by making people laugh. Some of her comparisons can seem a bit far-fetched, but purely for entertainment purposes. She asserts, “I try to make my videos entertaining and exaggerate things. Without hyperbole it’s hard to emphasize the message”.
In a country like ours, being a woman and going through daily activities can be a challenge in itself, let alone be a female comedian creating content for social media. Quoting from a person in the audience, “Women and wit go hand in hand”. It is certainly necessary to talk about this in a platform like DLF. This segment was slightly different from others at DLF – light, relaxed and much more interactive. By getting Raba Khan to the panel it was easier to catch the attention of the younger generation. Raba’s inclusion by the organisers was a way to connect with young people. It’s important in getting messages out that would otherwise have been dismissed as being juvenile. It served its purpose well, as evidenced by the lack of a single vacant seat in the auditorium. Hopefully, it’s a start in breaking stereotypes and inspiring more women to take up comedy.