Finding feminism in the pages of literature

For as long as I can remember, I have been an intense reader. Throughout middle school and high school, my best friend and I bonded over “book-hunting” in the school library, and over the years we fought minotaurs with Percy Jackson, went on undercover spy missions at Cherub, fawned over Artemis Fowl’s criminal mastermind, hated Katniss Everdeen with a passion, and, of course, devoured page after page of Bella’s description of Edward Cullen’s perfect 45 degree angled nose (don’t pretend you didn’t have a Twilight phase).

In early 2017, I was reading a particularly popular novel by a particularly popular (male) author and I was reading through a paragraph (which was completely irrelevant to the rest of the plot of the book) in which the male protagonist lustfully described the only female character in the book, who just happened to be incredibly sexually appealing in all her intelligence and physique (but very careful as to not be too intelligent or too attractive so as to threaten our protagonist, of course).

As I suffered through the unnecessary account of how well she pulled off a white tank top and jean shorts, it dawned upon me that in my almost 20 years of life, I had not read nearly enough novels by female authors. It was at this point that I, utterly disgusted by the one-dimensionality of every female character I could recall in almost every novel I had read (however much I loved them), decided that 2017 would be the year that I would consciously choose to read more books by women.

Now before you go on calling me a feminazi and whatnot, I am not claiming that every book ever written by a man is inherently sexist or that men, by some default, cannot create complex female characters. I am only saying that there is an entire realm of emotions and experiences about being a woman that male writers have never experienced and therefore their writing does not reflect it.

Consciously reading books by female authors exposed me to a whole new representation of my identity as a woman. There are tiny bits and pieces of the life that only women know sprinkled into the details of each story that I had never before found in literature.

It was in Esther’s frustration with everyone around her waiting for her to turn her mind around about not wanting marriage and kids, in Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’. It was in Scout from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’s constant battle with her neighbours’ expectations of her to wear more dresses and stay in more as she grew older. It was in Francie’s observation of how women around her shamed other women for their sexuality in ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ – the cold hard reality of how women themselves pose obstacles to other women in a patriarchal society. In Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’, it was the simple remark on how a lot of men talk to women – ‘mansplaining’ – which is sadly still relevant to a lot of our experiences today – “…they listen just long enough to issue instructions. They don’t even look at women when women are speaking.”

The unceasing struggle that I as a woman face against the patriarchal and conventional roles set for me has been experienced not only by women that I personally know but also by women before me – in 1930s Brooklyn, in 1800s England, in pre-Civil War Georgia – this discovery was both painful and wonderful to experience. As if the tiny secrets of survival that I have had to bear my entire life, that I never thought had space in literature, were being spilled out to women from all over the world and all timelines – getting together in solidarity and whispering, confessing, consoling, ‘Me too’. Yes – remember that hashtag? You’ll find traces of it in Austen and Bronte and Woolf and Eliot – forget not that some of these authors had to adopt male pseudonyms to have their work taken seriously, and some, such as George Eliot, are still known by their male pseudonym.

Long before they had the right to vote, these female characters defied sexist social standards in every way, most of all by thinking for themselves and being complex, intelligent, independent characters. In a world where women are still struggling to be heard and validated as full persons – through #metoo and #talkaboutit – I think that being a complex and independent person is the epitome of empowerment, and it is incredibly inspiring to see such empowered women splattered across the world throughout history, as if in some undisclosed unanimity.

If you are female, reading more books by women will connect you to the unmentioned little struggles of women who lived lives so vastly different from you. If you are not female, reading them (which I hope you do with the utmost respect to their experiences as women) will give you some very interesting and crucial understanding of the lives of all the women around you. For the #metoo era, to gain a full understanding and therefore validation of women’s experiences, the effort to consciously read more books by women is one that will move us forward. We must trace back to how the same patriarchal system has been poisoning our lives to as long as women have broken silence through the defiant act of writing.

12 things only a bookworm can relate to

If you are anything like me, you will think that books are absolutely amazing and they are an essential part of your life. Here are 12 things that you can definitely relate to for your love of reading.

1. You think books are better than people:

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Let’s just admit to this; books are literally the greatest gift to mankind. Besides that fact that you just cannot have enough of them, they are never ever going to judge you! Plus, they smell good! What else could you have asked for in a best friend?

2. All your pocket money is spent on books:

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Sounds familiar? Exactly. Because we’ve all been there. While talking about his collection of books, Abeed told us how he used to spend all his pocket money on books. He said he’d rather read a new book than spending on getting a haircut.

3. Everything is a bookmark:

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That dentist’s business card that your colleague gave you, your credit card, a pen, an old receipt, a train ticket or even a tissue paper! Yes, everything.

4. Panicking when asked what your favorite book is:

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“Oh my god! Which one is my favorite? There are so many! What do I tell him? I’m sure he thinks I’m dumb.”

5. You’re judged for sniffing books:

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“I always find someone creeped out staring at me when I’m sniffing books in libraries and bookstores. What? It smells awesome!” said Aneeka while sharing her experience at bookstores. Ordinary people will never understand Bibliophiles and their obsession with Biblichor. Let them be, enjoy your time smelling the best goddamn thing ever. As long as it makes you happy, who cares?

6. You just need to make people read your favorite books:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

It is practically your hobby to make people read your favorite books because you just can’t wait to see them get as excited as you are. And that too all because YOU made them read it in the first place!

7. Movie adaptations never live up to the books:

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Tell me you have never felt this at least once in your life. Exactly! “It’s never entirely the same! And it’s sad!” said Raeesa while talking about movie adaptations of her favorite books.

8. You’re lost when you’re done with a great book:

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There is literally nothing more bittersweet than finishing a great book. You are finally done reading the best book ever but you’re just…lost. A whole new world and all those characters you’ve known and loved so much for so long are suddenly gone and you keep wondering what happened next.

9. You can’t wait to get back:

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You have been thinking about it all day since you had to put it in your bag to attend a class or probably because you had work to do. You just cannot wait to get back to where you left off. Abeed told us about how he keeps imagining what happened next in the story and going back to the book is what keeps him going all day.

10. It’s physically impossible to cross a bookstore without checking it out:

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Books stores are your favorite. Even when you’re too broke to buy a book, you just need to see what’s in there and decide what you should buy next!

11. Page numbers are your new time units:

12 things only a bookworm can relate to-HiFi Public

Mom: “Dinner’s ready!”
Me: “I’ll be there when I get to page 255!”

12. A good book with a warm cup of coffee or tea is the true definition of stress relief to you:

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Whether you’re a tea or a coffee lover, as long as there is a great book giving you company, you’re good to go. It heals everything, be it a tired mind or a broken heart.

If you can relate to at least five of the above, you’re one of us! However, the one common thing that we can surely relate to is the fact that we’ll never stop loving to read, and we’re all proud to be bookworms.

Want to start reading again? Here are 7 bookstores in Dhaka

Every so often, I hear my friends say, ‘I really wish I read’ or ‘I want to start reading again’. Lament no more, a great place to start is a walk around these lovely bookstores. For seasoned readers,  tablets and e-readers will never suffice. We still prefer to read physical copies of books, flipping through the pages and taking in the scent of new (or old) books. Going to these bookstores has the plus of exploring reading with booksellers who are consummate bibliophiles who take joy in the matching reader to writer. And that human component is an important part of the literary experience. We may not have a Waterstones or a Barnes and Noble store in Bangladesh, but we have these lovely nooks to get lost in.

Here’s a list of places in Dhaka where you can buy your next novel or add the latest to your collection:

1. Book Gallery

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

This is a little shop in New Market where I’ve been going since I was 12. Back then, it used to be called Book Web. This little bookstore offers a decent collection of originals at a reasonable price and hence my frequent visits without burning draining every bit of my small childhood allowance. Their space is much larger and more organized now than it used to be. Their collection has largely improved as well and they also have a Facebook page where they post updates on their collection!

Address: Enter through Gate 1 of New Market and take a left down the row of bookstores. It is at the end of the cul de sac, next to ABC Stationery.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bookgallerydhaka/

2. Pathak Shamabesh

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

Our capital’s Shahbag can be considered as our very own book district because of the numerous independent bookstores in the area and a handful at Aziz Super Market. This is a must–visit for every bookworm in Dhaka. This 30+ year old bookstore houses a huge collection of both English and Bangla literature. What makes Pathak Shamabesh particularly stand out are their occasional book fair and festivals hosted in collaboration with publishers. Authors often visit and hold book signing events.

Address: Pathak Shamabesh Center  is situated in the annex building of the National Museum
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PscltdDhaka

3. Charcha

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

This is a relatively newfound gem. Though their classics collection is a bit disappointing, they boast by far the best collection of contemporaries I have found in Bangladesh. They have many new releases and many shortlisted books for the Man Booker Prize. They also have a rich collection of Bangla literature. I appreciated the detour from the mainstream Dan Brown and Lee Child collections that ususally populate Bangladeshi bookstores. My favourite part, you don’t have to buy the books to read. So, pick up a book, grab a seat, and read until the store closes (at 8pm).

Address: 107 Sher Shah Shuri Road, Mohammadpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh 1207
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/charchabooks/

4. Baatighar

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

This bookstore/library is originally from Chittagong. They have started their operations in Dhaka only last year. They have an exemplary collection of Bangla literature! Their most unique display is a little kids corner with many children’s books and comic books. You can comfortably release your inner Chacha Chowdhury fangirl! Baatighar is open from 10 am to 10 pm and they have a coffee corner. There is also a rooftop café on the Bishyo Shahittya Bhaban where you can get some snacks if you’re hungry after a long day of feeding your soul.

Address: Their Dhaka branch is situated in the already familiar Bishyo Shahittya Kendra building in Banglamotor. 17 Mymensingh Road, Bangla Motor (3.29 mi), Dhaka, Bangladesh 1000 .
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BaatigharDHK/

5. Bengal Boi

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

With the slogan of ‘Boiyer Majhe Doob’ (Dive into Books), Bengal Boi–an initiative of Bengal Foundation was opened in November 2017.  The ground floor has a rich collection of old books, which cannot be purchased, but each book can be exchanged with two old books. There is a stock of both English and Bangla books by local and international writers. There is a reading space, an open space on the ground floor and an indoor space to have coffee and snacks while indulging in the latest bestseller or art book.

Address: 1/3 Block D, Lalmatia, Dhaka, Bangladesh 1209
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Bengalboidhaka/

6. Bookworm

7 bookstores in Dhaka-HiFi Public

Every bibliophile has that one bookstore they have a personal connection with. I remember going to Bookworm ever since I can remember. They were one of the very few bookstores that used to release Harry Potter books on their release day. Potterheads like me would flock to their then only outlet on Old Airport road on chilly winter mornings, just to get our hands on that fresh new and long awaited sequel. While other bookstores like Words and Pages have terminated their operations, Bookworm has only expanded. Now they have opened another outlet in Dhanmondi in collaboration with North End Coffee Roasters!

For a friendly, cosy reading and buying experience, head to this little corner. The English collection is extensive and the storekeepers are very helpful.

Address: Twin Peaks Complex, Old Airport Road, Tejgoan. Under the MIG 21 Fighter Jet & Eagle Statue. Or opposite Falcon Hall. (1.88 mi), Dhaka, Bangladesh 1215

3rd Floor, Kazi &Kazi Tower, Dhanmondi. Inside North End Coffee Roasters.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bookwormbangladesh/

7. Boi Bochitra

This is a household name in Bangladesh. In addition to original paperbacks and hardcovers, they also offer a splendid variety of stationery supplies such as notebooks, journals, washi tapes, sticky notes and model papers, meeting our arts and crafts needs while we were growing up. Boi Bichitra has an edge over other bookstores in Bangladesh because of their many branches. There is a store in almost every area in the capital. So if you are suddenly hankering to buy some new life to put on your bookshelves find out the one nearest to you and head over!

Address:  Some of the branches are:

at  ADC Empire Plaza 183, Satmasjid Road, Dhanmondi, Dhaka

House No. 40, Main Road No: 01, Section No-10, Mirpur, Dhaka-1212

Rupayan 141, Road No. 12, Block-E Banani, Dhaka-1209

 Golden Age, Shop# 19,25,26 (Ground floor) Plot No 6, Block# C.W.N.(C) 99, Road No. 37 Gulshan Avenue, Dhaka-1212

Enjoy the significantly lower prices and an exponentially greater book inventory that you can enjoy in Bangladesh. So let’s peruse the aisles, experience the scent of new books, feel the pages and support our local indie bookstores. Even if all else fails, you can always head over to Nilkhet!

Remembering Nobel Prize winning author V.S. Naipaul: celebrating a complex legacy

Nobel Laureate and winner of the Man Booker prize, Sir Vidia Naipaul’s literature was no stranger to intense criticism.  Sir Naipaul even feuded with other prominent, controversial authors, Salman Rushdie and Paul Theroux. His death has brought forth a renewed wave of mixed reactions.

Exposed to literature in his early years

V.S. Naipaul is considered one of the greatest prose writers of the last half-century. He created more than 30 works of both fiction and non-fiction. His early works were comical and influenced by his diverse roots. His grandparents were immigrants from India who moved to Trinidad and Tobago to work at the British sugar plantations. Naipaul was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad.  Naipaul’s early foundations in literature were his father’s love for writing for the Trinidad Guardian and shared a reverence for writers.  He excelled in school. He won a government scholarship, giving him a choice of any university in the British Commonwealth.

His years at Oxford University was relatively rough, experiencing long episodes of depression and self-doubt. Later in life, he opened up about frequent breakdowns during this period, in which he also experienced the loss of his father. Shortly after graduating, he and his partner, Patricia Hale moved to England. He wrote his first short story to officially launch his career as a writer. His publisher thought that a short story anthology by an unknown Caribbean writer would not sell in Britain. So, he wrote a novel which we now know as The Mystic Masseur.

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An unconventional storyteller, Naipaul

Psychiatrist and revolutionary theorist Frantz Fanon wrote that “the first ambition of the colonized” was to resemble the colonizer “to the point of disappearing in him.” This was not the case for Naipaul’s storytelling. His writing style is closer to sub-continental authors than western works. In almost all of his works of fiction, there was an interplay between tragedy and comedy.

His stories usually featured a fictitious island or a nameless land, which was a clear reflection on his life in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and his paternal roots in India. Naipaul’s undeniable talent was showcased in his writing. On display, is also his callous opinions and his blunt cruelty. From the contemporary point of view, Naipaul’s opinions seem self -loathing, borderline racist and even slightly misogynistic. His portrayal of female characters often made him susceptible to criticism; frequently objectifying the women in his books. His dismissiveness of the female extended to female, talented authors. One can imagine a substantial reaction from readers and writers when someone describes Jane Austen as “too trivial”.

“A House for Mr Biswas is packed with conflicts as the protagonist, Mr Biswas, subverts conventional tropes of a hero.”

A writer of a classic, A House for Mr Biswas

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His greatest work, A House for Mr Biswas stands as a classic. The story is of a son tormented by the memory of his father’s thwarted ambition, alluding to his relationship with his own father. It is a novel of epic length and formal perfection. A House for Mr Biswas is packed with conflicts as the protagonist, Mr Biswas, subverts conventional tropes of a hero. Naipul frequently broke away from conventional structures of writing and arranged his narratives haphazardly.

Among all his works of fiction, A House of Mr. Biswas is certainly the most noteworthy. In addition to that, A Bend in the River and his short story anthology A Flag on the Island are definitely worth a read. Fair warning though, in his books A Bend in the River and In a Free State, he portrays a depressing picture of post-independent African nations.

Valuing literature for itself, not the character of the author

We cannot help but marvel at the formidable body of work he left as a writer. His candid and straightforward style of writing often landed him in contentious territory; despite the unpleasantness, the messages usually possessed a degree of truth. This is the paradox of literature. Should the value of literature lie in itself, or should we take into account the views or the character of the author? Can we separate the writing from the personality that wrote it?

Even his fiercest critics have to admit that some of his works are timeless masterpieces. For many, his controversial opinions or his actions in his personal life cannot diminish his writing. Even writers who are adamant in their criticism, have expressed their grief at the loss of a literary genius. Author-poet Jeet Thayil successfully summed it up describing Naipaul as an awful man, a brilliant writer and said his death was like “losing a cantankerous, contrarian father”.

5 times mainstream comics got diversity right

The opportune release of the very highly rated Black Panther has us all talking, isn’t inclusion and diversity in comic book/superhero movies rather overdue? With the topic in mind, over the past few years, diversity has become not a gimmick, but rather a necessity as more and more entertainment mediums are trying to embrace diversity more proactively. In myriad forms, executives at these major comic book publishers have pushed this agenda through a) turning an existing comic book character into a minority group (i.e, turning Iceman from X-men gay), or b) creating and bringing new, diverse characters into the existing comic book continuity (i.e, having a new female character take the mantle of Thor).

Most of these decisions were met with a lukewarm response. However, occasionally, DC, Marvel, or Image would hit a goldmine. Exploring a minority protagonist or cast allowed publishers to add a robust dimension to their storytelling, as well as benefits for character building. While there are numerous diversity characters in the world of comics, here are five times mainstream comics got diversity right.

Midnighter

“I’d know him anywhere. He moves like jazz” comments the badass, homosexual, ultra-violent vigilante, about Nightwing on Tim Seeley/Tom King’s run on Grayson for DC New 52. Midnighter was co-created by the highly acclaimed comic book writer Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Planetary), for DC’s imprint ‘Wildstorm comics’.

Although Midnighter is not the first LGBTQ superhero in comic books, he’s one of the first to be openly gay, and married to another gay character, Apollo.  Being more in the veins of The Punisher, Midnighter sadly had been relegated to the sidelines of DCU for much of his existence, but recently got his own series ‘Midnighter and Apollo’ as a part of DC Rebirth.

Batwoman

Another LGBT addition to our list, Batwoman got revamped for DC’s New 52 as a lesbian character. Mainstream comic book fans may be familiar with her recent appearance on a Batman animated film, Batman: Bad Blood.

Recently, during DC’s new 52 relaunch, DC Comics refreshed the character for modern audiences, with writer Marguerite Bennett (a queer themselves) writing the series, bringing a newfound LGBTQ sensitivity into the storytelling.

Lord Fanny

One of my personal all time favourite comic book characters. When Grant Morrison is writing, you know you’re in for a psychedelic joyride. A core cast member from the 1990’s comic, the Invisibles (basically the X-files meets the Matrix with a dash of 1984 on the highest quality DMT).

What can be trippier than badass Brazilian transvestite Shaman, drawing powers from a myriad elements of Mayan cosmology. Her gender identity and her traumatic past makes her a compelling character, and a formidable force within the Invisibles Universe.

Blade

Breaking into the mainstream in 1998 as a trilogy of superhero horror films directed masterfully by Guillermo Del Toro, Blade would pioneer what would later become the modern superhero movie boom at Hollywood. Although making his first appearance in comics in the 1970s, Blade was an iconic black character, a stand out among others such as Black Panther and Luke Cage.

What made Blade so compelling was how he handled, trapped between both worlds, being a vampire and retaining his humanity. A predicament not very different from what minority groups suffer. The acute identity crisis, the feeling of being neither here, or there.

Storm

One of the most iconic colored characters in memory, Ororo Munroe took the comic book world by storm, appearing as a member of the X-Men in 1975.

Hailing from a tormented past as a thief from the ghetto, to becoming the queen of a nation, Storm carved a niche for herself in the world of comics as one badass femme fatale. Being an Omega level mutant with command over weather, Storm has inspired numerous memorable comic book heroes and heroines over the years.

Honorable mentions: Spawn, Luke Cage, Miles Morales (Spider Man), the Mandarin (a formidable foe for Iron man, and considerably more interesting a character than his arch nemesis), Spawn.

Are there any diversity comic book characters that you feel deserves a mention? Please let us know!

5 times pop-culture fan theories were a huge let down

The Internet is dark and full of terrors when it comes to ruining your favourite TV shows and movies.

The urge to research snippets of the plot of the TV shows or movies, either in anticipation or in awe or confusion is something every binge junkie is familiar with. And fanfictions or fan theories keep filling us on these gaps and feed our over nurtured sense of connectedness with these TV shows or movies. These fanfictions range from being absolute bonkers to crazy but mind-blowing legit ones. Now, nothing is sweeter than a well-crafted, researched and thought-provoking fan theory that holds every chance of coming true. But then there are those other kinds, often greater in number, which are so ridiculous that they either make you go “Enough internet for the day!” or keep you up at night pondering over the ridiculous possibilities of them actually coming true.

Here are five of the most ridiculous fan theories out there on the internet that you should absolutely be warned about:

Alfred killed the Waynes (Batman’s parents)

(Yes, this happened too)

Whether it is because being a Batman fan is cool these days or you actually are a batman fan, this theory is enough to lose your faith on internet rants.  Back in 2014, one particular Reddit user put forward the theory that it was Alfred, the trusted old butler of the Wayne family who got Thomas and Martha Wayne killed that fateful night in a twisted plot to inherit all the Wayne riches. The defence for the theory was that Alfred plotted to kill all three of the Waynes and would inherit all the Wayne riches with no living Wayne heir. But Joe Chill did not have the heart to kill young Bruce and spared him who later went on to become the Caped Crusader of Gotham, which was also Alfred’s plot to get him into a dangerous lifestyle and get him killed eventually (I mean, come on!). Well, fair enough, random Reddit user. But why would Alfred not just get young Bruce killed later at some point and rather wait and actually train him (Earth 1) to become Batman? Why all that time and effort wasted when he could have just staged any accident and get the job done?

This theory has never been confirmed, obviously. Although in one story arc, (Neil Gaiman, Whatever happened to the Caped Crusader), Alfred is revealed to be the joker himself, whom he created to instil Batman’s life with some kind of a purpose. But that is a story for another time.

Aladdin is set in a post-apocalyptic future

This one is as old as time itself. Remember how the genie keeps referencing 20th-century pop icons, baseball, reality shows and jazz music shows etc.? Also, at one-point genie calls Aladdin’s outfit as “much too 3rd century”. All these shenanigans by genie led some fans to the theorize that Disney’s animated Aladdin is actually set in a distant post-apocalyptic world where civilisation is destroyed by nuclear war and things have essentially gone back to starting from scratch. Iago and Abu are mutant bird and monkey, results of the nuclear war and genetic experimentation, the magic carpet is a remnant of the old hover technology and it goes on and on.

Now, nothing is sweeter than a well-crafted, researched and thought-provoking fan theory that holds every chance of coming true. But then there are those other kinds, often greater in number, which are so ridiculous that they either make you go “Enough internet for the day!”

As tempting as that may sound, it was never actually confirmed by Disney. And they usually do address fan theories for a nod of confirmation as a playful gesture for the very least. (Yes, I’m talking about the infamous Frozen and Tarzan tie-in) So, it probably went like this, Robin Williams came down to the studio, made some insane jokes about random things, made everyone laugh and the animators decided to keep them because they were funny. Aladdin is a children’s movie with magic elements in it. Let’s not try and turn it into Mad Max.

007 is a codename passed on from secret agent to agent

Seems fair. I mean, if you consider the number of different actors who have played James bond since the very beginning of the franchise. Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, the torch of Bond has been passed on to several actors with different and unique characteristics. It seems logical to concur that James Bond and 007 are code names adopted by different agents and that is how the timeless MI7 hero has been living forever. Just like Q or M or Moneypenny. That is, if you don’t want your fan bubble to burst and accept the fact the different actors adopt the same character over time just to keep the timeless classic alive, not to maintain realistic continuity of agents.

If you follow the personal story arc of James Bond, his history with the infamous intelligence agency SPECTRE, and his earning of 007 title in Casino Royale, then it is clearly understood that all the James Bond actors were portraying the same character. James Bond was first portrayed by Sean Connery in Dr. No (1962) and is still going strong with now Daniel Craig playing the handsome but deadly MI6 agent.

Rey is Luke Skywalker’s clone

Boy, where do I begin! Star Wars loses it when it comes to clones. And should this theory keep you up at night, you shall not be blamed. Star Wars has fed you that anything that has the word clone in it is worth drooling over. Not your fault, snowflake.

So, here is the thing, speculating long and hard since the first synopsis for The Force Awakens came out, fans have not gotten any confirmation yet to whether Rey indeed was Luke’s daughter or not. The internet flooded with Rey theories. Starting from Rey was Anakin reincarnated to Rey was Jar Jar Binks’s spirit (What?) And one YouTube fan theorist before the release of The Last Jedi, came up with a ridiculous theory that Rey might actually be Luke’s female clone. Created by Knights of Ren, from the severed hand of Luke Skywalker.

An interesting theory. And the absence of clones in the new movies (no, Finn was not a clone) and the unexplained relationship between Luke and Rey leaves plenty of room for this theory to be honest. But clones are essentially supposed to be of the same sex and it doesn’t make sense to create a Luke Skywalker clone when Kylo Ren was himself full of enough pride that he was Luke’s best disciple.

Rest assured, like all other Star Wars fan theories, this too is never likely to come true.

Sherlock’s whole life was a lie

Now, this is an interesting one. We’re talking about BBC’s Sherlock here, which fans hold to be the one true Sherlock. We all know how the irritating but brilliant Sherlock is able to solve crimes using his mad deductive skills and essentially gets ‘high’ on good cases that takes a load of brain-work. Sherlock who is not a psychopath but a high functioning sociopath. And how without a good mystery to solve, he gets, “Bored, Bored, BORED”. Clearly, this guy is not normal.

Do you also remember about the other brilliant Holmes who is basically the “British Government himself”? Mycroft Holmes is equally brilliant and deductive as his younger brother but perhaps a saner one. So, what if all of Sherlock’s cases, his shenanigans with Moriarty, John Watson, all of it were brilliantly staged by Mycroft to keep his mystery junkie brother off the drugs and keep him alive and busy?

You can’t rule out the possibility of it, given the dramatic relationship that these two brothers share and also the near impossible infamous ways Sherlock solves his cases. So, is this theory ridiculous enough to be discarded or twistedly brilliant to actually be true? This one, I’ll leave for you to decide.

The home-schooled experience – all that different from going to school?

About a decade back, back when English medium schools were reaching peak demand, one fine morning my parents decided not to bear with the commercial nature of English medium schools anymore, and for me to be, fortunately or unfortunately, homeschooled. Was it necessary?

Homeschooling, in easy language, is learning at home, and under the context of Bangladesh, is being partially or fully dependent on coaching classes for taking the SATs or the O and A-level exams. In colloquial language, we address these students who drop out and are “homeschooled” as “private students.”

One fine morning my parents decided not to bear with the commercial nature of English medium schools anymore, and for me to be, fortunately or unfortunately, home-schooled.

Students generally drop out in grade 9 or 10, and while some hire tutors to come to their homes, others pay top-notch teachers to get them their parent-coveted As and A-stars. Some, though very few in number, take exams through rigorous self-study only. Homeschooling is, more or less, the same as learning in school except, instead of the ringing of bells, you get to hear the occasional hissing of pressure-cookers and instead of your teachers inquiring, you find your parents prying.

Image: Caleb Woods

To understand the roots of homeschooling in Bangladesh, one has to understand irony. One of the major reasons why homeschooling has been on athe rise is because of the portentous failure English medium schools have brought on themselves with their (delusional) success in the first place.

Once rare, English medium schools have now sprawled left right and centre. While some parents believe they’re handing over their children to a more competitive curriculum (in comparison to the more rigid but less rigorous Bengali curriculum), others admit their children into English medium schools for an erroneously conceived but widely-believed idea of the children (or of the parents themselves) having an elevated social status, or at least an entry into an elite club by admission into these schools.

It all looks picture-perfect seeing kindergarten children cutting out colourful flowers out of chart papers and second graders learning how to make boats out of them. Until the day children enter middle school, which makes parents look beyond the colour of the confined walls of the classroom, take a look at the rickety foundations of English medium schools and realize that in the process of trying to teach children how to cut paper, English medium schools themselves had long forgotten how to cut their coat according to their cloth. Too many students but too few teachers. A lot of ambition, but no set goal. A quintessential example of mismanagement.

While not all schools are downtrodden, aiming for admission into schools like ISD, AISD, CISD – schools which actually (read apparently) care about the growth and progress of students- are like for aiming for the sky anyway. An exclusive edition sky.

Most “other” English medium schools fail to recruit efficient teachers for the higher grades. Students — then option-less — sardine together in coaching classes; thus, creating a loop: because schools can’t hire better teachers, students swathe coaching classes. Because students would eventually swathe coaching classes, schools don’t hire better teachers, which is also the reason the teachers do not bother improving, adapting or adjusting to the needs of the students in the higher level of classes.

Now that going to coaching classes has been established less as a mandatory task but more as a culture, English medium schools have since long grabbed the opportunity to capitalize on it, in two ways. They don’t spend (thus saving) to hire or retain (more) efficient teachers, not now not before, while still keeping thousands of students tethered to paying monthly fees, because this is where the plot twist comes: numerous students choose to stay registered till high school, only so that they can take exams being a registered student and obtain a certificate which, according to a widely-held notion, aids in college admissions abroad. Otherwise, going to high-school for students is like what going to Burger King is for you.

This leads us to our next and the million dollar question: do students become home-schooled because they want to? Or is it because of the dearth of better options?

Mehzabeen Alam Naomi, an ex-student from Sir John Wilson, is at first waspish about her experience at school and takes no time to open up about why she personally prefers being a private (homeschooled) student.

“I get to choose the tutors,” she says, “Teachers whose teaching methods suit my learning process.”

It is, in fact, an open secret that regardless of students complaining about inept teachers being inapt for their inability to teach and communicate, high-school teachers in profit-oriented schools don’t share their students’ headaches to complete the syllabus as soon as possible, let alone providing students with in-depth knowledge.

Sharaf Anan Megha from Maple Leaf International School also recounts how she never found a point going to school once she was in the ninth grade. “Students are not present and teachers not available to take the classes,” she says.

Do students become home-schooled because they want to? Or is it because of the dearth of better options?

High-schoolers, therefore, are now just like homeschoolers: fully or partially dependent on coaching teachers, but fully independent of school teachers.

This makes one wonder whether it is because teachers believe they, too, have a passive role in letting students eventually become coaching-dependant? Or is it just because they are, as incriminated, just plain and simple bad teachers?

Image: Patrick Fore

Reasons such as these as well as coping up with the constant hike in school fees while having concurrent fees of coaching classes to pay for – stand as a great hurdle to middle-class families in supporting their children’s school education. This leaves no better option than making their children leave school for good and become home-schooled (various students shift to the Bengali national curriculum).

Students, even though rumoured to become lethargic and homebound once homeschooled, actually have more time to invest themselves in community work or to partake in activities that may add to their extra-curricular activities. They have a say in selecting teachers and can ace and pace their studies according to their personal speed of learning and processing.

Many may argue that homeschooled children are low on EQ and suffer from periodic mood disorders due to lack of socialization. Naomi, on the other hand, agrees to disagree and says, “I actually get to make more friends, and have a wider network from coaching classes.”

While homeschooling is the most feasible path to tread on for many students, it should not be established as a solution to a more convoluted problem that results from the poor infrastructure of English medium schools. Because if homeschooling is the final resort, then maybe one day there would be no need for high schools (read: school) at all.  If there’s no high school, there would be no high-schoolers anymore. If no high-schoolers, there would only be homeschoolers left in the future. But when was there a difference between a high-schooler and a homeschooler anyway? Is the future already in the present?

The Bengali reading list for the out of touch millennial

As February ends, it closes with it the remembrance of Bangladesh’s historic language movement that culminated in the sacrifice of our language martyrs on that fateful day in 1952. While Ekushey will be marked and remembered (and celebrated) year in, year out, there are scores of people out there who lament the blatant disregard for this beautiful language that is shown by certain crowds within the youth of the nation. There IS some truth to that – the Bengali language is changing with lack of use and a steady influx of colloquial vocabulary, and most young people are staving off reading Bengali books. Since we could all use the practice, here’s a list of the books that can hopefully get you hooked on reading books in one of the sweetest sounding languages ever (Google it!).

Any and all children’s book by Md. Zafar Iqbal

Reader level: Novice

Are you even a Bangladeshi millennial if you haven’t spent your school days devouring books by Md. Zafar Iqbal under the kombol, fully prepared to sacrifice next day’s exam for it? These books are the perfect khichuri of action, adventure, emotions, and sometimes even romance, and they treat young people as intelligent beings who, with a little dose of courage, are capable of impacting the world around them. Written in easy-to-digest Bangla, Md. Zafar Iqbal should be the first author whose books you pick up if it’s your first try at reading Bangla books.

Recommended books: Dipu Number 2, Amar Bondhu Rashed, Doshshi Kojon, Ami Topu, Brishtir Thikana.

Books by Humayun Ahmed

Reader level: Novice

Usually set in typical Bangladeshi middle-class families, Humayun Ahmed books are like a splash of cold water to the face in its depiction of the simplicity of middle-class living. Beautifully written, usually slow paced and with mature content, these books will make you wonder how such effortless expression of everyday life in plain Bangla can be so emotionally stimulating. Deceptively simple with powerful plotlines, living in Dhaka explored through these books is almost mystically ordinary.

Recommended books: Nondito Noroke, Shongkhonil Karagar, Pryiotomeshu.

Tin Goyenda series by Rakib Hasan

Reader level: Novice

Set around the lives of Bangladeshi-American Kishore Pasha and his friends, Rakib Hasan’s Tin Goyenda series is a must-read teen thriller and action/adventure series. With the perfect balance of intense atmosphere, shocking plot twists and a very relatable teenage humour, these three detectives will become your best friends as you solve cases of girls mysteriously dying while visiting their friends’ house, or as you follow the detectives through a jungle as they try to escape from an island within an hour as part of a game (The Maze Runner vibes, anyone?). Each story is fairly short and the language is relatively easy, so Tin Goyenda would be a great collection to start off your Bangla reading journey.

Short Stories collection by Satyajit Ray

Reader level: Advanced

From the mystical tale of how one man purchases a dragon’s egg from a stranger he met on a park bench, to the heartbreaking story of an artist who realizes he’s colourblind – short stories by Satyajit Ray are classics that everyone needs a copy of in their bookshelf. Heartfelt, warm and hilarious, these stories are only a few pages long and, for the most part, easy enough to understand on your own – the few words that you don’t know can be drawn from context, or maybe by asking your parents what they mean. They’ll make you laugh, they’ll break your heart a little, but most importantly, they’re short enough to read as bedtime stories, and if you can commit to reading at least one story every night, it’ll be the easiest challenge you will have ever taken on.

Short stories by Rabindranath Tagore

Reader level: Proficient

Starting your Bangla reading habits with Tagore is daunting, no doubt, but considering Tagore is basically the Shakespeare of Bengal, one cannot be Bengali without some basic Tagore reading. That being said, Tagore should definitely be on the list of your to-reads as a must. Don’t be too scared to turn to google translate or your parents when you stumble across difficult words, and the rest will fall in place. Stories by Tagore will not only transport you to how people in our culture lived back then, but it will also expose you to such emotional depths that it will certainly change your perception of things for good. If you find yourself groaning at the thought of reading classics, remind yourself that they’re classics for a reason, and when you get through bawling your eyes out at the end of each story, you’ll know why.

Recommended stories: Hoimonti, Chhuti, Postmaster.

Books don’t only help develop linguistic knowledge and skills, but also enchant you into the lives and minds of people from time periods, cultures, locations, and experiences vastly different from your own. There’s a certain familiar sweetness in reading your own mother tongue, but more than that, there’s a certain familiar sweetness in reading about the people who live such different lives from you in the same culture. It is the only way to know and live the millions of lives you will never live in your shared intimacy of culture and language, and that is the kind of precious sentiment that will always remain absent in any other language, because it is a part of your very fundamental identity.

Millennials aren’t reading anymore – here’s why

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and not to be attributed to HIFI Public or its editorial team in any way.

“What book are you reading right now?”
“…instagram.”

Alan Moore once called any creator the only living being able to harness the abilities of making something out of nothing with mere strokes of ink. He said this was as close as man can come, to being wizards and working with magic; because that’s what writing a good book was: magic.

Today however, Alan Moore’s quiet ways of avoiding general human contact and living by himself in the woods may just be more relatable with a book lover than that that brilliant quote above. Statistics and common sense would dictate that now in 2018, with smartphones integrally integrated into our daily lives, the amount of reading any human being has done in the past must have been brought up exponentially.

We spend almost all of our free time buried in little screens, reading up on our friends, catching up on the news, reading listicles on Buzzfeed; Smartphones do more than just connect calls and take photos, and the vast amount of content on the internet in terms of visual entertainment is disheartening to sympathetic readers. Sherry Turkle has said in her book (reclaiming conversation) that there is a rising trend in children not making eye contact and goes further to accuse smart phones and the internet as a cause; she argues that the use of continuous virtual space makes it prone and prime environment for a sort of boredom to set in, one which ironically is the very result of trying to outrun boredom.

Even Dave Chappelle agrees as he points out on one of his shows that back in his time they did not have as much coverage and thus what they showed the youth on television mattered; however today, our smartphones are flooded with news reports all over this big planet, and as a result we have become the hardened judge with the gavel and wig who is increasingly desensitized to the cases presented before him. Everything on the internet is gradually becoming more and more forgettable, and yet, being present and in time for discussions for those very things is paramount to achieving a somewhat proper position on the social ladder.

What bothers this writer is this generations need to be watched and gratified at all times of the day by others around them. This incessant need to be seen by others is a worthy contributor towards the decline of reading in millennials. However, that is not to say that social media is the only cause; just a very strong one.

Two more contributing factors would be the immediate readily available access to cheap streaming sites and of course, social stigma heavily supported by the media, entertainment industry. With the introduction of entertainment streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and their capitalist low prices, many previous book lovers I personally know have stopped reading. Upon asking why they respond with “have you seen how cheap it is?”.

This brings us to time and money, both of which are a giveaway once any book is involved. Through an interview conducted by this writer, it’s been established that many a times a book reader, once he/she is past a few years of puberty, will be bought over by things of much more personal value: family, friends, sports, relationships and in the end write ups and Facebook posts which are physically short and perfect for the low attention span, along with a sudden desire to spend said free time wisely, most certainly not with a book.

Social media itself is designed to make users spend as much time as possible on the site, scrolling away till eternity. A recent ex-Facebook technician has admitted to such intentions being principle to development of such social media and apps, with obvious capitalist goals in mind.

It’s common place today to want to be everywhere at once. Upon asking electronic store clerks about most popular items bought this Black Friday/Boxing Day, I received the somewhat tragic but expected response: external and portable chargers. The second item was a smartphone itself. The continuous need to be attached to it has proven to be unhealthy not just for the eyes and your brain but for your mental prowess. When looking for somewhere to be all the time, our eyes only dart from one corner to the other, while our minds are the ones that try their hardest to keep up with all the information, news updates and subsequent ideas. Therefore each morning and each night on our smart phones, we walk along the endless yellow brick road away from boredom and towards fulfilment, while ironically being bored at the same time on a journey that never ends.

In times like these a book almost seems like an escape; not just from the world and its terrible problems but also from everyone else. It seems like a pitstop on another constantly moving but fixed-in-position hamster wheel where otherwise we run on and on trying to get somewhere while only glancing at minute details, all happening in the cage we can name social construct.

The reason we don’t read anymore is because the priorities have switched from being informed to “having the ability to say anything without the consequence of backing up statement with necessary proof”. If we leave books behind, the next thing we read (or don’t read) are articles mostly on Facebook or some other social media. However, even coming across an article that would take at most ten minutes to read, people wont dare click on it and yet will proceed to comment and make his/her opinions be know. Another factor is that most would not consider a book entertainment as one would television or a two hour feature film.

I understand that there was never a golden era in which reading was held above all other facilities of human life; however the decline in readers today has never been stronger, even with revolutionary book helping technology like the kindle and audiobooks. I also understand that human beings are inherently very different from one another, a trait that makes the very existence of so many good pieces of writing from all over the world possible; as a close friend has pointed out, the genre of a book matters deeply, regardless of whether it’s a reader in question or not. I have to not only fully agree but vehemently support the fact that there IS a book out there for everyone, one that might not make the reader read more, one that might not make the reader encourage others either, but one that the reader will definitely fall into and not climb out of till he/she is finished.

A book is a wonderful thing and if more readers would understand a non-reader better before suggesting a book, it would perhaps make the entire process of conversion a lot easier. The most important role to play in this case is that of the teachers because as with anything in life, once you start to enjoy something when you’re young, its hard to let go and even harder not to forget.

It is this writer’s hope that this generation can get over their FOMO (fear of missing out), put away their social media, find a book and spend some time with themselves and a coffee.

(PS – I don’t advocate for caffeine, it’s a terrible decision).

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and not to be attributed to HIFI Public or its editorial team in any way.