Friday, September 07, 2007

Goats and Gatemen

I’ve been away in Tibet for a few weeks, so hence this update is a little late. As before, this blog is about Bangladesh and so there is no space for recounting tales of the Himalayas, save on snippet that reveals the good nature of Bangladeshis and is a further lesson to how to have a genuinely inclusive society. Tibet is famed for its monasteries, but Tibetan Buddhism has its routes in India. One particularly notable pioneer in the second wave of Buddhist defusion was a Bengali scholar called Atisha, who amongst other things set up some monasteries and lived in a cave, as all good religious people of that era would do. He was originally from what is now part of Bangladesh.

Tibet, as you will know, has since been brutally inserted into the modern world through the Chinese occupation, and during the cultural revolution many thousands of monasteries were destroyed by the Red Guards. It is to Bangladesh’s eternal credit that it made a direct appeal to the Chinese government to ask for a monastery west of Lhasa set up by Atisha some 900 years ago to be spared the assault. This was around 1972/1973, when Bangladesh had just emerged from its war of Liberation and was coming to terms with the aftermath of the Pakistani genocide (at least 1 million people died, some say 3 million), devastating 1971 flooding, and the problems of establishing the rule of law in a new country wrecked by a year of conflict. However, amidst widespread hardship and suffering in a country where the form of Buddhism is of a different school and practiced by less than one per cent of the population, Bangladesh made efforts to protect a small part of Tibet’s cultural heritage. It is important that Bangladesh’s empathy is noted, especially in world we live today.

Unfortunately, Bangladesh today has many of the problems that other countries face and the rioting and curfew events of August 20th – 22nd was a rather different story, with a crackdown by the police on protesters, increased reports of police brutality towards those in custody and the arrest of former prime minister Khaleda Zia and her two sons. Bangladesh is entering a nervous period as it is uncertain where it will all finish – a full, overt military coup, or a renewed and deep democracy minus Hasina and Zia? Whatever road is finally taken, it seems unlikely that this cannot be traversed without bloodshed, as the prospective election is some way off and tensions are mounting.

Back in the more secluded world of my flat and its environs, I am having my sleep disturbed by a goat. Most housing blocks in Dhaka have a caretaker of sorts, whose job is to open up the doors, collect rubbish and other menial jobs. Usually they live in the garage on the ground floor, not a particularly pleasant place to have a bed and mosquito net, but that is the way it is – life is cheap, and many people will do this job for worse conditions.

However, despite living in the garage, my sympathy for Ali, our caretaker is rather limited. Not only does he seem incapable of completing any simple task without asking for a little baksheesh (he has at times asked me for baksheesh for work he has done for someone else!), he has now decided to by a goat that lives with him in one side of the garage. The goat is either quite young or quite astute, as its constant bleating is that of a creature missing its mother or knowing it is for the chop, but it is certainly incredibly annoying. It only whinges at night, and then deposits droppings around the garage and up the stairs to our flat, as well as generally making the place look miserable with its forlorn ‘soon to be slaughtered’ look – I’d rather it just got on with it and accepted its fate. Instead, it has made its bed directly beneath my window, which needs to be open to prevent the spontaneous combustion of me and the room in the early September heat. I have noticed with satisfaction its growing waistline, and am looking forward to its date with the halal butcher. The goat is less anxious for that day to arrive.

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