Issue: 2018-01-19 | The Daily Star

Did you know that less than 0.30 percent of land in all of Dhaka city is used for recreational purposes? This is according to the Regional Development Planning (RDP) survey. For those of us living in the ever-growing concrete jungle that we call home, the abysmal allocation of land for leisure activities will not come as a surprise.

An investigation conducted by The Daily Star in 2016 revealed that at least 10 of the 54 surviving parks in the entire Dhaka city had been replaced with community centres, kitchen markets, mosques, rickshaw garages or truck parking lots—that too, mostly by the city corporation(s) itself. Currently, Dhaka has 0.7 acres of open place for every 1000 residents—the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan states that the optimal allocation is 0.16 acres of open land for every 1000 people.

The latest park under threat is the Nababganj Park, located at Ward-23 of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC). The park already houses two infrastructure—a one-storey building that is used to provide medical services, and another two-storey structure that serves as a gymnastic centre, library, community centre and the ward commissioner's office. Earlier this year, the DSCC labelled these two buildings as “risky” and forbade people from using them. While the community might have appreciated the city corporation's effort to renovate the unsafe structures, the announcement that a multi-storied building would be established replacing the park, angered locals and environmentalists.

And why not? The stark reality is that Nababganj Park has been serving as the only source of recreation for more than five lakh residents of Ward-23. There are no parks in Wards 24, 25 or 26 either—though there should be at least one park for each, as per the experts' suggestions.

Urban planner and the former chairman of University Grant Commission, Professor Nazrul Islam, highlights that every urban and regional plan must ensure adequate open spaces (depending on the size of the population). For example, the current Dhaka Structure Plan proposes 1.5 acres of open space for every 12,500 of the population. This means that for a population of 26 million, we need at least 22,360 acres—constituting six percent of the total area of the capital.

“Once a plan is made and a park is built, the municipality cannot make changes arbitrarily. If there really is a necessity, the whole urban structure plan needs to be changed accordingly, but with the direct participation of the public,” informs Islam.

What's an open space that's not… open?

Upon visit, a corner of the Nababganj Park was found “reserved” for WASA's pumping station in violation of the law. According to a law passed in 2000 (lengthily titled: Mega city, Divisional Town and District Town's municipal areas including country's all the municipal areas' playground, open space, park and natural water reservoir Conservation Act, 2000), “playfields, open spaces, parks and natural water bodies which are marked cannot be used another way, it cannot be rented, leased or cannot be handover any other use.”

If a service organisation, including the City Corporation, needs to build an infrastructure in a public property, it needs to purchase the land at the market price, informs Mohammed Salim, assistant secretary of an Old Dhaka wing of the environmental organisation Poribesh Bachao Andolon. “When we asked them, they couldn't give us any satisfactory answer. It is unfortunate that the regulatory bodies themselves are violating basic provisions,” he says.

The authorities claim that the multi-storeyed building—which will continue to house the commissioner's office and community centre—will provide much-needed amenities to the public. However, many locals as well as environmentalists feel that replacing an open space with a concrete building will do more harm than good.

“Yes, community facilities are equally important, but you cannot create a new problem while solving another,” argues Iqbal Habib, architect and Member Secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon.

Some local residents also raise questions about the decision to mark the existing community centre—which was inaugurated in 1999—as risky.  Was it only done as an excuse to be able to do construction work in the park?

“We have another community centre near the park, which was built five years before this one. They could've demolished that and rebuilt it as the multi-storied building they are planning for community services. Why choose the structure in the park?” asks a local resident, Rafiqul Islam.

Ratul Ahmed, another local resident, is concerned about the environmental aspect. “If a community centre is built here, they must arrange food for large parties, and people will use the remaining open space to park their cars. People go to parks to enjoy the nature—how is that going to happen then?” says Ahmed.

“Besides, we are hearing that the Sadarghat-Gabtali road which runs along a side of the park is going to be expanded to accommodate four lanes. If this happens, the size of the park will be reduced any way, so why take up space for a building?” he adds.

Not all locals, however, oppose the move. Some believe that the addition of new facilities—as promised by the authorities—would add to the development of the community.

When contacted, Mohammed Humayun Kabir, Commissioner for Ward-23 informs that the multipurpose building will serve the needs of the community, with separate arrangements for sports for children and the elderly. When asked about the environmental aspects of replacing the park with a building, Kabir argues, “You cannot compare this park with the Suhrawardy Udyan or Ramna Park. We are going to implement the new project so that they can use it as a place to mingle with others.”

When asked about the commissioner's office, he admits that it might be there. “And we give the land to WASA, considering the necessity of local people”. “We were unable to manage a place for the pumping station,” he adds.

According to Advocate and Policy Analyst Syed Mahbubul Alam Tahin, the way the smaller-sized open spaces are in danger of encroachment is a matter of great concern. “In fact, the situation is so bad that in 2014, the High Court ordered the DCs to protect all the canals, playgrounds and parks of the country from illegal encroachment. But no significant changes have taken place in this regard,” he says.

The future of the Nababganj Park is easily foreseeable, if we look at some other old Dhaka parks that are almost disappearing in the name of development, like Narinda, Jatrabari or Bakshibazar Park. Having access to green spaces is a matter of equality—and it seems as if old Dhaka is getting the short end of the stick. 

As the rickshaw, painted bright with a distorted Bengal tiger and even more distorted images of Dhallywood stars, breaks through the sea of other rickshaws, the kites appear almost suddenly through the narrow old Dhaka skyline. 

It is a sea of colours, almost as though humongous, mutant butterflies have laid siege to the Old Dhaka sky.

Always tormented by nostalgia and of memories from another time, the scenes of busy rooftops, old crumbling mansions and the passionate screams of kite flyers quickly take me back to the time I was reading The Kite Runner, a book by Khaled Hosseini, now a household name.

In the book, the schools close for the icy season, and boys spend this time flying kites. Baba takes Amir and Hassan to buy kites from an old blind man who makes the best in the city. The highlight of winter is the annual kite-fighting tournament, when boys battle kites by covering the strings in broken glass.

For me, it was like being thrown into scenes from the book and old Bollywood movies, names of which I find difficult to remember now.

Kite flying and the festivities surrounding it is not simply unique to our region or to any religion alone.  Residents of old Dhaka start preparing for Shakrain, celebrated on the last days of Poush, the end of the ninth month in the Bengali calendar from weeks back. Poush is the first month of winter in the Bengali calendar. There is another month of winter left—Maagh.

Here in Old Dhaka, Shakrain, is a veritable carnival of colourful kites, fireworks, fire-breathers, paper lanterns, old school games and food.

It's being celebrated here since the Mughal period, says resident Ishti: “My family is Muslim but there was never any talk of not celebrating this festival. After all, Shakrain has been celebrated from the Mughal times, probably even before!”

For another Old Dhaka resident, Taposh Ghosh, an undergraduate student of the Institute of Business Administration at Dhaka University, Shakrain means going down memory lane. “I used to look forward to going to Narinda, my maternal grandparents' house. All the festivities happened there.”

I get down from the rickshaw where the narrow lane paves way to the narrower 'goli' of Shankhari Bazaar, an almost 400-year-old neighbourhood.  The narrow lane is lined with jewellery stores casting a golden-yellow hue from the gold ornaments showcased inside the glass windows. There is the smell of incense and syrupy laddus in the air.

Everywhere there is chaos. Although celebrations start from morning, it is dusk by the time the pace picks up.

“We start preparing from weeks back at least. There is a lot of work. Buying the right kites and then preparing them for war takes time you know,” says Pratik, a teen from the Shankhari Bazar area.

For Old Dhaka residents, Shakrain is not simply about flying kites. They are at play here. From each rooftop, competition ensues. In the kite fight, the aim is to slice the other flier's string with your own, sending the defeated kite teetering to the ground.

Photo: Star File

The kite string is coated with a resin made of glue and finely crushed glass, which turns it into a blade. This is done weeks in advance. 

“I managed to cut 26 kites today so I guess it is a relatively good Shakrain for me,” said a grinning Pratik.

Here, kites have different names based on their shapes, sizes and designs, such as hearts, goggles, squares, eyes and the traditional kite shape.

As the sun sets, a new kind of party kicks in. Old Dhaka becomes modernised. The old and new mingle seamlessly. Old Bangla songs from one roof intermingle with Linkin' Park from another roof. Light shows paint the city red, green and blue. Fireworks go up as though everyone is in some Olympics game vying for top firecracker spot. 

“It is as though the whole neigbourhood is partying. We only see scenes like this in the movies,” says Rahnuma, a Dhanmondi resident who was visiting Shakrain for the first time.

She also talks about the stark differences that still remains between Old Dhaka and New Dhaka.

“I still do not know any of my neighbours in my building in Dhanmondi.  But here, people are having full-fledged conversations between rooftops,” says Rahnuma.

The light shows and fireworks go on late into the night. Plates of food keep piling up. Pithas, samosas, bottles of Coke litter the floor.

Shakrain is often celebrated on two consecutive days by the people in Old Dhaka depending on their locality. One day of the celebrations is based on the English calendar and the other is based on the Bengali Calendar. 

This day is also celebrated by the Hindu community in India, Nepal and Bangladesh in many cultural forms, with a variety of names like—'Maghe sangkranti', (Nepal), 'Saakrat' (Delhi and Haryana), 'Uttarayan' (Gujarat), 'Maghi' (Punjab) and many more.

I made my way back home when the celebrations were going on full pace and I thought of 'Googling' why celebrations matter and why they are so important to us, irrespective of race or religion. Google answered me with many quotes, the gist of which boil down to this: without festivals, how would communities come together?How would there be fervour and excitement that break the mundanity of living in this urban jungle?

Abida Rahman Chowdhury is an online journalist, The Daily Star

Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

A museum is meant to be a gateway—a magical door into another world at a different time and place. For those (like this writer) who are not avid readers and are more visual learners, there are not many places better than museums to learn, experience and marvel at the wonders of the world.

The Bangladesh National Museum (BNM), with a total area of over 200,000 square feet and consisting of 45 galleries under four main sections—History and Classical Art, Ethnography and Decorative Art, Contemporary Art and World Civilisation and Natural History—boasts itself as one of the biggest museums in South Asia. Aside from the main museum, it holds two temporary exhibition galleries and two auditoriums where various discussions and cultural programmes are organised year-round.

But the country's supposed premier space to learn and experience the country's history, culture, geography, anthropology and art falls considerably short of providing the experience its name promises. Walking into the first gallery does feel like walking into a different time, but not how you'd imagine. The blandly-lit room, with its huge wooden map of Bangladesh where different districts are indicated by little lights, was set up probably in its very early days (when it was transformed into the BNM from the Dhaka Museum in 1983) and looks and feels very dated. The vibe carries into the next galleries—rural Bangladesh (which is just a whole wall consisting of generic painting of the country) and the Sundarbans (a poorly-lit corridor with showcases replicating the mangrove forest and some gnarly-looking stuffed animals). The next few galleries—dedicated to rocks and minerals, indigenous flora and fauna, and “Life in Bangladesh”—consist of samples kept in showcases with no comprehensive text about the exhibits. It is difficult to feel a sense of wonder and amazement—one of the most important things one looks for in a museum—as it gives the impression of a walking tour providing basic general knowledge.

Visitors touch the artworks displayed despite a clear warning; there are few employees around to supervise the galleries. Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

While some of the galleries—like the boats of Bangladesh, tribes of Bangladesh, archaeological artefacts, sculptures, inscriptions and wood carvings—are more interesting, the poorly-written labels and lack of accompanying information mean that no visitor can really take a moment and be immersed in the displays. Some of the collections are impressive, but their incoherent and confusing placement (for example, sculptures from different eras placed adjacently without much explanation) seriously take away from the experience.

There, however, is a gallery in stark contrast to all of this: the Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Gallery (which is sponsored by the IFIC Bank with technical assistance from Drik). From its floors, walls, lighting, curatorial process to aesthetics and digital displays, this is the first and only gallery that feels like an actual, international-standard museum. The recently-renovated galleries on Bangladesh's Liberation War are also far better-developed and maintained, both in terms of information and presentation.

Lack of curatorial oversight is evident in the glassware gallery which displays everything from an old CRT computer monitor to empty liquor bottles. Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

On the other hand, some of the galleries are downright confusing, like the first gallery of the second floor—a gallery of artefacts collected by the museum between 2014 and 2016. Artefacts are placed in the gallery without any classification and coherence: a sari with Tagore poems printed on it; personal documents of noted personalities; rare, old books; and pictures of two rare monkeys that were killed in a road accident, along with a video report on them, are inexplicably placed in the same gallery. The gallery is also a testament of what appears to be the museum's approach to its collection: amassing whatever artefacts possible and putting them on display without a lot of curatorial thought put into it. Another example is the gallery of glassware: one of the showcases contains bottles of alcoholic beverages that are available in the market, and can possibly be purchased from water bottle sellers at New Market. On the third floor in the world civilisation department, there is a corner called the Switzerland Corner, which contains two glass frames of old documents of some high-level diplomatic correspondence and nothing else.

On the third floor of the gallery, a Western Art gallery has rather poorly-drawn replicas of world famous paintings—from Van Gogh's "Starry Night" to Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper" and Picasso's "Guernica", which are more of an eyesore than a marvel. While it is understandable that iconic paintings of this stature may not be possible to be acquired by the museum, there could have been a much better way of showing them than pasting their prints on the walls.

Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

The keeper of the museum's Ethnography and Decorative Art, Nure Nasreen describes the museum's curatorial process as such: “When this museum was opened in 1983, a working board comprising experts made a manual and a design. We are now working to renovate those galleries. It is a continuous process.” 

She admits that the main design of the galleries has not changed since their inception. “We have added video displays and new artefacts to make it modern and attractive, keeping the main design intact,” she explains.

When asked why there is an old CRT computer monitor in the glassware gallery, Nasreen answers, “Because it is made of glass.” Asked about the alcohol bottles, the unfazed keeper explains, “This museum began its collection in 1913 and it is growing. We have a contemporary history section as well where we display the modern objects we have collected.”

She also highlights that every renovation is approved by the trustee board and committee: “It is not by anyone's individual decision.”

Asked about the gallery of collections from 2014–16 and its lack of coherence, Nasreen says: “All the four departments display their main collections acquired between that time, so one of them may be natural history, the next one ethnography. This is a temporary exhibition, and we will soon dismantle it and move the objects.”

Md Shawkat Nabi, Secretary of Bangladesh National Museum, admits that there is scope for improvement when it comes to curatorial oversight. “The curatorial team has more to do in this regard. Maybe all of that work is not being done properly,” he says.

Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor informs Star Weekend that he is not happy with the aesthetic look of the permanent galleries. “Maybe the people at the museum will not admit it, but we don't have a curator at our museum. We have a DG [Director General]. He is the head of the museum. There is no post of DG in any museum in the world, and it is not a transferrable post. One government official is there now; someone will replace him in a few years. This should not be the case for a museum. A museum has to have an expert as a curator. Since we do not have such an expert here, I think we should bring a curator from abroad and curate it. We want to start working on that. Those in charge of the museum are probably focusing more along the lines of expansion than curation. But if we had the capability, we could do all of it simultaneously.”

The museum is poorly maintained with damp wallsvisible just above the artworks. Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

The cultural affairs ministry's budget for 2016–17 shows a total of BDT 31.99 crore allocated for operational and project costs of all museums under BNM for the 2015–16 fiscal year, including BDT 21.60 crore for BNM's operational costs alone. According to Nabi, however, the biggest challenge to implementing changes in the museum is finance. “We cannot design and decorate the galleries because of a lack of funds, but we have attempted to renovate one or two galleries every year. We are also trying to get sponsorships from banks and other sources,” he claims.

The Minister states that work is being done on modernising and renovating the museum. Most importantly, a new building for BNM is in the works. “The Prime Minister has already approved the design, now a plan is underway. Once the building is completed, it will definitely improve the museum's facilities. You'll see that there are a lot of activities like programmes, exhibitions and publication ceremonies these days, which shows that the BNM is more active than before.”

The Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Gallery is one gallery that feels like it belongs to an international-standard museum. Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

It  was hard to get a hold of updated documents and administrative authorities to figure out how the museum operates. The museum's latest annual report is not online. When asked about it, education officer Syed Shamsul Karim claims it was readily available on the website, but could not provide it when requested. He promised to send it over e-mail, but when this writer followed up with him the next day, he said, “Let me see if it is ready.” BNM entertained a total of 770,000+ visitors in the 2016–17 period, and the number is steadily on the rise. 

“According to the annual plan of action with the government, we give a target to the Ministry (of Cultural Affairs),” says Nabi. “We set a target of visitors we want to attract, and according to that, we act proactively. We have a school programme, and we contact schools across the country to bring their students. We have succeeded in fulfilling this target every year.”

When asked who the museum's target audience is, Nabi says, “Our target is people from all walks of life, but we have a special focus on children. We want them to take back an educational experience from here.”

One of the four major goals of the museum (as per its website) is to “Study”, including to “support scholarly investigation and research in order to document, catalogue, and publish the museum's objects as well as to contribute to knowledge and human achievement.” Asked about the museum's research and publications in recent years, Nabi says, “We have begun work on the e-newsletter. Our yearly journal was not published for the last few years, but a new journal is waiting to be published in Bengali and English. In fact, one of the conditions for promotion for our officers is to do research and our officers are all doing their work.”

Upon checking the museum's publication section, the last published journal came out in 2013, and the one before that came out in 2005. Almost all the other publications of the museum in the last few years have been catalogues for special exhibitions, postcards and the like, save for a book on Nalinikanta Bhatashali, the first curator of the museum (when it was established under British Rule as Dhaka Museum), another titled “Muslin: Our Story” (which was part of a project by Drik) and a descriptive catalogue of Arabic and Persian inscriptions at the museum.

BNM also operates five other museums across the country—Ahsan Manzil (Dhaka), Museum of Independence (Dhaka), Osmany Museum (Sylhet), Zia Memorial Museum (Chittagong) and Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala (Mymensingh). Of them, according to the 2015–16 BNM annual report (which does not list the Museum of Independence in the list of organisations under it but refers to it later in the table for attendance numbers), no new items were acquired for Ahsan Manzil, Osmany Museum, Zia Memorial Museum and Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala that year. It says 49 items were acquired for Polli Kabi Jasimuddin Sangrahashala (which is not listed as an organisation under BNM). The museums in Sylhet, Chittagong and Mymensingh also saw less than 100,000 visitors each in the year (with Osmany Museum seeing a measly turnout of 2,957 people). The condition of these museums calls for a much deeper and detailed investigation, which, while beyond the scope of this story, definitely remains of interest to this writer.

Granted, the national museum can be an exciting visit for a school-going child, in a city where educational entertainment is a grave scarcity for the adult population and with the resources BNM has, is it doing enough? 

Teachers call off hunger strike

Finally, the hunger strike of non-MPO teachers has come to an end following the assurances of the Prime Minister. Now that the teachers have been assured that their demands will be met, they can resume taking classes after the sufferings of both the teachers and the students for the last six days. According to the teachers' federation, the number of non-MPO educational institutions is around 5,242 of which 80,000 teachers have been working outside the MPO for more than a decade. They have been living a life of hardship. Additionally, while it is the non-MPO enlisted teachers who have been covered by recent news, the conditions of MPO school teachers are not far better. Measures should be taken to bring approved institutions under the MPO scheme. We further hope the assurance given by the PM is implemented soon. The salary structures of both MPO and non-MPO teachers deserve an increment.

Nuzhat Rifa Ehsan

Baridhara, Dhaka

 

Unethical banking practices

This is in reference to the article "After 2017...what defines our banking sector?" by Eresh Omar Jamal published on January 5. The write-up is praiseworthy in attempting to cover the volatile banking sector. I would like to add another viewpoint—that of the grassroots level banking scenario.

So far, 56 commercial banks including 4 state-owned ones are operating in our small country. Every year, bank branches are mushrooming across the country without necessity. Most of the branches are opening in the commercial hub to make huge profits ignoring the need of rural and/or remote areas as a whole and of course, without any proper marketing assessment.

Newly opened branches are running with unhealthy and unethical competitive practices regarding deposits, investments and foreign exchange. They are avoiding standard norms and practices in the banking field. These banks are offering skyrocketing deposit rates that are risky for the banking sector in the long-term. Most banks charge service fees which are beyond clients' capacity and also charge without any proper justification. The regulatory authority, Bangladesh Bank, should curb these unethical practices sooner rather than later to avoid a total collapse of the banking sector.

Md Zillur Rahaman

Bhola

Stop slaying guest birds

Among the six seasons experienced in our country, winter is the most charming and elegant season. Many guest birds come to visit and make their residence in our country during the winter season. But sadly, we are slaying these birds who enhance our winters every year, alluring birdwatchers and nature lovers from around the country and world.

Many miscreants frequent the haunts of these birds and set traps. They hunt guest birds to sell or simply for amusement. Our laws about conservation are not strong. So, we should tighten our laws to suppress these rogues who are desecrating these natural habitats of visiting birds. Besides, we have to spread public awareness so that they can understand the importance of guest birds.

Naeem Ariyan

University of Chittagong

Teachers call off hunger strike

Finally, the hunger strike of non-MPO teachers has come to an end following the assurances of the Prime Minister. Now that the teachers have been assured that their demands will be met, they can resume taking classes after the sufferings of both the teachers and the students for the last six days. According to the teachers' federation, the number of non-MPO educational institutions is around 5,242 of which 80,000 teachers have been working outside the MPO for more than a decade. They have been living a life of hardship. Additionally, while it is the non-MPO enlisted teachers who have been covered by recent news, the conditions of MPO school teachers are not far better. Measures should be taken to bring approved institutions under the MPO scheme. We further hope the assurance given by the PM is implemented soon. The salary structures of both MPO and non-MPO teachers deserve an increment.

Nuzhat Rifa Ehsan

Baridhara, Dhaka

 

Unethical banking practices

This is in reference to the article "After 2017...what defines our banking sector?" by Eresh Omar Jamal published on January 5. The write-up is praiseworthy in attempting to cover the volatile banking sector. I would like to add another viewpoint—that of the grassroots level banking scenario.

So far, 56 commercial banks including 4 state-owned ones are operating in our small country. Every year, bank branches are mushrooming across the country without necessity. Most of the branches are opening in the commercial hub to make huge profits ignoring the need of rural and/or remote areas as a whole and of course, without any proper marketing assessment.

Newly opened branches are running with unhealthy and unethical competitive practices regarding deposits, investments and foreign exchange. They are avoiding standard norms and practices in the banking field. These banks are offering skyrocketing deposit rates that are risky for the banking sector in the long-term. Most banks charge service fees which are beyond clients' capacity and also charge without any proper justification. The regulatory authority, Bangladesh Bank, should curb these unethical practices sooner rather than later to avoid a total collapse of the banking sector.

Md Zillur Rahaman

Bhola

Stop slaying guest birds

Among the six seasons experienced in our country, winter is the most charming and elegant season. Many guest birds come to visit and make their residence in our country during the winter season. But sadly, we are slaying these birds who enhance our winters every year, alluring birdwatchers and nature lovers from around the country and world.

Many miscreants frequent the haunts of these birds and set traps. They hunt guest birds to sell or simply for amusement. Our laws about conservation are not strong. So, we should tighten our laws to suppress these rogues who are desecrating these natural habitats of visiting birds. Besides, we have to spread public awareness so that they can understand the importance of guest birds.

Naeem Ariyan

University of Chittagong

In a quiet corner of Mirpur, barely a kilometer away from the hustle and bustle of the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium, lies urban Dhaka's only government shelter. It's a place that provides refuge to a wide array of individuals.

From the homeless and the lost to elderly parents who aren't welcomed by their children any more, from youngsters who need corrective measures to women and girls who need to live in a secured environment, the list goes on.

However, as opposed to the neighbouring cricket ground, the Sarkari Asroy Kendra—spread over 1.67 acres— is a lesser-known institution. One of its rare claims to fame is a short film named Nonsense, aired on ATN Bangla more than two decades ago, where it receives two minutes of coverage amidst a romantic scene enacted by Zahid Hasan and Richi Solaiman.

Here is how it plays. The character portrayed by Zahid disappears soon after the heroine falls in love with him. Days later, an advertisement in the paper states that the protagonist is found and that he is residing in a government shelter. The heroine then scampers to the shelter, brushes past the white curtains of the shelter officer's room and desperately enquires about the “love of her life”, which eventually leads to the final scene.

Unlike the rather typical plot of the film though—which ends on a happy note—the real life stories of the individuals living inside the shelter give you a lot more food for thought. They oppose the more popular notion that shelters like these are just filled with homeless people looking for shelter in the cold. The stories, on the contrary, reflect the unheard cruelties of the capital's urban society.

The case of six-year-old Mohammad Ali (not his real name), is one such example. After Ali's mother passed away, his father married again. A few months later, Ali went out with his stepmother. He was told that they were going to have lunch at a restaurant that day. Eventually, the six-year-old's stepmother left Ali in front of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital and left.

Some of the hawkers in the region took Ali to Shahbagh Police Station, from where he was sent to the shelter in Mirpur. The shelter then directed the police to go to Ali's house, as per the address given by the six-year-old. However, there was no one there. The parents, along with the stepmother's father, had apparently shifted to a new address.

The fate of eight-year-old Al-Imran (not his real name) remains uncertain. The boy's parents recently separated. His father married again. But neither of his parents were willing to keep him. With nowhere else to go, Al-Imran was sent to the shelter.

It's also a place where you find teenagers involved in stealing and mugging. Rahim and Fahad, for instance, are two brothers who would steal from railway passengers and then escape by climbing on top of the train. When the police caught them, they threatened to kill themselves by sticking blades in their own mouths. They were sent to the centre twice. They stayed for six months during their first stint and were doing well. However, as soon as they got out, they returned to their old business.

“Children like these are mentally scarred and one needs to be very careful while handling them. When they come here, we try our best to help them. For instance, we give them awards during programmes for the tasks they achieved. We make them recite poems. Things like these are entirely new to them,” explains Kamrun Nahar, Assistant Manager of the Mirpur shelter.

However, despite the corrective measures taken in the shelter, you find a number of youngsters repeatedly returning to the shelter on the direction of the police. “I think society needs to understand that this is not a jail. We often see that children who get out of here are not treated well and that's not fair because they don't get a second chance and end up returning back to their old lives,” says Kamrun.

Another reason that may be playing a role behind certain unsuccessful cases as far as the rehabilitation aspect is concerned is the lack of facilities. The shelter in Mirpur, for instance, was built in 1977 with an aim to host at least 200 individuals. Today, however, the shelter has the facilities to accommodate just 40 people in two big rooms. The reason behind that is that one of the main buildings of the complex collapsed in 2016.

The building hosted a majority of the rooms of the shelter. It collapsed on September 27, 2016 at 3 am and the fall led to the death of a 16-year-old girl who had been living in a tin shed, outside the shelter complex, behind the building. It's been one-and-a-half years since the collapse and unfortunately, the debris of the building still remains inside the complex and hasn't been cleared.

According to the Director General of the Department of Social Services (DSS), Gazi Mohammad Nurul Kabir, the department is planning to build a tin shed there to accommodate more individuals in place of the broken building.

“It's no one's fault that the broken building has not been replaced as yet. We have already got the money to build a new structure there. The government never says no as far as money is concerned. But then, everything has to go through a process. It takes some time,” explains Kabir.

There are other infrastructural issues as well. For instance, there were nine toilets that were built for the residents of this shelter, but none of them work. Today, those who reside in the centre use the toilet on the second floor, which was actually built for the shelter's officials.

The government shelter is supposed to be a corrective centre where children and adults are nursed and trained so that they don't indulge in illegal activities once they step out into the real world. However, the centre does not have any permanent doctors or psychologists that the residents can work with. Neither do they have any specialised people to deal with the elderly.

While the shelter does have one matron to deal with most of these issues, officials admit that that's not good enough. Every time someone needs severe medical attention, the resident is sent to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Again, the centre doesn't have its own vehicle. It has to rent CNGs for most of its daily transportation.

Juliet Begum, Director of Institution of the DSS, insists that the administration is working on expanding its capacity. “We do have doctors and psychologists who come on a contractual basis, but we don't have permanent job positions. For that to happen we will need job posts to be opened first because this is a government institution. We have asked the government to work in this regard,” she says.

Despite the difficulties, the shelter has been able to carry on its duties with the support of five other shelters located in Gazipur, Mymensingh, Narayanganj and Manikganj. The shelter at Mirpur is considered to be a reception centre where, those who arrive are either released after a few months or transferred to the other shelters for extended periods of stay. The other shelters are a lot bigger and better-equipped.

Again, it's not just teenagers who end up living in these shelters, but adults and families too. If someone needs to stay at a shelter, the person will first need to file a general diary with the police and then get that attested from a magistrate. On the other hand, individuals are also directed to the shelters by different institutions. The police or the court, for instance, may feel that a particular person needs to stay at the shelter for a few months for either corrective measures or security purposes.

The government seems to have a lot of plans to further develop the infrastructure of these shelters. They are, for instance, planning to build these centres in many more regions across the country. They are also planning to update the IT facilities in the shelters in order to allow the residents of these places to be more in touch with the mainstream arena. As the DG of the DSS, Kabir, puts it, “It will all happen in due time.”

However, judging by the amount of time that it has taken for the government to replace a mere building, the rate of progress of the development of these shelters seem questionable.

The shelters, in its present state, may not be perfect. But they do provide victims with a sense of hope and a chance to start life over. However, if quick measures to rectify the current situation are not taken, it won't take too long for that flicker of hope to fade away.

"No, no, no, all rubbish. They are determined to bring Bangladesh down. They only find wrong in government policies. They don't see development in the country,” said Finance Minister AMA Muhith in a burst of anger when journalists questioned him on a recent report titled “State of the Bangladesh Economy in Fiscal Year 2017–18” by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD). The reason behind the Finance Minister's explicit annoyance with the country's prominent think tank is that the report reveals the futility of one of Bangladesh government's most used marketing materials—the country's GDP growth. It also focuses on several other economic failures that may put immense pressure on the country's economy this year.

With the election season fast approaching, the ruling Awami League government is focusing heavily on the country's GDP growth to garner votes in its favour. It has pledged that it will increase GDP growth (which currently stands at 7.1) to 10 percent by 2021. What CPD has done is essentially highlight that this flashy figure is a misleading measure of Bangladesh's economic development.

To make their case, the researchers highlighted the rates of employment growth rate and poverty reduction. Comparing these two indicators with the current GDP growth shows that the steady increase of GDP cannot prevent poverty and inequality in Bangladesh at all. According to the report, between 2000 and 2005, Bangladesh's GDP growth was 5.1 percent, employment growth was 3.3 percent and poverty reduction was 1.8 percentage points. In the next five years (from 2005 to 2010), GDP steadily increased up to 6.1 percent; however, employment growth started to decline and reduced to 2.7 percent. With the reduced employment growth, the process of poverty reduction was also affected and poverty reduction decreased to 1.7 percentage points. And, in 2017, when Bangladesh's GDP growth reached its peak, the employment growth rate and poverty reduction reached their lowest. According to the report, between 2010 and 2016, Bangladesh's GDP growth rose to 6.5 percent; however, poverty reduction stood at 1.2 percentage points and employment growth declined to 1.9 percent.

According toTowfiqul Islam Khan, Research Fellow at CPD, “This data clearly shows that Bangladesh's increasing GDP is not invested in generating resources and employment in the country. The decline in employment growth rate means that wealth is being amassed unproductively and mass people are not benefitting from the increasing production.” He further argues that by accumulating the wealth, the rich will become richer and, due to increasing unemployment and under-employment,the poor will become poorer. If income inequality cannot be reduced at national, rural and urban levels, poverty reduction in Bangladesh will be more challenging in the coming years. As such, there is little point in celebrating our GDP growth until the wealth is adequately distributed among the people.

The report also highlights the government's failure to regulate commercial banks and provide adequate response during and after the floods. In 2013, nine new banks got licenses; most of these banks are making irrecoverable losses due to the excessive amount of non-performing loans. According to the report, 95 percent of bankers think that these new banks are redundant. Despite this reality, the government still gave the green signal to these banks—probably due to the fact that all of these nine banks—Midland Bank Ltd, Meghna Bank Ltd, The Farmers Bank, Union Bank Ltd, Modhumoti Bank Ltd, South Bangla Agriculture and Commerce Bank Ltd, NRB Commercial Bank Ltd, NRB Bank and NRB Global Bank Ltd—are owned by powerful political figures of the ruling party. It soon came to light that the banks were given permission without prior adequate assessment. For instance, the Farmers Bank has almost collapsed and the bank is even struggling to pay its depositors who are desperately trying to withdraw their savings from the bank.

In fact, none of these nine banks could fulfil the conditions set by the central bank. Instead, they are using their political connections to pressure the central bank into easing the conditions on issuing agricultural loans, running corporate social responsibility funds, operating branches in remote areas and enlisting in stock markets. State-owned commercial banks are also performing miserably due to the excessive amount of non-performing loans. The government has already spent BDT 15,705 crore of public money to re-capitalise state-owned commercial banks that have lost huge amounts of their capital to non-performing borrowers and due to embezzlement of public money.

The report also reviewed government interventions during and after the floods of 2017. This included the two successive floods, the flash flood in the haor area and the inundation of 32 districts by monsoon flood. The report found that the nine percent of Aman crop land that was inundated would have had a value of BDT 2,700 crore. Besides, 0.1 million and 0.63 million households were completely and partially damaged respectively, whose total cost of repairs stood at BDT 2,600 crore. However, according to the researcher, the government's flood relief activities and assistance were highly inadequate. Even several flood-affected areas remained outside the purview of government intervention. “There were inefficiencies in the planning of the government's agricultural support programmes; the logic of proportional distribution of crop input was flawed and there was no or insignificant assistance for the non-crop agricultural sector,” states the report. As a consequence, rice prices are still far beyond the reach of the poorer section of society, which may contribute to further decline in poverty reduction regardless of Bangladesh's increase in GDP.

Besides insignificant agricultural assistance, the report found that maintenance of existing infrastructure is not a priority for the concerned authorities. With banks collapsing one after another, the looming threat of new floods, dwindling food stocks and weakened infrastructure, there is no doubt that Bangladesh will face considerable pressure to keep its economy stable and running in 2018. Instead of labelling these findings and recommendations as “all rubbish”, our policy makers should either present counter-arguments or take pragmatic measures for the well-being of the nation.

The writer can be contacted at Shahnawaz.khan@thedailystar.net

That children from the slums of Dhaka have an unequal start in life is not a revelation. Sanitation systems are poor or non-existent, poverty affects nutrition levels, and access to advanced health care is limited.

But here is an appalling fact: by the time they are two years of age, the children of Mirpur Bauniabandh slum take 10 courses of antibiotics. In the first two years, these children have approximately 10 episodes of illnesses that warrant antibiotic intervention.

This was found in a World Health Organisation study that compared the conditions of 265 children in Bauniabandh with those living in similar conditions in Pakistan, Tanzania, Brazil, Peru, South Africa, India and Nepal.

So how did Bangladesh compare? The average number of antibiotic courses taken by children across the countries was 4.9, less than half of what the children of Bauniabandh were taking. In fact, Bangladesh comes out second-highest—the children of Naushahro Feroze in Pakistan topped the list by taking 12 courses of antibiotics in their first two years.

“Of course, pharmacists and doctors in Bangladesh prescribe antibiotics indiscriminately, but children in these slums are actually catching more infections,” confirms Dr Tahmeed Ahmed, one of the main authors of this exploratory study and Senior Director of Nutrition and Clinical Services Division at International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b).

Three-year-old Sumaiya lives in a one-room corrugated-tin house teetering on the edge of the Beribandh canal. The child drinks water straight out of the tap but not due to habit—rather, it is because her family does not have a working gas connection and cannot afford firewood.

“Firewood costs BDT 12 per kilogram, and I end up spending BDT 150 or 200 just to cook food. I don't have the money to boil water,” says Sumaiya's mother Asha. “Is that what you spend weekly?” I ask. “Weekly?” she laughs, “I spend that daily!” Most people with gas connections have to pay only around BDT 800 per month, which is the amount Asha spends in half a week. The mother works as a domestic worker in people's homes.

None of the mother-daughter duo's neighbours in the slum boil water for the simple reason that they do not have access to a working gas connection. Rowshanara Begum's four-year-old suffers from chronic diarrhoea. “I need to buy medicine several times a year for the child, simple oral saline solutions are not enough,” says Rowshanara.

Their living conditions are similar to those in all slums—each of the families is squeezed into tiny windowless rooms of corrugated tin sheets. The bathrooms are open pits leading to the canal. All the households dump trash in the canal because the monthly garbage collection bill is an added burden nobody wants. That the contamination levels of this large water body has an effect on children's health came to light in a study last year that tested 200 water samples across four slums in the city and found distressing levels of fecal matter. The highest levels of contamination—about 600 fecal coliform bacterial colonies in every 100 ml of water—were found in the water from underground reserve tanks. Water samples collected from household containers like jugs were also highly contaminated. In comparison, the water supplied by the municipality was tested at source and it had no fecal matter. What that means is that the bacteria enter the water when being transported through underground pipes—pipes that come in close contact with soil that is already contaminated by the canal water, for example.  The study was done by BRAC University, Dhaka University, Dushtha Shasthya Kendra and WaterAid Bangladesh among others.

Shabana Begum, a 24-year-old mother in the same slum, managed a gas connection to boil water but her four children have another reason for falling sick—they have not completed their necessary vaccinations for illnesses like cholera.

“I moved into a room inside a brick building two years ago, so that I could get access to gas for cooking. The bathroom is also better,” says Shabana. The building also houses a tiny one-room school run by an NGO, where her children spend their days. The room costs more than the makeshift structures on the side of the canal. If the mother is so committed to giving her children a better environment to grow up in, why has she not vaccinated them?

“The older women in the slum said my children will fall sick if they get vaccinated. The health workers will leave after vaccinating him but perhaps I will be left to deal with a sick child,” says Shabana. The mother was married off at the age of 14 after she completed sixth grade and could not study further. She even had cholera vaccination registration cards given to her by icddr,b for her children, but quietly slipped away when the health workers came to her block because of her misconception about vaccination.

An additional fact to be concerned about is that the children studied in the research were being given stronger antibiotics from the get-go. Experts agree that this contributes to antibiotic resistance in the future. “The infants of Dhaka were more likely to be given highly potent antibiotics like macrolides (generic name being Azithromycin) for diarrhoea, as opposed to anti-protozoal drugs like Flagyl,” says Dr Tahmeed Ahmed.

Children from the slums invariably get less of a shot at life than the rest of the kids in the city—they go to worse schools, end up in lower-paying jobs. Must their bodies fail them too because of man-made factors?

Watching Call Me by Your Name felt like flipping through the pages of a personal diary, sheets littered with memories of a bittersweet summer romance. Coming-of-age stories of love and heartbreak strike a universal chord but I doubt you can find one that depicts first love in all its honesty, purity, and unpretentious wonder as the one told in Call Me by Your Name.

Based on André Aciman's 2007 novel of the same name, the story follows Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), as he spends his summer vacation in Italy with his American father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an antiquities professor, and Italian mother (Amira Casar). When the film begins, he's a lanky but charming teenager trying to navigate the intricate balancing act between adolescence and adulthood. But Elio is precocious and introspective, a bibliophile who transcribes music and indulges in poetry. The setting is the sinfully picturesque countryside of Northern Italy during the summer of 1983, where Elio spends most of his days lounging with friends or his girlfriend, Marzia (Esther Garrel), under the sweltering sun.

When dad's new research assistant arrives, Elio finds himself confronting a personality at odds with his own. Oliver (Armie Hammer) is as unabashedly American as can be. His laid back demeanour and carefree charm wins over everyone within proximity, much to Elio's chagrin. Initially, the two fall into a sibling-like relationship, riding bikes around town and courting girls together. These moments feel deceptively natural, and one almost misses the mutual attraction between them. The narrative is mostly Elio's, and we see his emotions graduate from nonchalant disdain to reluctant fascination to honest love. The remainder of the film maps Elio and Oliver's relationship as it traverses the whirlwind waters of first romance. 

The story unfolds much like a novel, slow and metered in its pacing; but every prolonged second is calculated and essential, mirroring the growing attraction between the two. The scenes are interspersed with exquisite shots of the sprawling lawn, the airy villa, and the unbounded orchard extending into the horizon. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom's portrayal of the Italian countryside is so visually stunning that you will find yourself wistfully dreaming of a summer that never was. You can practically feel the heat on your skin, and taste the sweetness of the often served apricot juice. From the stillness of the air to the beads of sweat clinging to skin, every visual cue hints to the charged attraction between the two. 

Chalking up Call Me by Your Name as purely a “coming-of-age” story is a rather limiting description of a film encircles multiple themes. As the New York Times puts it, it's “less a coming-of-age story, than one about coming into sensibility.” It's a tale of first loves—its innocent beginnings, unrestrained passion and heart-wrenching endings. It's a tale of a young man discovering his own sexuality, without necessarily establishing it. It's a tale of a boy on the cusp of adulthood, and all its associated emotional foibles. It's also a tale that delves into the laughable, sometimes crude, ways in which desire mimics obsession, as depicted in a scene where Elio puts Oliver's swimming shorts over his head. Call Me by Your Name is a lot of things, and Director Luca Guadagnino weaves a story that transcends the traditional genres one might be tempted to characterise it within. The film only subtly hints at some controversial subject matters. The age difference between the leading actors is implied, but never spoken outright. Sexual orientation is explored, but not labelled. And the story only alludes to the forbidden nature of Elio and Oliver's relationship in conservative christian Italy in 1983. Guadagnino chose to paint a picture of love and lust that's universal, but no less poignant.

The cast is outstanding; the actors lean into their characters so organically that you almost miss the strength of their performances. Timothée Chalamet's first starring role was a tricky one. He had to portray a teenager that's frustratingly distant most of the time, but when he starts wearing his heart on his sleeve, his vulnerability hits you like a freight train. Armie Hammer portrayed the nuances in Oliver's character brilliantly. You love the comfort of his presence onscreen but you long for the tender affection he reserves for Elio. Stuhlbarg disappears into his role of a loving, all-knowing father; he delivers a monologue towards the end of the film that will move you to tears like it did Elio. In those final moments, you can't help but marvel at the consideration and compassion Elio's parents displayed towards their grieving son at that time. Hats off to the actors.

Sufjan Stevens's soundtrack is a mishmash of classical, retro and original songs that weave in and out of the narrative seamlessly. The originals, in particular, are breathtakingly familiar. Stevens' lyricism serves as a proclamation of the emotional tempest brewing within the leading men.

Call Me by Your Name begins like an idle summer afternoon but it sure delivers one of the most transcendent escapades on the silver screen in recent memory. As Timothée Chalamet put it in an interview with Christiane Amanpour, it was the “right time for an uncynical, unabashed, pure celebration of love and all the sorrow that comes with it.” Oh, what a celebration it was.

Mithi Chowdhury is a soon-to-be graduate of the Institution of Business Administration, Dhaka University and a contributor for Star Weekend and Shout, The Daily Star.

2017 marked 100 years of the Russian Revolution and a considerable number of books were rushed out to coincide with the centenary; some in revisionist mode, others celebratory. Among these, Tariq Ali's The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution is a wonderfully ranging and layered exploration of the complex political, ideological and personal settings that shaped Vladimir Lenin, the brains behind the revolution.

Ali makes a convincing case for Lenin's strategic and tactical brilliance in bringing about the revolution. This clarity of vision and foresight grew out of Lenin's long periods of immersion in the interpretation of Marxist theory, Russian revolutionary politics, as well as exilic and international politics of the left. These strands together constituted huge dilemmas and tension for Lenin in terms of the strategic, ideological and political choices he made before and after the revolution, with lasting reverberations for the rest of the globe. Though the book is about Lenin's dilemmas and how he overcame them, it casts its net wide to drag in all the formative influences that shaped Lenin politically, analytically, emotionally, ideologically and strategically. Ali lists left internationalism, feminism, revolutionary violence and Russian absolutism as well as literary influences as the key factors that drove Lenin's political and strategic clarity.

Ali is unique among a dying breed of scholar-activists; he has authored dozens of books on world history and politics with special focus on left social movements and left internationalism. Because of his long-standing scholarly interest and practical engagement, he has developed unparalleled knowledge and insights into the history of leftist movements and leaders. In this book, he brings this vast fund of knowledge to illuminate Lenin's unique and world-changing role within the wider interplay of love, war, imperialism and revolutionary terror.

At the very outset, Ali lays down two major dilemmas that faced Lenin on the eve of World War I. The first was how to react to the war and plot Russia's exit. In this, Lenin acquitted himself admirably well by interpreting the war as imperialist in character, breaking ranks with the Social Democratic Party of Germany that was led by the equally venerated Karl Kautsky, who pulled the hugely influential party behind the German government's war effort. Lenin's analysis was at one with philosopher and economist Rosa Luxemburg, who also opposed the war—a stand for which she paid with her life. Though Lenin's predicted revolutionary uprising in Germany and the rest of Europe did not materialise, he managed to put the prevailing widespread mood of war-weariness in Russia to the advantage of the Russian revolution.

Lenin's second dilemma was how to chart a revolutionary path to power. Here, too, he was prescient and supremely strategic. Instead of following the standard line that the revolution had to necessarily go through the bourgeois-democratic phase in line with Marxist theory, Lenin forced the pace of events and pushed for immediate transfer of power to the Soviets. This strategic masterstroke turned the political tide the Bolshevik way. Ali seems to suggest here that sometimes in history the role of an individual at a crucial moment is of central importance in leading a revolution. Lenin—in Ali's view—was that individual, who conjured the revolution into being by sheer willpower and a correct analysis of the situation. Looked at this way, the book seems to advance the 'great man' narrative of history though situated in the social and political matrix of left politics.

In this, Lenin was assisted by Leon Trotsky, who was instrumental in gathering deserted and demoralised Russian soldiers into the Red Army, which was to play an important role in the revolution. Ali does well in discussing the military strategy and military philosophers of the revolution; not his specialty by my reckoning, but he shows a great deal of verve in examining the finer points of military strategy, which attests to his erudition, intellectual curiosity and versatility.

Very ably, Ali traces the broader politics of the international left which formed the background music to Lenin's thinking. His discussion of the First and Third Internationals is rich and illuminating, though sometimes the chapters feel a bit too long and tend to drag. Ali skilfully sets the scene where Russian absolutism held the whole country in its suffocating sway and provoked a rash of assassination attempts on the tsars, perpetrated by a motley crew of left, anarchist and liberal activists. One such unsuccessful attempt was traced to Lenin's elder brother, Aleksandr “Sasha” Ulyanov, who was hanged for being an accessory to the plot. This episode was to leave deep marks upon Lenin's subsequent political and ideological trajectory. Though he did not talk much about this, his brother's living ghost hovered over his thinking and actions.

Opposition to the tsar was not limited to the left-anarchist spectrum; it also drew in liberal elements of society. Radical socialist Alexander Herzen and his fellow exiles furnish one example; this oppositionist strand operated from exile in London and Europe. British political scientist E. H. Carr's famous book The Romantic Exiles and Sir Tom Stoppard's play The Coast of Utopia best illustrate the state of liberal oppositional politics in exile at the turn of the century. Ali also touches upon the little-discussed subject of the impact of literary writers on Lenin—Nikolay Chernyshevsky comes in for special mention for his influence on Lenin's political outlook. Lenin even named one of his books, What Is To Be Done, after Chernyshevsky's novel of the same title.

Ali devotes considerable space—three chapters—to the role of women in revolutionary politics, beginning with the first wave of activists that included Sophia Perovskaya, who was hanged for her role in the successful assassination of the tsar Alexander II in 1881. In the second wave—consisting of Octobrist women active in the communist party and in the revolution—two names stand out: Alexandra Kollontai and Elena Stasova, who were at the forefront of the uprising and rose through party ranks to occupy influential positions. The status of women in terms of divorce rights and employment improved after the revolution and Lenin himself was aware of the centrality of women to the revolutionary project. He wrote, “from the experience of all liberation movements, it can be noted that the success of a revolution can be measured by the extent of the involvement of women in it.” Ali helpfully reminds readers that the spark for the February Revolution was lit by women who came out into the streets demanding bread and an end to the war on the International Women's Day in 1917.

Ali also shows that Lenin was a pragmatist: when he saw the need to rebuild Russia after the long civil war, Lenin pushed for a new economic policy designed to loosen state controls and “permit a degree of capitalism” to jumpstart the stalled economy. This, informs Ali, ran counter to the notion of the commune-state embodied earlier in Lenin's book The State and Revolution. Similarly, Lenin was worried about the growing concentration of power in the party and the early instance of misuse of power by Joseph Stalin.

The Dilemmas of Lenin is a nuanced and intellectual biography and a labour of love. Ali pours a lifetime of reflection and engagement in movements produced by the Russian Revolution into it and the resulting product is a refined, deeply scholarly and well-paced book that celebrates the revolution and its gains, as well its architect. A must read—no two ways about it.

Arif Azad is a public health and development consultant whose work has appeared in national and international publications. By arrangement with Dawn, an ANN partner.

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