Issue: 2018-01-26 | The Daily Star
Image: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

Ananya Paul, 26, a working professional in Dhaka had an eye-opening experience of religious harmony (or lack thereof) while house-hunting in Dhaka. In 2015, she and her in-laws went searching for an apartment in the Banasree area.

Having liked one prospect and after much deliberation, the two parties had settled important matters such as the advance payment and the move-in date. Ananya voluntarily told the landlady that they were Hindu while describing herself and her family members.

The landlady then told them that they should look for housing elsewhere.“She said that her husband was extremely religious and had just returned from performing Umrah. He would not want to rent their apartment out to Hindus.”

“What could we say? Although I did suggest before leaving that they should have put on the sign that they wouldn't rent to Hindus,” says Ananya.

Now wiser, Ananya in her subsequent house-hunting declared her religion straight off to see if the homeowners had a problem with renting to her. “We would get polite denials with reasons being that puja could not be celebrated openly etc. We had to provide justification for our religion.”

While to-let signs hardly display explicit rental bias explicitly, for tenants like Ananya the first phone call or visit sometimes makes her ineligible as a tenant on account of her religion.

Star Weekend called up four random major real estate agents in Dhaka to ask them this question: Do your homeowners include religious preferences for tenants, when putting out rental listings?

Remo Realty, Century 21 and Sharif Properties Services said they have not encountered such a thing. Only Lamudi acknowledged that this does happen—that homeowners sometimes have a preference as to the religion of the prospective tenants. The other three said that explicit mention of religious and/or ethnic preference is extremely rare and not to be found in their listings. More usual requirements found on listings are the type of tenant—families are usually preferred.

Bishakha Tanchangya, 30, originally from Rangamati has been living in Dhaka for the past two years. Once her job at an office in Khamarbari was confirmed, she started looking for an apartment in nearby Monipuripara, home to many minorities.

Like Ananya, Bishakha says she has faced discrimination when house-hunting—not because of her age, gender or tribal ethnicity as she expected—but because the landlords didn't want to rent to non-Muslims. She also encountered a Christian landlord who rents only to others of the same religion(she is Buddhist).

Such discriminatory experiences while house-hunting are not limited to minorities alone. In a recent report in The Daily Star, a writer talked about how their religious fervor as Muslims was assessed by homeowners before renting. They add to other groups routinely turned away by homeowners—students, bachelors and working women—and tenants of certain professions. However, these instances are more documented than recent cases of discrimination towards religious minorities.

“This is a very recent phenomenon. We have been hearing of such cases in the last few years,” says Rana Dasgupta, General Secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Oikya Parishad. For example, even if homeowners rent to Hindu tenants they set conditions that they cannot perform puja openly and ring ghonta (bells), he says.

Even if the landlord is not prejudiced, minorities like Bishakha experience prejudice from other tenants. “I'm not religious so the conditions they set don't affect me as much as others.”

This, says Dasgupta, is a reason why minorities tend to group together in certain areas of the city. Such terms and conditions drive minorities to localities where others of their ethnicity and/or religion live. “They feel comparatively safer and can practice their religion freely,” says Dasgupta.

While religious and ethnic discrimination in the search for housing is not a problem unique to Bangladesh, there are no legal measures to address such discrimination here, says Manzill Murshid, an advocate of the Supreme Court.

Housing reality

The overall house renting experience in Dhaka is largely informal and so leaves room for discrimination by individual homeowners. In addition, lack of knowledge of the law means tenants rarely seek legal recourse from demanding landlords.

This is the view found by a study conducted by the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), titled State of Cities 2017: Housing in Dhaka. The report analysed the state of formal housing from the perspective of the middle class flourishing in Dhaka. In total, 400 households in Badda, Mirpur, Old Dhaka, and Rampura were surveyed.

With high land and house prices, Dhaka is largely a renters' city. The urban housing market is dominated by the private sector, with 93 percent made up of real estate developers and individual land owners who construct and rent out residences. Tenants who rent from private developers often end up frequently changing houses as they are at the whim of individual homeowners.

Mohammad Mohiuddin Howlader, 58, works at an NGO and lives in a rented apartment in Uttara. He has changed homes four times in the last decade. Sometimes due to rent increases, sometimes due to unreasonable demands of the landlord.

But Mohiuddin has no aspirations of buying a place in the city to bring stability to his housing situation. “It's too expensive to buy a home in Dhaka anymore. I would not consider a loan as interest rates are very high as well.”

The 1000 square feet apartment he is currently renting has a market value of BDT 60 to 80 lakhs. High land and home prices, lack of savings, and high interest rates of bank loans were found by the survey to be major barriers to Dhaka residents becoming homeowners. Like Mohiuddin, 68 percent of tenants surveyed do not have plans to own an apartment or house in the city.

According to a standard measure worldwide, housing is considered affordable if rental (or mortgage) costs including utilities add up to less than 30 percent of monthly household income. The State of Cities 2017 survey found that 82 percent of households in Dhaka exceeded this affordability threshold.

As a result, renters face high opportunity costs. More than half of the households surveyed said they had to adjust their other expenses due to high house rent, which included compromising on food and children's educational expenses.

Tenants and homeowners alike prioritisedlocation over the cost of their apartment, with 58 percent choosing to live nearby their workplace(due to the plight of traffic in the city). In comparison, only nine percent said they considered the quality of their living quarters before choosing a place. Tenants with fixed incomes have little choice over their housing standards in Dhaka.

Your rights as a tenant

So, what legal recourse, if any, do tenants have? To what extent are they protected by the law?

The Premises Rent Control Act 1991 (also known as the House Rent Control Act)is the sole piece of legislation dealing with housing. It has provisions for rent control and other procedures safeguarding the interests of tenants, but is hardly enforced. The act sets out guidelines for standard rent, the need of a formal contract to establish tenancy, establishes that an advance payment of no more than a month's rent can be taken and that rent can only be revised every two years. It also has provisions for rent controllers, assistant judges at the district courts, to hear and decide on rent-related complaints and disputes between tenants and landlords.

Tenant experiences differ vastly from the law. A majority of tenants said their landlords fixed the rent with no room for negotiation. Rent hikes are the norm; Mohiuddin has had his rent increased annually, as do 75 percent of tenants surveyed.

More worrying however is the justification for annual increases in rent by homeowners. 32 percent of tenants said they had no idea why the rent was increased. Inflation and high demand of housing were also cited as reasons for rent hikes. However, the law only allows for rent increase on the grounds of improvements to the residence and an increase inproperty taxes paid by the landlord.

Syeda Salina Aziz, lead author of the BIGD study, said their survey found poor awareness and non-implementation of the 1991 act. Tenants had little idea about rent control and procedures and legal recourse they could take if in a dispute with landlords. “Only 15 percent of renters surveyed knew of the existence of rent controllers. The law is quite pro-tenant but is not being implemented,” says Aziz.

Annual rent increases have now become the norm. At the start of every year, tenants are apprehensive of the inevitable rent hike. According to the annual report on living costs in Dhaka by the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), house rent went up by eight percent last year.

While this is in part due to rise in land and house building costs, “The increase in house rent every year is excessive beyond the demand-and-supply mechanics of the market,”says Ghulam Rahman, president of CAB, “Enforcement of the act is needed in order to ensure renters can live securely and have access to legal recourse without any hassle.”

In 2015, the High Court returned a favourable verdict to a writ petition filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB) seeking strict enforcement of the act to prevent homeowners from raising rents arbitrarily. It instructed the government to form a commission to investigate tenant grievances, settle disputes, fix area-wise rent ceilings, and provide recommendations for amending the act.

But the death of Justice Bazlur Rahman, who delivered the previous verdict, last year before writing the full judgment means that the verdict is no longer applicable. The court will be rehearing the petition this month.

Advocate Murshid, the President of HRPB who filed the petition in 2010, said they sought the enforcement of the House Rent Control Act in the short-term and reform of the law in the long-term.

“There are provisions for rent controllers in every district but we want to make that for every ward in order to increase renters' access to legal recourse,” says Murshid. As of now, rent disputes and other cases of contention between landlords and tenants are rarely heard in court.

“Most people don't go to court because they don't have the time or money to go through the legal process. Rather, they pay higher and stay on because their first priority is to be near their workplace and/or their children's schools, or simply leave in search of another house.” This is why, he says, not just enforcement but eventual reform is needed.

If the renting process were to be formalised, tenants such as Mohiuddin would be more secure with regards to their living situation. The landlord of his current apartment did not provide a formal agreement and Mohiuddin said he had no negotiating power to insist on one. Only 27 percent of tenants signed a contract upon renting their apartment and among those who didn't, only six percent asked for the papers.

Mohiuddin, however, gets a receipt when he pays rent every month. 85 percent of tenants surveyed do not get even this. According to the House Rent Control Act, landlords have to provide a formal contract and a signed receipt for paid rent to tenants.

Without these crucial documents, tenants cannot take their rental problems to court. When landlords raise rent, or set conditions tenants cannot comply with, their only option now is to leave. “There needs to be a government intervention in order to formalise the renting process,” says Sirajul Islam, a researcher on tenant security.

Once again on the move a few months ago, Ananya encountered a homeowner who not only denied her a tenancy because he was namaji (religious) but declared that all Hindus should live together in one building. “It was humiliating,” she says.

Ananya and her in-laws now live in an apartment in Mahanagar residential area which they got through the help of a mutual acquaintance. The landlord is Muslim. “Not all landlords are like what I encountered, but I feel that it's become taboo to be of another religion in Dhaka. I can't force them to rent to me but people should know that this is happening,” she says.

There is little that can be done to change the mindset of discriminatory landlords. But a formalised renting system would at least mean that tenants have access to legal recourse to such discrimination and other aspects of house renting in a market dictated by homeowners.

How much would you pay for a pigeon? Let's rephrase that question. Would you pay to buy a pigeon at all in the first place? After all, there's plenty of hard work involved in breeding them. From providing them with filtered water and a variety of grains to hosting them in a huge space on your terrace, it's not easy.

But believe it or not, there are associations in Bangladesh involved in pigeon racing, which spend money to the tunes of lakhs behind a single bird.

The Cavendish is a champion bird from Belgium. It's sister was bought for BDT 410,000 from an auction a couple of years ago, and according to the Bangladesh Racing Pigeon Owner's Association (BRPOA), it is the highest amount any one has spent on a pigeon in the country.

Don't look surprised. It's not uncommon for fanciers—people who breed pigeons—to spend such an amount on these racing birds. In 2013, a Belgian pigeon called Usain Bolt was sold to a Chinese businessman for an astounding GBP 400,000, or around BDT 30,000,000.

“There are many factors behind the price of a pigeon,” explains Md Amdad Hossain Bhuiyan, General Secretary of the BRPOA. “You look at the number of races its mother has won and you also look at its races. When you find that its relatives have won a number of national races, the price automatically gets higher,” he adds. The Cavendish's mother had won 11 national races in Belgium and that's the reason why its price went up to BDT 400,000 during the auctions.

“Unless something very tragic takes place, you are bound to get a good return,” says Amdad. “Aside from winning races in Bangladesh, fanciers often sell the children of these high-priced birds at an even higher cost to other fanciers,” he says.

The one aspect that the purchase of The Cavendish's sister definitely highlights is the growing interest in pigeon racing in Bangladesh. What began as a mere pastime in 2004 has grown into three big clubs. Aside from the BRPOA, there is also the Bangladesh Racing Pigeon Fanciers Club (BRPFC) and the Bangladesh Racing Pigeon Entrepreneur Ltd.

Members of these clubs take part in 10 races every year, from November to March, which is considered to be the ideal time for the pigeons to compete. “In Europe, the races take place in the summer because the region is nearly frozen over in winter. For us though, it's the opposite. During summer, in the heat and amidst the rains, pigeons are likely to face more dangers,” explains Jahid Mollah, Treasurer of BRPFC.

So how do the races take place?

Each participant is required to pay a fee of BDT 100 to their respective clubs for each pigeon, after which the pigeons are carried on trucks to the race venue. The gates of the cages that the pigeons are kept in are electronically controlled so that when the buzzer is pressed, all the cages open at once, allowing a fair start.

The objective of the pigeons is to return to their respective homes or lofts as quickly as possible. Once the pigeon arrives, the timing is recorded on a digital clock. The distance from each of the lofts to the starting point is pre-measured using Google Maps and is then divided by the amount of time that the pigeon takes to cover the distance. Eventually, the pigeon with the highest velocity is deemed the winner.

“It's a well-known fact that pigeons have the ability to locate their lofts despite being thousands of kilometres away from it. Research shows that they use the earth's magnetic field, the sun and their noses to find their home,” says Jahid.

Some of the starting points include Teknaf, Chittagong, Saint Martin's Island, Chowmuhani and Mirsarai. These birds, on an average, have the ability to travel at 80 km/hr. So, if a race begins from St Martin's Island, a number of them come back to their respective homes in Dhaka within five to six hours. Their location and timing is measured with the help of a device with a chip that is fitted onto the bird's left leg.

“You feel really proud when you see your pigeon crossing seas and rivers in just a matter of hours and coming home. You know that you have trained it well,” says Jahid.

But it's not as though the same pigeon always ends up winning. There are a number of factors involved here as well. For instance, the pigeon that won last time may not necessarily be feeling well in the next race. Fanciers analyse this phenomenon by observing if there's any change in the pigeon's eating or flying habits.

And then there's the luck factor. There are times when a pigeon, despite coming close to its residence, circles around the rooftop before landing on the sensor board, which records its landing time. That way, the pigeon loses crucial seconds.

While these birds are born with a strong sense of direction, that ability needs to be honed from a young age in order for them to take part in races. It takes around five to six weeks, at least, to train a pigeon.

“After the pigeons are old enough, I send them to a place that's around 10 km away from my house. On the first day, they will take some time to find the top of my house. You will see them circling above for four to five minutes before landing,” says Jahid, while explaining the training mechanism.

“In the third week, they are taken 30 km away and by then, they know the way around quite well. After six weeks, they are generally capable of taking part in a race where they will need to cover 100 km, and as time progresses, they further expand their radius,” he adds.

The pigeons used for racing are a special kind and their origins are generally from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Every year, fanciers from these countries come to Bangladesh and sell their pigeons via auction. Local auctions among the clubs also take place after each race.

“If your pigeon wins the race, you will be given BDT 20,000. During the auctions, the price for the winning bird goes up to BDT 100,000,” says Jahid.

Members of the racing clubs in Bangladesh claim that they aren't into pigeon racing just for the money. After all, it's not as though there's a lot of money in the sport in the first place. They also claim that there's no underground betting scene in this sector.

For most of them, it's a hobby. The majority of the members have been taking care of pigeons since they were in school. The clubs are places where they can go and have a good adda. They believe that pigeon rearing is an activity that the youngsters of today need to get involved in.

“There are so many teenagers doing drugs these days. They don't have a place to go for entertainment. It's a horrible cycle. Pigeon rearing helps you learn a lot of things. Firstly, it keeps you occupied. You learn discipline and how to be responsible and then, you also grow a fondness for the birds, as though they are your own children,” explains Zahed Khan, a fancier from Mohammadpur.

Mohammad Amdad Hossian Bhuiyan from the BRPOA wants to take pigeon racing to another level. He wants the government to form a pigeon racing federation just like the other sports federations of the country and ensure that Bangladesh participates in pigeon races abroad.

Only time can tell whether pigeon racing will be considered as an official sport in the country, but there's no doubt that it's an activity that is gaining popularity.

"Lost in Transition”, showcasing 52 paintings under six categories, boldly depicts the transitions of Mahi's emotive personal journal where she is eternally trapped.

I knew little about Afrida Tanzim Mahi until her mother Rahima Afrooz Munni, a poet and writer, invited me to Mahi's solo exhibition at Kala Kendra in Dhaka through Facebook. After visiting her exhibition and speaking to the curator of the show, I can just speculate how her inner world was dominated by commotion and complex thoughts.

Mahi's artistic preoccupation bear testimony to the unique works she created. A shade of gloom and pathos is a common feature of her arts, especially ones that portray her self-portrait. Perhaps, she could envisage the chaotic facets of the world well along with the harsh reality of patriarchy. Several of her paintings uphold these characteristics. Being a socially conscious artist, she regarded the pains of the victims as her own and depicted crude, vile images where she was a lone, yelling voice. 

In Macbeth, William Shakespeare mentioned a famous soliloquy, “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale, Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” In other words, life is meaningless. It lasts for a brief time and is full of “sound and fury”, but in the end, nothing lasts.”

This excerpt comes to mind when viewing one of her paintings where she created no space on canvas, filling it instead with chaotic composition. In this piece, Mahi depicted varied social disorders and war while questioning the socially constructed ideas of life, society, things, fame and the afterworld. She also inserted several words as calligraphies in the complex composition. Words or sentences are also noticeable in several of her other works where she allegorically depicted the nude reality of life and time. She chose these words­— “First day of the menstrual cycle”—to describe one of her black and white compositions portraying the wastage of life. Mahi also depicted society's perspectives towards individuals that are conventionally viewed as absurd. The depictions of helpless and gloomy feminine faces, the imagery of alcoholic celebration, smoking in the bathroom and the togetherness of the dead are some of her works displayed at the show.

But how she saw her art is best heard through her own voice. In a powerful artist statement hung at the gallery of Kala Kendra, this is what she writes:

“If asked why I chose to do a solo exhibition at this point, I can only say that it is to make peace with the past. I have been in-hiding from myself and the world. I need to see it, show it and finally let it go. I am not comfortable in front of my work. They remind me of events I would like to forget. However, the irony is I am the one who makes them immortal. I may forget the event but I can't erase the image of my paintings.”

“I started painting on bed sheets and walls, my subjects being irregular shapes and strokes of excitement. Colours kept me preoccupied for hours when everything else became bland. On the plains of hopelessness, painting is my only medium of expression. Blue meaning melancholy and red being angry, I painted nothing with every colour on the spectrum. I paint because it is the only activity I don't have to force myself into. Art overwhelms me and I find myself lost in a trance guided by fleeting emotions and thoughts over which I have no control. Anything and everything can drive me to the small corner of my room which I claim as my studio. All my colours stacked on a shoebox beside a row of empty canvases waiting to be destroyed, or preserved. My art is the only proof of my existence; they portray me; every told and untold story,” reads the artist's statement.

“My paintings tell the story of whatever happened on the day I painted the piece. A series depicts a phase I passed though. I may have painted the series overnight or over months and this determines the length of the episode. My perception of time is blurred but I'm glad I still remember the alphabets. Self-portraits continue when I have nothing else to draw or no one to talk to. It's mostly the second reason. My inability to explain myself results in the creation of self-portraits. Sometimes I shout at the wrong person, sometimes I become hysterical, but mostly I paint. I paint when there is something I have to say but there is no one to talk to. Even if there is, the person will not understand because I fail to find the words, but I can paint it for you. You will see that neither I nor my paintings are unworldly, but we are the simple momentary emotions spawned by nature and present in every breathing soul,” further reads the statement.

In a conversation with The Daily Star, artist Wakilur Rahman, the curator of the exhibition, reflected on Mahi's art: “I was impressed with Mahi's work at first sight. As a non-academic artist, her artwork was different from your conventional artist. At a very young age, she had produced a large number of works. It is exposed that expressing emotion and thought through painting was her closest medium. A strong presence of her own self and originality are noticeable. I regard her work as the outcome of deep concentration, meditation and passion.         

“If you closely look at her work, you will find that she was well informed on art history. This doubled my attention towards exhibiting her works. The subjects she dealt with relayed a strong message and those are a special kind of art. She was uncompromised on the front of social issues and traditional barriers. She was deeply influenced by social issues, injustice, and negative news in mass media, and was very powerful and expressive in tracing the matters in her art. Another important thing noticeable in her works is that she was disturbed by the anomies and agents of society. I didn't expect such a young girl to deal with such social issues in such a mature way.”

Mahi viewed “art” and “life” as a two-way origination of the same entity. Maybe be her personal disturbance, agony, reflection of powerful memories and thoughts on life and death coupled with her reactions towards the decaying illness and morbidity of the society instigated her to choose the path of eternity.  

“Lost in Transition” closes February 4, 2018. The exhibition is open from 5pm to 8pm.

Mahi where are you? Should I come to lay flowers where you are? The way you appeared to everyone as a string of lights, you left your body just as publicly. Where did you get lost? I looked for you on the bed with whatever life force I had in me. Did you lose your way inside that big, heavy quilt? Mahi, the morning goes away, and the night follows behind it too. Where are you hiding? In that small dark room? In the land of sleep? Of course, you sleep a lot. What if I, too, silently go to that room? Would it be too cramped? Why did you go there then, before me?

You said, “roton e roton chene” (jewels recognise other jewels) and that is why I can still get your smell, and maybe you mine! You have understood by now that at this moment I do not dare as much as you, and what will not happen is what is most yearned—but my apparent discomfort does not bother you, does not worry you.

I need to accept that your intuition is acute. Listen, let me exaggerate a bit—don't you remember? We are used to somewhat supporting those who are powerful. So, you will not agree to the use of “we”? It is the rule of all rules. When have we ever accepted each other without debate? You say what you will and end it right there without forgiveness, so I will not take the risk of becoming your opponent in any way. I still plan to spend my last days with you—even if it is in some dark room.

Translated from Bengli by Zyma Islam

We all start playing as children. Whether we know what we are doing or creating, it fascinated us. Little did I know that sometime in the future, what everyone knows as “vocal percussions” in general, would lead me to my passion known as “beatboxing”.

While growing up in the Middle East, I was surrounded by music thanks to my parents being open-minded and creative themselves. At a young age, I started trying to learn singing, playing the harmonium and tabla. So playing around with different sounds using my mouth was just normal and listening to Bobby McFerrin's “Don't Worry Be Happy” intrigued me more though it was more to do with vocals/acappella. Watching Michael Winslow on the Police Academy was another experience itself. But I discovered more about vocal percussions through one of my biggest idols—Michael Jackson.

I always felt that there was something more human to his music besides all the production we used to listen to, and later I found that that was exactly what it was. Michael Jackson used to use “beatboxing” to compose his tracks and even include them in hits like, “Beat it”, “Who Is It?”, “Strange in Moscow” and many more. I used to sing his songs to myself and try playing with the tape-recorder to chop bits of his songs to know more.

 We didn't really have access to the internet back then. This fascination was around 1996/97. Besides listening to Metallica, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and many other bands around the 90s and of music from the 80s, old school beats from the likes of 2pac, Nate Dogg and many others started bringing me more towards the hip-hop sound.

But little did I know beatboxing was a huge part of hiphop, because there was no source from where I could find it. I heard samples of beatboxing through N'Sync's Justin Timberlake, and found that they had a lot of that in their songs. In one of their live concert CDs that I found one day, JT says “prepare yourself for the human beatbox…” and it hits me. THIS IS WHAT I WAS DOING! THIS IS BEATBOXING! EXPLORE EXPLORE EXPLORE!

I started to find out more and try different sounds. But back then, beatboxing was mostly old school beats. After 2000, the world beatboxing scene changed and went Steller. But I had no idea about it sadly, especially because I never came across anyone interested in this “strange” thing I used to do. Didn't meet anyone who knew what it was.

After moving to Bangladesh, my beatboxing was dormant until a few musician friends heard it and suggested that I try to implement it with rock and maybe fusion. That's when I started getting back to beatboxing to explore more. And with the release of Kata Taarer Bera, the first official hip-hop mixed album, in 2008, a proper recording of beatboxing was released to the masses. It was something that I recorded around 2006 for the album.

Photo: courtesy

From the KTB release till 2009, I worked and performed with beatboxing with my bands and even opened a show for Bombay Rockers and Arash with my friend a Jasper and the Deshi MCs crew. Finally came across Sri Lankan beatboxer called Thilina who used to study in Chittagong, and we organised a hip-hop show around the end of 2009.

That was the first time I met another beatboxer and I was ecstatic. Things started to change and spread from 2009, as I joined the band Old School as guitarist/beatboxer and we started incorporating acappella and beatboxing in our covers and originals (one was called “Bango”).

We performed dozens of shows mixing fusion, pop and even metal with the use of violin, tabla, flute and beatboxing. Later, while in Old School, I also joined Blunderware (which I am still a part of). There is a song called “Gouro (Prem Korona Shondhakale)” where the song changes into a blues/funk/sexy groove with beatboxing.

 I gradually started to meet young beatboxers, who faced the same thing I did back in my early days—they didn't know if there were other people into this crazy thing. But that's when I started to see a spark of interest. Meanwhile I started working on my own project called Beatbaksho and started using beatboxing as my primary identity. I was being called “BeatBaksho”, a name I made using the idea of the very thing I love doing—beatboxing.

I had a short stint touring several cities and venues, as Beat-Baksho, with the band AvoidRafa. There were shows where the whole setup was just me on beatboxing, Rafa on vocals and guitars and Pavel on Bass. With a set-list which lasted to atleast 2-3 hours. Through the tours, I was able to meet more people interested in beatboxing and also go to new locations and even talk about it.

 Things started to take a different turn, positively after a show called “Next Level” around the end of 2014, where I got to see beatboxing being a huge part of the local hip-hop scene. This is where I met Ronesh Biswas a.k.a Han-X my brother, partner and co-founder of our community called “Beatbox Bangladesh.”

Beatbox Bangladesh took off and established itself as the face and official community of beatboxers in Bangladesh. Since its inception, we have organised several beatbox workshops and meets in Dhaka and Chittagong.

 Through the show we found a few dozen beatboxers and chose 16 from them to be a part of the first beatbox battle (competition) in Bangladesh called "Battlebox BD 2017.”

This event was supported by several pro-beatboxers and beatboxing communities from the USA, Japan, Netherlands, Jordan, Australia, France and also by the humanbeatbox.com. But most of all, the newfound love and interest for beatboxing.  It was a small step, but the first of its kind. With the amount of interest that I have seen among the youngsters, I am sure beatboxing can grow a lot more in the coming days.

Moktadir Dewan Shanto is a beatboxer, professional voice-artist, guitarist, radio jockey, creative professional, live looping artist and a guitarist

In college, I worked several part-time jobs. About a quarter of my waking moments were spent on these jobs, and in all honesty, often times I wish I didn't have to. Being young and free, I had plenty of other options on how to spend my time—things that were actually fun too, like hanging out with friends, or watching a movie, or going to the beach, or eating Nutella-strawberry crêpes at the local café. I certainly didn't envision spending my youth in the basement of libraries and laboratories, and yet, there I was, 20 hours a week, tired from classes, group projects, assignments and exams, wishing I was out playing in the sun, and yet, steeling myself for another few hours of work before I could go back to the dorm and maybe get some sleep. 

All that sacrifice, all that effort, all the mishaps with macro-shrimps and thousands of fish requiring feeding... for what?

For money, naturally.

Money that I then immediately blew on the stupidest things.

Like this pink monstrosity.

At the time, 19-year-old Atiqah thought the hot pink, designer, plastic money box (that reminded her so much of fat Majin Boo from Dragon Ball Z) was the funniest thing ever, and she happily handed over a chunk of her hard-earned money to the clerk in the chic boutique in San Francisco, all for a few giggles. A few hours later, she would realise that she actually had no use for it, and not knowing what to do with it, she would put the thing in the back of the closet and forget all about it.

She would then go work some more, wishing she didn't have to, and then use the earnings to go on another impulsive shopping spree, buy a lot of useless things, chuck them away, realise she didn't have anymore money, so she would go work some more, wishing she didn't have to...and the cycle repeated itself over again.

The cycle I mentioned above is unfortunately a very common one, and one that I was stuck in for years and years.

At some level, I vaguely knew my spending habits were out-of-whack and not at all aligned with what I really wanted to do with my money, and in a larger sense, with my life. I mean, I was sure there was a reason why I was working so hard and for so many hours, and I was also pretty sure the reason was not just so I could own a hot pink thing.

I then came upon a book titled Your Money or Your Life (one of the books that changed my life). The book taught me a lot of things, but one particular concept changed how I viewed money, how I earned money and how I spent money. It also cured my awful habit of impulsive shopping.

Reading the original book will give you a better understanding, but I will attempt to summarise it here.

Life energy

We all have a certain amount of time allocated to us on this planet. One day you will die—your allocation will be used up. We will call this “Life Energy”: a limited resource you have at your disposal.

Your life energy visualised

When we go to our jobs, or whatever it is we do to earn a living, we are basically trading our Life Energy for money. For a lot of us, work takes up a significant amount of our time, and thus our Life Energy. In return, we get some money that we then spend to make our lives better.

The question you need to ask yourself is this: is what you're spending on worth the amount of Life Energy you've given up for it?

Crunching the numbers

Let's use some of the math skills we learned in school and bring this concept to life. If you hate math, feel free to glaze over the numbers and focus on the point I'm trying to make.

Say I work as an executive, and I earn USD 5,000 a month in exchange for the standard eight-hour workday, five days a week. That's USD 5,000 for 160 hours of my time each month. So theoretically, my time is worth:

USD 5,000 ÷ 160 hours = USD 31/hour

However, the picture is incomplete, because it doesn't take into account the additional costs of having a job:

Time spent getting ready to work in the morning = 0.5 hour/day, or 2.5 hours/week

Time spent stuck in traffic to get to work and get home from work = 3 hours/day, or 15 hours/week

Time spent de-stressing from work by watching TV like a zombie = 1 hour/day, or 5 hours/week

Costumes needed to look acceptable at work = USD 300/month

Vacations or toys needed to escape from work = USD 3,000/year, or USD 250/month

Altogether, I spend an additional 22.5 hours a week, or 90 hours a month, with work-related tasks. Since an hour of my time is worth USD 31, those 90 hours I spend are worth around USD 2,790 a month. The costumes and vacations are another USD 550 a month.

So, out of my salary of USD 5,000 a month, I am actually only truly earning:

USD 5,000 – USD 2,790 –USD 550 = USD 1,660

My new and accurate hourly price is now:

USD 1,660 ÷160 hours = USD 10/hour

This is the price of my Life Energy, a grand USD 10 an hour. For all the work that I do, I am actually making only USD 10 an hour. This is the point where working at McDonald's serving burgers seems more lucrative.

Now what?

What's the point of knowing the price of your Life Energy?

The benefit of knowing the price of your Life Energy is the ability to evaluate what is worth spending it on.

For example, I am thinking of buying an expensive watch worth USD 10,000. Since I know that my Life Energy is worth USD 10 an hour, I can calculate that I am trading 1,000 hours of my Life Energy for it. That's a lot of hours. That's more than a month of my life!

For some of us, 1,000 hours of Life Energy for a nice watch is totally worth it. Because we love and appreciate watches, and because the watch brings us a lot of happiness, we have no issue exchanging that much of our Life Energy for it.

For the rest of us, it may be a bit shocking to realise just how much of our limited time we're giving up on earth for a watch. Maybe, we realise we could have used those 1,000 hours spent at our jobs just to afford this watch by doing something else instead.

Apply it to your life

You need to evaluate whether what you spend on is worth what you're giving up for it. Is the premium cheese at the supermarket worth an hour of your Life Energy? Is that USD 800,000 house worth 80,000 hours (nine years) of your time on earth?

The important thing here is that YOU get to decide if it's worth it. Each of us has different quirks and preferences. For example, I would balk at spending USD 50 (five hours of Life Energy) on a nice meal, because fancy food doesn't interest me. However, I will happily spend USD 500 (50 hours of Life Energy) on a 30-second thrilling sky-diving jump, because that's what I like and what I value. You may think I'm crazy, but you don't get to have a say.

So, if you like nice houses or premium cheese, and you deem those worthy of giving up your Life Energy for, then by all means, do so.

However, you may find that you are spending too much of your Life Energy on things you don't actually care about, or that don't even make you all that happy. Maybe, you're paying 200 hours of your Life Energy on rent, but you hardly ever spend time in the house, or you barely even use all that space. Maybe, it's time to downsize so you no longer need to work so hard and for so many hours just to be able to afford it.

Remember…

We all have a limited amount of time to enjoy our lives—maybe 80 years or so, on average. The majority of those years is spent on our jobs. While some of us are lucky enough to enjoy the work we do and find a lot of meaning in it, the rest of us often wish we could do something else with that time and with our Life Energy. But we stay on because we need the money to pay for all the things we buy.

Sometimes, we overcompensate for our unhappiness by buying too much stuff and taking on way too many loans that we think will make us happy, except they don't and are not worth the trouble. But we don't know this, because we've never really been able to measure what we're giving up in exchange for them.

But now that you actually have a way to measure it using the price of your Life Energy, you can actually evaluate whether the things you spend on are worth the amount of Life Energy you give them.

And if you find that they are not worth it, then stop spending the money. Instead, keep the money. Even better, grow the money.

Things for you to do right now

1. Calculate how much you're getting paid an hour by dividing your monthly salary (plus bonuses, if relevant) by the number of hours you work each month.

2. Tabulate all of the extra costs to holding that job that you wouldn't have to pay for if you didn't have to go to work, e.g. the clothes, the commute, the de-stressors, etc. Subtract that from your salary, and calculate how much you're actually getting paid an hour. That is the price of your Life Energy.

3. Look at all of the things you pay for and calculate how much Life Energy they are costing you. Decide if they are worth it.

If they are worth it, by all means, keep throwing your money at them.

If they are not, then eliminate those expenses and keep the money instead.

Atiqah Nadiah Zailani (https://atiqahnadiah.wixsite.com) is a Malaysian professional aspiring for a balanced, sustainable life by living well with less, who solves problems and gets things done for a living. 

Mursalin Kabir, a child of only 11 years, attended three admission tests in the first two weeks of January. After completing his Primary School Completion exam from a primary level kindergarten school, Mursalin was trying to get admission in grade six of a good secondary school. Unfortunately, he did not make it. His pale face, tired and disappointed look, highly unusual for a boy of such a tender age, is a tell-tale sign ofthe psychological torment and pressure he went through in the past couple of weeks. He didn't even agree to talk to us.

Mursalin's father Arman Kabir says, “There are only three well-regarded secondary schools in my neighbourhood in Uttara. But my son did not qualify in the admission tests where at least 75 students compete for every seat. This is why I enrolled him in this school although it's very expensive and not government-approved.”

Mursalin is not alone. This year, this unauthorised secondary school in Uttara (whose name will not be disclosed to prevent any undue attacks on the institution) has admitted 550 students in grade six. Like Arman Kabir, many parents are opting for unauthorised schools after finding no place for their children in government-approved ones.

However, Bangladesh Education Statistics 2016 tells a different story. According to the report, the teacher-student ratio in the secondary level is 1:41 which indicates that there are sufficient secondary schools in the country. However, this ratio is misleading. It does not reveal the crisis faced by the country's secondary level students in densely populated cities like Dhaka. 

In Dhaka, there is shortage of quality educational institutions. Moreover, there is a severe shortage of space in the recognised ones. In addition to these limitations, the number of secondary level students in Bangladesh is staggeringly high. In Dhaka city alone, the number of secondary level students is 199,892,whereas there are only 450 government approved secondary level schools for almost two hundred thousand students. Such a dearth of recognised educational institutions creates extreme competition in school admission exams every year. These admission exams ensure that only a few lucky students with marginally higher scores will have the chance to get admitted to approved institutions.

On the other hand, most of the unauthorised schools enrol students without any prior admission exam. They are also flexible in that they enrol students who have a poorer academic performance. Many of these schools publish flashy advertisements promising guaranteed A+ for “inattentive”students.

Special care and residential facilities for derailed students, which is almost absent in mainstream institutions, is also a major marketing factor of these schools. Lured by these advertisements and rejected by recognised schools, thousands of parents enrol their children in unauthorised schools. Rozina Begum, mother of four children and the wife of an expat worker, had to admit her eldest son Shahinul Islam in one such unauthorised, residential school.

“My neighbours and relatives used to rebuke me for my spirit. I loved to organise cricket and badminton tournaments and I used to lead the youngsters of our neighbourhood in all these activities,” shares Shahin. What Shahin didn't like at all is the idea of going to school regularly. Time and again, Shahin's school teachers from when he was studying in a government boy's school, reported his absence in the classroom to his mother. However, when Shahin's school teacher spotted him smoking cigarettes with his friends in the school playground, Shahin was expelled. He was in grade seven.

Instructed by her husband living in Saudi Arabia, Rozina admitted their son to a madrasa. However, Shahin could not cope with the strict rules and unfamiliar syllabus of the madrasa.

Finally, Rozina enrolled him in an unauthorised residential school in Uttara. “My son was about to go astray. I admitted him here so that he can be attentive and learn discipline by staying in a hostel. But the expenses are too high. I am struggling to afford his tuition, coaching and hostel fees,” explains Rozina. “If I make a late payment, the school authority threatens to expel my son,” she adds.

Due to the absence of monitoring by the government, most of these unauthorised schools have commoditised education to an extreme level. Many have affiliated coaching centres where they force students to study all the subjects in the name of improving their academic performances. For instance, parents like Rozina and Arman have to pay BDT 8,000–10,000 monthly just for the coaching centre. The hostel and tuition fees are also far higher than any government-approved institution. For her son's education, Rozina has to pay BDT 30,000 every month. On the other hand, before enrolling his son, Arman had to pay three months' tuition, as well as coaching and hostel fees in advance. This set him back around BDT 100,000. “The school authority forced us to buy everything from the school, from uniforms to notebooks, pens and school bags. The expenditure here, I think, is a hundred times more than a government school,” shares Arman.

However, schools where Mursalin and Shahin study are not the only ones exploiting helpless parents and students. According to an unofficial study conducted by the students of the Institute of Education and Research, there are at least 1,300 unauthorised secondary schools in Dhaka, which is three times more than the number of authorised secondary schools.

When asked about such exorbitant fees, one of the directors of an unauthorised school argues, “Government-approved schools receive funds and resources from the government, which we don't. We have to ensure better facilities and care for our students because we get less meritorious students. We also have to unofficially pay approved schools so that they register our students as their own in public exams.” His statement reveals a misconduct which has become a common practice among many secondary level educational institutions. Through an external category, education boards allow an approved school to register a board exam candidate who is physically challenged or too impoverished to continue regular academic activities. Unauthorised schools take advantage of this provision.

Despite the burgeoning of these unauthorised institutions and their widespread corruption, none of the relevant government offices have any information on them. According to Shahidul Khabir Chowdhury, Secretary, Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Dhaka, “The schools you are talking about do not exist in our papers.” The same was reiterated by the officials of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) and Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics. Such indifference has given unrestricted opportunity for people who want to make fortune by exploiting parents and students. 

To stop such malpractice and exploitation, Dr Sadhon Kumar Biswas, former Deputy Director of DSHE and author of the book “Laws, Rules and Codes on Bangladesh's Secondary Level Educational Institutions”, recommends a detailed survey on unauthorised institutions. “Unauthorised schools flourished due to the growing demand from a growing number of students. It will not be wise to shut down all these schools as thousands of people are relying on them. Again, keeping them beyond the purview of government monitoring by refusing their existence will also be self-destructive,” says Dr Biswas.

According to his suggestion, the government should conduct a two-pronged survey; one will focus on the institution's resources, administrative system and infrastructure, while the other will focus on teachers' quality, teaching-learning environment and students' performance. He argues that once the government obtains detailed information, it can recognise and rehabilitate these institutions. Until and unless Bangladesh's education offices start to track and monitor these exploitative unauthorised institutions, a vast majority of the country's students will remain hostage to corrupt practices and a second-rate teaching-learning environment.

The writer can be reached at shahnawaz.khan@thedailystar.net.

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