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On a star-spangled night

A short story by Rezia Rahman Translated by Farida Shaikh

One night, for the first time, about mid-night, I perceived the sound.
   The city was all silent. Its tired dwellers were fast asleep. The nested birds, buried their beaks into their own feathers. It was a solitary star-spangled mysterious night.
   The sound recurred, just once, trembled, and was lost. On my table, in the ashtray, the butt of my last cigarette was still glowing faintly.
   The breeze blowing into the curtains to take form and fly away like a flock of doves with widespread wings, suddenly interrupts the darkness of the room.
   My older sister Urmila, then a college student had a favourite melody that she would often hum. 'Brightly, a flock of doves ...in the bright sun shine....flying with restless wings.' In the same manner the breeze is blowing. The tune of the melody '...in the bright sunshine ...'Urmila's favourite line was being amusingly set a side, for there is no sunshine now. Like Droupodi's sari, deep darkness is gradually descending, without a break and then disappearing into the grounds. Intense loneliness torments my heart. Where is the sunshine? How long is the waiting? Amidst the missing sunshine, I hear the sound of falling dewdrops. 'O come the sun drenched day, let the dead skull be surrounded by a multitude of tunes that may awaken the memory of a heart full of sunshine, O life return to me.'
   The synthesis of sound was getting to be my confinement. Suddenly my dark room took the flight of a bird. It flew up above the sky, beyond the boarder of darkness towards the refreshed festival of lights, into one of my travelling days, to the Red Indian festival of sun worship, the 'sun-dance' in the brightness of life.
   The senior of the Red Indian was wearing a pair of shorts and a traditional leafy headgear stuck with colored feathers. On a huge drum, the sound of the drumbeat came in drim, drim, and drim. As the dance was about to begin, there was a quietness in the room. The Red Indian youth in South American English dialect called me, 'come and dance, come and dance with us.'
   The girl was wearing a dazzling dress of the Cherokee Indian and a pair of colored leather moccasin shoes and not dressed in jeans and summer tops Her restless body language said that she was in her search of something that was about to be recovered.
   She spoke again, 'we will dance for the sun goddess. The drumbeat of the chief god has started, come and dance.'
   Last evening I watched the play staged in this auditorium with the same audience. Many, as they watched the play were sad and in tears. I was weeping too.
   No one told me that Tale of Tiaras was the Red Indian title of the play which when I translated this into Bangla, was entitled 'Tear Drenched Path.'
   Beyond many thousands of miles, the Red Indians were driven across like herds of cattle towards Oklahoma and away from the Prairies that cover the states of New Jersey, Montana, North Carolina, and Iowa,
   The fear of the encroaching white men's gunshots and whiplash drove the Red Indian to such desolated regions.
   Homeless the captive natives with tearful eyes, wandered over many paths and unknown terrain. They walked through dew drops path, or in knee deep snow. Sometimes hungry, thirsty, and in almost lifeless condition, they moved on under the blazing sun. They have walked many a nights and through one day to the next, month after month. It was a cruel, helpless and sad journey. In tearful eyes, I watched the play. The girl was beside me and she whispered , 'no more shedding of tears, the old ones wept, but you the young Indians did not., you know our past ,our history.'
   The girl had appeared to be sad and melancholic in the past. Now, with her self-identity in place she was glowing. As she went up the stage she called, 'hi, can you hear that drum beat of god! You know that is our life, rhythm of life, music of our soul, keep on listening, you will find it.'
   There was something pure and prayer-like in the sound of the drumbeat, and a faithful dedicated voice could be heard, 'life, bright as the sun rays, come back to the new mankind.'
   The deep sound was louder again. My room was trembling as the darkness began to disappear. Is this the sound of the god's drumbeat? I place my hand on my chest. I do not find god. What dying noise is this? Is this like a wild rider? Why is it unperceivable? Where is the source of this noise? In the darkness, I am blind and maybe my senses too are dull. I feel hopeless and lost; I clench my fist in frustration. Even so, restless, I am awake, walking. I am walking over the tear-drenched path towards the lost destination of men and women. I was totally inspired by the drumbeat and got dedicated to that sound.
   [To be continued]

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FARUQUE HASSAN INTERVIEWED

BGMEA leader sees foreign hand in RMG sector labour unrest

Omar Faruque

Foreign remittance and ready-made garments are the lifeblood of Bangladesh's economy. In the last three decades these two sectors grew steadily and boosted foreign currency reserve, said Faruque Hassan, Vice President, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Managing Director of Giant Group, while talking to the Holiday recently.
   "Earlier in the '80s, the price was very low. But in the last 30 years, we have achieved a lot in terms of quality. Now the RMG sector has attained such a position that we can now bargain with foreign buyers for price," he added.
   Faruque Hassan after completing his Master in Management from Dhaka University ventured into apparel business in 1982 and founded the Giant Group. Recently the Giant Group has launched the Micromax mobile phone sets in the local market as the brand's country representative. Textmart, one of the major fashion houses in the country, is a concern of the group.
   He said, in the last two years, the sector's growth was not satisfactory because of both internal and external problems. But thanks to his foresight and proper planning, his group has prevailed over the changing dynamics of international trade.
   Delving deep into the labour unrest in the RMG sector, the man at helm of the conglomerate that comprises 20 companies with an annual turnover of $35 million, said, "I think the minimum wage is not the only issue behind it. We need to take into account the whole situation and take right decision and strictly implement it to save the sector. Sadly, both local and international political interventions are doing the damage.
   
   The conspiracy
   "Some of our competing countries try to spoil our market abroad are working through NGOs to create unrest in the sector. We should try to understand this politics. Who are beneficiaries of the labour unrest in Bangladesh? It's obviously our competitors."
   "Due to the labour unrest, a number of garment units are on verge of closure. Some entrepreneurs are mentally prepared to sell their units. But who are buying those? In most cases, they are being bought by foreign investors and they go for capital investment to automate those. In an automated unit, the number of workers decline by 90 percent. I think it's a matter of grave concern for us, as it will render a large number of our people unemployed.
   "One thing I would like to point out that the local investors reinvest their profit, but nobody knows about a foreign investor. Local political leaders also have a hand in the labour unrest. Sometimes local politicians even get involved in picketing, showing muscle power and creating a panicky situation to establish their control on garment waste business and Tiffin supply," Hassan pointed out.
   When asked about the initiatives taken to address the labour unrest, he said that BGMEA has decided that a factory with 500 workers should pay salaries by 7th of every month and factory with more than 500 workers should pay the salaries by the 10th of every month. If any BGMEA member fails to pay salaries and bonuses on time, its officials will visit and talk to the workers about it. Sometimes the BGMEA helps arrange bank loans to run a garment unit.
   The Giant Group boss said while he agrees that Taka 3,000 is not enough compared to the prices of daily essentials but also pointed out that they recruit fresh workers and most of them come from rural areas without any institutional training. But after 3-6 months, they learn how to operate a machine and then their salary increases.
   BGMEA is talking about raising an industrial police force and the government has agreed. Now an amendment needs to be passed by the parliament. The Industrial Police will help us a lot in putting an end to the labour unrest he said and added that BGMEA also has an arbitration cell.
   Faruque Hassan said that BGMEA is constructing two hospitals, one in Dhaka and the other in Chittagong to provide medical services to the garment workers. At present BGMEA is operating 12 health care centres in different RMG zones (two more are in the pipeline) where workers get better health services at a very low cost.
   He said local garment sector could grow more strongly if the business climate was improved and the fear of RMG buyers was dispelled. The buyers appreciated the anti-corruption drive and the improvement of port, electricity and customs services. The RMG entrepreneurs are seeking soft loans from the government to pay regular wages and bonuses of their workers, he added.
   He, however, hastened to add that the garment industry bounced back following a lull attributed to order cuts or cancellation of orders by some top US and European buyers in the wake of the global financial crisis.
   Bangladeshi entrepreneurs are facing a stiff competition with exporters from Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia. China will gradually lose the international market of textile products, as their labour cost has increased in recent months. This could provide Bangladesh with an excellent opportunity to grab a larger size of the global market, if no labour unrest is created by a few hand-picked RMG workers by vested interest groups.
   Hassan said, Bangladesh is a densely-populated country and unemployment is a major problem. Currently about 3.5 million workers are directly involved in the sector. Its rapid and steady growth helps ease the unemployment problem to a large extent.
   When asked, what role the BGMEA is playing in improving the relationship between owners and workers, he said, over the last two years, the trade body has been working hard to such a situation. He thinks the relations between owners and workers are better now and believes print and electronic media can play a vital role in creating mass awareness about this.

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