In my novel, The Dark Side of a Promise, much of the action takes place in one of the youngest countries in the world, Bangladesh, particularly in its capital of Dhaka and the District of Bhola.
Why, you might ask?
As you will discover in my story, the man that Drake Alexander seeks, the man that has senselessly taken the life of his best friend’s sister has eluded them and the law for three years. He surfaces in Asia. Bartolommeo Rizzato is a ruthless criminal that does other men’s dirty deeds, a gangster for hire. His employer is blinded by revenge. Bangladesh is home to the second largest population of people that practise Islam, it is perfect for his plans.
In my opinion, Bangladesh is one of the most intriguing countries in the world. I’ll tell you why I feel that way.
We Canadians are far removed from this country halfway around the world knowing little of its people, its geography, its history and its past struggle for independence. We’ve been shocked by the recent deaths in the thriving garment industry which provides three quarters of its export industry. The collapse of the Rana Plaza building claimed 1100 lives. The Tarzeen Factory fire took another 117 souls. There are over 14,000 garment factories, not all are regulated by the government which has neither the money nor the staff to impose stricter laws. While these unfortunate events have claimed the news and our imagination, the country is much more than that.
In 1947 when the British Empire withdrew from India, the state of Bengal was divided. The west was claimed by the newly partitioned India, the east by the new country of Pakistan.
A nine month war in 1971 created an independent country call the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. In the Bengali language the name means “Country of Bengal”. Estimates of those massacred during the short war range from 30,000 to 3 million, we will never know the real number. It has endured many military coups, famine, poverty and political unrest until democracy was restored in 1991. Although the political parties to this day remain bitterly opposed, the country has experienced relative calm and economic progress.
Bangladesh is in the low lying Ganges Delta, bordered to the south by the Bay of Bengal. It straddles the Tropic of Cancer. Unfortunately it is vulnerable to climate change which contributes many natural calamities like tropical cyclones, floods, tornadoes and tidal bores happen almost every year. Most of its land is less than twelve meters above sea level. If the waters would rise by as little as one meter it is estimated that 10% of the country would be flooded. There are claims that the water laced country has over 700 rivers. Boats are not only a necessity but a way of live for many of its inhabitants.
The most extreme flooding the world has ever seen occurred in 1998. Three of their mightiest rivers, the Brahmaputra, the Ganges and the Meghna overflowed destroying 300,000 homes, 2700 kms of embankment, 11000 kms of roads, thousands of cattle were killed. Over 1000 people died and 30 million were made homeless.
In addition the country is prone to cyclones. In 1970, a major storm claimed a half a million lives. In 1919 another took 140,000 more. Hardships we can only imagine.
However, not all is doom and gloom.
Bangladesh is a developing country. The poverty rate has declined by 25% since 1991.
The largest deep sea port in Southeast Asia is being established at a cost of 500 billion taka.
It is home to one of the largest river ports in the world, Sadarghat Port on the Buriganga River in the city of Dhaka. According to officials, over 50,000 people on average come and go every day.
It is the fourth largest producer of rice in the world, second largest producer of jute.
The largest shopping mall in Southeast Asia, the thirteenth in the world, is located in Dhaka.
The country hosts the world’s second largest gathering of Muslims during the Bishwa Ijtema, where millions gather to pray for peace and supplication.
Weavers from a guild in Dhaka are renowned for saris produced from exquisite Jamdani muslin.
It has a rich literary culture with many famous writers such as Tahmima Anam, Shamsur Rahman, Haripada Datta, and Shahed Ali to name only a few.
The national cricket team won gold at the first cricket tournament ever held at the 2010 Asian Games, defeating Afghanistan.
It is home to the largest mangrove forest in the world as well as a diverse selection of flora and fauna, including the Royal Bengal Tiger.
The national bird is the Magpie Robin known as Doyal and it appears on currency notes. The national flower is the Shapla, a white-flowering water lily. The national tree is the Mango. The national fruit is the Jackfruit.
There is much hope in this small country, people dream of better things, foreign investment brings better lives. The land is one of a rare beauty. I am indebted to an incredible photographer, Ihtisham Kabir for exposing me to the splendour of the countryside, to the vibrant colors and the people. You can find his photos at www.bangladeshimages.com
I have recently discovered an exceptional writer from Bangladesh who now resides in Sweden, Dilruba Z. Ara, whose works have been acclaimed universally and are studied at different universities across the world. Here is her website: www.dilrubazara.com
Please visit their sites for a journey of discovery, you won`t be disappointed.
Next week, 4Q will be interviewing Yves Chiasson,
musician, songwriter, founding member of the popular Acadian rock group, Zero Celsius.