Archive for April, 2009

The Making of a Dream

There is a school of thought that teen dreams are mere fantasies. They are meant to remain unfulfilled as products of immature influences. However, when some teenagers in their unique ways saw identical dreams almost three years ago, that social belief very much pervaded their visions. This is probably why, three years later, in spite of the obstacles, against all predictions; their dream has come true.

That dream is called 1° Initiative.

The Beginning of a Beginning
The August of 2006 was a memorable one. My friend, Tushmit approached me with an idea of opening up a youth network; a concept forwarded to her by a common friend, Farhana. The plan was to allow young people to express their ideas and take up leadership roles in society. Seeing this to be a marvelous opportunity to create something, I jumped to the idea. Later, I contacted another friend, Zubair who was interested in similar things and in a few days, we became a small force of nine people.

Farhana, Zubair and I decided to act as heads and give this ‘plan’ a shape. The shape, of course, needed a name and on a sunny day while lazing inside an empty classroom in Mastermind, the team brainstormed and 1° Initiative was born. The idea behind it was simple. By each degree, we would change the way we contribute to our communities and eventually, create a small body of youngsters who wanted to act along the same line.

A few sleepless nights and Zubair had designed our logo while I had our MOU (fashionably termed ‘Constitution’) and WordPress blog. We signed, grinned and were excited to take on the world.

That was the beginning of all problems and all solutions.

We’re Not Kids!
The difficulties of being a more informed teenager than your peers are numerous. Firstly, you’re funny. You’re one of those people who don’t approve littering, finds something to do almost everywhere and has a tendency to give bombastic speeches on noble doings of not-so-noble persona. Secondly, you’re not taken seriously. You’re a hormone-imbrued teenager, unprepared for the wild reality that infatuates adulthood and your dreams are pointless.

We were of the kind, labeled funny and given little importance. Therefore, the transformation from thinking of doing something and actually executing it was itself a hurdle. Our first big break came with Autism Welfare Foundation (AWF). Volunteers from 1° Initiative were to spend certain hours weekly with autistic children at the foundation, and on a personal note, I believe it was the project that really changed what 1° Initiative was all about.

Autism was not a walk in the park. The children had demands and the volunteers needed to be patient. Having their own niches and shortcomings, autistic children were difficult to become friends with, but incredibly wonderful friends once you’ve managed to inch into their lives. For us, who were doing something of this sort as our first task, it clearly was an incomparable lesson. We learnt patience, realized exactly where we needed to start and began to value the gifts of life. Working with AWF not only taught us to be more understanding as people, but also made the group realize which of us were meant to stick with 1° Initiative.

Thus, although our force became dramatically smaller with fewer members, we shared that common belief that every miniscule difference counts. In the end, 1° Initiative (1dI) became a group of eight people, namely Zubair, Tushmit, Amreen, Mayeesha, Aaqib, Niloy, Rasha and I.

No Mum, I’m Not Doing Durgs!
With the notion of small-scale community service, 1° Initiative began to grow very tardily. Breaks were rare and our enthusiasm was often dampened with exams and life’s temptations. Nonetheless, in collaboration with Mastermind Community Service Club, we soon started teaching their supporting staff basic English and Maths. It was a three-month long project, a duration in which we faced many hassles. From being falsely accused of stealing ideas to being underestimated to the point of not allowing us to work, 1dI was in chaos with the world. Many started mocking us with pinching remarks on whether we were about to alleviate poverty or stop floods, and taunted about our futile efforts. Peers came up to us asking for certificates as a precondition to their dedication. Yet, we glued onto what we believed and it was probably because we did, we pulled through every slag.

I still remember our first meeting. A tin-shed house next to Tushmit’s ‘real’ house, deserted and dusty to the throat. We unlocked the doors, cleaned the floors, coughed our way to set up a decent space and it soon became our own little office. And no, our parents weren’t exactly fully supportive of our cause. Community service required time and dedication, and we only had bucketfuls of the latter. The uncountable times we pretended to shop in Etcetra and gathered under their stairs to have a meeting, counted our funds and realized there was nothing and begged our parents to let us do something still lingers in our memories. We were cooped up in a small room and it was no common surprise that suspicions arose. No, we weren’t doing drugs! No, I don’t have my boyfriend in there! No, we’re not making bombs! The doubts kept mounting up and every time, we had to crawl our ways out of our houses to work.

With no one to fund us and no other financial backing from parents or any other organization or insitution, 1dI needed to be largely self-funded. Why should anyone trust us enough to shower their earthly greens? We were ‘children’, after all. So, each member had to contribute a certain amount of money every month and in this way, our funds began to grow. We started introducing projects that would allow us to ‘make money’ because charity had its own fair share of expenses. Friends started supporting us and stepped up to give a helping hand to our ventures. We began receiving mails from people all over the world, appreciating our initiative. A friend even wrote an article in this very magazine and responses poured in.

Things were finally beginning to roll.

The 1dI Team

Dreams Were On Wheels
Did you know 1° Initiative has its own rickshaw? Zubair and Asif bought the paints, my driver found the maker and I did the rickshaw art. It was for a guy whose rickshaw got stolen and he seemed like a decent chap who deserved help. The 1dI rickshaw was co-sponsored by Nazim Farhan Chowdhury from Adcomm Ltd and advertised by our friends from Mastermind. It was a piece of beauty for us and today, in some dusty street of Dhaka, it trundles happily carrying our name and our email address!

Now, since three years of its birth, 1dI has expanded beyond our imagination. From the small tin-shed house and staircases at shopping malls, we now have our meeting inside our houses because our parents have finally accepted us. We’ve worked with underprivileged children in different schools and share a very special bond with each of them. We’ve arranged series of quiz and art competitions for them, set up libraries at their schools with books we collected from our contacts and spent hours telling them about the glorious past of Bangladesh. Yes, we even found sponsors! The funny part is people from abroad are more willing to send us money because they believed we aren’t corrupt and we provide proof of its usage. Setting up tubewells and giving away sweaters to children (in collaboration with Drishtipat Canada), donating warm clothes in winter to rural regions (in collaboration with Chhinnamukul), cleaning up streets in Dhanmondi, promoting zero drug abuse, anti-littering campaigns and hosting Leadership Training Workshops in Jessore; 1° Initiative has accomplished an enormous lot. We now have our own T-shirts, a vibrant website, an awesome newsletter and most importantly, a dedicated pool of youngsters who are part of the family.

1° Initiative is now a brand. This statement is proven by the number of teens who now want to join our force and the emails we receive. We’re expanding to Nepal because people from Kathmandu believe in our initiative. It has been an overwhelming experience for me to head this dream since its birth and witness it growing wings. The time, effort, arguments and dedication have all proved their virtues and to this day, 1dI rolls in full swing. There is a long list of people to thank who have placed their faith in us, and this article does not provide me with enough space to do so (scroll down for list). You all know who you are and we will always be grateful to you. Thank you for being a 1° change in this world.

Visit the Official 1° Initiative Website for more information, or mail us at 1d.initiative@gmail.com.

By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

1° Initiative thanks:

  • Hossain M. Elius, North South University
  • Daniel Rahman, Radio Foorti
  • Nazim Farhan Choudhury, Adcomm
  • Zaid Islam, Photographer
  • Dr. Rownak Hafiz, Autism Welfare Foundation
  • Nusrat Khandker, Bangladesh Medical College & Hospital
  • Kashfia Habib, Bangladesh Medical College & Hospital
  • Md. Mohituzzaman, London School of Economics
  • Sameen Rehman, Drishtipat Canada
  • Sumaiya Sharmeen, Drishtipat Canada
  • Ehsanur Reza Ronny, Grey Ads
  • Shahriar Shamim Emil, Rising Stars
  • Nahiyan Khan, Scholastica
  • Wafi Sattar, USA
  • Ms. Nina Huq, Mastermind School
  • Mrs. K. M. Sajjad, Sunbeams School
  • Mr. Rick Davies, American International School Dhaka
  • Sabrina F. Ahmad, Rising Stars
  • Shamma M. Raghib, North South University
  • Mr. Taimur Islam, Urban Study Group
  • Md. Abdus Salam, DOM-INNO Ltd.
  • Mr. Golam Kibria Chowdhury, G.A.P
  • Dr. Nizam, Afzalunnessa Foundation
  • Dr. Shareef Hasan, BSMMU
  • Ms. Rasheda, Aalok Shishu Shikkhaloy
  • Mr. Shamim Ahmed, Sunbeams School
  • Dr. Idris Ali, BSMMU
  • Dr. M. A. Rashid, Ibrahim Cardiac Center
  • Dr. Rebecca Milton, Asif Survivors’ Foundation
  • Nabila Idris, Bangladesh Medical College & Hospital
  • Hiroki Bhai, Ekmattra
  • Mr. Azizur Rahman, Surovi
  • Community Action
  • Mastermind Community Service Club
  • Sunbeams Community Service Club
  • Abu Sayeed Mohammad Sohail
  • Nurullah Sir, The Ark Int’l School
  • Rubayat Khan, Jagoree
  • Nashrah Rahman, Brandeis
  • Anato Chowdhury, University of Birmingham
  • Tahmid Islam, University of Liverpool

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My Little Angel Is One!

 

Zara Khan/by Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

Yes, kids do grow up very fast. (= 

Just the other day, she was all warm and cuddly, wrapped in blankets and sleeping peacefully in my arms. And now, she’s all grown, dreaming and looking up at the skies. I really made a grand effort to take a picture of her properly. You know, the typical smiling, laughing, playing kid who’s happy to be growing up. 
However, in spite of my efforts (and some successes as well), I kinda fell in love with this photo. We were trying to make her sit and smile, but she kept falling back and staring up at the heavens. And what a sky it was that day! 
I think she was dreaming. 
Do you?

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A Song for the Soul

Once upon a time, there lived a Newar Prince. He spent his days on the peak of the sky-kissing, white capped Himalayas and played bansuri (flute) to the Clouds. On a sun-bathing day of the year, the Princess of the Clouds heard the Prince playing his murali (a type of bansuri). The music was so flawless, so pure that she could almost feel her soul uplifting into the Heavens. She asked the Clouds who was it that played such celestial tune on Earth. They whispered stories about the Prince to her ears, and she fell in love. Love so sacred, she waited every day to hear him play. She wept in joy to the pitch, laughed in sorrow to the harmony and breathed every note into her being. Without his music, she felt lifeless and the more she listened, the more she wanted. 

The story of the Princess from the Clouds and the Newar Prince from the Himalayas may be an imaginative one, but the music is not. The unflawed beauty of the bansuri, in combination with the arabajo and dha is indeed a symphony that can uplift any mortal soul into the heavens. It is music of a kind that you want to hold your breath onto, afraid of letting it go lest the music may stop. And this is how you feel when you listen to Kutumba.

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Kutumba
is a Nepali folk ensemble that concentrates on playing folk instrumentals. It comprises of six ‘guys’ (professionals) from Kathmandu who each feel for the preservation of their local music and art, and hope to spread the joy and strength of Nepali folk music to the rest of the world. The term ‘Kutumba’ means ‘family’ and holds its very special essence in the Nepali language and culture. It stands for the unique bond amongst community members. The ensemble was founded in 2004 and has now reached out to the masses with its unique vision and creation of local beats and strings.

When I met the group in late January this year at Chobi Mela V, I honestly was not prepared for the magic of Kutumba. Arun Manandhar (tungna and arbajo), Kiran Nepali (sarangi), Pavit Maharjan (percussion), Raju Maharjan (percussion), Rubin Kumar Shrestha (flute) and Siddhartha Maharjan (effects) appeared to be very regular guys with an enormous amount of friendliness and humility that affected everyone. However, when we started talking at the Drik Studio interiors, I realized that they each had a story to tell in the becoming of Kutumba. The ensemble was born when the gang met at Pavit’s shop and started discussing how they wanted to bring back the melodies of traditional folk instruments to new generations. In 2004, they played live at their debut performance and released their first self-titled album. Over the years, the ensemble has grown and has released three albums to date titled Forever Nepali Folk Instrumental (2004), Folk Roots (2005) and Naulo Bihani (2006) respectively. 
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The music of Kutumba is, as I’ve described earlier, of another world. The simplicity of each composition is such that it easily grasps your attention and engulfs your soul. The combination of the various unheard folk instruments to improvise traditional, local numbers is a work of art, and if you haven’t witnessed the ensemble playing live, you wouldn’t be able to comprehend how effortlessly these musicians paint a breathtaking picture with their music. The harmony of each beat with the next chord, of each stroke with the next rhythm of the heart and the captivating essence of it all is what makes Kutumba’s compositions a delightful enchantment. A purely folk instrumental presentation with a twist of humour and a shot of modernity is a rare treat for most Bangladeshis (and perhaps, many other parts of the world) and is something that one rewinds and replays in one’s soul for many times even after the song is over.

Even so, the magic of Kutumba does not wholesomely move you unless you’ve heard the stories behind each of their compositions. Many of the songs have been written and composed years before, and improvised by the ensemble for the new audience. The instruments, which are on the verge of becoming extinct, are collected from obscure regions in Nepal and brought together to recreate an unique combination of ethnic and modern music. 

“We travel to various parts of Nepal and spend time with the locals to learn how to play the instruments,” said Pavit. “Often, it becomes very difficult to retrieve an instrument that was used extensively in earlier times, but we have never given up on our efforts.” 

smalldsc04212 

“Each of us take time out of schedules to learn how to play these instruments,” added Kiran. “Frequently, there are additions to the number of instruments we use in our compositions. To date, we have revitalized the use of over 50 traditional instruments through our music.”

Indeed, the drive to preserve their roots is applaudable. Each number has an unequalled past or cause, which is why each of them is very special to the troop. ‘Jalna’, a track from Naulo Bihani was originally composed 50 years back by Bishnu Jalmi for a street theatre in Harisiddhi, small village situated at the south of Kathmandu. Similarly, a number from Folk Roots titled ‘Sinduli Gadhi’ is a famous folk song named after a war fort, and is a love call where the singer is expressing his feelings for his mistress. The modern rendition of the song combines beats from another folk number and incorporates new-instrumentation to create an upbeat from the classics. 

Kutumba’s strength lies in its determination to bring back indigenous Nepali music to the mod audience. Their dedication is reflected through each of the carefully recomposed singles. How each song paints a picture, narrates a story and only uses the words of handed-down instruments is an incomparable experience for any listener. I have been addicted to their songs ever since the day my senses were blessed by it and the joyful memory of the ensemble’s performance lingers in my heart. Yet, I feel unfed and unsatisfied like many others who have felt the music, as my soul wants more. Kutumba is one of a kind of a tout ensemble whose beauty lies within each note of its creations, and I hope it clings onto its venture to bring such soulful music to its audience for many times to come.

For more information, visit www.kutumba.com.np

For a peek into Kutumba’s music, visit www.dizab.com

By: Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Photos: Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Location Courtesy: Drik Studio 


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Visiting the Cannes

I don’t really like blowing my own trumpet. In fact, I would rather be without it. However, I figured this is a news I can’t help but share, and I am thankful to a lot of people for bringing me to this moment. So yes, for people who know have played a role in my becoming, do know this is a toast to you for your support and love.

A couple of months back, I submitted three photographs at the Sony Cannes World Photography Awards 2009 Contest. There were 10 categories (for ‘Amateurs’) and recently, I came to know one of my photos have been shortlisted into the Top 10 under the category of ‘Music’. 183 photographers from across the globe have been selected and shortlisted (10 or more in each category under the labels ‘Amateur’ and ‘Professional’, so 183 in total), and I couldn’t believe I made it! It was even cooler to know I was the only one from Bangladesh, and it felt really good see my country’s name up in that list.

The second round of judging would have selected the Top 10 photos from the 183 shortlisted ones, and clearly, I didn’t make it through that round. That means I don’t get the prize money; however, I already had more than I could ask for.

So, I received a mail a few days back that read the following:

From a total of 25,370 images entered into the amateur categories alone, it was certainly a difficult decision for all our esteemed judges to narrow the many excellent entries down to the shortlist and then the winner. We thank you for your hard work and commitment to capturing and submitting some amazing images.

Having been short-listed, your work will be on display at the Winner’s exhibition in Cannes as well as featured in the 2009 SWPA Winner’s Book – so congratulations once more on getting to the top 10!

Scott Gray
Managing Director

Sony World Photography Awards
World Photography Awards Limited
9 Manchester Square
London. W1U 3PL
United Kingdom

Like I said, I already got more than I asked for.

Thank you everyone (you know who you are) for your continuous support and belief in my abilities. I still remember the days I dragged Tushmit or Amreen through Dhanmondi Lake to practice portraits, or begged Rajiv to buy me a camera. And Zabir, you know I would not have even participated if you hadn’t pushed me hard enough. I love you all. ❤

A very big thanks also goes to my niece, Zara (who is one now) on whom I practiced each and everything about photography I learnt. I don’t think I would have come to this day without her.

As for everyone who will get tagged in this note on Facebook, I am eternally grateful to you for giving me a place to express myself. I never thought I’ll be someone carrying a camera and loving it so much! (=

Thanks to all my Flickr buddies, RS peeps and folks at Drik. You’ve all been an inspiration! (=

The winning photo and shortlisted nominations

The photo on Flickr

I still don’t consider myself a photographer. I am growing, learning and evolving every day. However, it still gives me joy to know all this. woot!

May God bless you all.

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