Sherpa Hossainy's Blog

The cow is a gentle animal – or is it? : Encounters at Dhaka’s Eid cattle market

Posted in Bangladesh, Dhaka by Sherpa Hossainy on November 18, 2010

Perhaps most of us endured the agony of writing small paragraphs in English classes throughout our school education. I remember, while in first grade, especially the paragraph on “Cows”, always essentially started with this very sentence, irrespective of any writer – “The cow is a very gentle domestic animal.” It went on further with the obvious lines, with a few exceptions maybe – “It has four legs, two eyes, two ears and a tail. It feeds on grass and gives us milk” or something like that. Unfortunately, after all these years, I have to admit that reality suggests otherwise about the talismanic first line referring the cow as a humble animal.

Stranded in the middle: the unwilling and stubborn cow

Every year the makeshift cattle markets of Dhaka teem with cows and other sacrificial animals for the joyous (not for the animals!) occasion of Eid-ul-Azha, the Eid of sacrifice in Islam. Religious Muslims rush to cattle markets to buy the animals even in the last hours. Most Dhakaiates had the misfortune of being stuck in a mile long traffic jam caused by the temporary cattle markets scattered everywhere in the city. To make things worse, the incoming cattle supply on big trucks from around the country cause a standstill in every cattle market entrance. Despite the volunteers’ almost tearful request on the mike to free up the parking space and roads, the atmosphere is always enormously messy.

The raging bull

A common scene observed in the chaos is proud cow owners chasing the big beasts in the middle of the road. Even with two extra men guiding the owner’s precious possession safely back home, they struggle with the sticks and long ropes to keep the cow from running frantically in the road. Sometimes the cows crash into some ill-fated rickshaw on its way and breaks it into pieces. Rather unfortunate car owners also have to go through the painful experience of staring helplessly at their scratched and smashed cars. Maybe the mental discomfort of a raging bull who is about to be sacrificed and overwhelmed by the big city traffic, is quite easily comprehended by the otherwise sensitive car owners.

Roadside cattle sales

In this regard, I would also like to state an incident that happened to me this year. As I was waiting in a long trail of traffic, understandably caused by the cattle markets, an ominous black bull caught my attention – it was rushing in the middle of the street and heading towards my rickshaw. Three helpless men were chasing the rampant bull like Spanish matadors, only quite unsophisticatedly. I had been taking pictures just moments ago, but when I saw the disturbed cow running towards my rickshaw, no fancy idea of taking pictures of a lunatic cow came into my head. My instant impulse was just to jump out of the rickshaw but I failed on that attempt as my whole body froze by the thought of the upcoming disaster. I could only manage to pray to “The God of the cows” desperately hoping that the mighty beast would change its course and miss the tyre of my rickshaw.

Cows lined up for sale in cattle market

Nevertheless, that was not the order of the day as the cow hit the side of my rickshaw to make my worst nightmare come true. To my delight, the impact was not that menacing as the three matadors somehow managed to pull it back in the final seconds. The rickshaw was only semi-airborne for a few seconds while I was still pondering my special Spiderman move to jump out of the rickshaw with one leg stretched out and another hanging in the air. After the nice landing from the one-second flight in a rickshaw, I was relieved to find the rickshaw in one piece. I thanked “The God of the cows” as my rickshaw driver started driving again. After moving 100 metres or so, we saw a completely ravaged rickshaw lying beside the road bearing testimony of the massacre of the raging bull. I am confused about what emotion was exactly going through my mind – empathy, grief or a feeling of respite. As we went on, another incident of mad-bull-racing happened, luckily on the other side of the road – and this time I did take some photos.

Decorated sacrificial cows

So, why this madness – this lunacy from an allegedly humble and gentle animal? I wanted to find out what others were thinking. Tenth grade student Juthi admitted her fear of cows by saying, “They are nothing like I’ve read in books. They are crazy!” Actually, most of my female interviewees echoed the same statement about the cows being really unsophisticated and impolite towards them. I have no idea whether cows and women actually share some vendetta that is going on for ages. Although university student Sabrina seemed to have a good rapport with cows, “Cows are really friendly. They look so cute with their big black eyes and soft nose.” Although she suggested ‘something mysterious is happening’ when asked about the disturbing madness of them. The male counterparts, on the other hand, seemed pretty chilled about the violent bulls. Tashfique, a college student, said rather indifferently, “There’s nothing to blame them for. They are just being themselves. I guess that’s what we would all do if we had to put our head under the sword.”

Cattle market by the roadside

It is quite understandable why the sacrificial cows act that way if we put ourselves in the same position. Nevertheless, the unanswered question that still haunts me is – Can the cows actually tell the imminent danger? Do they have some sort of sixth sense or are they actually violent? Retired government employee Mr Mahmud told me, “Cows can sense that they are going to be killed. Azrael (the deity of death in Islam) comes in their dreams with a sword and tells them about their fate. You’ll see cows crying on the morning of the sacrifice.” I was not quite sure about the deity of death’s appearance in the cows’ dreams so I kept on searching for the answer. Sadly enough, I could not discuss the whole subject with any animal scientist or researcher who could have at least given me a satisfying answer – hence my last resort was Google. Although nothing concrete came up from the search, there were some articles claiming cows having sixth sense, concluded from Google Earth satelite image studies.

Link 1: “Cows have strange sixth sense” by Jeremy Hsu in Live Science website

Link 2: “Cows really do have a magnetic sixth sense” by Brandon Keim in Wired Science website

Cattles on truck

We have seen cows raising terror in the streets, causing all sorts of casualties and many of us even have been the victim of it. I have also had the experience of watching cows running with their head dangling from their shoulder after they break free in the midway of a sacrifice! All the crazy stuff regarding cows that I’ve mentioned makes me question the assumption about the gentle nature of cows.  The statement might hold its ground, because if unprovoked, almost every animal is unobtrusive and peace loving. Certainly, there lie obvious reasons why cows act like raving lunatics during the sacrificial season, as that is what we would surely be doing under the same circumstances. Mr Hamid, who has been in the cattle trading business for over 20 years, echoed this sentiment, “Cows – they are just like humans. Some are bad, some are good, some are gentle and some are just rude!”

Goats in the cattle market

Cows in the truck ready for disposal

Raw passion for heavy metal: Interview with Powersurge, the thrash metal militia of Bangladesh

Posted in Bangladesh, Heavy Metal, Interviews, Music, Thrash Metal by Sherpa Hossainy on November 1, 2010

Published in The Daily Independent’s “Dhaka Live” supplement on 23rd October 2010

Read the article on The Daily Independent website

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A skull rests at the entrance of the practice pad where Powersurge, Bangladesh’s most successful thrash metal band, are rehearsing, it seemed to whisper a warning, “Caution – explosives inside!”  Vocalist Jamshed appeared at the door sweating and panting heavily, followed by the long-haired lead guitarist Nahian and drummer Rafa. The heat is surely on. The heavy metal music scene has a relatively long history in Bangladesh but it is so under-documented that a Google search on the topic brings forth articles about arsenic pollution!

Powersurge performing in “Concert for Sundarbans”

In the early 80s, bands like Rockstrata and Warfaze rocked Dhaka but it was only in the 90s that the scenario burst into life with Cryptic Fate, Holocaust and Psycho Death playing regular gigs at venues such as the PG Auditorium and the Russian Cultural Center (RCC). Since then heavy metal music in Bangladesh has been resurrected by the likes of Artcell and Mechanix.

Powersurge formed in 2006 and despite various line-up changes, Jamshed and Nahian have stuck with it. In 2007 they became the ‘D-Rockstar’ winners, beating out competition from bands playing more popular genres such as alternative, punk and psychedelic rock. They were the first heavy metal band to perform on Bangladeshi television and the response was stupendous. Speaking about the positive reaction Nahian says, “We expressed our emotions with a raw aggressiveness. After the competition, a viewer told me that he had never heard heavy metal music before and started listening to Metallica after he heard us.”

Nahian in action: Concert at North South University Campus

The American Rock music writer Deena Weinstein stated heavy metal outlasted other genres in the West because its intense subculture of alienation holds a lasting appeal for many.  While heavy metal is the music for the lower and middle class in the West, in Bangladesh things are different, where it’s the upper-class youths, with exposure to Western trends who dominate the scene.  Fans and performers are often identified by their uniform of all black, long hair, piercings and tattoos, but that’s a stereotype best avoided, or is it? Clarifying whether heavy metal is more of a fashion rather than a passion, Nahian states, “For us, it’s a passion. But, yes, we see a lot of posers who think that metal is a cool new thing to do, just like hip-hop.”

“There are many posers lurking around the scene.” Jamshed adds for good measure. Nahian thinks that many of the bands lack authenticity, “They don’t even look like the way they should and the attitude is missing. Some bands switch genres whenever they want, create their own weird fusions, so they don’t belong in any category – they sound like parasites.”

The highly explicit lyrics and subversive nature of the music, with its focus on angst is unprecedented in other forms. Powersurge’s lyrics are about politics, war, social troubles and historical conflicts in Bengal.  Though metal lyrics often deploy a fiery use of slang and swearing, Jamshed disagrees, “It’s not true that slang must be used in metal music. Slang is used in every genre, even Britney does it. We use slang to give our music the aggression that is needed. It’s about what brings out the emotions best.”

Heavy metal has been denounced as a threat to traditional values in many Muslim countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Malaysia, with musicians and fans arrested and imprisoned. Rafa comments on this, “Islam does not allow music. But I don’t believe there should be a clash between religion and music.” Jamshed echoes the sentiment, “Music is only music, and it’s nothing that you preach.”

The band does not believe that Bengali culture hinders the growth of metal music any more than other cultures. Nahian points out, “Heavy metal is not appreciated in many countries. Even in India, Slayer [one of the most successful metal bands of all time] was not allowed to perform due to religious sentiments.”

After two decades of head banging, unfortunately the Bangladeshi metal scene hasn’t made a mark on the global music scene laments Nahian, “Bangladeshi bands haven’t even impacted the Asian scene. This is partly due to local record labels lacking the ability to produce proper merchandise. CDs in Bangladesh are cheaper and there’s no jewel case, no t-shirts, no leaflets, collectibles or other merchandising. And there are no specific gigs just for metal music. Many shows feature extreme metal bands performing with alternative rock bands so it gets all messed up.”

The explosive headbangers: Nahian (L) and Samir (R)

The band further mourns the absence of music promoters in Bangladesh specifically promoting metal bands. Nahian rued this fact, “Everyone wants to play the guitar or drums but nobody wants to promote metal – there are so few organizers.” They hope that the media will provide more support for heavy metal, Jamshed demands, “All we need is an hour long radio program each week. FM radio stations have segments for all genres except metal.”

Powersurge’s first album, “Auprostut Juddho,” was dubbed a “masterpiece of modern thrash metal.” Commenting on their devotion to heavy metal, Nahian said, “I want to play heavy metal as long as I can physically endure it.” While reflecting on the band’s popularity, he states, “We’ve made some achievements, but achievements have no limitations, right?”

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