Sonali is here (again!)

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It has been a steep learning curve but the book I first published in 2014 is now out again in E-book format on all major Amazon sites.

The book has a brand new design suited to phones, kindles and other electronic readers with text and pictures on the same page, unlike the print edition. Furthermore, the text now comes in English and Bangla/Bengali after many people requested this. If you are, or know someone is, going to Bangladesh and is new to the language and culture, Sonali makes an ideal gift with easy-to-digest passages with translation close by. The pictures give an idea of what rural life is like all over Bangladesh.

I hope you those of you interested in the Bangladesh side to my story enjoy the book and, if you do, please leave a review on the Amazon page. If you’re really keen you can follow me as an author on Amazon too. Get in there before the rush 😉

Next on the list is my collection of short stories – some set in Bangladesh – all being well, available early 2017!

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Theatre Review: Maya’s Honeymoons by Jesmin Chowdhury

The full version of this review can be seen as published in Bangladesh newspaper New Age (click here) or on my website with additional photos (click here)

Theatre Review: Maya’s Honeymoons – Sunday 20th November, Brady Arts Centre, London

By Ken Powell

Jesmin Chowdhury and Al-Khurshid Himu play central roles (Photo: Murad Chowdhury)

Jesmin Chowdhury and Al-Khurshid Himu play central roles (Photo: Murad Chowdhury)

It is no easy ask to present a play tackling a subject a whole community prefers to remain silent about. In the case of ADDA’s latest production, ‘Maya’s Honeymoons’, the subject is one most communities would rather not talk about; and of course it’s vital that they do.

The writer, Jesmin Chowdhury, has written this story based on years of experience having worked with many women who have suffered abuse of one form or another. She wanted to present not just the reality of domestic violence (DV) but also a message of hope to all women who are living the reality on a daily basis. Jesmin Chowdhury plays the title role allowing her to fully express the depth of emotion she wanted to communicate and the play follows the story of Maya, a Bangladeshi woman married to a British Bangladeshi. He turns from sweet and loving, to controlling, to eventually a violent man who drinks and gambles his way through the years as he beats his wife regularly. The ‘honeymoons’ refer to the cycles of violence and seeming repentance as Maya allows herself to believe her husband truly loves her and so becomes a ‘willing victim’ perpetuating the abuse.

‘Maya’s Honeymoons’ pulls no punches. From the beginning we are presented with a series of fast-moving tableaus representing Maya’s journey from blissful marriage to receiving beatings under the hands of her husband Arman (played by Al-Khurshid Himu). Once the play starts formally Maya accosts the audience verbally so violently – “why won’t you say anything?” she shouts before sneering with a “no, you never say anything, do you?” – that I almost felt I had to say something and apologise for my own guilt. It is a powerful way to begin and left me stunned almost as if I had been violated myself.

Equally as powerful…(continued here)

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When those goals are met, what then?

humanity

“There is one thing that we all must do. If we do everything else but that one thing, we will be lost. And if we do nothing else but that one thing, we will have lived a glorious life.”

Rumi

In my life, having been an extrovert for most of it, I’ve been privileged to meet and befriend literally thousands of people. In some cases only passing – a few months or years at most. In others, friendships which span many years or even decades.

In that time I’ve listened to hundreds upon hundreds of life stories. The slightly distressing thing is that most of them have been, to some extent or another, sad. Some have been downright horrific.

This has been okay for me because my own life story – which still remains to be told in full – is also pretty horrific. Not just my childhood (which was bad enough) but what I’ve gone through over the last ten years. I made a conscious decision to do two things way back in Easter 1986 (yes, as specific as that – long story and not for these pages, or at least not yet). They were:

  • To regain my childhood which was torn from me and keep it for the rest of my life, encouraging others to find and keep their inner child too;

and

  • To be there for anyone who needed a friend, someone to listen to them when they just needed someone who would understand and not judge. 

In these two ways I hoped to make this world just a little bit better, nicer and more loving than it was before I came into it.

And that has been it. My sole ambitions in life. I have never sought money, fame, luxuries even though I would be perfectly fine with any. I haven’t longed for adulation, respect or to be desired. If anything, I just want people to leave me alone in the sense of not finding fault or issue with me. Alas, that remains a pipe dream; in my experience sometimes there’s just one thing that people can’t stand and that’s someone who is happy and content in life with no need to bring a person down or bitch about them – they just want to ‘wipe that smug little grin’ off your face…

But my focus on this essay is that which Rumi talks of in the quote above. Almost everyone I’ve talked to deeply about their lives have been seeking…something. Maybe just inner peace, or a love life, or a purpose for being. Some have wanted to be married and have kids, others that career and respect they always felt was missing. A few want fortune and fame (not many, I’m glad to say) and others live for their children or grandchildren and that is the focus of their world. Some want their marriages to be better, others want to feel worthwhile. Most of these longings I’ve felt myself at some stage in my life so I can sympathise.

Right now I can only think of one person I’ve met in my entire life who has been entirely content in their own life and not been reaching out and longing for more. People always want something else and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, many of the greatest and most important inventions and developments have come out of someone feeling there was more that could be done. I wish I’d known more genuinely happy people but on the other hand I’ve learned that the world is a pretty mean place and those that pretend it isn’t are guilty of allowing suffering to go on by their inaction. I’d rather do at least something to try and halt, reverse or undo the damage.

But here’s the question which is increasingly unsettling me: what happens when you’ve achieved Rumi’s vision but you’ve still got a long life ahead?

For me it’s quite serious. I’ve done what I’ve set out to do in life – all of it really, certain of the stuff which matters.

My two driving ambitions mentioned above I fulfilled in being a teacher for 24 years – most of it in the classroom though my first and latter years have been with private teaching. It was a real pleasure and joy to see so many go through my classes and come out as adults. Even the last and youngest I taught in the UK are now in their twenties. It is frightening to think that some of my very first students are well into their thirties now. They are married, have kids, some are teachers themselves now – what a wonderful legacy! Many have forgotten me – that’s as it should be – but I’ve been humbled by how many still refer to me as a great influence in their lives and countless ones keep me as their friend many, many years after I last saw them as teacher and student. I don’t think anyone would say “I would not be here if it wasn’t for you” and nor did I ever crave such dependence from another, but I know that I have made lives better and that was really all I ever wanted to do.

As for personal ambitions? Well I always knew I needed to be married – I like sex too much if I can be blunt! I also knew I needed to be a father – I like having people around to share my ‘inner child’ and most adults just don’t get it to be honest. I wanted to succeed as a musician – I’ve done that. I wanted to be a successful classroom teacher – done that too. I moved into a writing career, something I had always dreamed of, and have been making a success of that for many years now. Indeed, I don’t think it likely I’ll do any other job now as my main work, though what kind of writing I do will no doubt adapt and evolve over time.  I also had the dream of learning to play the sitar since studying Indian music at university long ago. I’m not especially good at it, but I ticked that one off while living in Bangladesh.

So what’s left?

I’m 45 and, God willing, I could have another 45 years to go. Bar accident or medical calamity I should at least see out another 30. What to do? It’s not that I’ve stopped – I’m still teaching, writing, playing, enjoying life, listening to others and trying to be as good a friend as I can – but I see nothing on the horizon which grabs me. I’ve served my purpose. My own two kids are all but grown up and it will be a while (I hope!) before grandchildren make an appearance, so what do I do other than what I’m already doing?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I love that I could die tomorrow (perhaps run over by that bus we Brits are always worried will get us the next day?) and be fulfilled. There’ll be no ‘Rosebud’ moment for me on my deathbed. I don’t crave fame or recognition with my books and writings (nice though that would be, of course). I’m content with all I’ve done and all I am doing. The unwritten books can remain unwritten if needs be. the written ones can remain unpublished. The published can remain unloved. They are just words.

But I can’t help but think I’m just marking time. Waiting for the last remaining hairs to turn white and then fall out; for more of the body to start complaining and slowly give up; for the eyesight to get worse and the teeth to crumble. I’ll do it happily I guess but I do wonder if half the fun in life was that longing to fulfil a purpose not yet achieved and that Rumi, in fact, was wrong.

A photo by Will van Wingerden. unsplash.com/photos/cZVthlrnlnQ

 

Posted in Life, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Theatre Review: Bangla Brummies by Murad Khan

Bangla Brummies (Photo: Dominic Waldron)

Bangla Brummies (Photo: Dominic Waldron)

‘Bangla Brummies’ is a comedy written by Bangladeshi theatre activist and writer, Murad Khan. The action is set in Birmingham but alternates between life in the 1970s and the present, following the stories of two Muslim Bangladeshi bachelor friends, Malik and Hisham, as they marry and become fathers.

Through the comic medium, Khan takes a look at – and gently prods – the subjects of race, religion and acceptance in Asian families. Hisham marries a white Irish girl and, years later, Malik’s daughter falls in love with a white non-Muslim boy. How both men behave is a fascinating look into very real issues facing many British Asian families today.

It was my pleasure to visit the mac arts centre right in the heart of Birmingham. I have to say it is a quiet jewel of the city – modern, clean, welcoming and pleasant in every way making it a far cry from much of the city which surrounds it. The mac facilities are excellent and deserve to be used extensively which, judging by all that seemed to be going on, is certain what’s happening.

‘Bangla Brummies’ was well produced it must be said.  A cast of seven players, several of whom took on extra smaller parts as well as their main characters, and a minimal stage setting gave a very sleek and modern feel to the production which helped keep up the pace. There was never a moment where the action seemed to dip or the plot lose its way. The 90 minutes or so that this one-act play took were almost breathless in the speed. The scene changes were so slick and entertaining in themselves that it felt as if they must have taken as much rehearsal as the main speaking parts! I particularly enjoyed the way characters carried on their roles and whispered conversations (sometimes arguments) as they moved furniture out of the way and put the next scene’s pieces in place. The ploy worked and ensured there was no dead space.

I found it ironic, given the theme of dealing with prejudice which runs throughout the play, that after the performance I went back to my hotel and stayed up to watch Donald Trump take over the world. We had already been living in a post-Brexit-anti-immigrant world but now we have seen just one man manage to make bigotry, sexism and xenophobia popular and acceptable again. While opinions differ and the world polarises into ‘for’ and ‘against’, ‘Bangla Brummies’ helps us to remember that prejudice isn’t an exclusively white idea but that all cultures and communities are guilty of it to some extent or other.

However, whereas many of us find the Trump situation serious and gravely disturbing, Murad Khan’s play manages the light touch. In a Q & A session afterwards but Khan and his fellow director Dominic Waldron answered most clearly that “it’s all about entertainment”. It takes a special skill to be able to deal with such issues bluntly yet keep an audience on-board through amusing them.

Amusement is an understatement. Though the script is excellent it could have fallen flat without acting that was as good. Thankfully, the cast were superb and this made the production not just a joy but, at some points, side-splittingly funny. Two actors stand out for special mention:

Sandie Soraiya as Tania (Photo: Dominic Waldron)

Sandie Soraiya as Tania (Photo: Dominic Waldron)

Sandie Soraiya, who played Malik’s grown up daughter Tania, was as fun as her character was feisty and completely believable as a beautiful young woman ready to marry – at least to the right man. She was a joy to watch and simply bounced around the stage as though it really was her own home.

Photo: Dominic Waldron

Kaz Sanga as Malik (Photo: Dominic Waldron)

Kaz Sanga (who played the lead role of Malik) stole the show. His performance as Malik –  the dodgy friend, husband and father who is as outrageous in his schemes as he is stupid at executing them – was hilarious. Without uttering a word this actor had the audience creasing up through his facial expressions and his prejudices (“I’m not being racist but – he’s black. Black is black!”) somehow were almost lovable and in keeping with his character. The fact that a trap is laid for Malik to fall foul of his own failings seems all the more fitting and the audience certainly appreciated watching Sanga’s sympathetic portrayal. I suspect most of them know a Malik or two themselves.

There are, of course, criticisms – some of which were voiced by the audience during the Q & A session. One issue is the way the narrative swaps between past and present which is sometimes hard to follow and I suspect the next performance will see more work on this to make the signals clearer. Another is the occasional use of Bangla which for non-Asian audience members might be hard to follow. Neither of these are large issues and indeed keeping in the odd Bangla joke was insisted upon by director Dominic Waldron who said “I rather liked that there were phrases and jokes I didn’t understand – it made me feel like was I really watching an Asian family with a culture different to my own.”As it happens, this is a play which is going to appeal most to British Asian audiences or the occasional oddball like me who is white but knows the culture well so little is likely to be lost.

I wondered, as I left the mac, how many conversations would be going on among the British Asians who watched about marriage and who is or is not acceptable to marry. The play asks difficult questions of the Muslim community. How should marriage be arranged? What makes a ‘good Muslim’? Must Bangladeshis only marry Bangladeshis (and the scene where Malik defines who might be an acceptable Bangladeshi is utterly brilliant)? These are questions I know are being asked among the younger generations of Asians today and I suspect will be asked for many years to come. Murad Khan’s play is genuinely a helpful step along the way.

The team are performing the show again on the 12th November in London and if you can I urge you to go see it. It’s a wonderful way to spend an evening and well worth the effort. The play is suitable for all ages though it is teenagers and older who I think will reap the most benefit. For my part, I’d love to see it again just to see Malik roll his eyes or mutter to his long-suffering wife “no you don’t hurry, take your time, it’s no bother…” You’ll have to go see it to know what I mean.

Bangla Brummies will be performed at 7pm on 12th November at The Brady Art Centre, 192-196 Hanbury St, London E1 5HU. Tickets: £8 (£6 concessions)

Photo: Dominic Waldron

Photo: Dominic Waldron

Posted in Bangladesh, British, community, Culture, Humour, Racism, Religion, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The danger of tolerance in a prejudiced society

In my TEDx talk on the importance of the Global Village, I begin by discussing my own prejudices against the common Asian dress for men called a ‘lungi’ and questioning the audience about their own prejudice.

Who did THIS to me?! (photo: Andrew Bernie Bernard)

Who did THIS to me?! (photo: Andrew Bernie Bernard)

Of course, most of the people there would have been amused by my ‘skirt’ rather than outraged and indeed while living in Bangladesh I found the idea amusing myself. The only ‘darker’ emotion was the suggestion that I might wear one myself. When suggested it would invariably result in raised eyebrows and a definite “not if my life depended on it!” Looking back now, knowing as I do that I did relent in the end, I find it interesting to question why the thought was so borderline repulsive to me.

We’re all products of our own societies and cultures and that means we come with the baggage of prejudice. I’m looking forward to seeing a play soon called ‘Bangla Brummies’ soon which looks at prejudice from the point of view of Bangladeshis living in Birmingham, UK. The prejudice is both aimed at Bangladeshis and is also found within them. I like such honesty and it is something much needed in the world today. We’re all very good at being critical of others but not so good at being critical of ourselves.

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Life has changed a great deal for me over the years. When I grew up in the 70s it was okay to be homophobic, racist and consider anyone who didn’t live according to what was considered decent British lifestyles to be deviant and potentially immoral. The opposite is true today. We all have the right to live whatever lifestyles we like as long as we don’t break any laws and don’t cause any direct harm to others. This is a good thing, right?

Yes, obviously, I think it is on the whole but there is one caveat: making prejudice socially unacceptable doesn’t mean prejudice isn’t growing. This is a very real danger I don’t think we’re taking seriously yet and we need to rather urgently.

While the Brexit debate was growing, before the referendum took place, British social media was awash with opinion. On the whole, the ‘remainers’ like me talked of the prejudice against foreigners and the fear that leaving would give the floor to racists. I personally was knocked back (entirely, I have to say, but white middle-class people) again and again by those who were insistent that Britain really isn’t racist but has a history of embracing people from other cultures and is one of the most tolerant nations in the world. It’s easy to say when you’re not the one being targeted time and again.

I remain convinced that the cheery ‘welcoming Britain’ myth isn’t true because it flies in the face of human nature. We all have a tendency to be scared of people who are different to us and Britain has fuelled such fear for centuries. But if you don’t allow voice to these feelings, the anger and fear builds up until you have a dangerous situation. When a crack in the dam appears, all hell is let loose.

We’ve had many cracks in recent months and years. Every time there is a terrorist attack (and only the ones by Islamic extremists are highlighted by the media) we see a violent reaction against innocent targets. When Britain voted to leave the EU there was an immediate reaction against foreigners or those perceived to live according to foreign customs. Today we’re living in a world where prejudice has suddenly gained acceptability again. In a few days time the American public will be voting to potentially promote a violent misogynistic racist to the Whitehouse. There shouldn’t be any competition at this point. Actually no, there should never have been any competition at all from the beginning as my article here pointed out. Yet, though Trump shouldn’t stand a chance, it is neck and neck. Even though he is still unlikely to win, the damage is done: enough Americans think he’s right and that is very, very scary.

I’d love, at this point, to tell you what the answer is but if I’m honest I feel very defeated by humanity at the moment. Like I say, we all have our own prejudices and I’m well aware of mine. We live in a grey world but one which likes to judge others according to the rules of ‘black and white’. My preference has always been to speak from weakness. It’s no coincidence nor attempt at insincerity on my part that my TEDx talk is honest about my own fears and prejudices. I’ve always tried to be honest about the things I know are less than good about me rather than attack another for the things which are less then good about them. I’m happy to criticise societies, cultures, governments and policies but it is rare you’ll see me rant against another human being – but believe me I could! I prefer to rant against myself instead.

Ironically, I’ve been criticised for such honesty and many a time I’ve been misunderstood for it but I can’t help but feel like I wished more people would be the same. Living in a blame culture is tiring – when you’re already very aware of your faults, having to justify them to others constantly is just draining. One great characteristic of the British is that we apologise even when it isn’t our fault. Someone bumps into us and the first thing we say is “Oops, so sorry!” I’d love to see more of that in a sincere form universally applied. What a world we could live in if everyone said “I’m so sorry” instead of “You say sorry right now!”

 

Posted in community, Culture, Life, Philosophy, politics, Racism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments