How Much For His Life?

The tag on my t-shirt says “Made in Bangladesh”. Most of them do. It has been a running joke for my friends here – I buy clothes in the UK but make sure they are Bangladeshi-made to support the economy. Nice and harmless. Quite funny actually. But then I look at the other side of the coin.

While I write this, over 100 people have already lost their lives for a “Made in Bangladesh” tag. A building in Savar consisting of a bank, several shops and a garments factory collapsed this morning. Cracks had been spotted yesterday and authorities had told people not to enter the building until an inspection was carried out. The bank and most of the shops complied. The factory workers, however, had no choice. In their pursuit for money, the owners forced them to enter the building, apparently using security to push them inside in some cases. This in a country with practically no safety standards in place and where someone can lose their job if they place their life before their employer’s profits. Many of us have the luxury of preferring to lose our jobs, but they don’t. Not when the t-shirts they make are sold in branded stores for more than they earn in a year.

And now they are dead. So far, only two out of the eight collapsed floors have been salvaged, which means that the death toll can only rise from here. Add to that the fact that scores more are critically injured, suffering from severe blood loss and, in many cases, mangled limbs. At least, those that made out with their limbs still attached. Of course, a country like ours also has the misfortune of inadequate facilities to treat the wounded. Make no mistake. Many of the final death tally are still breathing now.

And what will happen then? People will be outraged. Social networks will continue to flood with calls for justice and help. The media will keep this on their front page for a day or two. And then it will stop. We will move on to the next tragedy. The owners – who should be tried for criminal negligence if not outright murder – will go free and continue to earn a living. The same goes for the people who built such an unsafe structure in the first place.

And the victims will be buried, their families forever mourning the loss of a parent, a sibling, a child. To the rest of us, this is just another example of what happens when lives are not valued more than commodities. To the families, this is the darkest day of their lives. Shame on us if we forget that.

I would like to end this entry with two pleas. First, do not let people forget this tragedy. It is high-time that something is done about the appalling conditions that continue to haunt the manufacturing and construction industries in Bangladesh. Second, if you are in the country and can help with blood donations in any way possible, contact the following numbers:

Enam Medical College Hospital, Savar: 027743779-82, 01716358146
Sandhani (Dhaka Medical College wing): 9668690,861674
Bangladesh Medical College wing: 9124619, 9118202. Ext.- 430
Red Crescent Blood Bank: 9116563, 8121497

I Know Why the Free Bird Weeps

I have been thinking of creating a blog for a long time now. For several reasons, primarily laziness, I never got around to it. But events of this past week have been pushing at me non-stop and I ended up giving in. I don’t know what it is, exactly, about the horrific events around the world that made me create this blog. The bombings in Boston were terrifying – I have friends there – but not necessarily something that inspires eloquent verse. The news this morning of a five-year-old in Delhi being raped is probably the most harrowing thing I have read this entire year, but again, not something that would normally make me pick up a pen – or start up my laptop. Neither would the ongoing but no less terrible violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

In the midst of all this chaos and horror, I came across Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. I cannot recall exactly how this seminal piece of literature came across my screen, but there it was. And it pained me to admit that, as a bird safe in his own little cage, far away from all the violence and pain, I was singing too. Songs of pity, of admonition, of hope – but only songs at the end of the day. I was safe; the birds in the open were not. I felt helpless. And at that point, I thought I would start this venture. It is by no means an attempt to add meaning to my insignificant ramblings, but an attempt at catharsis. A selfish attempt, certainly. But one I hope will add to the chorus out there and make it just a little sweeter.

Here is my song.

Have you seen where the free bird flies,

Across the lands and the torrid seas?

Have you heard her as she mourns,

And grieves the loss of hope, of peace?

 

She came to me as I cried out

One night in my gilded cage,

She sat and listened patiently,

As I told her of my fears, of my rage.

 

She waited until I had none left to say

Then silently flew into the night,

To sing a song of dreams and grace

So other birds would join the fight.

 

She went to a crumbling Empire

To sing as millions lost their voice,

She went to where the oppressed rose up,

To demand they get an equal choice.

 

She went into the winter’s end

Only to see spring fade away,

She went to where the children learn,

But they never saw another day.

 

And as she flew, she came to see,

What the caged bird could only hear,

And as the horrors tore her heart

She cried her first anguished tear.

 

Now the free bird flies all day

And in the night she does not sleep,

You may know why the caged bird sings;

I know why the free bird weeps.