Letter from Kakina

I decided to have an adventure.   I had never been to the Indian sub-continent, and so when Irene Graham asked me to come out to catalogue a library for a project run by Charity Education International, I decided to accept, and to get on a plane to Bangladesh.   It was actually not that straightforward.   I was told that there were 20,000 books to catalogue, and that many of them were in Bangla, which I can neither read nor speak.   I suggested that Irene should contact CILIP, the professional librarians’ organisation and ask them if a librarian who can read both English and Bangla was available.   Although there were some expressions of interest, they came to nothing and so I agreed to come out to Kakina to catalogue the books in English, which is how I found myself at Glasgow Airport waiting to meet up with Irene and Ishraq to catch a plane to Dhaka via Dubai.

The flight itself was uneventful.   I was able to watch the second and third episodes of “The Hobbit”, that is “The Desolation of Smaug” and “The Battle of the Five Armies”.   I was reminded of Bilbo Baggins’ advice to Frodo: “The road is a dangerous place.   Take one step from your doorstep, and who knows where you could end up”.   If that is not an exact quote, it still gives you the essence, and here I was ending up at Dr. Mohammed Huq’s house in Dhaka.

We arrived on the day of Durga Puja, one of the great Hindu Festivals, celebrating the Goddess Durga, but by the time we organised ourselves to get down to the river everything was over, so in the end we did not bother.   The next day was Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram, one of the holiest days of the Shia Islamic Year.   It is the anniversary of the day on which the Imam Hussein, the son of the Caliph Ali and grandson of the Prophet, was defeated and killed at the Battle of Karbala.   It is the equivalent of our Good Friday, with a penitential procession in which it has been known for young men to cut themselves with knives.   This is clearly not a day for the taking of photographs.

The next day, Thursday, we set out from the bus station for Rangpur, where we were to catch the ferry to Kakina.   The bus was supposed to leave at 10.30am, but it was one and half hours late.   We set out at 11.45am in a very comfortable, air-conditioned bus, beginning the long journey out of Dhaka across a huge river (not sure which one it was) and into the very green countryside of Bangladesh.   The journey took about seven hours, and when we arrived in Rangpur it was dark.   It was then that I saw the ferry.   It was a walk-on passenger ferry, with some room for motorbikes.   It was basically a flat-bottomed boat.   It was not ideal for someone who has problems with his balance, and has vertigo attacks.   When we got to the other side of whichever river this was, I point blank refused to scramble up a near vertical sandbank, and insisted on walking along the motorcycle path which worked except that it was dark and I could not easily see the path.   Anyway, I got to the top of the road, climbed into the waiting land-rover, and was whisked off to the house we were staying at in Kakina.

We had arrived.

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