Letter from Kakina

Kakina is a village in the far north of Bangladesh.   It is very easy to find your way around, and getting from the house, where we are staying, to the College is a short, straightforward walk.   From the house you turn right onto the road and walk to the crossroads, where there is a memorial to the people killed in the 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation.   You then turn left and walk along a shop-lined street to the college gates.   On entering the college grounds, the first building on the left is the Guru Nanak Library, clearly marked by a sign in English.

There are three floors to the library.   The ground floor is the library itself, and some office space.   The first floor is the computer suite and rooms for teaching, and the second floor is the reading room.   The library stock has already outgrown the space available, and there are books stacked on the tops of the shelves and piled on the floor.   I have already made considerable progress with cataloguing the English language books, but there is a problem.   If the catalogued books are to be stored on the shelves in a retrievable order, then some of the books already on the shelves will have to be removed and probably withdrawn from the library.   This will have to be discussed with the librarian and his staff, and for that I will need a translator as I do not speak any Bangla.   But that is a task that can wait for a while, especially as there is no easy solution.

The main event this week was the welcoming ceremony, partly to celebrate the return of the Principal, Dr. Monowarul Islam, to the College from his visit to the UK, and partly to celebrate the fact that Irene, Ishrat and I had arrived at the college.   It began with the presentation of flowers and then marching through an honour guard from the local Boy Scout troop holding crossed banners.   We ended up on the stage at the auditorium in front of a welcoming banner with our names prominently displayed.   There were a number of speeches, including those by the three of us.

My speech began with “Es Salaam Aleikum” and was followed by an explanation of why I had come to Kakina.   I explained that a very important librarian, Shiyali Ramanritam Ranganathan, had described a library as “a storehouse of knowledge organised for use” and that my task was to assist the College in that task.   Irene and Ishrat explained that they had come to teach English and Information Technology.

The speeches followed by a stunning cultural display.   There was singing, dancing and a very funny stand-up comedian.   Well, I only think he was funny because he was speaking in Bangla so I had not a clue what he was saying.   The audience was killing itself laughing, which is how I came to the conclusion that he was very funny.

Irene contributed to the occasion by singing “Blowing in the Wind” in honour of Bob Dylan becoming a Nobel Laureate, and then a song called “Phule, Phule” by a local Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, which he wrote to the tune of “Ye Banks and Braes of Bonny Doon” as a tribute to Scotland’s National Poet, Robert Burns.

You will all be relieved to know that I did not sing anything.

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