Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Travelling West, Portrait

In 1967, for complex reasons, I found myself on the far side of the planet, well south and considerably far west from here, which of course crosses the date line and because of the European bias on things is actually considerred the east. I landed with my parents in East Pakistan twenty years after partition. I was there for 2 years, during which time the long time ruler of West Pakistan was deposed and replaced. There was at one point a skirmish (shooting) down the street that kept me from returning to work, and of course it got a lot worse than that not long after we left to return to the states. Bangladesh is the country with the highest population density in the world.

Here is what Wiki says:
East Pakistan was created from Bengal Province based on a plebiscite in what was then British India in 1947. Eastern Bengal chose to join Pakistan and became a province of Pakistan by the name East Bengal. East Bengal was renamed East Pakistan in 1955 and later became the independent country of Bangladesh after the bloody Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971

Not many people outside Bengal (which includes West Bengal, part of India, where Kolkata (Calcutta) is, and neighboring Burma track what happens in Bangladesh. I don't really either. The US Govt maintains an embassy. The country straddles the Tropic of Cancer, and is tropical in its weather pattern. The weather is extreme, with seasonal monsoons, cyclones and tornados happen regularly, and because most of the country is less than 12 meters above sea level, when the rains come there is no drainage to speak of. 40% of the country is under water seasonally. Global warming is a serious threat to Bangladesh because about 50% of the country would return to the sea if its level rose a meter. This country is an ancient river delta formed by the confluence of three major rivers and over 50 lesser rivers. One of the three major rivers is the Ganges, the sacred river of India, and by the time it reaches Bangladesh, completely polluted. However the primary river is the Brahmaputra, which is Sanskrit for Son of Brahma (the most high God). The Brahmaputra is modestly less polluted. The soil is of course alluvial. It goes down 200 feet or more, has been lived on for much of that distance, and so the soil is itself polluted by human business. There is no rock. One of the thriving industries is brick making and then brick breaking to create gravel for concrete. There is lots of mud, lots of disease too. Bangladesh is however really fertile. I could go on. You are already bored.

Travelling West

I flew over once
From Tokyo where uncle was
To Hong Kong, beyond
To Taipei, Thailand,
To Bangladesh where I stopped.

I stopped in monsoon,
Banana fritters,
Bugs and heat, baby taxis,
Gate guards and glass shards
On the tops of walls
And me there to find myself
Behind those high walls.


Here is a related poem but a different place I saw in a photograph, or was it when I was astral travelling the night before?


In the empty house
Old and broken, wide open
To anyone now,
Against one wall a long frame,
Mirrorless, a cracked backing,
To the side, lightless
Socket hanging as if on
To show me myself.


  1. That second one, the last line hit me. I'm drawn to old abandoned houses. Never thought of finding myself there.

  2. Heh. Only if you are a derelict. I've been a derelict.

  3. That photograph of the old shed was one of my bigger 'gong' days - still reverberates.

    Thanks for taking me back again.

  4. Robin, It is I who thank you, the Starfish master of the shutter and stop, light and shade, wielder of haiku and hope, lover of the quilt mistress and the mountains, planter and seeker of cache.

  5. I echo what Rachel said about that last line. Great imagery in this abandoned place.

  6. People, I like that second poem better too.

  7. Christopher, I haven't been derelict enough to squat in abandoned buildings, but I did couch surf for a while. The lightbulbs there showed me nothing because I wasn't much interested in seeing myself at the time. Good of you to be willing to see yourself.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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