Saving Our Antiquities

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Bangladeshi archaeologist and art historian Dr. Enamul Haque (also the founder director general of Bangladesh National Museum) is internationally renowned. His contribution to the establishment and further development of the National Museum is immense. In recognition of his contribution to museology, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata awarded him a D.Lit. (Honoris-causa) degree. On May 21, this year, he officially started an awareness generating campaign to protect the archaeological heritage of Mahasthangarh, in Bogra. Interestingly, the people he targeted to work with are students of SSC (class 9-10) and HSC (11-12).

What’s the reason for involving teenagers in this significant project? “It’s the moral integrity an individual has at that age which attracts me,” said Dr. Haque. “We, as a nation, have gained notoriety for being corrupt. But I believe that the young minds that I have chosen for the voluntary work haven’t been contaminated by corruption and politicization that pervades the society,” he added. Read more.

“Where are you from?”

“The States.”

“What the fuck are you doing in Bangladesh?  Don’t you know this is one of the poorest countries in the world?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that.  I’ve never been here before, I thought I should check it out.”

This is a conversation I had on the street in Sylhet with a young Bangla guy visiting his home after ten years of living in New York.  "USA!  You are my peoples,“ he later remarked after his curiosity about our comings and goings had subsided.  

Curiosity was the major theme of our encounters in Bangladesh.  The picture is of a man and some children who noticed me walking by on our way from a bus stop to some ruins in Mahasthangarh, a small rural town in Northern Bangladesh.  In the capital, Dhaka, I stood out like a sore thumb.  In Mahasthangarh, I stood out like a hand full of thumbs.  We walked for about fifteen or twenty minutes and they walked beside me in a ragtag ensemble of smiles and stares.  "What are you doing here?” and  "Who are you?“  are what I imagined they would ask if they could speak English.  Instead we exchanged "salaams” and “hello’s” for a while and were content just to guess at each other’s lives.