introduction
“The Looking- Glass Border”
There never had been a moment in the four thousand year old history
of that map when the places we know as Dhaka and Calcutta were more closely bound
to each other after they had drawn their lines—so closely that I, in Calcutta, had
only to look into the mirror to be in Dhaka; a moment when each city was the
inverted image of the other, locked into an irreversible symmetry by the line that
was to set us free— our looking-glass border. amitav ghosh 1988, 233
Bangladesh is a country symbolized by its lack and excess. A prevalent ste reo-
type of Bangladesh in India and in the West is that it is an “Islamic” country
ruled by military governments and dominated by ngos. Alongside the pre-
vailing international image of grinding poverty, floods, and cyclones, studies
have often linked Bangladesh to policies of population control, development,
outsourced garment production, and now climate change. In 1972, reflecting on
the bizarre donation of a shipment of used ski clothing sent by well- meaning
residents of a Scandinavian country as part of the relief efforts after the 1971
war, a Bangladeshi relief worker in Dhaka rightly said, “I guess that for many
people Bangladesh is a place of shadow geography— one of those countries
you think is in the Himalayas but on the other hand might be Thailand’s neigh-
bor to the south” (Ellis 1972, 298).
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