After two very intense days in the crowded and polluted streets of Dhaka, it was time to jump on a flight to Rajshahi in the West, close to the Indian border. Nicknamed the Silk City, Rajshahi is often considered the most clean and green among the cities of Bangladesh.
I wandered along the Padma River bank, interacting with the locals, drinking chai and explaining endlessly that I didn’t support Trump (“Trump! Trump?!”- the favored response when I said I was from the US).
We explored the town’s narrow alleys and colorful walls. It was the kind of town where livestock would roam freely on the streets, and the faint smell of fried sweet Jalebi hung in the air.
While walking, a large crowd of gathering men “caught-my-eye” (figuratively and almost literally). I pushed my way to the front, deliberately taking advantage of my “curious tourist” card.
At the center of the crowd was an old man with an as-old wooden box filled with antique bottles of potions and powders. I stood in awe as the old man repeatedly dipped the tip of a long thin needle into an apothecary’s jar filled with a gray/black powder and stuck it into the eyelids of the patiently waiting men. One after another, with only the symbolic wipe-down of the needle with a dirty handkerchief between patients, the “pharmacist” would skillfully apply eyeliner to the waiting men! Hygiene was clearly overrated. Now, I’ve heard that beauty is pain, but this was ridiculously dangerous!
This tradition dates back to The Prophet Mohamed as he believed that “kohl” brightened vision and made eye-lashes grow. It is used by many Muslim men today as a sign of devotion. Sadly, as I found out later, the powder used is often extremely high in lead content, which in some severe cases, can cause lead poisoning.
Seeing my obvious fascination with this eyeliner assembly line, the Marquis de Sade graciously offered me a chance to participate in this communal ritual but the doctor in me just couldn’t accept.
And yes, Chicken Biriyani for dinner…