Korail Slum is one of the biggest slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh. According to the inhabitants themselves, around half a million people live there. Our objective was to get a clear overview on how the slum dwellers meet their entertainment demands under the project titled “Partnership to ensure the sustainability of a public health palliative care project in Bangladesh through community theatre.” Before implementing any community theatre to the local community about palliative care, it was our intent to understand the type of entertainment they prefer. During a two-day field visit, we spoke with young male slum dwellers (age 15-25 years), elderly people (age 60-70 years) and women (age 20-40 years). Some of the topics discussed included how shopkeepers use music and television to attract and entertain customers. We also discussed some of the differences in entertainment preferences between men and women of different ages. There are also certain larger community-organized events that engage the entire slum population to various degrees.
Upon entering Korail, we found some grocery shops, barbershops and tea stalls. Inside the barbershop, two people were relaxing and one of the barbers was cutting a customer’s hair while listening to Hindi music. Next door, the grocer (age 20-30 years) was very annoyed, being subjected to loud music all day from the barber. He is a religious person and disliked this sort of music. He mentioned that he complained several times to the owner of the shop about this issue; however, the owner did not take any action.
Walking straight down the road, some young boys (age 10-20 years) were playing cricket, while others were playing football. Those not interested in playing sports were instead playing “latim” (wooden top) and with marbles.
There are lots of tea stalls in the slum. We found that most of the tea stalls had installed big screen TVs. One of the tea stall owners said it is a strategy to capture customers. Moreover, they play different songs (audio or video), movies (Bangla or Hindi (included Tamil) action movies), or dramas through pen drives and memory cards to attract the young people. Loading an 8GB memory card or pen drive costs only 30 taka, while a 16 GB will cost 60 taka. While engrossed in the plots of these dramas or movies, they drink tea, smoke cigarettes or enjoy various local snacks.
One of the tea stall owners said that most of the time he turns on Bangla tele-dramas because young people like them the most.
Middle-aged and the senior citizens said they prefer the “baul songs” (folk songs) and “mazar songs” (religious songs). Some of the young adults listen to Bangla bands. However, religious speeches are also popular among all ages from adolescents to the elderly.
Women who work outside as garment workers, housekeepers, day laborers, construction workers or even as shopkeepers do not get time for leisure. After returning from work in the evening, they have to do the household work. Whenever they can manage time they go to a neighbor’s house and socialize with other women. Some of them watch Indian or Bangla TV dramas.
There are huge gatherings in the local ‘chotpoti’ (street food made of chickpeas) shops, most of which are run by women. Moreover, most of the customers are kids, so they show cartoons. These cartoons are also played using a pen drive or memory card.
Korail is a place featuring a variety of entertainment tools, one of which is the concert. It is a widespread culture for the Korail slum residents. Although, some residents said that this “concert culture” is losing its beauty because nowadays people are becoming more individualistic and do not want to spend money on such things. The last concert was arranged after the recent Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations.
‘Mazar’ culture is very famous in Korail. As we discussed before, Karail is divided into two parts: the ‘Jamai bazar’ and the ‘Bou bazar’. However, there are additionally two famous ‘Mazar’ in these two parts. In the ‘Jamai bazar’ there is ‘Shah Ali Mazar’ and in ‘Bou bazar’ it’s known as ‘Latalisha Mazar’. Every Thursday, the Mazar committee arranges spiritual songs. It starts from 6:00p.m. and ends as late as 3:00a.m.
Young people have a significant attraction to mobile games and browsing the Internet. Most of them have an android smartphone. They play online games using mobile data or using Wi-Fi facilities when available. During their leisure period, some of the young people visit Hatirjheel and other recreational areas in Dhaka with their mates.
After accomplishing the first stage of qualitative data collection, the next stage of the project was to organize community-based theatre. The first drama was organized in the traditional community theatre format, but that attracted fewer people than expected. After that, the format of the performances were changed, the duration was shortened to suit the context of the community, and the performances were organized in spaces where more people gathered for their daily activities (like Bazaar) or nearby tea-stalls where community members spend most of their leisure period, which we understood from this brief entertainment mapping. This format seems to attract more people, especially the adult members of the community.
Korail seems like it is a city within a city. Last year a part called ‘Bou bazar’ had burnt down and the community was homeless for several days. Even now, they are still trying to recover their lost land. Our time was limited to a two-day observation and some informal discussions. There are some obvious limitations due to the concise nature of this qualitative study; however, the writing above provides a general impression of what we found overall in the Korail slum.
This blog was written by Arifur Rahman Apu, Senior Research Assistant , BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University.