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  • I filmed Gazala yesterday. Gazala married young. At the age of 14/15 she would go with her singer husband to perform on the big ships which would port in the waterways of Bangladesh. Crews from Panama, Brazil, Russia, Pakistan and other countries would request singers ( Qawal singers) to come on board and entertain them. Gazala's husband would take his troupe, Gazala and three dancing girls. She remembers those days wistfully. The girls would be showered with dollars by the crew at the end of the show, she tells me. Once a seafarer offered her husband 50,000 takas ( about £400 in today's currency but a small fortune in those days in Bangladesh) to take Gazala to Pakistan for her to sing there. Her husband declined the offer. He said that he had married her out of love and the proposal was out of the question. I asked Gazala if she had wanted to dump her husband and go. She replied affirmatively arguing that taking up the offer would have potentially given her professional success beyond what she could anticipate achieving in Bangladesh. Still Gazala remained determined to become a singer and over time managed to break into the male preserve of Qawali singing.

    She lives in a small 10x10 hovel in Geneva Camp, Dhaka - a kind of a refugee camp established in 1972 and which still exists. She belongs to an isolated community called bihari or urdu-speakers. "Isolated'" because they supported the wrong side back in the war of 1971. That event still determines their lives forty years on... Despite coming low in the pecking order of qawals, ( perhaps emanating directly out of her community's views about what activities a woman should perform and what her lifestyle should be), she nevertheless performs in functions and religious rituals allowing her to make a little money here and there. .. Her qawal husband has died and now she is with a man whom she describes as her rock and is also her backing instrumentalist.
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