Monthly Archives: October 2008

Howard L. Hiller – RIP Little Brother

Gottingen, Germany 1981

Very sad news from the States. My younger brother passed away two days ago. Deepest condolences to his wife Barbara and their two sons, Ben and Evan.


Howard was my younger brother. We were only 18 months apart and extremely close growing up in Brooklyn as well as later on as young adults. Many of you might not be aware that Howard was a “radical” young man of the late sixties- very politicized and to the far left. He managed to get us both arrested as teenagers for arguing with two police officers about our rights to stand in between two parked cars on public property. He was brilliant and very articulate even back then but the police officer was not impressed by his logic. It was my mothers Chutzpah that eventually bailed us out. How dare you arrest her two boys!!! She let that officer have it. I guess he wasn’t intimidated since the following year (1968) he helped organize the local protest at our high school against the infamous teachers union strike for almost a month. Those were violent times and we faced threats from the community. Again, our mother supported her boys.

Shortly after at the ripe age of 16 Howard came out to visit me in LA in the summer of 1969 – he was still in high School-  and audited Philosophy classes at UCLA. He had managed to look up a renowned logician named Donald Kalish who headed the Philosophy department. Kalish and another very far out European professor took Howie under their wing. His hero at the time was Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Mathematics (after all it served him well) must have seemed more practical to major in at Cornell. He was always trying to explain formulas and proofs to me but lost me after less then a minute.

I recall such happy memories from our time in New York in the late seventies/ early eighties, especially during the summer roaming the city, listening to music and eating great meals at Peter and Barbara’s. Their loft was the unofficial meeting place for us “locals” and friends from Europe and Brazil. Ah youth.

After a stint teaching at Columbia University Howard entered the financial sector giving up his work shirts and boots for a suit. Looking back he was barely 30 years old at the time. It took courage to change careers like that.

As many of you commented Howie was a sweet and gentle person. He was very generous and good natured and I wonder what the impact of this new environment had on him? He worked hard but still managed to write short stories. He still had a creative need.

A few years later after our father passed away we both got married and began raising families. I was on the west coast so visits were far and few between.

Flash- forward to October 2008. I’m shocked by my little brothers passing.  It’s a huge loss for all that knew him. I hope this little story sheds some light about another side of my brother, especially to his sons Ben and Evan. In Howie’s last email to me last month he told me about your studies and music making and was so proud of the both of you

Point and Shoot

Along the tracks, Moughbazar

Something has happened photographically this past week. Things are beginning to flow again. For days on end the past couple of weeks I would go out but return feeling depleted with little to show for my efforts. Am finding that using my tiny point and shoot camera helps me work faster without having to bring the camera up to my eye. That spilt second can make a huge difference. With such a small camera it also feels as though there is less interference between me and what I’m seeing and photographing.

Faculty Meeting: IUB Style

The communication and media department at IUB sure knows how to have fun. After our planning/forecast meeting we all had lunch, followed by fellow instructor Munsia Ahmed spreading a blanket on the floor – now what could that be about- for “our team” to sit on and sing. The idea of the game was to sing a song beginnings with the first letter of the last word from the previous song. I had heard that Bengali’s love to sing and was spellbound by the office managers voice. For the grand finale everyone picked a paper out of a jar and make a fool of themseleves. Yours truly was obliged to do an Elvis impersonation.  Am sure that Munsia must have rigged that one. Rumor has it there was a video made of the festivities.

Local Heroes

Acts of survival and heroism are seen everywhere here. The displaced rickshaw driver from the countryside or the mother just trying to feed her child. Bangladeshi’s bring new meaning to the word resilient. They get knocked down by cyclones, floods and other disasters and bounce back for more. With social services and healthcare almost non-existent, people like the Korean Sisters and Brothers from Kottongne are only able to serve the “lucky” few with love and laughter.

Lalon Festival In Kustia

One of the Lalon’s amazing songs. Listen for the one string Ektara 45 sec. into the music.

Twice a year Bauls (similar to Sufis) from Bangladesh and India visit Kustia to honor and celebrate the living legacy of the Lalon Shah (c.1774–1890). Lalon wrote hundreds of songs and texts that can’t really be translated from Bengal because of their subtle language and hidden meaning. His music is absolutely estatic. This yearly gathering (Mela) was like a Bangladeshi version of Woodstock. In addition to the  Shadu’s (holly men) there were plenty of intellectual and artistic types from Dhaka to join in the festivities. Lalon Shah also had an influence on the poet Rabindranath Tagore, whose home is only five miles from Lalon’s shrine in  Kustia. I’m very excited to see and edit the hi-defintion video from this gathering of saints.

Mid-Term Week

Samah’s “Dream Wedding” Blog

In less then two months my students have made terrific progress with their blogs especially considering that many of them didn’t know what blogging was about when we began. Samah got a late start but has turned into quite a marketing maven. I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets hired out as a wedding planner very soon.  For mid- terms the students gave an oral presentation and critique of  their blogs and sites that they frequently visit (Face Book seems to be a favorite). Check out some of their work linked in the right navigation. Class favorites include:

Samah’s “Dream Wedding”
Aneeta’s “Style Notes”
Salmans “Bangladeshi Photographer”
Safeena’s “Urban Woman of Dhaka”

The View From Hillary Clinton’s Room

Masud Chowdhury, one of the instructors from IUB insisted on taking me to the Sonargaon Hotel a few weeks ago. Being a seasoned journalist he managed to get us into the penthouse “Presidential Suite” where Hillary Clinton stayed in 1995 and 2000. It was in Bangladesh that Hillary met with Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who championed micro-credit loans as a tool to fight world poverty. In Clinton’s biography she described the view from her window (the slums have since been cleared and replaced with high rise buildings) compared to the inside of the hotel. Bill Clinton was the first US President to visit Bangladesh and till this day he is fondly remembered here.

Durga Puja

Smoke Dance

Listen to the tension of this audio clip from last nights Puja

Durga Puja (worship of Durga) is one of the important religious festivals for Bengali Hindus. It celebrates the return of the Goddess to her family. In other parts of India, Durga is also worshiped, but under different names. Durga does not belong to the Vedic pantheon, but is a later Goddess. She came to be known as Durga after killing a demon named Durgo. She is also called Durga because she brings an end to all forms of misery.

Durga Puja is a time when woman in Bangladesh return to their families home. On the last day of the  festival, the statue of Durga is carried and released into the river, symbolizing the return to her husbands home. It is a day of immense sadness. Last night at three in the morning I was shaken by thunder and lightening so loud and strong that it felt like an earthquake. They say it always rains on this day to symbolize the tears that the people feel.