The Theatrics of Traffic Jams
“Lock your door and strap your seatbelts when you're in the car boy,' growled the voice of a certain daunting looking man to a small, timid boy. “You might lose a finger or two if one of those pests of an urchin decides to ask for more than money when we're stuck in a traffic jam.”
It was highly interesting overhearing a conversation of this nature as it is unusual for adults in this country to encourage wearing seatbelts in a moving vehicle, let alone one that is stationary in one of Dhaka City's infamous gridlocks.
A few years ago, a surprising number of people, trapped in the various mazes of frozen traffic in Mohakhali, had their possessions unwillingly parted from them by impostors posing as beggars and urchins. Much to the bewilderment of these unfortunate victims, it has finally dawned on them that getting wedged tight in the city's traffic jams does not only involve shedding a bucket load of perspiration induced by fear and frustration of getting late, it includes the disturbing realization that the insides of a vehicle is no longer safe thanks to the nimble fingers and the considerable talent at stealth, which are frequently put into operation by the bolder thief. Their motto: Snatch and flee for your life. Doesn't matter what you grab, it's bound to have a decent price tag anyway.
It is safe to assume that it requires a particular level of skill to put an entire limb inside a halted vehicle and seize a valuable item without receiving so much as a scratch, not to mention plucking up the courage under the hawk-like eye of the traffic police and the passengers of the automobile.
One of the more spectacular aspects of a traffic jam in Dhaka is how dramatic it can get -the frequent displays of disgruntled faces of drivers and passengers alike, the crinkled sunburned foreheads of the rickshaw pullers and those who are not privileged enough to own a mode of transportation without a roof, and the frightening expressions of the traffic police, which look close to exploding with rage and determination to get the traffic flowing. The real drama ensues when the traffic lights turn green. The furious mumblings, shouting matches of the members of the automobiles, the ear-splitting horns from the motor vehicles and the tinkling of rickshaw bells, the dull but loud thudding of sticks employed by the traffic police at the back of rickshaws are enough to terrorize any sane human being. It's a jungle where are all the animals are predators.
One of the more recent developments in traffic jams is the upsurge in gawping and staring at female drivers. Clearly it does not require a woman to apply makeup while she is behind the wheels to stimulate sheer surprise and shock amongst road travelers in Dhaka. The mere fact that a woman is driving a car is a concept that is difficult to grasp, and it is also met with slight fear by many in the city, after all, can a woman really handle a car? Aside from tolerating such a mind-set, the level of dignity and pride with which female drivers attempt to ignore the shameless staring is admirable indeed.
The overwhelming characteristics of traffic jams in Dhaka City are true testaments of the low degree of patience amongst the inhabitants. Automobiles literally scramble around to be first in line. Playing nice is pointless because it is certain that you'll get pulled on the by the hair and dragged at the back of the row. A small amount of satisfaction can be derived when that uncouth vehicle gets overtaken by another one. Nice guys always finish last, and in Dhaka's case, so do the bad ones.
So, the next time you get caught in one of Dhaka's motionless traffic snags, think of it as a badly played out drama. Open the curtains of your eyes and allow the fiasco of a play to unfold. You might as well lock the doors, pull up the windows, buckle your seatbelts, stash away your valuables, sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
(Student of Independent University, Bangladesh)