Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 49, Tuesday January 6, 2008



My Dhaka

When I left her I didn't know I was abandoning her. It was a mistake, an accident. I had never meant to part from her. I knew my destiny lay in her crowded heart; my soul was tied to her vein like roads, rarely empty, rarely lonely, forever seeking.

It was exactly half a life ago. I set off for a vacation to a far away land, lost my father in the middle of the sky and lost the way back home to my Dhaka. For the next few years my eyes constantly remained teary, I made a home for myself in that same cloud where my father had taken his last breath.

Lying in the middle of the cold, misty, white cloud I missed the man whose blood ran through my body, still warm. Alive he made me, and in his death I lost my destiny. My Dhaka with my Father, was far away, like an illusion, only attained through dreams, old lost photos and vivid warm memories.

My father is buried between two mountains. I had gone to visit him last year. He is in peace when I visit him; I feel it myself. I don't cry anymore, not the way I once did, neither do I live in the clouds. And Dhaka remains buried in my heart taken out carefully only when no one is looking or when someone is looking just intensely enough, Dhaka is then taken out with tears that was never spent for the right reasons.

From this far away she is like a myth, even more intricate than the Greek tales. She is full of known faces, of men and women more fascinating than Greek gods and goddesses.

I can't speak of Dhaka without thinking of the misfortunes of my life. Of my greatest loss, my deepest sorrows. But it is in Dhaka that I was built and it was through missing her that I found myself. When I visit her these days I meet her like an old lover, like the first love to whom I made impossible promises that I knew I couldn't keep, with whom I experienced secret pleasures, dark, light and grey.

I walk her streets as I feel her enfolding my body deeply into her concrete embrace. I act like I know her better than everyone around me, and I feel an empty pride as she kisses my forehead with her humid lips, I feel a strange bliss while I sweat from her touch. I tell her I always wanted to be hers.

She believes me, she lets me sleep in her arms, krishnochura's red in my hair, dusty sandals on my feet, I lie within her, rivers don't flow around me, rain washes away all my guilt, half a life of rightful mistakes.

As I take forgotten steps around her, re-creating scenes from the past, figuring out her changes, calculating her differences she tells me of her dreams, or do I imagine them? But I hear her so clearly. She tells me of better times, of footsteps, of all her scars, her proud war wounds. Her curves lead me to lost alleys, I follow in her shadow, my Dhaka holds my hands. We reunite in the certainty of illusion and reality.

By Iffat Nawaz

First Light

Half awake, the last remains of slumber heavy on her eyes, she picks the call of the muezzin breaking the black thread of night. “Prayer is better than sleep” penetrates the chill at the fag end of darkness. She sleeps, while shadowy figures in fast strides walk across the desolate streets.

The neighbourhood dog gives an odd bark as the silhouette manoeuvres past; the familiar black cat, camouflaged, makes a run for its life as the starved, cranky dog feels the sudden rush of adrenaline and an urge to 'fight.'

The seasons change but the rituals remain the same. The prayer hall of the local mosque embraces the sparse congregation. Upon the call of the 'Iqamah' the worshippers quickly arrange themselves in wide rows- one, two or barely three. As the imaam draws an end to the prayers, the assembly fast dismantles, figures now apparent under the warm whiteness of the morning sky.

The neighbourhood eatery rises in a spur of cacophonous activity. For the 'early birds' breakfast is in order. Yet, she still sleeps comfortably under the blanket that segregates night from day. The shutters of the 'restaurants' open up and she yawns, stretching her palms and hands. The cluttering shutters draw up as traders start the day. Thick smoke from incense sticks fills the small shops, verses from the holy book recited in the backdrop.

Often a 'rickshaw load' load of vegetable or maybe a van pass by, the trader sitting on his shipment of greens. The poor man seems helpless in a mass of groceries that will soon sell in the bazaars that dot the city. But not until Dhaka is wide-awake. Her sleepy best continues for a little while.

An empty rickshaw passes by, the puller taking a drag of the cheap cigarette or biri, ringing the bells in euphoria of early morning zeal. An odd 'auto' passes by the empty rickshaw, and the load of veggies, its engine roaring in defiance of the fast speed. The traffic lights change from green, yellow, red and yellow again, silent witness of the empty roads, and the insolence of the morning motorists.

By Mannan Mashur Zarif

Dhaka Nightlife: the contrast

The streetlights flickered, and soon the street was illuminated with amber light. A dog curled up beside the tea-stall. As the cold and fog grew more intense, the area became deserted.

The only crowd in sight was at the tea-stall where the green muffler clad shopkeeper poured condensed milk in cups before filling them with steamy hot tea. The crowd sat for hours, munching on deep-fried samosas with tea, discussing politics in raised voices.

The young man watched them from a distance, his eyes focused on the piece of bread that now rested on top of a tea-plate on the bench. Biting his lips he ran towards it, grabbing it in a flash and then speeding back towards his slum as fast as he could.

He finally made it back with the half-eaten bread, devouring it instantly. He looked around to find his mother, still unsure where they would be sleeping for the night. The slum dwellers were tucking in their “roof” - the plastic sheets; scarce defense against the night demons he thought.

Just then a big black car swooshed by, stopping at the crossing as the red traffic light blinked. He started counting the cars- red, blue, white- they came in all different colors. It was fun to see the cars; he saw a lot of them due to the long traffic jam during this time of the day.

The big shops flashed with colorful lights. Crowds of people gathered at those shops and left with big packets. Sometimes he could hear loud music coming from the cars. He liked the sound. He liked everything about the cars and those people.

They even appeared in his dreams, and swooshed by just like in real life. He counted them in his dreams- red, blue, white- they came in all different colors. His eye-lids grew heavier; he could see the streetlights still flickering, only growing dimmer and dimmer….

By Zannatul Lamea




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