|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 49, Tuesday January 6, 2008|
Also, I can say with some pride that to be a Dhaka driver requires considerable skill and awareness. In most other cities, what are motorists faced with? At the most, the odd aggressive driver trying to overtake everyone else in his/her quest to reach the destination as fast as possible. Although it will be hard for inhabitants of saner cities to believe, every driver in Dhaka is like the one in the previous sentence. It doesn't end there; the aggressive drivers are not the only deterrents to a smooth ride on Dhaka streets.
Rickshaws, pedestrians, CNGs enter the vista of the windshield from nowhere, but don't slam the brakes too hard; the car behind you is most likely following too close and is liable to slam into the rear bumper. Such scenes are very common; you can see one almost everyday at roadsides. The respective drivers are either going at it verbally or physically, or are being held back by bystanders. Oh, of course a long cue will most likely build up behind these two stalled vehicles.
Another practice that speaks for the mindset of Dhaka drivers is the use of headlights when two cars are face to face in a narrow street and only one can go through at a time. All around the world, the driver flashing the lights means that he or she wants the other car to come through. In Dhaka, however, the same signal means: you stay there, I am coming through.
The question might crop up: What do the traffic police do? Well, let me illustrate with an example. One day I jumped the red light at the Kakoli junction because, well, I am a Dhakaite, and was unexpectedly stopped by a traffic policeman. No problem, I had my answer ready: "Bhai, there are times when you wave us through on a red light. So how are we to know when the red light means stop?" This inquiry was made with all sincerity, and he knew it, and let me go on my way.
Okay, let's now come back to the issue of microcosms. On the streets are chaos, with motorists, Rickshaw pullers, and pedestrians living by the rule of the jungle. The impression you get when looking at Dhaka streets is of things falling apart yet staying together, as if tied by an invisible thread. Despite the chaos, people still go out everyday and do whatever they have to do to live their lives. This, I feel, speaks for Dhaka life; utter chaos, but the people do what they do best, they make it work.
Case in point: a simple altercation during a sporting event that escalated into citywide chaos when the university students and small vendors ganged up to unleash some serious breakage. Then there were the repeated accounts of RMG agitations that kept cropping up throughout the year, where factories were vandalised and production brought to a halt.
While these were slightly large-scale events, there were also smaller, but explosive situations, like the highly-publicised feud between the medical students and the public university students a few months back, over the case of a stolen cell-phone, which resulted in the death of the alleged thief.
Round two featured the equally talked-about series of skirmishes between students of a reputed design school and another private university over the matter of someone insulting someone else's sister.
If you think these are silly reasons for calling out the back-up and dishing out some good old-fashioned gono dholai Dhaka-style, consider the utter bedlam that broke loose during a couple of 'friendly' football tournaments held in the city recently. Dhaka certainly seems to be a caseful of dynamite just waiting for a spark.
Angry passengers beating up hapless rickshawallahs have been an unfortunately common scene for a while now, but these days, the drivers of three-wheelers are just as quick to dish out some hurts of their own. Minor accidents, where the only injuries are suffered by someone's fender or bumper, quickly escalate into mob incidents, with passers-by joining into land a random punch, or egg on someone to fight.
Talking back at teachers, being rude to service staff, and of course, venting their spleen on walls, furniture and public property using markers, spray paint and other tools, as the old Offspring song goes, 'The kids ain't alright.'
With things being the way they are, there are two things we can do: blame politics, economics, the weather, and everything else under the sun, and continue to be cranky. Or we could try and practise a little tolerance, and learn to be a little more considerate about each other's needs, and maybe life won't be so bad.
By Miss Manners
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