Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |   Volume 6, Issue 21, Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Disappearing acts

A country's tradition is best represented by the activities and collective belief of the general populace. Although certain aspects can be considered far away from tradition, they contribute to the landscape, hence merging with the local culture and ultimately becoming representative of it.

In Bangladesh too, over the years, we have witnessed numerous professionals whose endearing tasks have made them a common sight and made them synonymous with our lifestyle. However, as the days progress, these professions are dying out and taking an integral part of our history and memories with them.

Consider the case of the kagoj wala (paper-collector). For years, these people have wandered the streets of the country, collecting paper from houses in exchange for money or treats. In fact, when the kagoj walas rang their little bells and pushed their blue cart full of balled up candy-floss, children from all walks of life rushed to the streets, hands and baskets full of paper.

These papers would then earn them delicious pink candy floss balls and they would also unknowingly contribute to the environment by recycling discarded papers. The blue carts were soon replaced with big 'tokris' and paper was now exchanged for money and everyone from housewives to house-maids engaged in the practice. This was how paper was recycled till recent days.

But now, these kagoj walas are fast disappearing, positioning themselves in the lower-income residential areas, usually on the outskirts of the cities. It seems most of the upper class do not consider selling paper exactly fashionable and thus loss of clients and poor pay are pushing these environmentally-friendly professionals far away from common sight.

The same applies for the dhobi (laundry-Man). In yesteryears, these men were part and parcel of life in the city. They would come around every morning and collect all the clothes that required cleaning, jotting down figures for each piece of garment in their trusty register, khatas.

Some claim that they even had a uniform, as they usually came draped in white or sporting a lungi. Carrying their baskets and ledger from door to door, every community had one dhobi who knew all the residents by name and was almost considered a part of the family.

Now even these members of our society are fast disappearing. Fancy laundromats sporting brand names and sleek outlets are taking away their customers. Many have resorted to opening up their own little laundries where clothes are delivered and taken away instead of having to go door to door to collect them. The loss in this case is not a monetary one for us but instead can be said to be a loss of familiarity.

Even the trusted milk-men are now disappearing. Once the milk-man carrying his can full of fresh milk was a common sight in almost all residential areas. They would come from as far away as Beribandh and provide fresh milk to residents in almost all corners of Dhaka.

This nutritious treat was in high demand but as the years went by fresh milk's clientele was restricted to grandmothers and fathers. Powdered milk and packaged milk started a monopoly and allegations of impurity and watered down milk led to the loss of face for the milk-men. Soon their numbers diminished downtown and numerous missed out on the greatness of the taste of this lactose delight.

Finally, we must point out the near extinction of the snake-charmers. Once the sounds of their pipes could be heard across all the neighbourhoods and it would signal the coming of mysticism. Snakes, for so long associated with death, would become instant entertainers and for around Tk50-100, one could see them live in their harmless yet majestic forms.

The snake-charmer was an integral part of Fridays for numerous children. They would even come up to your house to show you their wares, starting from the smallest snake to the largest. Though they usually sported the colourful snakes and ratsnakes, they would always have a cobra.

When the big brown box was opened and the cobra drew out to the pipe's music, standing erect almost, everyone held their breaths. The king of snakes was a sight to behold and the snake-charmers bravery was almost legendary. Many aspired right then and there to take up this magical profession.

Rapid urbanisation, video games and a general dislike for all things reptilian led to the snake-charmers losing their income. They resorted to begging or scaring people for some change and the nobility associated with their choice of life soon disappeared.

Of course conscious efforts by environmentalists also ensured that carrying snakes would fail to be considered as legal and hence the snake-charmers soon moved towards obscurity and then oblivion. Although it is not evident to the casual observer, the fact is that the city and the country itself loses its flavours bit by bit, as these professions disappear.

There are numerous more cases such as that of the endearing monkey-man who showed us the tricks his monkey had up his sleeve, the ear-cleaner or even the muchi, the cobler. The reality is that these people will always be associated with our memories and also with a much more carefree and homely time.

As a favour to our heritage, of which these people are as much a part as the benarasi saris, its best to preserve their memories and tell their tales in the years to come, as these real life characters of yesteryear transform into mythical creatures of folk tales.

By Osama Rahman


Sharing your ride

No matter how much one bickers about the traffic jam in Dhaka, there is just no easy way out of it. People have gone haywire thinking about alternative solutions to traffic congestion, but little did the flyovers or the brand new green buses do any good to the situation. But one attempt is still left untouched; the idea of carpooling.

Carpooling, also known as car-sharing, is the sharing of car journeys so that more than one person travels in a car. It is quite an alien idea for Bangladesh, but can work wonders in curbing the traffic congestion problem.

In an effort to reduce traffic and encourage carpooling, some countries have introduced HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes in which only vehicles with two or more passengers are allowed to drive. In some countries it is also common to find parking spaces that are reserved especially for carpoolers.

Many companies and local authorities have introduced carpooling schemes, often as part of wider transport programs. Carpooling in these countries are arranged through these various mediums like websites, carpooling softwares, carpooling agencies and pick up points.

Drivers and passengers offer and search for journeys through one of the several mediums available. After finding a match they contact each other to arrange any details of the journey. Costs, meeting points and other details like space for luggage are discussed and agreed on.

They then meet and carry out their shared car journey as planned. By implementing this idea in pressure points like Motijheel, Gulshan, Moghbazar etc, during rush hour, can act as a viable scheme to reduce traffic congestion.

There are countless benefits of carpooling, apart from just reducing traffic congestion. For people who drive to their office everyday, it is going to save them a lot of money as the fare gets divided among the passengers.

With the CNG fares soaring high these days, saving some bucks will come quite handy. Moreover, one will endure less stress during commute hours as the schedule will be fixed and by driving less one will be helping to keep the air clean.

Carpooling is also quite flexible in a sense that during long journeys it is common for passengers to join for parts of the journey and give a contribution based on the distance traveled. This enables more people to share the journey and save money.

When asking the general commuters about the implementation of this idea, they projected mixed reactions. Abdur Rahman, working as a manager in private company located in Motitijheel, reacted to this idea saying, “This is indeed an innovative idea, one that can change the whole traffic scenario as we see it today. It is very much needed”.

But Rehnuma Zaman, an executive officer in an international bank located in Gulshan, showed concerns saying, “Though carpooling is a great idea and has worked well in some countries, I doubt it will be feasible in Bangladesh because of inefficient management. Moreover, there are safety issues that need to be dealt with as anyone and everyone can get inside the car at any time. It is quite an infringement of personal space as one might have preferences in choosing his traveling partner. Adding to that, one might have to wait for a lift if his timetable does not match the carpooling schedule, resulting in unnecessary wastage of time”.

Hence, in order to opt for carpooling, one has to work out a schedule that is convenient for him and the others in the carpool and has to compromise a little on conditions in the car.

In the end, carpooling can be looked upon as a viable solution to the current traffic issues and should be given a more serious thought.

By Afrida Mahbub


One thing in life
You must understand
The truth of lust
Woman to man
So open the door
And you will see
There are no secrets
Make your move
Set me free

- Michael Jackson

Relationships are hinged on trust, truthfulness and loyalty, every soul currently maintaining a successful relationship will vouch for it. When it comes to truthfulness, however, not all agree that a romantic bond should be a "white paper" of emotions.

"In college I was in a relationship with a girl for three years. It was going great and slowly the bond was getting stronger until it came to a point when we had shared our darkest secrets between us.

"Although apparently it seemed we had both absorbed the darkness of our past, it became clear soon that I had trouble coming in terms to accepting her turbulent past. The inevitable took over, and our cracked relation tumbled down at the beginning of the third year."

That was Mahir, now 29 and a banker.

"In my present relationship, I have maintained that some secrets are better kept hidden. Transparency is important but not so as far as the past is concerned. Sheila, whom I hope to marry soon, is well aware of my past, but she need not know every details. As I understand, a little secrecy is healthy in any relationship" he adds further.

If marriage or any bond of love is based on trust, it is important to understand that the faith and understanding is something that takes shape in years, not in a matter of months or days. As time goes by, and as we pass time together, faith forms layers of belief, one crack and years of effort may shatter to pieces.

But some have a strong belief in love. They feel that as far as a relationship is concerned "a bond of love should be able to absorb the darkness of the past." For someone like Faisal, "understanding is the key." "What I am today, good or bad, is based on my experiences of the past. To understand my strength one must know the present and to have an objective view of my weakness, one must be reassured of my past."

Faisal has been in an out of relationships but his view and faith in love is forever strong.

"I am what I am today because of my past. To understand me, it is important for my partner to understand my past. It is better that she hears it from me, than a third person. The shock has often strained relations, and I for one will never jeopardise my affair because of a silly thing I had done years ago."

Faisal's close-friend Manzur, has been there for him through thick and thin and has observed the behaviour of his friend for years. "Faisal is a love fool. His faith in it goes beyond any rationality. We have all done things in the past, some dark enough to scare any people, irrespective of whether they are in love or not. To resurface those dark episodes in the present is a sure recipe for trouble."

Honesty is the best policy -- that goes for every relationship. However, some things are better left unsaid. At least for that moment.

Just Promise Me
Whatever We Say
Or Do To Each Other
For Now We'll Make
A Vow To Just
Keep It In The Closet

By Pothbhola


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