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READER'S CHIT

Backwater Dhanmondi

For weeks and months, the residents of Dhanmondi have been plagued by construction workers digging up the roads in front of their homes in order to lay down new sewage pipes. Entire streets and residential blocks display the telltale signs of shoddily-completed excavations. The surfaces of the streets have started to resemble lunar landscapes more than metropolitan thoroughfares at this point.

One need hardly point out that, despite nominally being a residential zone, the Dhanmondi area has for many years also been home to numerous schools. It also has a higher concentration of apartment buildings and hence, population density, than most other neighbourhoods in the city.

The high volume of traffic in and around the area as a consequence of this has long been a source of consternation and inconvenience to residents. However, the current progress, or lack thereof, of road works has simply exacerbated the existing problems.

Neighbourhoods and streets that had previously been merely difficult to traverse have been rendered almost impassable as a result. In one instance, road workers negligently caused damage to subterranean electrical lines while digging, plunging an entire apartment complex into darkness for hours.

Work crews move on from one excavation site to the next without cleaning up after themselves, leaving hastily filled-in trenches and ruts behind, in some cases causing traffic to slow to a crawl as an entire lane is blocked off. If the roads are left in this state until the impending monsoon season, Dhanmondi and its environs will devolve into a quagmire.

The rationale behind such ill-planned excavations is inexplicable. The need for an effective sewage system in the area cannot be denied, but surely there must be a more efficient way of going about things.

The lack of systematic planning in these efforts is painfully apparent. It is an indicator of the ad-hoc approach to civic improvement that has long prevailed in Bangladesh, and which we had thought was a thing of the past, until now.

It seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same. It is time the authorities concerned took meaningful steps to solve the problems faced by the residents of these areas.

By Sadat Shakil Kasem


VITA

A Classy Joint

By Neeman Sobhan

(Dear readers, this week I am practising writing from the less frequently used Second Person narrative point-of-view, so admirably done by one of my Italian heroes of fiction, Italo Calvino. But today, I employ it for something prosaic like my column. Ready?)

Chic! You murmur your approval. The full length mirrors on the wall reflect a cosy, artistically decorated room at two levels, an ambience of grace and elegant décor, an oasis of green plants and serenity. You know immediately that this is not just any restaurant. You nod, so this is the new Thai restaurant that discerning Thai food lovers in Dhaka are talking about.

Okay, you say to yourself, so you are finally here at Pan Tao, and it is certainly visually impressive, but will the food live up to your expectations? The waiter hands you the plush menu and you lose yourself in the detailed description of the food, with explanations of Thai culinary terms and special ingredients of its cuisine along with some illustrations, and you feel all your senses come alive, nay, salivate. This menu is great to pull both the uninitiated and the half-initiated like you into a different gastronomic world.

You glance at the authentic sounding Tom Kha Kais and the Kung Pad Ka Prows and try to decipher their meanings. Then, you decide to play safe and choose what you are familiar with -- the Tom Yum Kung and Beef Green curry etc. Then you stop. The menu has the food so well-listed, categorised and translated that you feel your fears evaporate. So now you toy with a more adventurous combination from each group, going by the description of the dishes.

You run your fingers over a hot soup and a cold salad; something crisp and something slippery; a bit of the spicy and a dash of the sweet; a touch of the piquant and a dose of the pungent. You are now ready, and at first glance your order might seem like you know your Thod Man Kung from your Thod Man Pal; or your Kang Kiew Wang Kung from your Kung Noung Manow; or, (since you are on a roll here), a Pla Ka Pong Nung Ma Now from a Pla Ka Pong Som Rod, but you have really ended up ordering your favourites: a Prawn cake to nibble, a Seafood Soup with Coconut to slurp, while you wait for your Steamed Whole Fish with Chili and Lime, a Chicken with basil Leaf, and an emerald dish of steamed Pui Shag or Kang Kong with Soybean sauce to arrive and aromatise your table.

When the food arrives, you are stunned by the quality of the food and the beauty of the way it is presented, garnished with carved and sculpted vegetables and with a quiet courtesy by the waiters. You are also surprised at your ability to tuck into every morsel, including the Sticky Rice and Mango dessert at the sinful end.

The verdict is in: Pan Tao has lived up to your every expectation. But then, it has lived up to many other people's expectations too, and so while in Dhaka, you and your husband get invited to this temple of Thai food 'a thousand times over'. (That was supposed to be a pun on the meaning of the name of the restaurant!). And each time, it's a pleasure for you to have eaten here and to have been able to confirm the excellence of its standards; and also the significance of its name: Pan Tao means a thousand times better than any. In other words: the best. You certainly hope and pray that when you return to Dhaka next it will still be that.

Returning from Dhaka to a snowy Rome with uncharacteristic sub-zero weather, and shaving foam on your terrace, you think back to the warmth of Pan Tao beckoning to you from Road 12, Banani. Ah! On a freezing day like today, you sure could use their superb bowl of steaming Crispy Noodle with Chicken in Gravy-- which is Rad Na for all you half-initiated!

Neeman Sobhan is a writer and journalist, living in Italy and teaching at the University of Rome. She also writes the fortnightly 'A Roman Column' that appears in the Star Weekend Magazine of Fridays.

Photo Courtesy: Neeman Sobhan


MUSING

My big, fat Bangladeshi wedding

Her's an experiment: wear a nice suit or kameez, manage a car and visit the Westin ballroom on a Friday night, preferably around 10 or 11. Walk in, grab a chair and wait to be served with anything ranging from a 500-taka plate of biryani to a 3000-taka lobster.

Take in the view while you eat, of too-young girls trying to look old with their seven kilos of makeup and glittery clothes, and too-old aunties who clearly have never heard of the gym adorned in see-through saris. Both are taking side-angled photos to put on Facebook.

There are men too but no one cares unless they are eligible bachelors. Do this every Friday for a month, preferably during the wedding season of November to February, and it's like déjà vu.

What weddings have become today is absolutely crazy. There are an average of 6 programs per wedding, about 5000 guests, a group of about 20 teenage wedding dancers who neither the bride nor the groom knows personally, free clothes to both the dancers and family members, gifts for guests, professional photographs, food, the bride and groom's clothes and accessories… and the most important expenditure of all, what you are going to wear.

The term “wedding crashing” is futile in Dhaka, because people hardly have any idea whose weddings they are invited to anyway. And with wedding invitations with more artistic effort than any book at Ekushey Boimela piling up on your table, no one has time to crash a wedding!

Conversations at these weddings are all about money, to such an extent that instead of it being recalled as “X and Y's wedding”, it is remembered as “The 10 crore Taka Wedding” or “The Wedding of the Son of the Owner of ABC industries”.

A professional photographer is of course mandatory (in addition to all your cousins and friends who own DSLR cameras). Repeating a sari is unheard of -- save it for next year, or preferably next decade. Browse through the hit Hindi songs of the year to choose which songs you want to dance to at what's-her-name's brother's best friend's holud.

And, of course, there's the gossip. Gossip about why she's marrying him, gossip on the bride's outfit bought from Madhuri's favourite sari shop in Mumbai, gossip on how much money was spent to get that Indian has-been to sing at the sangeet… honestly, instead of the whole thing being remembered as the special day two people promised eternity to one another, people are too busy being self-centred and having spiteful conversations.

I recently attended a friend's holud, where all her cousins and friends did dance numbers. They weren't wearing matching clothes. The dance moves weren't perfect. A thousand people were not invited. But it was lovely because everyone clearly had a good time.

Same went for the wedding ceremony -- it wasn't lavish, there were some short speeches, and the newlyweds knew and talked to almost everyone at the wedding. The result? No one had the opportunity or incentive to discuss how rich the families were, or how much the bride's sister's sari cost. Instead, people enjoyed the food, met people they haven't had the time to meet up with for a long time, and talked about how pretty the bride looked.

I look forward to when “small weddings” will be in fashion. I predict it's not too far off, because humongous weddings have been so overdone this season that people would go small just to be different. What's the point of spending so much money on one night that no one will remember come next year?

The world is a big place and there's so much you can do. If you limit your world to the society you live in and what everyone thinks of you; if your aim in life is to have the biggest, craziest, sparkliest wedding of the year; if you want to throw parties that get people talking -- are you really deriving any happiness from any of this chaos?

By Mehereen Aziz


SHOP TALK

Coffee mug
If you are an avid tea or coffee drinker, you should have a special mug to drink it from. A coffee mug is not just a container used to keep your beverage; it signifies your personality and conveys the mood. It is a testament to your individuality, your own mug. So, stop drinking from a regular, “homogenous” cup and get a mug. To help the process, Aarong brings you some splendid mugs to choose from. Some are elegant, others cute, yet other vibrant and so on. Prices are very reasonable as well. You can get one even within a hundred taka. The upper limit for most mugs doesn't exceed even Tk. 170.

Koel eggs
You've had enough chicken eggs for a lifetime. Now try eggs of some other bird. Eggs of koel look very interesting -- tiny eggs with spots all over the shell. Relish their slightly different taste. These eggs come in a handy pack containing 20 pieces. You can get it in superstores such as Agora at a price of Tk. 70.

Fish bowl
There are countless benefits of having a pet but you may lack the time and energy one requires to maintain and take care of it. A relatively easy way out of this problem is to get yourself a fish bowl. Fish require less attention, compared to dogs, cats etc. Cleaning a small fish bowl shouldn't be a big problem as well. Plus, it can really liven up your home's décor. A fish bowl at Katabon can cost anywhere between Tk.100 to Tk.600, depending on its size.

Turtle
The most common thing someone does after they buy an aquarium is that they buy a pair of goldfish! Don't go with the flow and buy some common fish you see in every aquarium. Rather, opt for a turtle. A turtle in an aquarium doesn't grow much (or, as claimed by many shopkeepers).A turtle can be a delight for small children. Prices vary; you're likely get a pair between Tk. 200 to Tk. 400 in Katabon.

Bicycle helmet
It's easy to convince yourself not to wear a helmet while you are riding a bicycle. Don't make that mistake, though. Accidents happen. Make sure you have shielded your head well before you ride a bicycle.

Gulshan 1 Market offers bicycle helmets for about Tk 650. You can get a helmet for your child too. Basically it's the same helmet grown-ups use, but it can be adjusted to fit a smaller head.

The Glorious History of Bangladesh
If you want to know about our liberation war in a nutshell -- a quick review of the birth of Bangladesh -- then this book, “The Glorious History of Bangladesh”, is for you. Filled with images, it tells the story of our history in an easy language that can even be understood by children. The book is available in all outlets of Pizza Hut and KFC at a modest price of Tk 500. Proceeds from the sales will be injected in the “Liberation War Museum Nirman Fund.”

Rubik's cube
Think you are too smart and intelligent? Well, here's your chance to prove that! A Rubik's cube works great if you have ample free time to kill (e.g. during journeys) and also want to improve your mental ability. Solving a Rubik's cube is a great challenge indeed. Buy one today. Hallmark offers Rubik's cube in two sizes; priced at Tk. 100 and Tk. 190.

Grandfather clock
Few things hold such grandeur and elegance as does a grandfather clock. It's a signature of grace and majesty. Creative I in Gulshan 2, a great place for fabrics, light fittings and furniture, has a grandfather clock of a height of approximately 5'4. The stylish masterpiece costs Tk. 42, 000.

By M H Haider


 

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