not take us much time to reach there, certainly not more than half
an hour”, I shouted back to him as I grabbed my handbag from the
table. Ari, my friend from school, now a US Green Card holder, was
visiting us at Dhaka for a couple of days, and he was in the guest
room getting ready.
are you saying? I thought this restaurant was next door, which is
why we settled for it, and you say it's a half hour away”, he sounded
traffic that evening didn't let me down. True to my prediction,
once on the clogged arterial road, the watch seemed redundant.
see that huge round-about there? That's the Gulshan 2 circle. It
less than six month's time, this place is going to earn the 'most
congested, chaotic conundrum in Dhaka' sobriquet.
than this?”, he looked amused, but in the same breath he added,
“but yeah, you're right. I can see the mindless construction all
you call it mindless. The construction magnates know fully well
that finally it's people like me who'll be staying at these apartments,
and dropping by at these malls to shop. They have it all calculated,
far is the restaurant from here?”, he asked, ostensibly to change
five minute walk”
why don't we simply walk?”
is not New York, my friend! See how you get bigger salutes from
the guards when you're seen getting off a
jumbo four-wheel drive!
don't you move around in a road-roller then? Now listen, since this
is a tiny car we are in, I don't think the
'reception' would be much different from when you just
'walk in', so just get off the car, and walk.”
obeyed his forceful assertion. For someone who's always been fond
of traipsing down the alleys at strange places for hours on end
and getting my shoes dirty, this was certainly the first time I
was doing it in Dhaka. Blame it on my sheltered existence here,
but the truth is, I felt strange. Almost as if a hundred set of
eyes from the cars stuck in the traffic snarl were peering at me!
But for the first time in over a year, I felt free. Free to choose
my own course, free to mingle with the bustle of street side anonymity,
and free to decide my own pace of action. Wheels can never replace
the assuredness of one's own set of legs, never.
we walked past the shops selling hardware, music, cigarettes, shingharas
- shops I'd not 'seen' before - I was surprised at how little I
notice sitting inside the car.
we came to an open manhole on what would barely pass off as a pavement,
Ari quizzed me, “where's the cover?”
Someone must have earned a few hundred takas from it. There are
many more uncovered ones on this road. They've been like this ever
since I've been around in Dhaka.”
looked aghast, “you mean to say these will remain thus forever?”
Can't comment on the 'forever' part of it, but it'll sure be status
quo till the monsoons last”.
“What happens when it rains?”
do you think? The roads get water logged, silly, what else?” It
was almost as if he had forgotten the knee-deep waters we used to
wade through on our way to school. But that world seemed too distant
for him. For someone having lived in the West for more than a decade,
the hard hitting truths in the lives of the people in the subcontinent
appeared but as a hazy recollection of beggars and touts. His world
had changed, and the parameters on which he judged his life had
then how do you know there's an uncovered hole
what's the matter with you Ari, someone falls into these man holes
black deaths we call them - what else? Every year, these small news
items in the newspaper keep reminding us that the monsoons are still
around, that's it”, the callousness in my tone made me cringe, made
him look nonplussed.
lives so cheap here then?” It was obvious he was too far removed
from realities of the lives of ordinary human beings in countries
like ours. So I remained silent.
that silence was also a reflection on how far we, the privileged
ones, too had pulled ourselves away from the lives of the man on
the street. I was no different from this friend of mine who had
been physically absent from here. At least he looked concerned.
The fact that I had been noticing these uncovered manholes, as it
were, since eternity, and yet had done nothing about it, showed
just how passive I have become. Yet another self centred, comfort
seeking individual, happy to be moving around in cars with the glasses
rolled up. Whenever the cars get a chance to move, that is.