<%-- Page Title--%> Musings <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 139 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 23, 2004

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- 5% Text Table--%>

I Know What You Are…

Srabonnti Narmeen Ali

People say you can sometimes get a sense of the dynamics of a country or culture by watching the way people interact -- their mannerisms, the way they talk, their body language, and at times, their ability to deal with confrontation. I say this last bit because I came across a situation a few days ago in which the problems in our society that I had originally chosen to ignore, came hitting me square in the face…

As usual there was a traffic jam all throughout Gulshan Avenue. It was around three in the afternoon. The post-lunchtime rush was in full swing. Cars were coming in from all directions. Once again I found myself wondering what people were in such a rush for? We live in such a laid-back country but from the looks of traffic in Dhaka, one would imagine themselves to be in a fast-paced city, like New York. In front of Aarong we hit another jam. As we started moving slowly I saw a car overtaking mine out of the corner of my eye. As I felt the resilient bang against my car, I realised that we had been hit. Three men got out of the car. The driver of the other car -- a "shaheb" -- walked over to my driver and said the usual, "Ei, gari chalaite paros na?" to which my driver replied, "Amar kono dosh chilona." Ok, so far so good, right? Wrong.

Before my driver even finished his sentence I saw a ring-clad fist flying through the air. It was only when I saw blood dripping from my driver's mouth that I realised what had happened. After the initial punch chaos broke out, with a useless wide-eyed mob, a violent fight, blocked traffic, and an idiot traffic policeman whose answer to my frantic pleas for help was, "Ami ki korbo?" The two men from the other car were standing around too, looking slightly confused. When I got out of my car they immediately turned on me and ordered me to get back in my car -- I would only make things worse -- (obviously because them standing around twiddling their thumbs was helping to diffuse the situation). Losing my temper, I told them exactly what I thought they could do with their orders. I grabbed my driver and pulled him back towards the car. While getting in the car I heard one of the men say to me in English, "I know what you are…"

As we drove away, I came to the conclusion that education, exposure and wealth don't change anything. The double standards still stand. It's not ok for me to get out of the car and say anything to anyone, but it is ok for Mr. Rambo to get out of his car and hit my driver -- even though he can see that I am alone in the car. It's okay for him to compromise my safety, as long as I don't stand up for myself -- or my driver, for that matter.

The sad reality is that if something had happened to me that day, and I had gotten hurt, most people would say the inevitable: "Well, why did she get out of the car in the first place? Serves her right for confronting some potentially dangerous stranger. What did she think would happen? Does she think this is America?"

People are strange. I have heard that comment so many times, "this is not America." And every time I wonder what it means. Does it mean common courtesy and decency are only prevalent in America? I realise that things are different here (as they are everywhere else) and we have to act according to the culture and norms around us. But if a man gets out of his car and beats my driver for no good reason, why shouldn't I speak out against it? No one else will. The traffic policeman and the mob made that quite obvious. I agree that because I am of the "weaker and more vulnerable sex," I should be careful, but it just does not make sense to me. The other driver lost his temper and punched my driver, but of course, he gets to feel like a Hero for the rest of the day. I lost my temper and took my driver away, and I get to hear, "I know what you are."

No one is stupid enough to say life is fair. It's not. Similarly no one will be naïve enough to say that women get their fair share of respect in public. Once in a while, however, I wish that people would at least pretend that there was some concept of decency among us.




(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star.