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     Volume 4 Issue 2 | July 2, 2004 |


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Slice of Life

And no


Richa Jha

The Hubby has been appointed the Chief Convenor of a body that decides on Hartaals and such matters in Dhaka. His main duty is to get political parties to agree on a certain date for the next hartaal. I would have felt better had his area of jurisdiction been all of Bangladesh, but it is all right. It is not everyday that he gets to take such important decisions; still, a wife can't help getting ambitious for her husband.

Maybe, if he discharges his duty well in Dhaka, he could be asked to take on added responsibility for the rest of the country, and maybe parts of our neighbouring countries as well. As they say, with hartaals, the sky is the limit. No wonder our pilots refuse to fly.

Perhaps you have noticed the dip in the frequency of hartaals lately. It is not because the political parties have finally seen the futility of hartaals, or have tired of this tactic. Rather, it is because this relatively new man at the helm is taking his time to settle in and acquaint himself with the ideologies of the several parties that have assigned him the convenor's job. Even then, he has already announced seven successful hartaals in a brief span of two months.

The Hubby is now an influential man. Remember, he has to co-ordinate with all the workers of a party calling the hartaal. At the same time, he also has to balance the whims, requests and preferences of all other political parties. There is little leeway for ill-planning. He has to make sure that his scheduled meeting at, say, Banani, doesn't overlap with the ruckus that has been planned for Banani. Or that his car is nowhere near the bus that has to be burnt down, or that I stay away from visiting my friend in that area, or that the dinner planned at our house later that evening doesn't have anyone from the other (more sensitive) part of town on our guest list, and so on. It is a tough job.

Calling hartaals takes plenty of time and planning. Now you can't just wake up one fine morning and announce before the press that there'll be a hartaal the next day. You have to give the common man enough time to plan out their alternatives (not every one is as lucky as I am to have an insider in my midst). However, there have been a few occasions earlier when hartaals were announced just the evening before, but such instances are rare. Usually, only slain party leaders merit such drastic steps. It is not a particularly favoured line of action with any of the parties as, The Hubby admits, in such cases the entire hartaal machinery gets derailed- not enough ambulances are able to get mobilised for airport duties (God forbid if someone genuinely needs to visit the hospital), not enough rickshaw-pullers are able to stream in from the other parts of the country, not enough party workers are able to be brought together from other districts, and so on.

The Hubby has the added responsibility of attributing proper reasons to each hartaal. This is the trickier part. While those of you in media and reporting will agree that since hartaals are common occurrences, you have standard paragraphs ready that get plugged at the right slots when need arises. Where are your minds being put to test? Look at The Hubby on the other hand, and I salute the genius of my husband, already, he has single-handedly managed to identify the grounds for next several hartaals that have been lined up for future. And mind you, each reason is as different from the other as one party chief is from the other one.

So how does he designate dates for hartaals? Here's The Hubby's modus operandi. Every Sunday morning he sits with his diary and mine. He asks me if I have any dinners planned for that week. He also notes down my other engagements during the week, and lists them in his order of preference. My day could read something like: Tuesday- pick up child from school early, parlour at 11, drop in at neighbour's to see her newborn, buy red shoe for child's school function, look up Chicken Thermidore's recipe on the net, finish novel and return it to friend, etc. The hubby's list would then read: Tuesday- The Wifey free, Myself free, hartaal possible. Apologies to other ladies and gentlemen who may have had several pressing matters lined up for that Tuesday; too bad you couldn't think of a better day. These are the few perks of being the wife of the Chief Convenor. I told you he is a big man.

"Hey," you may say, "So what about Thursdays? Will the parties stop calling strikes on Thursdays from now on?"

No, no, don't get the parties wrong there. Thursday remains the preferred day for hartaals. As I hear from the Hubby, no party has ever had any objections to getting a quiet day of rest on a Thursday- the perfect recipe for a great weekend for the common man (they always insist it is for the common man). With several pressing matters that need to be redressed, there is little time to waste on productive work. After all, and all parties share this view, no one got any richer by working 24/7, so why not have a couple more holidays over and above the weekly off?

They may have a point there. I am happy because I don't have to wake up early on those days to ready my child for school. And you thought The Hubby doesn't care about me.

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