Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 4 Issue 37 | March 11 , 2005 |

   Cover Story
   News Notes
   Food for Thought
   Eating Out
   Time Out
   Slice of Life
   Dhaka Diary
   Book Review
   New Flicks
   On Campus

   SWM Home


Slice of Life

Big Cars Small Cars Fast Cars…

Richa Jha

Last weekend, there was unrest in some parts of Dhaka, usually not associated with a Friday morning. The dailies came up with a startling news report on the market survey done in a few select localities of the city. It had been to study the ease that the residents feel in living in their respective areas. It turns out that in one posh locality, discontentment has been brewing for few years among owners of big fleets of car vis-à-vis owners of fleets of big cars vis-à-vis owners of fleets of fast cars. Families with cars carrying yellow number plates were outside the purview of this research because it is best to leave diplomats out of this (after all, they may not be aware of the unwritten laws of the locality).

A few families, like ours, with only one car each were ignored (the researchers had done their meticulous homework with the security guards before hand). They worked on the basic premise that people like us had no business belonging here, because we bring down the average of the number of cars dramatically. When it is about numbers, and cars, the bigger the better. It turned out later that few of the brokers operating in that area were ruffed up for having given people like us access to this privileged area. Our broker came to us a few evenings ago asking for compensation. We were quick in pointing out to him that we had no role to play in this. How was a newcomer to Dhaka to know what's hip and what's not? It was he who had introduced this locality to us. Is it our fault that we liked it for its greenery?

Pat came his retort, "But why did you all give me an impression of your desire for upward mobility? Live where you belong, do remember that. I have been in this business for too long a time, but I don't know how I misread your bank balance."

We still didn't know how we were to blame for his bruises, but a battered man knows no reason. So we let him spew all his bottled up angst, offered him some cola to cool down his nerves, and gave him a lift home. Please remember that he may have been harbouring such anger against a number of other families like us who he brought to this area, and not everyone would have listened to his volley of abuse AND offered him cola. The Hubby and I are basically a nice couple, we are.

If I may be permitted to digress, when I look back at my three years of stay in Dhaka, I must say that the address on my visiting card has stood me in good stead. Several months ago, when working on a guidebook of sorts, for which I had to visit hundreds of shops, the initial reaction of any shop owner would be that of utter disdain. But the moment they studied my visiting card carefully, their body language would change. I would be offered a comfortable place to sit, some cool water, and a few minutes of their precious time. A few wanted to be absolutely sure and enquired, "Is this address the office where you work?"

"No, no, my residence address."

They would instantly size me up, and not knowing what to do about the incongruity (it must be clear to you that my profile doesn't quite go with that of the address on my card) reluctantly sit down to tell me what I wanted to know.

The point I am trying to make here is, your address matters in this city.

The only other thing that matters even more is cars, which brings us right back to the findings of the survey. Demographically categorising, though may appear a gross generalisation, is not inappropriate. SEC A++++, age group 45-60, prefer the regular saloons, for obvious reasons -- shrinking bodies, shrinking needs, and so on. Unless there is a known threat to their lives, they don't need that extra room at the back for body guards, so the latest Humvee is not required. SEC A++++, age group 30-45 feels the bigger bulldozer you possess, the more people notice you, the logic of which certainly cannot be contested for technical irregularities.

Age group 18-30 (and increasingly, it is being seen that when it comes to purchasing cars, children as young as 12 and 13 are influencing the decisions; a natural progression from toy cars!) believes in the fast-and-furious mantra. So you'll find regular saloons being re-modelled into Formula 1 racers for Dhaka roads. With limited scope for speed manoeuvring in between halting, crawling traffic, it's the roar of the engine that gets all the attention, each owner competing to outdo the other in deafening more sets of ears on the roads.

So, where is the conflict? Image problem, you see. The residents feel that their locality is in the grips of an irresolvable identity crisis: what does the rest of Dhaka view them as--subtle, old fashioned, in-with-the-times, or hot, happening and sizzling. Each group wishes to leave its own distinctive stamp on the roads, but believes that this equity is getting diluted because of the other two groups. The gravest point of conflict, which you may be missing as readers is that, each bungalow, each apartment in this area houses all three categories together as family units of the three generations together. And so, there's big time tension in the family backyard, and no one has a clue about what to do next!

It also happens that the parking space being limited in most of the newer apartment units, there is little option but to park your fourth, fifth, and sixth cars out on the roads. The other couple of categories mentioned earlier who were not deemed fit enough to be a part of this research have been known to have discreetly expressed their discomfort with this arrangement. They say their visitors have difficulties finding a place to park outside.

But then, with cars, as with everything else, when have marginalised voices mattered in our parts of the world? That's just a small price one pays for living where you don't belong. Let me correct that: that's a small price our visitors have to pay for visiting friends who live where they don't belong!


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2005