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     Volume 5 Issue 102 | July 7, 2006|

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View from the Bottom

Your Fellow Passenger

Shahnoor Wahid

In Bangladesh, if you travel inter-district by a luxury bus, and if you happen to be alone, you will be forced to "befriend" (with no malice intended) the fellow sitting next to you, a perfect gentleman, whether you like it or not. "Hello, bhaisab, assalamualaikum bhaisab (He will extend his damp and sticky hand), my name is Akkel Ali. I am from village Beakkelpur, thana Chintarampur, upazila Biddutnaipur, district......and so on and so forth. Courtesy will demand that you also extend your hand and shake the man's sweaty palm. He grips it tightly and does not want to let go. Rather he pulls it and places it on his lap. Smiling all the time he then begins to ask about the name of your village. As soon as you tell him that he would jump in delight and ask you to specify, which house and in which area. When you become more specific, he would jump even higher and almost hit the ceiling. "Oh, that is the village of the husband of the daughter of my son's sister-in-law's maternal uncle's brother-in-law's college teacher! My Allah! Don't you know him? That's a famous family! Three chairmen came out of that family!" Now, if you tell him that you keep very little touch with your village and you do not know anyone closely from that family, the fellow will look devastated.

Undaunted, he will keep asking you personal questions, like which year you passed your SSC, where do you live in Dhaka, where do you work, how many children you have, where do they study, and finally to satisfy his curiosity he would want to know what bhabi (your wife) does! He will say 'mashallah' loudly if you tell her that she is a teacher in Dhaka University or a UN executive or a BCS officer in the foreign ministry.

He will know almost everyone in your profession, whether you are a banker or a teacher or a contractor or a journalist. If you are a journalist then he will say that he is a good 'friend' of your editor, though it's only ten years back that he met him last, that again in a seminar. He will know some of your close friends and most of your foes. He will volunteer to introduce you to some retired generals, sitting MPs and ministers and top executives of some sector corporations, if you happen to be a businessman. Your son or daughter cannot get admission in Dhaka University? Just leave it to him. He knows the VC and will take your children to him personally. Your younger brother has been arrested by the police? No problem, he will say. He knows the IG of police. One phone call will be enough.

Within the next fifteen minutes he will give a total resume of his own family, his wife's family, his purpose of going where he is going, his sons and his daughters and then about the high blood pressure of his wife's mother. He would then ask you about your health and whether you have blood pressure problem. Diabetes? No? No problem, you must be having something or the other? Not even that! He looks disappointed. No problem. He would give details of his mother-in-law's blood pressure.

It's lunchtime and the luxury bus has stopped at a roadside rest house. You feel relieved inside and try to get up. No, your woes have not ended. He would almost drag you to the restaurant to treat you to a sumptuous lunch. By the time you will finish your lunch, he will have known everything about your eight sisters, eight brothers-in-law, parents of the eight brothers-in-law, then about your nine brothers, their schooling, college, university, their jobs and their marriage.

The uncanny part of the story is the stranger would give almost accurate description of the people you know and their profession or some of their very personal accounts. He would give references that would make you feel more uncomfortable. You will often steal a glance at him from the corner of your eyes, trying to measure him up. Have I seen him somewhere? You will keep wondering with a strange feeling in your gut. At one point you will say to yourself that you have never seen this guy before. But then.......how.....what....who.....!!

Once you reach the destination, you will quietly slip away, without even saying thanks to him for his lunch.

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