The True Face of Bangladesh
Faheem Hasan Shahed
My rickshaw halted at the traffic lights at Maghbazar Crossing. A dwarfish boy arrived from nowhere and started nagging for alms. An instant 'aare jaao! ' (Get lost) was what came out of my mouth.
He didn't leave. Instead, he persisted with his nagging in the quintessential begging-tone we run into almost everywhere in the city. For the second time, I restated my denial, this time rather arrogantly. I am against giving a single coin to beggars. I would rather tip the rickshawallas in addition to the fixed fare as they do backbreaking work, providing us with an essential service. How would you feel if you had to pull a rickshaw all over the city amid rain or shine (not to mention the passengers' rude behaviour)? Despite a whole day's hard work, our rickshawallas do not seem to lose their smiles at the end of the day, even pulling passengers till the dead of the night. All for food; and so I respect their labour. I feel no hesitation paying them almost what they want.
But beggars I refuse! Where does all this money you give them go? Don't we know how begging has established itself as an industry systematically maintained and manipulated by syndicates? I saw the same thing in Kolkata quite a while back and our city is no exception. I have therefore decided totally disregard any beggars' passionate (!) naggings.
So I became really irked. For the third time, I glared at the kid with of fury, and Bingo! Something hit my conscience at that very moment, like thunder.
Perplexed, I looked at the kid. He was robotically nagging, leaning on my rickshaw. One could see all the bones of his ribs like an X-ray negative. He wore ragged shorts that had surely not been washed for some days. The dust accumulated since morning overshadowed the scant hair on his scalp.
Someone screamed inside me, 'what are you thinking? This boy IS Bangladesh. See? He is the Bangladesh that we have got through bloodshed.'
A Toyota Carina stopped beside me, and I saw a school-uniformed kid inside. Healthy, happy and wise I assumed. The boy was probably going back home. What would happen after he reaches his sweet home? He would take off his uniform, jump on the sofa as his mum would shout, 'Come on son; wash your face, hands and feet! Don't make the sofa dirty!'
He would grumble for a while and eventually comply with his mum's order, and then sit in front of the TV with potato chips or cream crackers. His private tutor would arrive after sometime to help him with his homework; the ayah would iron his uniform for the next day. At dinner, he would face a sweet dilemma whether to consume chicken or mutton, for he hates fish or vegetable.
And this boy? He would keep begging until there are no more vehicles in the roads, and then go back to the slum he lives in. He would probably hand over his earnings to some mini godfather maybe even his dad who runs the team of beggars.
What would he eat at night? Virtually nothing perhaps paanta bhaat or ata rooti with a little vegetable. No recreation of any sort. Wasn't begging his greatest recreation the whole day!
By then, the green light had glittered and my rickshaw started moving. The boy went away, and so did the Toyota Carina. But the thoughts kept eating at me.
Why did our Muktijoddhas fight in 1971? Why did so many of them embrace death? When they fought in the battlefield, what was the “Bangladesh” they dreamt of? Was it the Bangladesh of these scrawny, skeletal kids on the streets?? (Before independence were there any kid like him begging on the streets of Dhaka? I wonder.)
I felt genuinely bad for the kid. So much so, that I started feeling humiliated. The nagging tone of the wretched child, together with his hapless look, haunted me for the rest of the night. Trust me, it still haunts me occasionally. The single identity of that beggar child has come up as an incarnation of all our 'advancements' as a nation. Bluntly speaking, we have been doing the same thing with our donors. Haven't we?
Crores of taka are being spent. Crores of taka are being wasted. Crores of taka are being grasped. But crores of children like him will keep nagging for alms. For an eternity, I suppose! Is there anybody there to puff the winds of change?
The writer is an Asst Professor of English & Communication Skills at a private university.
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