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     Volume 6 Issue2 | January 19, 2007 |

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The Pied Piper on the Road

Shahnoor Wahid

No, I am not going to tell the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the famous story you all know since your childhood (Don't you wish a Pied Piper would come to our country and take all the corrupt politicians down into the Bay of Bengal? What a pleasant thought!).

But no, this story is about a CNG auto-rickshaw driver; let's call him Anwar, who plays on his flute when waiting for passengers. I heard this beautiful tune one day, followed it, and discovered a middle-aged man sitting inside a parked auto-rickshaw. The man had disheveled hair and a three-day old growth on his face. His eyes were large that looked at the emptiness in front of him. I listened for a while and could discern his deftness with the musical instrument. He was playing a classical-based tune of an old Bangla song. It happened to be one of my favourites! I got inside and struck a conversation. How did he learn to play the flute? He learned from an old man in old Dhaka where he lived. He used to watch him play and noticed carefully how the old man's fingers worked. He was quite young then. One day he bought a flute and started to blow in it. But no sound would come out. After some months of practice he could get some sound out of it. One day he surprised himself by discovering that he could play the tune of a whole song! He was ecstatic. But his young wife was not impressed and told him to go out and earn some money, as there was no food in the house. Anwar did not lose heart. He kept on practicing.

How come he has taken driving auto-rickshaw as a means to earn a living when he could learn the art better and get a job as a musician on radio or television? Anwar smiled and said that he loved to be on his own. He liked to be a free bird not bound by any chain. He was not cut out for fixed-time jobs. Yes, he needed the money but he wanted to be independent of any obligations as well.

What sorts of tune did he like to play on the flute? Anwar said it depends on the mood. He plays sad tunes when he is sad. He plays merry tunes when he is happy. He, however, told me that he hasn't many merry tunes to play since he does not have many things in life to be happy about. Would you like to tell me about your life, I am curious, I told him. He told me that his wife died some years ago. He has a daughter who goes to college but he cannot buy her everything she needs. His two young sons go to school and he cannot give them everything they want. He can barely manage three square meals for all of them. But he is very serious about education and he wants his children to have it even it is a big burden on him.

Anwar told me how the traffic policemen and traffic sergeants harass him for money if he violates some minor traffic rules. One day, a traffic sergeant had told him to stand on his head on the road for violating a rule. He was deeply hurt at the humiliating tone of the sergeant who was at least ten years younger to him. Anwar told the man that he would put his mental pain in his flute and play it whenever he would remember him. The traffic sergeant was not amused and imposed a two-hundred-taka fine on him. That night Anwar feigned to have a full stomach so that his three children could eat well.

Our conversation drifted towards politics. I was amazed by his grasp on the subject and ability to analyse the intricacies of politics in this country. He did not think highly about the politicians. He thought no politician of the present lot cared for the sufferings of the poor. All of them were for power only. He was particularly critical of the people who wore Islamic clothes and did politics in the name of religion. He himself is religious but does not approve of doing politics in the name of religion. “Sir, these people are heartless.” This was his last remark as I stepped out of his vehicle.

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