Back in the Day
Srabonti Narmeen Ali
Whatever happened to the Dhaka that I once knew? Somehow it does not seem the same. It was once a city filled with secrets, where the traditions and customs of our society bogged down heavily on our youth, causing them to seek hidden escapes for their guilty pleasures -- pleasures, that in most other countries would commonly be seen as kids being kids.
Back then Dhaka was deemed “unsafe” by our parents (the common retort by us being when is Dhaka ever safe?). And the perils of daily life in the city were multiplied tenfold if you were a girl. Rickshaw rides and long drives were acceptable only if there was a chaperon involved -- usually a creaky, cronie bua that your mother used as her spy (the driver, on the other hand, usually would not report back to your mom when you did something suspicious). Wearing “western” clothes was daring, and jeans were really cool, to be worn on special occasions, rather than being an every day outfit, as they are in most other countries. Make up was a definite no (a stolen swipe of lipstick was all that I was able to get away with) and jewellery was worn sparingly. Having male friends was a luxury (if you were a girl), and, in most cases, it was okay only if our parents knew the parents of the friend in question. Even then, it was only alright to hang out with this particular male friend if there was an equal number of girls and boys present -- we used to travel in packs in those days.
Talking on the phone was (if you had other siblings) a tedious affair -- since there was no call waiting it was virtually impossible for one of your friends to get through to you if someone else was on the phone, and because there was usually one phone per household -- that is until and unless your parents got fed up of trying to get through and finding the line busy. After the usual bickering and rushing home in order to make sure you got to the phone first, your parents may have allotted phone times, which you traded with threats of telling on the other siblings about some misdeed they had committed and bribes -- everyone wanting the coveted time of late night, right before it was time to go to bed.
There was a shortage of decent places to hang out back in the day, not counting the usual, overcrowded Candyfloss and Kintuki. Usually, we would hang out outside phoochka stalls hoping against hope that our parents or their friends would not catch us having our after--school snack with friends rather than being home and doing our homework as we were supposed to be doing (and somehow all your parents friends seemed to know exactly what you were NOT allowed to do and therefore, found it their duty to report back to your parents whenever they caught you). Ice cream was a weekend pleasure that was to be looked forward to and not something that was available to us whenever we felt like it.
Dance parties were to be held during the day under strong supervision within a dusty room with the furniture pulled to one side and the curtains drawn in order to give a false ambiance of night-time (in most cases however, the sunlight usually found its way through the room). The music (usually playing from a battered boom box in the corner) could not be heard above the din of chatter and the tapes (remember those?) were always bad quality.
I think back on these days the most when I am on my way to work in my car, and I remember them with fondness -- that is, until I hear loud music pumping from the car next to me. Although the windows are up, the bass boost in the car's music system is making everything on the street, including my car, shake in time to the beat. In the small car, packed in like sardines, are a group of young kids -- boys and girls -- all talking animatedly. The girls are wearing jeans and sunglasses with pretty colourful fotuas and matching fat, thread bangles. Their dangling, shiny earrings make reflections on my car window. They are perfectly made up with matching lipstick and eye-shadow. One of the girls (and I have no idea how she managed this in such a crowded car) has her platform-heeled, painted-toed feet sticking out of the window. They are or so it seems to someone who is, in comparison to them, an old dragon -- without a care in the world -- definitely not worried about being caught by their parents or their parents friends.
I know that these kids are probably heading over to Time Out or Coffee House or Movenpick or one of the many different hang out spots that have sprung up in Dhaka. After school, these places become crowded with high school and college students. These are the places where ice cream, phoochka and coffee are plentiful, where they can be enjoyed, rather than gobbled up in quick furtive movements. And these kids are not hiding from their parents -- that is obvious when you see them picking up their mobile phones and telling their parents where they are. They can stay for a few hours, rather than looking at their watches and worrying about getting home. They come out unchaperoned save for a driver in some cases.
There are no more sibling arguments over who gets to use to the phone. Now, everyone has their own phone and can talk as long as they want before they go to bed.
As for “dance” or “disco” parties, they happen at a normal time in the evening, and at a club or a public place rather than someone's living room. The boom box has been converted to a state of the art sound system complete with a live D.J. and funky colourful lights. And yes, these kids, unlike us, have a curfew that goes beyond the setting of the sun.
I would like to comfort myself by saying that if it wasn't for us -- the older brothers and sisters of this new generation -- these kids would not have the freedom they did. We like to convince ourselves of the fact that we broke all the barriers and boundaries of society and that is why things are the way they are now. It is true, in a way. We did all the things that the kids these days do now. The difference is that they do it openly, whereas we did it all secretly. In a way I envy this generation for not having to worry about things the way we did. That being said there was something special about the Dhaka city we used to know.
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