Islands for Sale
Aasha Mehreen Aminn
Did you know you can almost buy islands in Dhaka? This is no gimmick, nor is it a pathetic attempt to get attention. It's true; if you happen to be a big company with big bucks you can actually have your name inscribed into a plaque that will stand in a prominent place in that island. Sure it's just a little strip of land dividing the road with shrubs that have lost much of their looks after gulping all that carbon monoxide and after showers of dust as the motorised monsters swish by. But an island nevertheless. We are after all, in the age of opportunity when every little inch of space can be leased out, sold or encroached upon.
It doesn't matter if aesthetics has taken a permanent vacation from our city and its planners' heads. So what if we fill the landscape with humungous billboards where giant sized humans tell us what we should wear, how we should look and how crucial it is to be always on the cell phone? We may no longer see the sky but those overpowering boards keep telling us about the wonderful ways we can consume our way into forgetting that it even exists.
Take those islands that you can buy or lease for a decade or two. All you need is a few bundles of hard cash and you can have your name in the Airport Road island's Hall of Fame. The best part is that although these conspicuous placards (just in case the public forgets who they should thank) pretty much overshadow whatever little greenery on the island, they tell everyone that these companies have generously given money to 'beautify' our city. Sometimes it is just one single multinational that may place their humungous concrete logo in the middle of an island; otherwise what's the point?
There is logic to the apparent insanity. The thing is that if you have the whole skyline filled with billboards, the edges of every foot bridge splashed with ads of every jarring colour, every wall splattered with painted and postered ads, the space between walls displaying cloth banners in blood red or dirty yellow and the electric cables with hanging flyers (black and white during election time), it does make sense to have those little islands to have placards and concrete logos - just so they match with the surroundings. Greenery, flower bushes, trees and even a blue sky may look a bit incongruous with this paraphernalia just as clay pottery or shitol pati would in a reksin-plastic-formaica-tile dominated living room.
It seems inevitable that everything else will have to join the bandwagon of selling something or the other. Perhaps we can convince companies to hire our bodies by making us wear their ads and logos on not just T-shirts but in saris, fotuas, kameezes and even lungis. That way they will have the ultimate moving ad while we the public may earn a few bucks ourselves. The rickshaw pullers could wear colourful cinema poster lungis and T-shirts selling the best talk time deals for mobile companies. School and college kids could wear cool outfits that advertise the best anti-dandruff, anti-hairfall shampoo, the best synthetic fruit juice, the best chips or even the best hang out place. Cars can display car sales centre ads and motorcyclists can display ads for the best deal on safety helmets (even if they are not wearing any) or even a social awareness ad on the dangers of speeding. It is a perfect formula where everyone gets something out of it.
Fretting over a few tiny islands lost to the whirlpool of commercial promotion is therefore a futile activity. One must take things as they come, be resilient, adaptable and flexible. The next time you come across those placards don't cringe at their unsightly images. Someday perhaps you may make so much money that you can have not only your name but a lifesize, glamorous photograph of yourself right in the middle of the island saying how you have so magnanimously helped to beautify this concrete jungle of a city.
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