Getting the Message
Aasha Mehreen Amin
Someone recently said that being loved is not as important as being understood. That is probably the most profound truth I have heard in a long time. A cruise around this city certainly validates this statement. People who seem to be occupying every square inch of this 'madapolis' are at each other's throats and not because there just isn't enough space to move, hence the need to grab onto something - even if it's a human throat. It's because they are always screaming at each other, trying to be understood. Which is of course impossible - no one is listening!
If you are a regular Karwan Bazar-goer chances are that you will have taken a short cut from Tejgaon road that crosses a rail track. There was a time when one would feel quite clever taking this bumpy but quick route that ends up right into the heart of Karwan Bazar. But that was before everyone became so clever and decided to do the exact same thing. So be not surprised when, some day you are in the middle of the most bizarre traffic knot as you desperately try to cross the railway signal. If you are an adrenaline junkie, this may be your day. The warning alarm is ringing, you can actually see the train but you are sandwiched between a pickup, the driver of which has got down to yell at the rickshaw van driver who thought it was okay to carry a fifteen foot steel sheet and cross to the left when he was stranded on the right - and a humungous truck carrying petrified chickens with slightly runny tummies. Rickshaw pullers are screaming expletives at each other because their wheels have locked into eternal embrace while they were trying to race each other creating four lanes and then going in four different directions. It is an orgy of trucks, CNGs, rickshaws, private cars and bikes all trying to cross at the same time yet apparently not understanding each other's need to be first. Depending on your personality, you are either perspiring with fear or getting the thrills at this near-death experience.
It is not just people who are misunderstood. Even establishments and authorities are treated with suspicion because they just couldn't get the point across. Printed words at various points and places in the streets can really baffle even the most open-minded. When a sign says 'Don't touch police only' on the island opposite Hotel Sonargaon the naïve ones may wonder 'Who else then?' Another sign says in Bengali: 'Get BCS coaching for those who have been at the mercy of stepmothers (in big fonts) can now be coached with the caring of a real (biological) mother'. A Flexiload ad meanwhile announces that 'push-paid bills are accepted here' and a tiny stall claims that it sells pure cow's milk tea, coffee and - believe it or not - cigarettes! It is really hard to understand these cryptic messages.
Other statements leave no room for confusion although one often wishes they were not quite so brutal in trying to get people to understand. Authorities of public and some private establishments find it necessary to explicitly instruct members of the opposite sex to not express their feelings quite so publicly. At Dhanmondi Lake a formidable sign says in Bengali: 'Females and males must keep a distance of one foot from each other and sit in a proper way'. A bakery in Banani goes a little further as it seems, the clientele often do. It has detailed instructions on the kinds of public display of affection that is not allowed (we will not go into the details as minors are present) and the bathroom door announces 'We are not responsible if you get pregnant here'. Okay, okay, we get the message.
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