Plights of an
Morshed Ali Khan
At around 7 am Rokhsana grabs her two children, eight-year-old Omar and 12-year-old Farhana and desperately looks for an autorickshaw on the main road near Maghbazar intersection. As she waves to the defiant taxi drivers unwilling to take her to Dhanmondi, she struggles to balance herself with the heavy school bags of her children. After about 20 minutes of frantic plea, a CNG driver agrees to take her for a fare of Tk 100. Once settled on the three-wheeler, Rokhsana scrambles through the heavy school bags and takes two notebooks out. As the taxi gets stuck in a traffic jam, the children try to concentrate on revising their lessons for the monthly tests at school.
Rokhsana nervously looks at her cellphone for the exact time. Children will not be allowed to enter the school premises after 8.30 am. The perennial traffic jam makes the school goers even more nervous. If Omar and Farhana fail to sit for the tests for reasons other than illness or grave family matters, they face sanctions from the school. But today the nervous mother and her two children just make it to the school gate.
Relieved, Rokhsana now turns towards the Dhanmondi lake near the school. Like every school day, she decides to wait for the children till the school is over at 2.30 pm. It is not worth going back home. By now all the main roads have become choked and finding a transport back is tough, if not exceedingly expensive. With limited income of Tarek, her IT expert husband, the family is already struggling to school and coach the children at a private tutorial. The rent of their sixth floor two-bed apartment at Mughbazar has just been hiked from Tk 15,000 to 16,000. Rokhsana has no room for luxury.
Sitting on a bench at the lakeside her mind flies back to the days before her marriage. Elder of two sisters, Rokhshana grew up in the tranquil district town of Mymensingh where she completed her Masters in Social Science. Her father, a school teacher never thought of leaving Mymensingh for any other destination. Well respected and revered in the town, he brought up his two daughters with dignity and honour. Her mother never had to bother to take them to school and bring them back! It was a quiet routine of life where things happened automatically and as peaceful as a drop of dew falling on a leaf.
Rokhsana felt the burden of urban life as she moved to Dhaka with her husband a month after her marriage in 1998. When the two children were born her dream of taking up a job was sealed.
At the Dhanmondi lakeside Rokhsana was not alone. A dozen mothers like her sat on the dried grass and gossiped. Some carrying lunch with them and some trying to skip it to keep fit, they gossiped for hours. They won't return home until the children finish after school tutorials towards the early evening.
Rokhsana finds little to talk about. She is tired. A relentless fear of no respite from the every day grinding in the city makes her sick. Every school day she has to wake up at dawn to do the cooking, make breakfast and arrange light snacks for the children to eat at school and iron the school uniforms before she disappears for the day. Tarek sometimes helps her too, but late night shifts at work often force him to recover the sleep in the morning hours.
The family cannot afford a full-time domestic help. Fortunately a part-time bua sweeps the floor and washes the clothes once every two days and that too happens if the family is available at home. As soon as Omar and Farhana come out of the school, they would need to eat something. Today Rokhsana decides to buy them packets of tehari, which they can eat at the tutorial before starting the gruelling routine of completing the daily homework assigned by the class teachers.
Towards the evening Rokhsana no longer feels safe in the Dhanmondi lakeside area. Instead, she chooses to wait in the corridor of the coaching centre with other mothers. The kids would finish at around 7 pm.
Both Omar and Farhana were born in Dhaka. Since early childhood the concrete walls and the three-foot by eight-foot balcony in their 1,300 square foot apartment have been their playground, the multi-channel television being their prime source of entertainment. The only green space near their house has long vanished. Ramna Park is too far away. At weekends Rokhsana and Tarek sometimes took the children for an outing but that too is now becoming rare. For, increasing price hikes of essentials have forced Tarek to take up a part-time teaching job at the weekend. Rokhsana is also too busy with household chores, undone over the school days. The family has almost no time for Omar and Farhana.
At 6.45 pm both kids come out of the tutorial. They look exhausted, unable to carry their school bags. Rokhsana eagerly relieve them of the pain and take charge of the bags. The three go out of the coaching centre. Outside, the road is clogged with every vehicle honking wildly. A deafening noise engulfs the atmosphere. In the middle of the gridlock, two rickshaw pullers start a fierce fist fight each blaming the other, in the foulest of languages. Rokhsana, Omar and Farhana, sensing they would never get a transport there, start walking towards the main road. At the main road a tired Rokhsana asks her exhausted children to sit on the marvble stairs of a shopping mall while she walks into the street trying to find a three-wheeler. The time is now 7.30 pm and the traffic jam reaches its peak. Rokhsana pleas with a three- wheeler and convinces the driver to take the trip for Tk 150 this time.
As soon as the three get into the vehicle, Omar drops his head on Rokhsana's lap with a big yawn and falls asleep. Farhana looks pale. The day's work is taking toll on her too. She keeps yawning frequently. But she is getting tougher these days. She looks at her tired mother and looks away into the busy street. One of her classmates at school today boasted of buying their third car – a SUV. Farhana again looks at her dozing mother and turns her eyes outside. Suddenly a huge SUV beside the tiny CNG blasts its deafening horn. Farhana is badly shaken by the sudden loudness of the noise. She looks at the vehicle clenching her teeth and mutters, “Harami!”