Home Coming Blues
I love to travel. But I love more to return. In fact you could say that I travel out of home to return home. The feeling of home coming is amazing. It so happened that the last time I was in New York my mind had travelled back to my village in Bangladesh while walking across Central Park. I imagined I was walking through the mango orchard behind our village home. But, of course, the lush green paddy field laid so vividly back in my village wasn't around Central Park. I wanted to come back home ever so desperately. It's not that I do not like Central Park. But then whenever I am there, I miss my village more. Some might consider it an overstatement, but it is as true for me as the sun that rises in the east.
Last week, I was in China on a family vacation. It took us to two cities, Beijing and Kunming. This was our first visit to China. And we were amazed. What a fabulous country they have built. And in what a short time! The people are wonderful and whether they understand you or not, they always have a smile on their face. But understanding is perhaps the greatest problem. As ordinary human beings, we have been enslaved by language. If some language is unintelligible to me and mine to the others, it seems that a mountain has emerged between the two of us. This is precisely what plagued me throughout our trip to China. What I said, they did not understand and what they said, I didn't. Fortunately, in Beijing, on our arrival, we had checked into a rather classy hotel where they spoke some English.
Home sweet home... Photo: Zahedul I Khan
A day after our arrival we thought we'd go and see the famous Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. This is a walk of 20 minutes. And we had made a map on how to reach there, so we could easily reach the historical square in 20+ minutes. There, as we were trying to figure out what to do, a pleasant looking young man approached us and asked if we needed a guide. He had a rather long Chinese name but had assumed a tourist-friendly name 'Harry'. We, after some deliberation, decided to opt for him as a guide. From then till the day we left Beijing, Harry was our friend, philosopher and guide. He took us to some wonderful street-side eateries where we ate the most delicious meals of our life. We often did not allow Harry to interpret what we wanted. We could see everything that was cooked right in front of us and merrily said 'give me this, give me that.' And that too we said in Bangla. Because in the absence of a lingua franca, I suppose my own language and that of the person on the other side become far more expressive. Add to it, one could always fall back on the sign language. History is Harry's favourite subject and he told us a little more about each historical monument than perhaps an ordinary guy would. The best part was his eagerness to expose his country to us. He accompanied us through the Forbidden City, the Garden of Paradise, the Tea Factory, the Silk Factory, the Pearl Culture Store, the Great Wall et al. but my column is not a travelogue. I am only giving the background as a foreword to my experience, elation and the sadness of home coming.
After spending four nights in Beijing, we came to Kunming. Here also language posed a problem. The hotel authorities, however, came to our rescue. They provided us with a guide who took us to all the landmarks in and around Kunming. Having done Kunming, when we emplaned for Dhaka at one o'clock in the morning, I was exceedingly happy to be able to conclude the vacation and get back home. Though physically I was very tired, my mental agility and enthusiasm was in full bloom. Given the two hours difference between us and China, we arrived back in Dhaka at 1:30 in the morning. Hastening through the immigration formalities, thanks to the people employed there for their courtesy, when we took a trolley each and came to the conveyor belt to collect our luggage, all of a sudden our enthusiasm depleted. There was evidently paucity of lighting; the floor was strewn with all kinds of papers, plastics and what have you. I tried to go to the rest room and returned from its door as the stench was unbearable. Every corner seemed like an open dustbin. Depression pervaded me. I understand that my love, attraction and passion for our motherland is largely psychological and is not dependant upon materialistic considerations. But with a little effort we could perhaps make our poor little motherland a much better place to live in. This was not the first time. Every time I return home from abroad with an indomitable urge to be back home, I am pervaded by this depression of man-made catastrophe. It's not only true of the airport, every road in Dhaka, including the much wanted VIP road, is littered with paper, plastic and various other objects. This is supposed to be the most important road in the country and our city corporation has not got the time to keep it clean every day. In China, we saw at every public place, the cleaners with brooms in hand and in action keeping their city spic and span. In Dhaka, most of the public toilets are unusable. We have, ostensibly, a lot of people to keep the city clean, then why is it that dirt and filth is so common in our city streets? I remember being in 'Nagar Bhaban', the office of our City-Father, only once in my life. Even this building wears a dismal look with dust on the floor, butts of cigarettes lying all over, ruddy spit indiscriminately thrown by the paan chewers, marks of lime that goes with the paan on the wall. This is despicable, to say the least. I hastened to leave the so-called 'Nagar Bhaban'. I was later told that almost all sweepers of the city on government payroll were controlled by the municipal corporation. But, alas, their own building could not be kept clean.
So far I have only spoken of the authorities that be. We, the citizens, must bear equal responsibilities for making our city so ugly. It is in our habit to keep the public places unclean. The other day I was driving behind a bus when someone threw an empty can of coke through the window of the bus. It missed the front glass of my car very narrowly. I realise that from our childhood nobody teaches us about the importance of cleanliness. As a result of which we litter all public places with equal enthusiasm and dexterity. Every family, I should think, has some responsibility towards their children. Responsibility also rests with our political leadership, particularly the law makers. They can, very effectively, teach their constituencies about their civic duties.
I must admit that all my love for my motherland evaporates and tears roll down my cheeks whenever I return home after foreign trips. I have an appeal to all our media to print or broadcast a special programme everyday designed for our people. I remember, on the 300th anniversary of the birth of Kolkata, a billboard was specially designed and put up all over the city that said, “Calcutta is forever, keep Calcutta clean”. Of all our demands from life itself, the first I think should be 'for heavens sake' let us keep our city clean. That would take our blues away from home coming.
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