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     Volume 12 |Issue 03| January 18, 2013 |


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The Jar of Nostalgia


As people get older, the one thing that they preciously hold on to and that provides them with enough material to write a fat book if they chose to, is nostalgia. Nostalgia is a bottomless jar in which you keep pouring gallons of memories with no chance of overflow as there is always space for more. Until of course one kicks the bucket, in which case some of the contents are poured into someone else's jar who has shared part of the nostalgia through sheer coincidence.

Those who were privileged enough to have been present during the British Raj will tell incredible tales of rice being half an anna a sher and how going to Calcutta or Karachi was like taking a train to Tongi. City dwellers wouldn't dream of breakfast without a dollop of Polson's butter on freshly baked bread from the local bakery. Old Dhaka was the most posh place in the city and strolling along the banks of the Buriganga was like a walk past the Thames. They always make it to be so magical – the good old days- and for the most part it was.

For many, the 60s was the 'golden age'. Well why wouldn't it be for people in their teens and twenties when 'having fun' was considered mandatory activity. In any case the 60s seems to have a place in the sun all over the world. People were really stylish back then. Those black and white pictures of our parents and grandparents are testimony to the influence of Hollywood on styles and fashion. It was a time for beehive hairdos, sleeveless, boat necked blouses, trendy sunglasses, drainpipes and white shirts, slinky suits, slim ties and of course that ‘Brylcreemed’ back-brushed hair. All young urbanites from this part of the world followed the film stars of Indian cinema, who in turn were ardent followers of Hollywood stars. It was also a time when leaning left was as fashionable as going to the cinema or being a crazed Beetles fan.

We know how picturesque Dhaka was during the British period, how fashionable in the Pakistan period and how electrifying during the Independence period. Many individuals now in their twilight years get all misty eyed speaking of Dhaka as if it were some utopia with golden flecks radiating around its halo of glory and majestic beauty. Think of the stories those who are now in the prime of youth or younger will tell their grandchildren.

'So Dadu, what was Dhaka like when you were young?'

'Ahem…Let's see… there were many kinds of vehicles on the streets, each with its own speed and road sense. People spent a lot of time talking – mainly on their mobile sets – everyone had mobile phones, even the beggars.'

'But what did it look like?'

'It was like a big, complicated Rubik's Cube that nobody could solve. People occupied every inch of the city – there were tea stalls even over the drains. There were lots of women working but few felt safe. People rushed and rushed but couldn't move an inch. The poshest areas of the city – they had the shiniest malls, biggest banks, hospitals and schools all in one street but no parking space. There were huge monster-like cars but potholes in every little backroad.

'It was a city of billboards which helped to hide whatever little greenery that was left--big boards with pretty women, oh and every wall, lamp post, gate and bridge was plastered with posters of the latest (not so pretty) candidate to some city election.'

'What did the kids do for fun?'

'They played one video game after another. Some even had simulated playgrounds where they played virtual football, cricket, even hopscotch. The rest of the time they gobbled on steroid-injected fried chicken and other fattening food. The poorer kids went garbage picking and sniffed glue.'

By now both grandchild and grandparent will have become a little depressed with this strange memory and will thank their stars that all that was in the past (let us be hopeful) but the child being naturally inquisitive still had to ask one more question.

'So what did grown ups do for fun?'

‘They took part in the most favourite national pastime – talking about the glorious past and doing precious little for the hellish present.'

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