Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home





Point of view

Sights and sounds of a Dhaka Jam

My cousin M has come to Bangladesh after twelve years from abroad. Twelve years is long enough to change a lot of things in our country. So every day when he is out in the street or in his home he continues to be surprised and interested in what we would consider the mundane aspects of our daily lives. The first thing that caught his attention was the beautiful girls in Dhaka and he started regretting his early (!) marriage. He was real sad and I also felt saddened by the plight of my poor brother. 'Don't worry at least you can SEE them', I tried to console him. The second thing that caught his attention was the tall buildings and the extravagant shopping malls and the BMWs! He was awestruck. How can a poor country like Bangladesh afford to import BMWs? It is the luxury of the richest people in First World countries. The third thing that was new to him was the traffic jams.

One day we were going to one of the biggest shopping malls 'Rifles Square' by car and we had the following conversation,

'I heard that in Dhaka traffic jam is a big problem?'
I replied in the affirmative.
'What are the traffic jams like?' was his next question.
'Traffic jams are like traffic jams', was my most clever answer.
'I see, so what do you people do when you are in a traffic jam?'
'We sit in our cars or on the rickshaw and wait for the jam to unwind.'
'How long does it take?'
'That depends, ranging from five minutes to two hours.'
'Two hours?'
'Can be, sometimes.'
'Two hours sitting in the car with nothing to do?'
'Interesting. I want to see a jam.'
I stared hard at him.
'I want to see a jam because I want to know what a jam is like.'
'A jam is the last thing I want.'
'But still… I am curious. You told me that jams are frequent here so whether you want it or not you will have to see it.'
'Yes but still I don't want a jam.'
'I am looking forward to it.'
'You will hate it.'
Then we went to our granny's place and took my sister F with us and he sat on the front seat.
'Should I put on the seat belt?'
'It's up to you.'
'But if I put it on people will laugh at me, right?'
'Most probably, yes.'
'Then I shouldn't put it on.'
'If I had been in USA they would have had me fined"
F and I did a double take on hearing the amount. But after passing some time through the reckless streets of Dhaka he started feeling a bit nervous.
"I better fasten the seat belt. People might laugh, but my life is more important". F and I gave our consent. So we started for Rifles Square. We were on the Satmasjid road and chatting with each other. Suddenly all the vehicles snarled up. It was a jam. A big one.
'What happened?' he enquired.
'It's a jam.'
'Traffic jam?'
'Wow that's what I wanted! What are we going to do now?'
'That's interesting.' Needless to say I did not find anything interesting.
The first hour we moved at a snail's pace. M was doing fine, chattering away with our driver about the immaculate traffic system in other countries. I was also relieved that he was okay. But after an hour had passed he started to become a bit restless.
'So what's the problem? Why aren't we moving?'
'The Opposition Party has called a meeting in Kolabagan that's why.'
This answer quelled him but only for a while. After a few minutes he grew more restless. At that time the car moved a little and he became overly optimistic.
'Are we moving at last? Crushing his optimism into smithereens the car stopped again for another hour. At that moment, he noticed that he had been wearing the seat belt for the last one hour. My sister and I started laughing and he said, 'You are right. There's no need to wear a seat belt in this country. Cars don't go anywhere here.'

As it was nearing two hours the appearance of the road started to change. As it was a big road all kinds of vehicles were strewn through it ranging from rickshaws to BMWs and nearly hundreds of people had been vegetating in their vehicles for the last two hours and the weather was coal-hot. All the doors of the cars were open. People started to relax in their transports.

Those who were on a rickshaw or on a CNG had already set off towards their destination on foot by the end of the first hour, so all the rickshaws and CNGs were empty. Only those unfortunate ones who were stuck within their private cars had to put up with the jam.

The look of the street was that of a public home. Some people were sleeping, some were fanning themselves, some were munching on jhalmuri and some were looking towards the sky in a way as if they would start writing poems. Everybody was out of their cars, except those who were sleeping, and everybody was utterly indifferent. Suddenly a man caught his eyes. He was rubbing his big bhuri to his heart's content, his shirt hitched up. M stared in disbelief.

'Look that man is rubbing his belly in public! Can people rub their bellies in public here? Can I rub my belly in public?'
'Why not?'
'Unbelievable!' But he did not seem eager to give it a try.
After some time again, something again caught his eyes. This time it was the signboard of a private university.
'What's that?'
'A university.'
'In a building?'
'Not the whole building. The upper floors are rented.'
'What?' he was thunderstruck, 'Suppose someone who lives in those rented floors also studies in that university. Is that possible?'
'In that case his campus will be right downstairs!'

'Oh my God! That's terrible.' He became awestruck looking at the signboard that proclaimed the name of the university, with an article of underwear (belonging to some resident of the rented floors) dangling from above. But these were occasional digressions. Inside he was as restless as he was supposed to be.

'This is unbelievable. Three hours lost in a traffic jam?' and then he blurted out the universal question regarding our beloved country, whose answer is still unattended, 'How does this country run?'

'Don't worry. Those who have made this jam are running this country fairly well', I said to my self.

As the jam went into its third hour, he became paranoid.
'This is un-un-unbelievable. This is un-un-unreal!'
We finally escaped the jam mainly because an army officer was behind us. His escorts cleared the road somehow (!) and we were free. The officer had been on his way in high style, but got upset by the terrible jam. We thanked God profusely for putting an army officer behind us. When we escaped from the monstrous jam we felt like being freed from prison.
'Oh my God, I got a good lesson today. I just got what I wanted,' M said, and then swore never to ask for a jam in his life.
So guys, this is a fraction of our daily life after thirty-three years of independence. Not bad. What do you say?

By Durdana Ghias

Christmas eve

Little Allen is eagerly waiting for the Christmas Eve. He is only five years old. Last year he had started going to a nearby school. His school is closed for the Christmas. He has already posted his demand letter to Santa Claus. It is his second letter to Santa. Last year he sent his first letter, but Santa didn't come to their house and didn't even send Allen's gifts. Allen was very upset and angry with Santa. But his mother Elma told him that maybe Santa couldn't read out his letter because of his poor handwriting and spelling. So, for the last one year Allen has been trying his best to improve his writing capability.

"Mama, are you sure papa has posted my letter?" Allen asks.
"Yes dear, don't worry."
"Mama, wasn't my handwriting good this time? I am sure Santa won't face trouble while reading my letter."
"Yes dear, your writing was excellent. I hope Santa will come this year."
Allen's father Jimmy has just returned home from his office. Elma was desperately waiting for him. She asked Jimmy whether he had got the money. She wasn't very confident that he would get the bonus, having just started this job.
"What will we do now?"
"Don't lose hope. I'm still trying. Looking for a part time job for Christmas day. They will pay double for that day."
"Won't you be with us on Christmas day?"
"Maybe not. What else can I do? Anyway, what's Allen's demand for the Christmas?"
"Lots of things!"Elma says. "A sports bicycle, a cricket bat and ball."
"Ah! Poor Allen. Last year we couldn't give him any of the things he'd asked for. How upset he was! What kinds of parents we are! " Jimmy sighs.
"Please Jimmy don't get upset. I have sewn a new outfit for him. I am sure he will like it."
"But…. he didn't ask for that" Jimmy moans.
The day before the Christmas Eve, Allen is decorating their tiny Christmas tree. He has spent the whole day decorating the tree.
"Allen, it's almost 10. Go to your bed."
"Mama, I will wait for Santa. Please mama, only two more hours."
"No baby, you go to sleep. I will wake you up if Santa comes."
"Please don't forget mama."
It's half past eleven but Jimmy hasn't yet returned home. Elma has already packed Allen's gift (a sky blue shirt with white stripes) and put it under their Christmas tree.
Tring! Tring! The doorbell is ringing. Elma rushed to the door. It's Jimmy. He had a packet in his hand- a cricket bat and some balls for Allen. He put those under the tree.
He asks, "Is Allen sleeping? I couldn't fulfill his desires this time as well. A sports cycle is too costly for me. I don't know how will I face him tomorrow. Oh! Santa."
"Mama! Papa! Come here." Allen is shouting desperately. Jimmy and Elma wake up hearing the sound and rushed to their drawing room. They couldn't believe their eyes. They were astonished to see Allen on a beautiful red bicycle.
"Mama, see Santa came last night. He left this gift for me. He got my letter! He read my letter. Santa came here."

By Suravi


home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

© 2003 The Daily Star