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The hitchhikers’ guide to Dhaka city

Calcutta is known as the city of joy. But I bet it wouldn't be wrong to call Dhaka the city of Rickshaws (and Tempo, minibus, van, human hawler, moyuri etc. etc.) The interesting thing about the bustling, ever expanding, imploding city is that, if you want to go anywhere, lets say from point A to point B, then there are three factors to take into account. Factor A, You cannot travel in a straight line through any number of roads without encountering at least one traffic jam. Factor B, The traffic zone is divided into three parts, the “VIP road” with only motorized vehicles, the “normal” road with everything and the “abnormal” roads where even rickshaws have trouble going straight through. Finally, Factor C, unless you own your own car (which wouldn't go through “abnormal” roads and would think twice about entering a “normal” road), you have to change your mode of transport at least thrice! Given the above considerations, the hitchhikers guide to Dhaka city gives you the street-smart guide to travelling across Dhaka the “roadies” way. All you need is a little bit of money and life insurance!

Okay hikers, this is your first tip for travelling just about anywhere in Dhaka. Check and double-check your location with someone who has been to that place. No use checking maps; they are all stone aged, and the Google map doesn't give sufficient coverage. Also make sure you have enough change in your wallet/handbag. Since you'll probably be using primitive transport types to scout around the city, make sure you keep your cell phones tucked in safely.

The best way to travel the city is on your own two legs. These will take you places even the slickest BMW can't. But beware of drains and other potholes that seem to have a life of their own. They seem to change location all the time. Also beware of banana peels. And when travelling at night, do not, and I repeat, do not be overcome by your urge to take dark alley shortcuts. Although the intended mode of transport here is by foot, beware that Dhaka is poorly designed to accommodate pedestrians. It is better to practice somersaults and double jumps to evade dirt and filth puddles spread all over the city. The hitchhikers' guide also suggests pedestrians to practice using their visual speedometers, as they may need to pass through busy roads without any flyovers. Although it doesn't cost you anything to be travelling on foot, but you do need to recharge yourself three times daily.

The second most widely used and cheapest mode of transport is the rickshaw. Once considered an invention of the Japanese, these rickshaws are anything but made in Japan. Although they appear to be harmless, dashing rickshawalas will manage to shout at the last minute to scare innocent pedestrians out of their way. Rickshaws are most comforting while travelling on because of the good ventilation they provide. But beware of the chharpokas and other termites on the seats. The speed is generally decent but they stop every 30 minutes to get their chains fixed. Do not get into an altercation with the rickshaw walas. They don't mind your prestige and are quite adamant at going down with you if they must! The rickshaw fare is negotiable but always offer two Takas less than you intend to give the puller. This dupes them into accepting the original fare that you intended to give them.

The third most widely used transport medium is the tempo or other similar versions like the 'Human Hauler' (Howler!), 'Maxi' or 'Vespa Super'. According to the Hitchhikers Guide to Dhaka, these are ideal for getting various bone-crushing experiences while sitting in the mini sitting area which can jam pack an entire army in it's confines! These are also famous for their ability to pick up passengers on the fly without having to stop or brake. They are especially helpful for travelling to NSU as there is certain route that stops directly in front of it.

Finally, the Guide has multiple entries in its bus/mini bus section. There is a wide variety of bus/minibus and of course, the Murir Tin. Whatever you call it, the guide refers to these as the blood veins that run through the city. The local buses are cheap but like the Tempos, they give don't have much respect for your time schedules and waits at every stop and till it's full of passengers. At any given time, there are more passengers standing on the centre aisle than sitting, even if it is called a sitting service. The non-local buses cost a little higher, but they do not wait for passengers to fill up their seats. These too are hardly on time as there are no fixed schedules. Also remember, local buses do not stop while unloading passengers so travel at your own risk. Buses are a good way to not only travel cheaply but also do brisk business of anything starting from chocolates to life saving medicine obtained through trans-galactic dreams. The most innovative beggars are found here. The hitchhikers are asked to be cautious while travelling on these, as most of them have crossed their intended lifetime and are assembled out of borrowed parts. The double-deckers also have a tendency to lose balance and topple at the slightest chance. And of course, remember to beware of pickpockets.

Finally, those of you who are not hitchhikers and have their own cars, take care to keep at least two feet away from rickshaws if you want to save your precious paint work. Break traffic laws only when a sergeant is not watching. Sergeants and their chamchas, the traffic constables are the kings of road and you would do a good job of keeping a good connection with them all.

By Tanvir Hafiz
Photo: Niloy

Book review
Pillars of the Earth

I remember weighing the immense book in my hands and thinking what an apt name it had, considering it'd need the pillars of the Earth to hold it up. The blurb at the back read: “It starts with a hanging, a song and curse, and builds into a breathtaking saga.” I riffled through the pages some 973 of them, and thought 'breathless' would be a better term to use.

After I finally overcame my uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm about the size of the book, I finally got down to reading it…and was instantly hooked.

An outlawed witch, a visionary builder, an ambitious priest, and a desperately scared young noblewoman…their lives intersect with the building of a magnificent cathedral at the sleepy village of Knightsbridge, which, despite some insurmountable odds, becomes a blooming, bustling town. Murder, intrigue, treachery, determination, faith, bravery, love, faith and fortune…the novel runs the entire gamut of emotions, and weaves a truly spellbinding story, peopled with complex, multi-faceted characters.

There are some truly heinous characters, like the sinister bishop Waleran Bigod, and the sadistic William Hamleigh and his repulsive mother Lady Regan, but even when you truly hate them, there are points in the narrative where you actually feel sorry for them, just as there are places where the protagonists annoy and frustrate you. The beauty is in how human all the characters are.

The architectural details about the cathedral would fascinate art history enthusiasts, and the copy I read was accompanied by some beautiful sketched illustrations. The story spans a period between the sinking of the White Ship and the murder of Thomas Becket, and is set in the middle of the 12th century, a period known as the Anarchy. Follet shows a keen eye for detail, and paints a very vivid, detailed picture. Previously better known for his thrillers, Pillars of the Earth was his foray into uncharted (for him) territory, and enjoyed tremendous success. Keep this out of reach of your younger sibs and cousins, though…there are a couple of explicit, rather disturbing scenes in the book. Otherwise, if you're in the PG 18 bracket, I'd seriously recommend it…an unforgettably multi-layered read!

By Sabrina F Ahmad

Meeting Zidane

The first time I saw him was during the 2002 Fifa World Cup. Although I saw him on television, he was a legendary hero in my eyes.

Dear readers, perhaps it is not known to us that he is the most expensive football player of the world. The transfer charge of this player from Juventus to Real Madrid was an astonishing amount of $13 billion!

He hails from Algeria, presently lives in France and has recently retired from club and international football. He played his last international football match against Italy in the final match of 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany.

By now you must be in no doubt that this person is none other than the legendary football player, Zinedine Zidane.

And what would you make of meeting this legend, shaking hands with him, taking his autograph, snapping pictures with him and addressing him in French?

“I still cannot believe that I had all these opportunities together in one go. And that too in Bangladesh; sounds impossible right? Wrong, because I personally met Zizou at the Bangladesh China Friendship Convention Centre on the 7th of this month. I, along with my father, Shykh Seraj was invited to attend a dinner. Zizou was clad in blue jeans and a striped T-shirt.

I couldn't have much of a conversation with him because my French is rusty as is his English. However his host in Bangladesh, the Nobel Peace prize winner Prof Dr. Mohammad Yunus was very cordial indeed.

By Md. Asmiq Seraj


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