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     Volume 4 Issue 1 | June 25, 2004 | 8th Anniversary Issue


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Milling around with Men, Or Women Everywhere

Mustafa Zaman

At mid noon, in the glare of the blazing sun, two women day-labourers are hiding their heads under the sewage pipes that await installation. They have been digging a canal on the roadside along with other male day-labourers since morning. With the women resting few feet away, the men's friendly banter remains just that, their conversation hovers at a fairly human level. Man, especially the working men, behave badly out in the streets. And even in their all-male work environments they often reveal a sinister ability to inject their mundane utterances with an unhealthy dose of obscenity. When women are not around the limit is certainly sky high.

A drive around the city in a mini bus, the worst possible assemblage of worn steel, shrunken yet often awkwardly cushioned seats that runs on four wheels, would take you to the two of the danger zones of the city, one at Gabtoli and the other at Saidabad. The all male contingent in these hot spots among many others are usually made of ticket blackers, drivers, helpers or even mastans --- the henchmen of the local MPs. They all have the time of their lives jibing at each other, cracking jokes at every passing thing. Perhaps these are their arenas to test their verbal might, perhaps in the domestic settings the art of exercising their tongues is stifled. In their liberated conditions they loosen up, and the consequences are always devastating. Any man with a virgin ear is bound to have a heart attack or two after lending his ears to conversation that goes inside a Gabtoli carom-board ghar, or even at a tea stall. These are the places where words are pickled in ribald expressions and are shot from mouths with the intention to do away with your hearing ability, and sometimes even with your life.

From a liberal standpoint, one can condone the acts of murdering each other with words, but what if there is more to it than just plain 'speech therapy', through which you gets to empty the dross that gathers under your male gut. But, what if that gut is full to the brim with dross alone. What do you do with it? You first try to hoot at every woman as they walk past you, then, in all probability, go to such length as to prove your maleness in an intellectually challenged way, you attack and ravish women. Certainly there are more male with a lewd tongue than with such misogynist intentions. Yet it is interesting to notice how the male bonding often develops around a mutual interest in talking dirty. Lewd talks even creeps into the most tastefully decorated drawing rooms where men take leave from their usual selves to bathe in the glory of dirt. The point, however, is not verbal volley, the point is that the presence of women changes the whole scenario, it forces men to mallow.

Put a woman, if you are able to, among the young men engrossed both in talking dirty and determined to score with his striker in a game of karom at Gabtoli, the men would start to behave. The caring and the wiser males of our time say, as did Anisul Haq, few days back, on TV, that it is the male ego that springs to action and forces all men to do all the cruel things. There is cruelty in human nature; it is the social environment that helps to fight against it.

At around nine thirty in the evening, on a street corner in Kalyanpur, a young boy of sixteen is selling kalo jaam (black currant). A middle-aged woman along with few other men are standing by. They are all from the same slum. As the boy waits for his last remaining small heap of Jaam to be sold off, the rest are here to while away the time. A man walks in and makes an effort to examine the boy's heap of jaam before deciding to buy, at this point the middle-aged women mediates of her own accord, she says, "This is the best you can get in Dhaka, the boy has sold most of it." The customer buys a small portion and asks the lady whether she was the mother of the boy and was here to look over his business. The woman replies in the negative, and lets him know that she was a neighbour. Perhaps the striking resemblance in look between the woman and the boy fooled the man, but their bond is something that makes societies retain a humane face. It is a pity that this fact eludes a lot of men.

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