Aasha Mehreen Amin
IF there ever was a cliché that can be repeated again and again its 'Bangalis are a very resilient people'. True we can take just about anything. We survive the worst floods and cyclone and build back our lives. We allow our government to paralyse our capital for a few days to make sure VVIPs from our neighbouring countries are safe and get to see a city decorated with millions of lights and cute fountains of various shapes, not to mention a city cleansed of overflowing garbage, dirty, pesky beggars and street children and oh yes, a city devoid of ordinary folk. We bore the slight inconvenience of not being able to move around the city for hours on end, with admirable stoicism; "Well, with all the terrorist attacks what else could they do to ensure security?" says a young woman who had to wait one and a half hours to get to work in the morning.
All this may not evoke extreme surprise from outsiders who know Bangladesh to be a country plagued by natural calamity and blessed with a whole lot of ultra-resilient people.
But sometimes this level of tolerance, this overwhelming capacity to accept any kind of crap that is doled out, is nauseating. How can we, for instance, just sit calmly when the moment the summit ended, two judges were mercilessly killed by bomb attacks and a journalist was found killed in his office? The terrorists who cold-bloodedly killed the judges have threatened to blow up other court houses government offices, shopping malls and railway stations. And here we are sitting pretty in our little cocoons thinking it will be better tomorrow.
We also allow our representatives in power to say things like 'there is no monga (near famine) in the north' when we know that people are starving, that the bomb blasts that killed the judges are 'isolated incidents' when we are sure of the presence of organised terrorism. Then on the other end, when the opposition decides to call hartalsor oborodhs again paralysing the city, we play along and keep to ourselves without even a whimper of protest.
Curiously, we have the ability to see the bright side of everything. Hartals keep the air fresh because only environmentally friendly rickshaws ply the roads. Plus the alleyways can be turned into mini cricket pitches for the children as there are no longer any parks for them to play in. We may forgo millions of takas in lost economic activity but hey, we also get an unexpected break from tedious office work. So what if hundreds of day labourers don't eat for a day, so what if syllabuses are never finished? So what if the parliament no longer works thanks to political bickering and repressive actions by the ruling party on the opposition? We, after all have a magnificent building built by a world famous architect, to show for.
Yet perhaps the most obvious example of our overrated resilience is the way we, day after day, bear with the monstrous, choking, traffic that yes, paralyses our city. Just think of what a Dhaka dweller goes through every day. He/she spends at least three to four hours just sitting in some mode of transport or the other. Here too our national tendency to make the best of everything comes to play. Mothers of school-going kids stock up on chips, mango juice packs and favourite toys to keep the young ones occupied during the long and tedious journey home. Some of them even do homework with their children, which no doubt, gets the work done but makes the commute even more tedious. Teachers mark the loathsome test copies, editors edit cover stories and many people especially overworked executives and overburdened homemakers, take long, luxurious naps. Sometimes they even dream.
Is it our fatalism that keeps us so blazé about the most horrific of things? Like a baby with its face half eaten by crows, left to die in a pile of sand? Or the regular news flashes on TV of child housemaids being brutally tortured by their privileged, respectable employers. What can we do except sigh and fret a little before switching over to a more palatable channel where fictitious families go through fabricated conflicts. After all we are a people who can get over pretty much anything. We are super-hyper-resilient.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005