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     Volume 7 Issue 23| June 06, 2008 |

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Random Dhaka Day

Neeman Sobhan

I am in Dhaka. The electricity just came back a minute ago. Meanwhile my face has melted into a puddle at my feet. While the sweat dries and my features resurface, let me finish writing this before the power cut happens again. Writing under a fan circulating tepid air is not a proposition I wish to consider for the fifth time today. The battery on my laptop is low, but my own, inner battery needs to be recharged urgently.

I had forgotten that Dhaka summers always made me quite philosophical, and so I again ponder the three great Un-answerables of life: a/What was life like in the dark ages, not B.C, but B.A.C (before air-conditioning)? b/ Did the inventor of the air-conditioner get the Nobel Peace Prize and go straight to heaven? c/Who the hell gave me the bright idea to make this trip to Dhaka in June?

Ah! I was young and innocent once--- in fact, till just a week ago. I weep at my lost innocence as I recall the scenes from my youth, (okay, youthful middle-age) seven sweaty days ago. Yes, once upon a time, I arrived in Dhaka on a mild evening and screeched in delight,” "Hey! This isn't that bad! And everyone warned us about the unbearable heat.” The faithful family retainer, who has come with the new driver to the airport to greet us, gives me a withering look. I ignore it. My delight at being back and at the surprising freshness of the weather makes me only half hear about the earlier and timely rainfall that apparently washed away evidence of the brutal heat of the previous days.

The next morning, the sunny day dawns like a killer's grin. I realise with panic that the evidence of the brutality has not been washed away after all. And in the late afternoon, coming in from the shimmering, scalding world outside, I know that the murderous heat is still roaming the city. I run to hide in my room, finding the air conditioner has been throttled.

* * *

Today is my first week in Dhaka. This leaves me just another week in which to do all the things I planned to do on this short trip to the mother country. Now I am drasti-cally revising my to-do-list. Hmmm... I ask myself, do I really need to get those blouses stitched; see my relatives; buy those gifts; meet my friends for lunch; get my hair shampooed; change the faded drapes in my apartment; go visit my editor; solve those banking problems; and most importantly and disturbingly...no this deserves a separate sentence. Do I really need to get up from bed today and face the streets of Dhaka?

My brother lives, probably, only 10 to 15 minutes drive away in a non-Bangladeshi environment. Given the right time of day, the right temperature, the right social and street culture, and the right shoes, I could have easily walked to his place. But here in Dhaka, I live in Gulshan, he in Old DOHS, which my driver warns me is at least half an hour to 45 minutes by car.

When an hour later, we are still sitting on Kamal Ataturk Road and I have bought all the pirated books and Bangladesh maps and magazines and beli garlands and shonpapri from the vendors whose names and life stories I know by now, I finally give the driver the withering look I am trying to practice to perfection. He shrugs and smiles, “Dhaka!” That always explains everything here, I notice.

But hey, as much as I am a resident of Rome, I am a denizen of Dhaka and not unaware of the critical nature of physical movement on the streets of this city; but hope springs eternal in a foolishly optimistic heart like mine, and on each visit, I hope that in a world that survives on ingenious solutions to mundane problems, someone by now would have hit upon the way to beat the system. But I guess, traffic is that final frontier that even street- smart Dhaka-ites (street smart? Hah!) cannot cross. The car driving dhakawallahs, unlike their non-car owning, pedestrian brothers who swarm and run across the congested main roads of a capital (increasing the slowness of the circulation) have simply accepted the crippled state of the streets at certain hours of the day.

I strike another item off my to-do-list and call my brother. “Do you think we can meet in Rome next month instead?” Then we take a short-cut (read short-ish cut) home.

* * *

Arriving back to my apartment, I find to my pleasant surprise that the power has just been restored; the bedroom A.C. is purring; the sky looks like rain; the lake view from my windows is a lapping horizon of green water edged with bride-red krishnochura trees.

That's not all. My brother calls and says he will come for tea later in the day. The tailor has sent my new shalwar kameez sets. Retainer informs me that lunch, to be served in an hour, consists of among other delicacies, kathaler bichi and kochoor loti with shrimps and the plumpest lichus in town. Meanwhile, a cup of tea and my favourite toast biscuits have been set on my desk.

I sigh and sit down at my computer and start typing what I had in my heart along.

It's so good to be back in good old Dhaka.

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