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     Volume 8 Issue 57 | February 13, 2009 |

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Food for Thought

Dhaka Day By Day

Signs of Decay?

Farah Ghuznavi

As any inhabitant will tell you, with the right attitude, street life in Dhaka can provide a wide range of entertainments. In this regard, street signs provide particularly rich pickings, evoking emotions that range from frustrated incomprehension, to hilarious merriment, to the occasional wild burst of misplaced hope. One that had my heart beating rapidly in anticipation of hummus and tabbouleh was the signboard announcing that the “Lebanon Café” was coming soon. Alas, I was crushed by the follow-up assurance that this quality establishment would be serving Thai and Chinese food only!

Sometimes signage in Dhaka displays a degree of whimsicality that is quite charming. Such as the small clothing store I recently spotted that intriguingly promised its (presumably female) clientele “Kameej and Fancies”. Other signs are just mystifying, such as the one for Prim Opticians. Given that “prim” usually refers to those who are excessively proper in their manner, it is hard to understand why this should be a selling point for an optician. On the other hand, if it was a tailor - who has the more delicate task of taking measurements, etc. - it might be considered more appropriate. Only marginally less confusing is the dental services provider labelling itself "Dental Solutions". Such a claim is perhaps best understood in a context where people are heard to complain of "dental problems", but it must be said that the initial impact of such a sign is to bring to mind something more closely related to IT or software than dental hygiene.

But the hands-down winner for confusion in advertising goes to a fantastically elaborate poster for martial arts classes, which I recently saw plastered on the back of a bus. It featured an East Asian Kung Fu master with rippling muscles on display in a typically stylistic pose, surrounded by a series of smaller figures demonstrating a range of other stances. All this was further embellished by the presence of a dragon and another unidentified monster looming threateningly in the background, the whole thing shot through with neon rainbow hues. It was a creative and comprehensive endeavour drawing on multiple stylistic influences - a sort of “Bollywood meets Bruce Lee”!

But perhaps advertisers would be best advised to heed the comment of my friend's three-year-old daughter, who was recently heard disapproving of "Bangkok" as a place name. As she points out with some indignation, "bangs" (frogs) do not make a crowing sound like that, so the city would be better named "Bang-ribbit" or "Murgi-kok". I couldn't help thinking that she would clearly approve of the new fried chicken place in Dhanmondi, advertising itself as "Kok Kok Fried Chicken - love at all bites", where the owners have clearly gone for a phonetic approach...

Sometimes an unexpected encounter can set off a train of thought, like the recent sighting of the RAB Dog Squad. I couldn't help pondering if it would not have been better to give the canine unit a more glamorous title such as "RAB Investigation Dogs" - or dare I say it "RAB Interrogation Dogs"(both of which would yield the much more amusing, and possibly appropriate acronym of RABID)? Having said that, I must admit that the dogs looked surprisingly playful and friendly, particularly the lovely golden Labrador in the middle of the tail-wagging battalion.

A recent visit to a popular bakery made me realise that it was time to provide a further update on the notices posted by various eateries and youth hangouts in Dhaka. I was particularly struck by the warning (I cannot call it anything else) displayed in one such establishment, that read: “We are very pleased that you have decided to come to our nice environment and we want you to feel that you can freely express yourself. However, you must maintain SENSIBLE DECORUM. We are not anybody's watchdogs. Illegal drugs and lewd behaviour will not be tolerated”. This rather draconian notice concluded with the following words: “We wish you a pleasant visit free of any prejudice, myopic views and bigotry in terms of behaviour.”

The list of behaviours considered lewd was described in some detail, and the notice stated that these behaviours were “especially to be considered lewd when exhibited in front of a non-paying audience”(?!) Among the examples were “salivating on partner's body a.k.a. smooching”, and that was just one of many. Frankly, I found the whole thing unbelievably explicit considering that there would be a variety of people of all ages in such an establishment, most of whom were better off not reading detailed definitions of lewd behaviour!

And for those who think that all this regulation of customer behaviour is unnecessary, I refer them to a story from a twenty-something friend of mine, Emmy, who recently told me rather sternly that standards of moral probity had fallen drastically at a favourite haunt of mine, a certain coffee shop in Gulshan. I'm not sure that she held me personally responsible for the deteriorating situation, but she was pretty clear on defending her own age group in this regard.

"You know, Farah, that place is really going to the dogs, I'm not sure you should hang out there anymore…You're always talking about people of my age seen misbehaving in public, but I was there last Saturday, and it was just TOO much! There were <>elderly<> people making out, it was disgusting!" Amazed at what I was hearing, I enquired cautiously, "What kind of elderly people? How old were they?" "Well, I don't know exactly, but they were pretty elderly! I mean, the guy must have been at least 45, and I think the woman was around 40!" I have to say, social disintegration aside, it is hard not to find some sympathy with the old axiom that youth is wasted on the young…

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