Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, September 09, 2010

By S. N. Rasul

When I was a kid, the best thing about Eid was the salami, the food, the family get-togethers, the endless barrage of amoral kutnami with cousins, and twenty-five taka American Soft Ice-creams. Now all that everyone wants to do is go to Westin, be cool, do sheesha, ogle at girls, have a little false-hope eye contact, and be up to shady deeds all through the night. Salami has been replaced with ten-thousand taka panjabis from Yellow; dusk chotpoti and fuchka with buffet lunches; and dinners which are only fifty percent consumed of what they're worth, and family gatherings have become 'hang outs' which involve sitting in barely lit rooms with neon red lights and Lounge 27 and showing off a different dress for each part of the day.

I am the last person to be lamenting the loss of the family unit, but the superficiality that grips the generation I am so ashamed to be a part of staggers me into submitting to the old, the vintage, the classic, when Eid meant more than cash, when it involved a feeling of belonging, and friends weren't determined by how equal they were to you in the socioeconomic ladder. But this is a not a dirge on bygone days, this is the reason I am forced to concentrate on the positive, and see the five percent filled end of the glass. What makes Eid Eid anymore?

The traffic.
As Eid draws closer and closer, the only thing one can truly enjoy is the vacancy that grips the city, almost transforming this hideous, behemoth of a city into a place it used to be, somewhere liveable. You see the new as something old, something forgotten and beautiful, the roads turn into endless stretches of grey, and the air becomes the slightest hint less dark, the city's unrestricted source of pollution having been cut off so abruptly overnight. The shutters are down, and the sky is almost not a blackish-blue, and during a typical Eid, it's cold, so cold, the sweat that so easily used to form and drip from the edges of your forehead seeming to have gone away on vacation with the rest of the city.

Dhaka is a living, pulsating city, but that's not what makes Dhaka Dhaka either. It's not the hustling street urchins, the bustling multitudes of pseudo New Yorkers who seem to always be in a hurry, pushing and shoving through the endless mind-numbing innumerability of shopping centres and plazas, it's not even the hawkers lined along the pavement, ready to rip off with mediocre quality the wallets of the middle and lower classes. It's not the bus drivers who are pretending to be Vin Diesel or the next door neighbour you've never met who has this three-year-old girl whose name you don't know, or each family having three sedans, one for each member of the family. It is definitely not its people.

Dhaka is the absence of all these things. When we leave, when it's not befuddled with the incessant course of overflowing beings and cars and trucks and buses and money and clothes and jewellery and Hindi serials and pretend Hollywood, Dhaka breathes. And when Eid comes, the people who make Dhaka collapse under the intensity of their leeching fangs, bleeding this city dry, they all leave, and I, for one, immerse myself into a city that once had the potential to be beautiful.

As Eid approaches, I am uplifted with the possibility of uncountable departures but when it does arrive, and I'm walking down a street where the population density isn't 25,000 per square kilometre, I am filled with an unbearable sense of loss.

What have we done?



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