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Breaking free
Is it all it's cracked up to be?

One fine night you decide to ignore all the nagging, warning thoughts at the back of your head and break free of all the shackles. You are going to take the car out to a distant, deserted (but oh-so-awesome) stretch of road and there’s nothing your parents can do about it. Mostly because they’ll be sleeping as you sneak out.

So you journey to the newly constructed Mirpur DOHS road with a couple of your pals. On the way, you fill up on gas. If it’s already full, you fill up the bloody tank on octane; just because you happen to have a 500 taka note in your back pocket and nothing feels better than spending money fruitlessly.

Once out of the gas station, you find an empty stretch of road, like Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue, and put your foot down, unleashing the fury of 1.8 litres of one of Toyota’s finest economy engines. You watch the speedometer needle stay at rest position, because it doesn’t work. Over the roar of the engine, you discuss your estimated speed, finally settling on “at least 120 km/h, for sure”.

Since you apparently have a death wish, you take the penultimate street at, at least, 60 km/h. The whole road is littered with, uhm, litter. And, miscellaneous construction materials. You manage to weave precariously through the debris and finally reach that glorious stretch of blissful asphalt, where you step on it again. Then you find a tea stall in the locality and stop for cups of tea. ‘Cause you’re cool like that. You also take photos.

When you try to start your car again though, you find that your car has decided it’s not going to be moving anymore for the day. Try as you might, you cannot start the damned thing. Cue an hour of fidgeting about the engine bay, tapping things, unplugging and plugging in things, and generally messing with your already knackered engine some more. Note: it’s always a good idea to listen to what tea stall owners have to say, since they know more about the workings of an internal combustion engine than you do. Also, conveniently, the one random stranger who might be of some use is a garage owner who knows nothing about cars and can’t help you because his employees have gone home for the night.

What to do? Call some other buddy for help, obviously.

So a second, fully functional car turns up. With nylon rope, and hope. While almost all cars on the road have tow hooks attached to their respective chassis, your bag full of bad luck ensures those hooks are, strangely, absent. So you hook the nylon rope to the steel bumpers. Turning becomes a chore, but the real enemies are the speedbumps. The fact that the rope may break at any point in time doesn’t help either.

Pulling a car is not especially hard, but when the car being pulled has no brakes and weighs almost two times the weight of the car pulling it, there are more than a couple of problems. Time slows down to a crawl while you move forward at only 20 km/h. Your life flashes before your eyes as you cross the intersection at Mirpur 10 at that speed. Maybe it has something to do with the trucks barreling down the road towards you. Most of the time you just hear the noise and feel the slipstream of their passing, since the fog limits your visibility to less than 10 feet at 4 a.m. on a cold winter night.

On the home stretch - just to prove that there is some form of divine law enforcing the phrase, “when it rains, it pours” - your rope breaks. So you push the gigantic 1500 kg Vista almost a kilometer, over more speed bumps and through a blinding fog, till you reach home.

And you think to yourself, you have just “driven” a 20 kilo stretch of road, faced the innumerable dangers of night driving, and reached home without spending a penny worth of gas. You feel a strange sense of pride.

But why are all the lights on in your flat?

By Shaer Reaz

New Years Eve
How it's like on the streets of Dhaka

The night was young and chilly as we raced out of the house. We had just managed to convince our parents that this little expedition out to experience the dying moments of 2011 would not result in us getting jailed or blackmailed by dirty cops who would label us as national terrorists if our parents did not give them enough cookies! So into the night we went with high hopes… and were greeted by the cold hard concrete, flickering street lights and empty footpaths blanketed with dead leaves.

The government crackdown on the 31st had been thorough and harsh. Check points had been set all around town, and patrol cars actually cruised the street, like they were supposed to do the whole year round. The situation proved grim for those who underestimated the implementation of the new year policy, and for a few hours, Dhaka city felt like a military state.

None the less, we roamed the streets like shadows. Desperately searching for a place where there was even an ounce of the celebration spirit. It was 11:40, and it felt like no one would dare come out of their houses tonight. But right then, shattering the silence of the night, the crackling noise of a skyrocket exploding in the clouds made us all stare and gasp! In an awesome display of totally unintentional pyrotechnics, the light reflected from the closed gates and windows, illuminating the entire area with glorious radiance. Soon after there was one more, then another. Blast after blast brought heads out of windows and guided the reluctant and suspicious masses onto the streets and rooftops.

Tricked out cars with neon lights zoomed past the roads as people congregated in small groups to see the spectacle. Laughter and shouts of joy echoed through streets that were barren just a few moments ago. High above the rooftops people counted down together and launched more fireworks, setting ablaze the winter sky with colourful spectrums of their hopes and dreams for the new year. It may not have come close to the epic displays at Sydney harbour, Times Square or at the Tokyo Tower, but the heart was there.

We saw a few guys making a bonfire and chatting casually. Groups of friends roamed the streets and took pictures of the fireworks. Occasional joyous shouts ricocheted through the concrete jungle and made the whole place come to life. All the while the sky was lit with showering stars. All of it felt like a form of resistance, a brash act of defiance against those who collectively scrutinise and criticise the youth of our nation, conveniently forgetting that we are the harbingers of change.

Soon enough the party poopers [read: cops] dashed into the scene and put out the fires that we had started. They yelled at us like angry parents who don't realise the innocence they are destroying. They screamed, “Go back home!” and we complied. The streets cleared, the fireworks were stopped, people rushed home. A young driver got a case out on the street. And just like that, it was all quiet again.

Although the heavy policing seems irrelevant and annoying, news headlines the next day easily showed the benefits of their actions. Whereever there was celebration, there was tragedy as most countries saw a stark rise in criminal activities and death rates on 31st night. A phenomena from which our nation was apparently spared.

Suffice to say, it was mostly young people celebrating. After all, the Gregorian new year is now an universally accepted celebration and embodies the spirit of a new beginning. “Out with the old and in with the new”. It's still not as vigorously celebrated like the Bangla new year. How can 31st December even compare? 14th April is ours! Our own.

Other than the young folk we saw on the streets, there was obviously more celebrations at home, or at least, the homes of the upper-middle and higher classes of our society. The poor and the hungry wandered the streets for very different reasons. They collected the trash, mended the roads, fixed the street lights and dusted the sidewalks. Some slept in sacks. And the occasional ragged bunch of kids stared wide-eyed at the skies, joking amongst themselves and running around to find better angles.

Fireworks are always nice.

By Apon



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