Life in Dhaka

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Keep it Covered!

By A Husnain

The traffic jams are just the effect of a cause: too many users of some limited space, and lack of control to regulate the flow. The drains and the roads are designed for similar purpose: to keep the flow flowing there is no static system in life, municipal or otherwise.

Dhaka is living up to its name. Dhaka in Bangla means covered. A lot of activities in Dhaka are kept covered. Cable TV fans are familiar with this song ‘parda may rahne do, parda no outha-o; parda uthne say raaz khul jaa-e gi”, Which means do not lift the curtain, otherwise many secrets would be out. In Bengali the short expression is `Dhaka thaak’ (kept covered). Let us indulge in some benevolent spying, in public interest.

In your home street, did you ever brother to notice whether the road has any drain by the side, or on both sides of the road? The question is like asking you whether you are aware you are breathing. It is simply presumed that such facilities exist, because it is part of standard design after the planning stage.

In the Mohammadpur residential area, it will be noticed that most of roads, except some major ones, do not have drains on one or both sides. Where the rain-water is supposed to go? Surely the plans for the residential areas where approved keeping provision for drains.

Therefore it is not surprising that, metaphorically and otherwise, we collect a lot of garbage in our social and community life, visible and invisible, and grumble all the more because no outlets have been designed into the social and municipal systems of our society (say, the provision of a drain by the road-side, and garbage bins which over fill too quickly and clearance which is always too late).

The same logic applies for democratic outlets- a favorite issue with the politicians, in and out of season. Communication assumes a 2-way facility what is the name of one-way communication? The sun communicates one way.

The issue in not drains, but the availability of drainage system in the society for providing different types of outlets, whether in degree or kind. That includes the labor unions and the CBAs, as we are vastly experienced on the nuisance value of this right, which, most of the time, tries to go left or out of control.

The traffic jams are just the effect of a cause: too many users of some limited space, and lack of control to regulate the flow. The drains and the roads are designed for similar purpose: to keep the flow flowing. There is no static system in life, municipal or otherwise.

Let us look at some opposite effects. A large number of new multi-storied shopping complexes have come up in different localities of the metropolis. The shops inside cannot claim to be doing roaring business, due to low purchasing power of the vast majority of the shoppers hence the footpath hawkers have more customers per hour. The shops inside the buildings have more shop assistants than customers most of the time.

This trend can be explained through the supply and demand equations. The strong point is siphoning the surplus cash in the pocket, and the weak point is cheap and crude imitation of marketing and sales techniques.

As for money (paisa), there is a timeless rule: easy, easy go. Hard earned money is thoughtfully spent. Bargaining is a national pastime in the East- hence if the prices are ‘fixed’ then it is fishy (daal may kala hai).

The posh air-conditioned shops stock so many items of foreign consumer goods, in a country where the average earning per head is around 250 dollars per annum. It has more to do with human nature than economics or patriotism.

During the mid- 1960s, once while I was shopping in Tokyo, a Japanese shopper asked me how was my Japanese shopper asked me how was my Japanese SLR camera which I was carrying (it was top class and not expensive) the Yen being around 350 to the dollar, if I recall correctly). It took japan one more decade to capture the world markets with quality goods. During that period of recovery from the effects of the world war which ended in 1945, the Japanese usually preferred the top brand names of foreign goods, such as Zeiss cameras and parker pens.

The same trend could be observed in Malaysia during the 1980s, even when her growth rate was above eight percent year after year (the financial crash was not that unpredictable to the regular visitors) It is a passing syndrome of development: the grass appears greener on the other side. Trying to keep up with the Japanese might bring about a national crash, the Asian Tigers warm us.

Dhaka means covered, drains should be kept covered, befitting the name of the world’s tenth largest city: otherwise we seek alibis and start blaming the polythene shopping bags, instead of castigating the municipal garbage and drain cleaners thousands are employed but very few brothers about the households who throw the garbage around? Don’t believe in Dhaka, to say the least!

The unauthorized tool collection is Dhaka (covered), The back doors are also covered. As for the front door, it if open and transparent, but there is nothing much to reveal or display formally. That’s saying a lot. Dhaka is dense, but smart.