Now this is a real abbreviation; none of those wishy-washy titles that have been in existence since “F.R.I.E.N.D.S” came on air. However, I am not too sure whether there is any kind of sequence or interrelation between what each letter represents. D for dark? H for hallucinatory? A for abstract? K for kindred? A for alien? This is a city of dark, hallucinatory and abstract kindred aliens to be more precise and poses a lot more question marks than I can handle.
I have recently realised how almost all my writings commence with some sort of a disclaimer, if not disclaimers. I mean why should this be an exception! Now getting to the disclaimer bit, I do realise the risk of attempting to talk about the qualities of a city, that too about one that has innumerable facets, most of which is still undiscovered by myself after spending a significant chunk of my life there. However, I still believe the risk is worth taking. You would hardly find any two individuals giving you the same account on a city no matter how similar their stories might happen to be and although my storytelling would not be exempt from any of the clichés that are incessantly associated with this city of ours, it would nevertheless be different.
I can still vividly hear each set of drum rolls that came about in rapid succession that night. With each drumbeat, my heart skipped several. There are certain moments in your life when you blindly wish for something in exchange for almost anything and this certainly was one of mine. Yes, this was that historical night that changed everything for the people of Bangladesh. That dark, dreary night in March when we challenged our fates against the gruelling upper hand of Pakistan; gnawed our way up, stood our ground and declared in a unified clear voice that we would not go quietly into the night, we would not vanish without a fight. Yes, this was the Asia Cup final cricket match against Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Okay, so enough with my melodrama and million apologies for the intended pun but to be quite frank, never before had I felt the entire nation standing united for a single cause the way I had witnessed it that night at the stadium! I was born in December 1985 and quite unfortunate, I believe, that I missed out on that single opportunity of feeling the ferocious passion that brought about this country’s independence 14 years prior. The only glimpses of it’s evidence, a pale shadow of the past can now only be viewed on these rare occasions of a significant cricket tournament.
Bangladesh as a whole really is quite an interesting country to say the least. There are people ruthlessly conning you for minimal gain, taking advantage of you the second you undergo a weak or vulnerable moment, using emotion as a weapon at every given opportunity, at one hand. On the other, people can take you by surprise by doing something totally selfless when least expected! It is a rollercoaster emotional tornado that is unpredictable and without any specific pattern. I have been thrown into this chaos at birth and left at it’s mercy for the first seventeen years of my life and at the end of this span I exited as clueless as the day I had entered. Thus, when I had an opportunity to take a two-month’s sabbatical (both professional and personal) from my usual structured Sydney life, I was face-to-face with an unusual opportunity to explore the city I had left behind.
What I discovered in these couple of months perhaps raised a lot of new questions but certainly restored my faith on the three aspects, or pillars as I like to refer to them as, that had withstood time and tide. The three pillars: food, religion and cricket. To begin with the first pillar, I do realise that it should come as no surprise that it is important to the characteristics of any given city, however, with Dhaka it is a lifeline that people tends to hold onto with dear life. Restaurants, cafes and lounges are probably important anywhere but in a city where there is very little or no nightlife for the majority otherwise, they are snares waiting to entangle the lives of people here on a daily basis and takes it to another level of enjoyment that I have personally hardly seen anywhere else. In a city where we all have to return to our families and a hearty home-cooked meal end of the day, it is the opportunity to socialise over a meal that becomes the main objective. Thus the not-yet-married couples throng the cafes, the already married couples have some quality time before returning to parents or parents-in-laws, the exhausted office-goer shares a light moment before facing the reality of responsibilities that awaits home and the school, college and university bound crowd enjoys a moment in peace before the burden of deadlines and assignments set in. Thus, these eat-out joints provide them with not food that is perhaps readily available elsewhere but with a haven, a place in-between, far from reality.
I remember once I was crossing the street in Sydney with a dear friend, engaged in an intense conversation over the presence and influence of religion in that city, and I made an impromptu remark that had more truth to it than I had realised then. Quoting myself: if you want to find God, you will not find him in these streets of Sydney. He will evade you. If you want to find him, you will have to travel back to Dhaka with me to witness His presence and existence incorporated into our very lives. That is where He dwells.
Though it was a casual remark but a few months later when I made my way back to this city, I felt the depth of it once again. God really dwells here. From the moment the dawn breaks and the sweet music of “Azaan” start to send signals to your brainwaves, at first softly, like a hum and then building in tempo to a cry of faith and devotion that calls out urgently to every individual to the peaceful moan in the background during “Esha” that calls it a day in a serene dismissal. Regardless of the level of faith you harness towards this particular religion, it never fails to dissect your day into five parts. There is a beautiful song by a Bangladeshi folk band that talks about this dissection better than I can ever explain and although hardly any Dhakaitie can relate to the activities mentioned in the song, we can all empathise in true essence. Very roughly translated, the lyrics are as follows:-
In the wake of Fajr, I was busy fighting sleep
Johr was spent in the comings and goings of life
My Asr was at the mercy of my livelihood
Alas, I had no time for prayers
Maghrb was spent in the shed with the animals
With them untied, my life was a mess
Alas, I had no time for prayers
During Esha, my wife cries out we have no rice
And with that cries my child and so does my life
Alas, I had no time for prayers!
Okay, did I not mention it was a rough translation? The words are mostly my own loosely based on the song and mostly inspired by it, but hopefully I managed to make my point.
Because I started this piece with cricket, somehow it seems befitting that it should end with cricket and also perhaps more so because cricket is all I can feel in my veins right now. Reliving that unfortunate match right now, feeling the pain of loosing to Pakistan had perhaps driven me a little mad and I am perhaps loosing sight of what I had originally set to achieve through this writing but in case you find yourself as muddled and in wonderment after reading this as I currently am feeling, then I would not consider this as an entirely wasted effort after all! This is exactly the pot of boiling and confusing emotions that I enter this city with every time and exit almost exactly in a similar fashion – with just perhaps a million more questions and amazement to add to the basket!