People abuse Dhaka and as a native it hurts. I know how bad it is and what it does to people but I turn my eyes away from the filth and cruelty letting only kindness filter through the biased windows of my mind. It's not like I love Dhaka but I accept it as one accepts a blood line member of the family who has always been part of life. For me Dhaka is bigger than I am even though I travel very little and since Corona descended has almost abandoned it, letting it shrink to the parameters of my daily walk from one fixed destination to another fixed destination and back.
But I do get to see the city which like one's child or parents have their own magic that defies logic but as I walk on my tiring ageing limbs, I see the pavements fill with life and flower with the crazy kaleidoscope of a town brought to life by its own desperate desire to live.
Gulshan Avenue pavement
Corona has failed to dampen the spirits and certainly not damaged Dhaka's body which always ailing continues to lurch on. The walkers are many on the pavement, that non-existing space. Even on Gulshan Avenue, it ceases to be a pavement when opportunities and occasions arrive. A huge bank building - Standard Bank - is being built next to the mosque and all the materials and the building process spills over onto the pavement which no longer exists. When the concrete mixer machine-truck is at work, half inside and fully covering the pavement, water spills into the main road creating huge puddles.
How are people supposed to cross that space?. No one knows or says. I once went in and had a shouting match with the construction guys but of course I only got angry and nothing changed. In this town, if you have money, you have clout, and clout means you don't have to care. That is how my city works. I accept it now even though I keep shouting at them all whenever I get a chance. I am mad in every sense.
Of beggars there...
But pavements also belong to the beggars, increasingly attired in "Islamic" attires as hijabis, nikabis and bearded tupiwalas have cornered the beggars' fashion ramp.. Some lie supine, a few carry prescriptions laminated on cards and some prefer to grab arms and seek God's blessings and your money. But the operational zone is the pavement, the never ending always free for all space with very uncertain ownership of anyone at all.
Children are begging a lot more nowadays and it's in the form of selling artifacts and tic-tacs unless hitched to their mothers. They run next to you without losing a breath, imploring and begging either to sell or donate. Once a customer is lost, they go back to play till the next john is targeted.
The blind man who sits and prescribes divine drugs for all kinds of ailments from the physical to mental to social is truly gifted. With his eyes closed he diagnoses and prescribes. Some cases are complex and I have seen narration of symptoms taking almost half an hour. He is gone now so not sure if another pavement called or the number of happy patients was too high or unhappy ones too low. But it's the pavement which becomes the diagnostic clinic as well.
Not sure if it's true or whether my senses are pranking me but women are far more visible on the pavement, walking home or just walking... than I have seen before Corona came calling. In some sense, Corona has changed Dhaka's street fashion. They come wearing all kinds of dresses, and all are so smart whether in all covering burqa or tight jeans or shalwars.saris are very few . I have even seen ladies dressed for an evening, heavily made walking in platform shoes or super high heels clicking on the concrete as they walk on. A few will get into waiting cars, a few hail a CNG and some are lost in the crowd that evenings bring.
Many like me wear walking shoes and moccasins. There is a quiet victory in this as women walk alone on the pavement undaunted and rarely with their eyes down. In their brave gaze, peeping through the niqab, a quiet victory is announced. The pavement is everyone's.
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