Sin City Notes
In the early 70s when we all believed in political solutions to all our problems, there would be a need to hide for some. These were people who were angry and had taken to arms to attack whom they considered their enemy. Sometimes they won a skirmish or two but mostly they lost and afterwards came down to the teeming bowels of Sin City to hide for their life. Someone who hides others was called a "shelter master". There were several in Dhaka.
It was the only place in the country where you could get lost in the sea of faces, where your enemies may miss you even as they pass right by you. That’s what you hoped.
The routine was fairly simple. The one needing to hide just had a contact name and address and on reaching Dhaka went there. The shelter master knew someone one who knew someone who would be able to hide the person. Depending on his crime lay the sheltering.
Some had raided police stations, and that was a big deal so hiding such a person wasn't easy. If the person was a mid level leader, the police would chase the man in the city too. Many got caught and disappeared. But most actually did survive in jail for long.
Hiding therefore was a serious business. But hiding is of many kinds. I know of three cases which this city saw. One, a man who hid in the old city as a book binder. Another was a man who hid in political parties after having deserted the air force to save his skin. And the third was a lady who ran off with a man.
The binder, the party man and the lady
The book binder after several years in hiding learnt his job so well that he began to earn decent money, A man barely literate was binding books sitting cross-legged day after day. After a time the legs stiffen and one can't walk properly anymore. He couldn't either.
The political party he belonged to had disintegrated and he had no chance of returning to his village as his rivals were still waiting for revenge. Slowly he became a binder and the activist died. He married a widowed sister of a colleague, had kids, lived close to his work and was forgotten by all.
He had found his final hiding place. He was no longer himself anymore, the one who had to go on the run to save his life after taking other lives. Or maybe here he had finally found himself.
The air force man
The other man's case was also rooted in politics, trying to stir up trouble in the Air Force (BAF). We know of that period in the late Seventies, when intrigue and tumult and treachery reigned supreme in the BAF. He was absorbed inside a party aspiring for power then, as he could do many of their dirty work. Slowly, as the man went on doing all that and new leadership came, many/most forgot his past.
He had no loyalty towards the party but he had become party branded. He had forgotten his earlier politics and all else. He had become a new person with an identity which was not his own. And that's how he stayed. But on a rainy day, he left his party office and never returned. He had truly been hidden by the city. Till today no one knows where he went. He went into hiding.
A more mundane one was of the lady who ran off with another lady's husband but was later abandoned by her lover. Finding no way to escape, she hid herself behind a full burqa. This was a good hiding of course and she met none who knew her. One day she left Dhaka and camped out far away.
She has not been seen again by her close friends except one or two. She spends her days regretting falling for the wrong man. Hiding from oneself is difficult.
Perhaps the man did better. He felt no shame and hides behind his excuses and now posts happy family pics on Facebook.
Sin City goes on.
The sky through her eyes
So many are drawn to the city because of aspirations or lack of options. Many of those who grow up outside Dhaka feel left out if not in Dhaka. So the city is never empty pulling in crowds even as the pandemic is on.
This girl has come to town in tow with her young husband, having never lived here. Dhaka offers no pleasure but only stony rubbish and the children of people can't see that. Cooped up in her room, she spends her days watching serials on her phone and the sky. She has seen the sky many times and knows it intimately. In fact, she says , she knows the sky better than the city.
To those who know her and arwe willing to listen, she can describe the sky in breathless details. Each movement of clouds is recorded, each change of colour noticed and noted. She knows the meaning of light and shadow dancing in the sky whether at night or day.
She keeps a mental diary of it all and one day plans to write it all down. It’s possibly the first such work, a history of the sky over Dhaka. And in the sky there are no sinners, and no sin.