“This city with songs buried beneath it”. Stephen Spender in his poem “Vienna”
There is something deeply linked to the poet's Vienna and my city Dhaka. Fortunately I am not a poet but a walker of the city's streets though that through only one. It begins at Niketon and goes all the way to Gulshan 1 roundabout and then back to where I began. I have done this almost every day since corona came and know the route well enough to remember every step.
It helps to split the walking time between segments just for fun. Like Bruce Chatwin's "Song lines", I am probably becoming part of a "street line" as the passage from "here to there" has as much variety as a song has. It becomes which looks like a song or a song that looks like a distance.
Inside Niketon, the route has less mobile traffic but a lot of cars parked on the roads squeezing the space. Motorbikes are parked mostly on the pavement making walking difficult. I think the Niketon Housing community bosses have tried to but failed to shoo away the vehicles from using both the road and the footpath as parking space. Somewhere in all this there is a deep message but not sure if I get it.
But once I reach the Niketon Road 1 crossroads where the four driveways meet, one sees the traffic jams chaos. It's interesting how the biggest feeder coming from Niketon Gate 2 feeds the jam. People use the Niketon route to by-pass the bigger jam around Rifle Square so the traffic bulge is big. Another feeder stream comes from the Tejgaon gate side and together it's almost like a mohona of traffic coming and churning as they try to scramble to find space and move forward.
Interestingly, the traffic guards if you will, - the poorly paid Housing society guys- shout incoherently through loud hailers and they are really loud but nobody cares or bothers. Who listens to order when there is chaos on offer?
But there is an oddity, just one turns left to go towards Niketon Gate 1. Right there is a lamp post hogging the entire pavement space. I mean seriously, a lamp post posted on the footpath. Unless you know the chicken and eggs question of which came first you will wonder how this could be. The lamppost came first and then the pavement so...
So how do you turn the corner? Well, you get down on the main road, turn the corner and then jump back to the pavement. You wonder about the vast mysteries of the universe, the honking horns, traffic jams and well and just keep walking.
Do walker's exist?
But once you are past Niketon Gate 1 and walk past the fetid lake decorated by urinating dogs, you come across this gaggle of shops. And once past them you come to a T section and the entire traffic you thought you had left behind in Niketon now taking the left turn at the crossroad to Gulshan proper. This is a very educational experience because it shows that cars, rickshaws and bikes most of all have the way and pedestrians have no existence. That's a philosophical question really.
Trying to cross the crossing or just the road really, I had once thought whether this crossing was a good place to hold a lecture or two on existentialism. It could be done on two related topics. The first topic would be on whether a walker has any existence or not in the scheme of things and the second on whether a walker should at all exist.
Sadly the churning chaos doesn't care about philosophy and one just blindly negotiates through the chaos which basically means you need to "keep the faith baby" or stand there forever. You have to get hit a few times -nothing serious really- or your feet trampled by a rickshaw wheel but nobody has been reported dead, before you realize you have done it. It's popularly called small mercies.
Swopno's parking space
But then the term footpath or pavement as it's popularly called is a questionable matter. One can understand that walkers trying to cross the road may not exist but does the pavement exist?. As one walks into the darker evening shadows next to the Niketon Park to your right, you come across every item on the left from shoe repairers to fruit vendors but most important are the tea shops.
And on them are people, sitting, talking, drinking tea and munching snacks and having a good time oblivious to the fact that they are sitting on philosophical issues. Of course that leaves no space for the walker who then must foot the road and hope the traffic load is not too high and the rickshaws won't charge straight at such sinners as I.
If one is lucky, and one is regularly lucky, one reaches the end of the stretch and suddenly the formal space of the main road begins. Crossing the parked rickshaws, you take a left and walk into the main zone and are now inside the zone governed by state laws. You go past Herfy the snacks bar and then hit the Swopno super shop space and suddenly you hit a traffic jam. Yep, there, right in the middle of the pavement where cars are not just parked by the Swopno visitors but occupy the mysterious undefined space called the pavement to go back and forward and twist and turn, forward and back and you don't exist once more.
And that's when you seriously begin to doubt if this is a city or not, a pavement or not. And that you could be run over by walking on the pavement by car because it was always a parking lot for cars.
This city with songs buried beneath it like rotten leaves...
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