Dhaka Courier

Sin City Notes: How corona has shrunk the city

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Chawk bazar and neighbouring Shankhari bazar of old Dhaka (Collected)

Many years –more than 60- years ago I howled and wept on the eve of Eid because I hadn’t got a new kurta. Amazing as it seemed, my father got out the jeep car we had and took the entire family to Chawk bazar – then heart of the shopping city- and in the middle of midnight brought me one. The market was booming and growling and full of people. My father met a friend, a rich man- who was buying his wife some jewelry as Eid gift. I had wondered if the lady had thrown a tantrum like me. The divide between Chawkbazar and Dilu Road where we lived was not much. My maternal grandparents were cooking a feast when we returned home. It took 90 minutes max to go, shop and return. Chawkbazar was once almost next door.

In the days of corona, staying alive has many meanings but the simplest one is actually staying alive. As the hourglass sands deplete, the desire to visit places of memory rises and knocks on the door. For an elderly person like me, many doors have been shut than opened by corona. I am not allowed out due to many reasons including fear of infection and suffering followed by death. My work is not finished so I want to stay alive, at least till mid-2021.

The longing to visit places of memory grows strong every day. But given the situation, Chawkbazar seems so far away. The chances of my visiting that place again seem remote. Suddenly the city is larger than my reach and I live in a newly shrunk city.

I called someone in the old city recently, a resident of Sankhari Patti. For most it’s a place where they make sankha bangles for Hindu married ladies. But for me, it has a darker hue. It’s one of the major centres of genocide in 1971. I have been visiting that neighbourhood since 1980, documenting their experiences.

I have many people there who have become friends. There is a sense of shared pain and history. Over the years many have become old and some have even died. A few years back, while recording a programme on them, a man said, ”You have been coming here for so long. It began when you were young like me and now you are old like me. When will it end?”

The person I talked to told me that the man I mentioned- a serious patient of Parkinson’s – wanted to meet me one last time. His time has come I suppose but then I can’t make that farewell visit. Suddenly, it’s no longer safe, suddenly it's risky; suddenly that distance is infinitely longer than the 90 minute in a CNG.

My city has shrunk. My balcony houses my entire neighborhood, my neighborhood my entire city.

Selling guns of 1971

When some of the returning warriors of 1971 would refuse to hand over their weapons simply out of affection- they would say- many were punished. Orders were orders and that’s it. A friend said that it was the worst decision because they were ambushed by post-war enemies and if they had a gun they would have suffered less.

But the Government is apparently planning to sell some of the weapons as per media reports and a write has also been filed against it. Let’s see what happens.

It seems selling weapons is legit but not holding on to a war momento. But of what value is the money if the memory is lost. Shouldn’t all FFs be allowed back their weapons of 1971, after disabling them?

I do think the decision by lawyer Z I Khan Panna to file the writ makes a lot of sense. Let’s hope they are preserved but also that they are not sold. How much money compared to the loot of a robber baron populating the banking sector?

A toast to sin

It’s difficult to pin down and identify the top ten sins of the city. The conventional ones don’t matter such as being drunk, zena, usuri, theft etc. They are so banal that many don’t even consider they exist.. One never really thought that there would be a time when people would have to search for sins because the city simply has accommodated them all and given a municipality certificate of cleanliness.

In such a city, raiding a tri-state hotel and confiscating liquor bottles for not paying vats is a regular activity. But is this a crime or a sin?

I agree it’s a philosophical question but just about everyone knows that in this city of anything goes, this also means nothing. Nobody is impressed by the raid. Everyone thinks it’s got to do with who got what share.

When the Registrar of the National Mental Health Institute is arrested for siphoning off patients to illegal centers where they are beaten to death, having a few bottles of vat unpaid liquor is almost a virtue.

  • Guns
  • Gift
  • Chawk Bazar
  • Eid
  • 1971

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