This time around, winter in Dhaka slowly came and then suddenly stood up and declared its presence with a punishing blow to its residents' collective face. It had hit the Northern parts of Bangladesh quite early on this year and made its citizens shiver at will. As the temperatures zeroed in on single digits, life became difficult as Facebook posts comments reflected the misery of people cowed down by winter's freezing rage.
But Dhaka had seemed far away then as the Northern breeze blew. However, much to the surprise of Dhaka's unprepared and slightly arrogant soul, winter kicked in with venom just a week into it that showed none are safe from climate's long fingers. Welcome to the new world.
Socks and blankets and trousers and sweaters...
It was for most people a time to wear as much as possible to keep winter at bay, armor of humans against the chill. Yet even that regular strategy failed. My student Tasfia Alam from Rajshahi says, "I wore everything possible including sweaters and socks and lay under the blanket. Usually I hate wearing socks but this winter I was asking why do these socks makers have to make them so thin? Never felt warm."
Dhaka rarely chases warm clothes and initially media reported that while winter had set in but the warm clothes market had not become hot. A new marketing channel was custom made van-cars with clothing displayed on one side. They roamed and parked in various parts of Dhaka, taking the market to the client rather than wait for their arrival.
Initially, the sales were very slow and the sellers wore longish faces. And then the virulent winter set in and the sales index of warm clothes just woke up and walked upstairs.
The footpath vendors also did well dealing in the lower middle class end of the market with garments lots and other essentials, looking so good piled on each other making winter a celebration of haberdashery too.
Old and new city winters
Dhaka is not one city but a conglomerate of several cities, split by class, culture, location and even history. The old city sits most confidently, quite aware that it has seen off many kings, lords and rulers to oblivion but it has remained intact. Its own culture and all that comes in that package, often romanticized but still authentic, makes winter a servant of theirs to serve new dishes and delicacies. Winter has its own seasonal menu there and they sprout like large winter blooms.
Cultural legacy lives on in the old city and its adornments. It's basically built on the foothills of a past that is hybrid, a mixed bag of the Nayeb Nazims under the Mughals and the previous Sultans. That grew stronger as the Nawabs took over under British rule and expanded that cultural space further. The Nawabs were ersatz royalty -to be honest all royalties began as commoners- who made their pile in salt and hide and skin trading and gained a hereditary title by helping out the Brits when the royalty and the soldier-peasants rebelled against British rule in 1857. Traitors of sorts but then royalty has a price to ask.
There is a continuity of the old mixed with the new and the geography of the location dominates. It is the old guard culture sustained by its newer off springs.
And the new Dhaka?
There is not one new Dhaka but many of them spread as they are among neighbourhoods offering slightly different charms and looks. Basically most are upward mobility driven rather than being uppity. It's a space of aspirations as the newer, younger crowd, living in newly minted spaces live in congregations of strangers who occasionally become friends.
The differences are both wide and subtle. How does one live in Gulshan Avenue homes? What does winter look like in an air-heated massive sized apartment complex? But then they do live in the same city physically but not necessarily together.
The new Dhaka is younger, less rich than both Gulshan and the old city but more driven to become and to build. They have fewer traditions to uphold and are content to spend more time developing new ones. The old city probably can't build more but the new is full of abodes waiting to be filled up.
My haunt is the GCC market near Gulshan 1, lying just on the fringe of the enclave of the rich. It's almost like an oasis of the middle and lesser classes. And it's appropriately seedy too. The shops are utterly unembarrassed by the lack of integrity as fake goods do roaring business along with the good ones. However, winter can't howl down the revelers of the evening as they gather to wolf down urban junk food.
Perhaps that is the apex moment for my winter as crowds, young and old, hunker together, in fancy jeans or jackets or hijab and burka, to sit on makeshift stools or just walk about as they chew and munch the winter away.
Winter's own paradise.
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