I am a walker, partly due to health needs and partly out of habit now. Come early evening I venture out almost every day to walk from my Niketon address towards Gulshan DCC market. I pass through the cluttered and clogged passages of the city that offer ID cards of a society. Doctor says I need to walk as I have been a long time diabetic and need exercise but now after almost two years of trudging I think I am a small time walking addict. And addiction has its perks too.
Pavements and traffic
There is pleasure in completing the journey, each way taking a little over 20 minutes with 5 minutes as added time because the traffic across the several pavement crossings can be hard and even dangerous. Traffic rushes through on and on, and to cross one must take seriously desperate chances.
The scenery across the walk varies and this change is interesting. Niketon itself is a high end middle class area where the lane users come from a cross section. But it's not a residential area only, hiding in its bowels hundreds of offices without signboards. It's also emblematic of the city's culture, sweet and sleaze co-existing in several layers of economics. While none can say how wealthy some of the residents are, many are not. No way of knowing who does what for a living.
That is why in Niketon or in Dhaka itself one learns to live with many kinds of faces. One is not supposed to ask who lives here and the dead are notoriously few. An almost secretive place like the city, where one doesn't ask questions about you, him and who knows who... It's a zone of residential anonymity.
Past Niketon one crosses into the wealthier climes of Gulshan fringe end. a slightly confused being now. Almost all commercial with many malls and shops and apartment buildings go high. Doors are opened to those who made their money while living in other residential areas but can now buy an apartment in the richest part of the town or at least shop there.
Onward to DCC
Almost 15 minutes later from Niketon by foot, one comes around the DCC market zone where the class scene suddenly drops and it becomes more mixed. The shops are not high end, people very middle and the pavement economy thriving. There are shops by the dozens, cramped and not classy, knowing the shoppers are not denizens with deep fancy pockets. The prices are affordable, contraband goods rub easy shoulders with smuggled stuff and one can get just about anything at lower prices. A make believe world of hyper consumption.
People and beggars both share the pavement space and some who lie sprawled in almost comical awkwardness expect monetary mercy as a matter of right. God is regularly and loudly invoked but it matters less because it's all down to crunching numbers. With every 100 invocations, 1 does commit charity. All one needs is the stamina to keep going for long enough. Money shall arrive.
The girl with the phone
As I walked past the photo-copying and Bkash shops, I noticed this young girl standing and scanning the crowd. I had seen her several times in the last few days and I was mildly curious about why a well-dressed young girl all alone would stand there but then such sights come with the territory. It's when I went past her that she softly called out, "Excuse me Sir". She was addressing me.
The girl, very embarrassed and nervous, approached me and said, "Sir, May I show you something." I really didn't know what was on because she was not someone I would have business with, someone I knew.
The girl held up a smart phone screen on which there was a picture of an elderly person with white beard and hair and spectacled eyes. One could say the face belongs to many seniors who have reached a stage of life where health has taken a beat. The eyes looked slightly tired and the face wore no smile. I stared at the pic for a while and she said, "You look exactly like my late father. I have been watching you for the last few days and comparing. I hope you don't mind."
It doesn't matter if I did or didn't. What mattered is that to the girl I did resemble her late father. I ask her the usual questions about where she lives, with him, what she does etc. She answers happily, as if she is in conversation with someone in her past. And then she suddenly is ready to leave. She asks for my telephone and I give it to her. And then after a brief salam, she is gone.
It's been almost two years since then and she hasn't called and I didn't expect her to. But for a moment I was her dad in her eyes and perhaps for her that was enough.
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