Last week I travelled to Jahangirnagar University to deliver a lecture on history and society. The campus is located away from the city so I was driven there which was a fascinating experience. My journey began from Niketon at around 8 in the morning. I woke up at 7-awakened really- an ungodly hour since corona came knocking on our doors. It was my first time waking up before 9 in the last 3 years.
Dhaka is nice then, cooler and calmer. Even the traffic, always dreadful in Hatirjheel, was polite enough and it was nice to see roads not choked with vehicles. The driver moved at a fairly good speed and even raced a similar vehicle for a while which would be impossible in any other hour. But Hatirjheel soon came to an end and we were out into the broader lanes into the main part of the city leading towards Panthopoth. And the traffic hits the face like the proverbial blast of a hot breeze of a summer's day.
From the mouth of Panthopoth the journey becomes a different narrative as the office going crowd are by then on the move in a full swing. Suddenly one is aware of the nature of the city and its face. It's the one we talk most about, the cars, the honking horns, the belching smoke and dust, the crazy push forward when there is no space and to do so.
As one pushes on towards Shyamoli, the cars get less and we see more and more of trucks and buses and the jams dominate. The clogging gets thicker and the built environment like shops and buildings are not easily seen on either side of the road. Slowly the world of traffic vehicles dominates like swaying crops in a field. By the time one reaches Shyamoli, it peaks and a sense of helplessness hangs in the air. One can go only where and when the traffic flow desires.
The landscape changes as the city roads hits the high of sorts and on both sides the scenes change from the urban to the rural of sorts really. There are long stretches of watery green mixed with brick kilns belching ugly coils of smoke. The fields are green though not sure which plants but wintery crops of some kinds, almost sitting next to unfinished industrial buildings of anonymous sorts.
And here the city traffic has melted away leaving behind the agony of waiting next to another vehicle. They haven't exactly died but the vehicles are much less and people drive in a monotonous hum passing others till the outskirts of Savar is reached. And then it's another story as the half-industrial, half rural and half made buildings provide a cocktail scenario of its own.
Of many flags and loyalties
On the way to Savar, one crosses and leaves Dhaka behind and enters a peripheral part of the mythical city called Dhaka. This time around, what struck was not so much the reliving and pleasant green or the variety in scenery beyond cars and concrete but the sight of flags flying from the top of every abode. Two national flags dominated, one belonged to Brazil, the other - you have guessed it right - to Argentina. None others dared to enter into the flagscape. It was fascinating to see the mightiness of the two national flags dominating the countryside if you will.
There is enough space and wind in the rural world for the flags to fly and flutter unlike Dhaka where the air is choked with each other's buildings. The taller buildings mean the city roofs are way beyond ordinary human attention and sight. The flags are lonely, perhaps keeping each other company barely flapping in the urban fetid winds.
But not here where there is space and the single and double storied buildings' as well as the tin roofed dwellings all proudly declare their support. There is something very honest and straightforward in this announcement. No holding back, no formality, unlike flying the national flag of their own state.
Who has only one flag anyway?
There can be many discussions of what such loyalty to foreign flags mean but this "loyalty" is nothing new. The Western educated elite swear by Western ideas and the modern Bangladeshi intellectual is largely a foreign product. The writer and poet belong to a considerably Indian /Western Bengal heritage and rest mostly buy goods of another land.
Not only that, they smuggle their money to Switzerland and buy homes in Canada, not to mention seeking migration. We look for employment elsewhere, got for pilgrimage to the Middle East and even once considered the Chinese communist party our own. The Chinese I am told were pissed not amused. They didn't want us as followers. We are the following kind.
So why blame the poor football fans. Of all the foreign lands that we cling to, it's the most innocent one of them all.
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