Notorious Dhaka traffic

The traffic jams in Dhaka can feel, at times, stifling and painfully eternal, but things are in equal part thrilling.-

Here, red lights are ignored with disdain, driving on the wrong side is so nonchalantly done it feels right, and vehicles brake so late it would make Lewis Hamilton blanch, notes Shreedutta Chidananda.

The Diary has been asked this question many times by frustrated teachers, but on an aeroplane, it is a first: “Can you read and write?” Barely, the Diary wants to answer, but some truths are better left cunningly concealed.

Anyway, the Diary’s interlocutor is a man in his thirties, who wants his arrival card filled out just before descent into Dhaka. He is, it turns out upon inspection of his passport, Jalal Bepary from Munshiganj in central Bangladesh. The document states that he is a farmer (that it should contain this detail at all is surprising), but Bepary now works as an electrician in Doha.

According to the Dhaka Tribune, there are five million Bangladeshis working in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar, sending billions of dollars home in remittances.

“I’m going home for a week,” Bepary grins. He fetches his bag from the overhead locker to fish out a pen, when the Diary spots a toy car and a shaker/juicer of some sort. “Gifts for the wife and the kids,” he says.

Bepary has picked up Hindi/Urdu working alongside Indian and Pakistani workers in Qatar. Resident Bangladeshis, the Diary discovers to its dismay in the days ahead, have had no such education.

Life is like that

The Diary has been warned by sagely colleagues of Dhaka’s notorious traffic, but nothing prepares it for the ride ahead. The jams can feel, at times, stifling and painfully eternal, but things are in equal part thrilling.

Red lights are ignored with disdain, driving on the wrong side is so nonchalantly done it feels right, and vehicles brake so late it would make Lewis Hamilton blanch.

Most of all, there is a trust between drivers that is inexplicable. One slides out of a gap the other just slips into, each ready to tuck into space a neighbour may vacate. It is all a matter of millimetres, the manoeuvres expertly executed. A kid on a bicycle chooses to take a sharp 90-degree turn in the middle of a thoroughfare without warning; the CNG that is ferrying the Diary steers around the back of the obstruction, missing it by half an inch, and proceeds as if nothing was ever wrong with the world. Neither cyclist nor driver give each other a glance; no curses are hurled, no abuse exchanged.

Vehicles do clip and nick each other, but it is routine it seems. It is all one giant, throbbing, ecosystem, swallowing one molecule here and spitting another out there.

If you ever hear the Diary complain about Bangalore’s traffic again, feel free to shoot it.

When hope kills…

Feel free to make your South Indian jokes, but truth is, the Diary is a miserable wreck without curd. On its first day in Dhaka, it sets off in search of the ambrosial stuff, trying shop after shop. All they have is Mishti Doi (sweet curd), some cheap, local goo masquerading as the real thing.

After a kilometre on foot, the Diary is answered in the prerogative by one shopkeeper. “Doi — no mishti. OK?” is met with vigorous nods. Encouraged, the Diary cheerfully parts with 180 taka (Rs. 139) for an earthen pot with a lid. Its contents, the seller insists, are “good, good, sir”.

But what’s this? The Diary returns to its hotel room and lifts the lid on the pot only to discover some muddy-brown cream within. No! It is, it turns out after all, the great imposter Mishti Doi. It is always the hope that kills you.