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A bustling city and the gathering storm

All-round disarray rocks Bangladesh
By Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury

As I stand, at the dusk, on the well designed roof top of the building where my apartment is, I see a fully authentic urban sunset as the sun goes down in the residential concrete of Uttara, the northern upper middle-class suburb of Dhaka. The tropical sky is full of changing colors. The noise and lights of this grown up residential area easily match almost the same of central commercial places of the metropolis. The bustling city is full of life and virtually restless in its own way.

In the morning rush hours office goers imported Japanese cars, many of them reconditioned used ones and deceitful with their unmistakable shines, jumble in the cross roads. One can see polished bright faces slightly tensed with wrinkles in the foreheads. The shirt-tie clad gleaming visages are the new corporate Bangladesh.

But not too far are the service people in scruffy lungi/ trousers and shirts or ragged saris/ salwar-kamiz. And there are poor shopkeepers, hoarders, rickshaw pullers and the aimlessly loitering ones. A plenty of them. In fact, a multitude of them. Luxury and distress live here close at hand; yet far apart.

Talking politics and passing witty sounding remarks is the national time pass of Bengali people since time immemorial. Some take it casually and some with fake seriousness. Yet the chronic and vigorous strikes, the official and unofficial counter measures and associated bloodletting this time around cast a dark shadow on the life of normally cheerful, with all their routine misery, Bengalis of Bangladesh. People, now, often stop talking a ordinary talk and sigh, “What’s going to happen to this country?” with unadulterated earnestness.

The vicious circle of Bangladeshi politics has a strange and paradoxical consensus. It, somehow, manages not to give rise to any new political or social entity or genre if you like. So there is neither an Imran Khan nor any Anna Hazare. Finding a glimmer of hope is as difficult as ever. The established political syndicates, despite their deadly in fighting, have ensured it pretty successfully. The media and the civil society seem too toothless to create that free space. The democratic check and balance doesn’t appear to be working in Bangladesh.

So the sense of hopelessness amongst the common men of Dhaka persists. Rest of the country is no exception; some places are even worse. From the book publishers in Bangla Academy annual month long Ekushe book fair to the women entrepreneurs of the boutique shops of Bailey Road; business of all are in disarray. Both the, normally glowing, industrialist and the lay rickshaw puller are uncertain of the future, like never before. Heavy presence of elite paramilitary around the Pohela Boishakh events only adds to the spiraling concerns.

Rumors and conspiracy theories run all around. Friends, relatives and colleagues are increasingly divided in their opinions. There is uneasiness among many as the topics of recent discussion range from trial of war criminals to defaming of Islam and it’s prophet by some bloggers or fake bloggers who are allegedly close to certain pro-independence political/ youth camp. The blabby ones babble in misdirection and the careful restrain from saying what he doesn’t comprehend. Finally the debates are overshadowed by worry. Worry of own safety, safety of children and adult out goers. Women are frightened. They just saw the public humiliation and beating of a woman journalist by fundamentalist goons in the streets of Dhaka. Some fear whether hostile mob war is going to break out in Dhaka streets in remote corners of the country. [IPA]

[Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is a former Bangladesh army officer and UN peacekeeper. He is alumni of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London]

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