Benj Braves Bangladesh


Deflowering Dhaka
May 24, 2007, 8:13 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I went out into Dhaka today for the first time outside of the confines of an a/c car today. I kinda fell in love, kinda. There are certainly distinct neighbourhoods of Dhaka. I went to the wealthy, embassy area which was whatever, standard fare, I ate lunch at El Toro, described in the Lonely Planet as ‘certainly the best Mexican food in the sub-continent’ and it was pretty good, i guess. I don’t have much to compare it to as I’m such a novice with Mexican food. Then I kinda did my own thing, in the way I do things my way when I travel alone, and I had some pretty random experiences. Armed with the Lonely Planet map, I walked to this major road and jumped on a bus heading south into Central Dhaka, my destination was the Liberation War Museum (commemorating the struggles for independence from the Brits and from the Pakis).

So there was this cool scene on the bus, and I was surreptitiously taking photos of people with my camera, looking the other way and resting it on my knee and clicking on the button with the underside of my knuckle, not my fingertip. Anyway the guy across from me noticed and was glaring at me the whole time and then accused me of being a government spy, and I’m like “no!” and he just didn’t like me but that was the end of it. And then I got off and this guy got off with me and asked if i was a photo-journalist, and I said.. “well, I guess I am, yeah” and so he told me he worked for a magazine and wanted me to come see his office, so i said sure, why not, and we walked through some streets and then a long the rail line, which was lined with slums, really horrible slums (much worse depravity than you see in Mumbai, real squalor, shitty, polluted, filth and the people didn’t have the same sparkle in their eye as those in Mumbai seemed to). So that was really eye-opening. I took some photos which I’ll upload, I might go back there.

Then we get to his office and he shows me the magazine and its this really low-grade small thing in Bengali with virtually no pictures, and they serve me tea and are being very polite and this guy has a really bad stutter and not great English so communicating was really awkward, the whole thing was kinda awkward, and I’m like, so I don’t know Bengali, and your newspaper doesn’t have pictures… and hes like… ummm yeah… and anyway I put some photos from some natural areas of Bangladesh (waterfall, forest and whatnot) on his computer which he says he might use, but he didn’t seem very interested, and then as we walked out he said that he wanted me to come back again, for friendship. Even though we could barely communicate and the situation was palpably awkward, this guy just wanted to be my friend, or maybe he wanted the status of a white friend.

Anyway, then I take a bicycle rickshaw to the museum, which is a scary ride. The experience of bicycle rickshaws on Dhaka streets is an experience which requires pages of writing, in the same way as Mumbai’s Western Railway does (although the trains in Mumbai probably require three times as much writing). These bicycle rickshaws are totally ubiquitous, are decorated in such a stunning and wondrous way, and the etiquette of their weaving through traffic is fascinating. Once I get more experience I’ll try to describe it better. Anyway, get to the War Museum, which is actually really inspiring and emotive and well done, with posters saying things like “a world of peace, tolerance and respect is possible if people work towards it. And it will start with me.” stuff like that. There are also the horrifying pictures of mass graves and starving people and heads blown off, really unnerving stuff, yet it all has a positive spin as they won their liberation and emerged heroic victors (so different from the Jewish experience, made me feel quite weird but don’t want to get into it here).

Anyway, that closed at 6. on the way out a woman working there stopped me for the usual “which country?” but she was really warm and natural around me, and had good English, and then said “my house is nearby, I will take you” so I went with it. She bought me a coconut on the way home and took me to her father’s home. They gave me tea and biscuits and the usual banter with an overly-educated Indian trying to impress you with his English vocabularly and knowledge (getting a kick out of beating you at your own game kinda) proceeded and then the woman took me down to the street and walked me to a rickshaw wallah, and we were talking, and we found out we had the same birthday, and as we were crossing roads she would hold my arm by the wrist which was really nice, and I just connected with her even though she was some 32-year old Bangladeshi woman. She started telling me how she’s looking for a husband, and that she’s on couchsurfing, and she then took the rickshaw with me cos it was dark. Anyway, i told her about my plans to be in a dhollywood movie, and she said she would work it out, cos she knew someone who made films. so we have plans to meet on Sunday and watch a dhollywood movie (dhaka-hollywood a la bollywood) and then try to get me into a movie somehow. Hope it works out.

To finish off the day I had dinner with Khurrum’s extended family. He has about 50 cousins. Anyway, one cousin works for the World Bank (pretty awesome) and invited Khurrum and I to go to the office and that we could check out one of the NGO’s doing development work that they are funding. Pretty sweet. I have all this opportunity in Dhaka and so much I want to do, photography, writing articles, being in films, witnessing NGOs, seeing the sights, that I want to spend another 5 days here easily but aren’t sure if I have the time. So all in all it was an interesting day in Dhaka which gave me a taste which I really liked and would love to spend more time here, but alas I am heading up north in an a/c car seeing Bangladesh through a window (nothing at all to complain about, trust me).

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8 Comments so far
Leave a comment

That was pretty neatly written. Its such a mess when relating to Bangladesh, isnt it ? Check out what I found out about Bangladesh Government Sites!.

Comment by Bangladesh

Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

cheers, Corpora.

Comment by Corpora

Great post. We feel sorrow for our Dhaka city. This is no longer for living. Thanks.

Comment by Two Steps From Home

Really nice post. You must enjoy there. Best of luck.

Comment by My Complaint

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Comment by sumaya

Dhaka is a nice city except some major problems like traffic jam, population density, gas and water supply etc. Still there are scopes to make it nice and extraordinary. AtnewsBD

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