They are of the same height, and yet Ibrahim always looks taller than Ali. Is it because of his confident demeanour in contrast of Ali's soft-spoken nature, chubby face and innocent smile? Despite their many differences, the sixth graders are best friends, and often their classmates refer to them together: Ibrahim-Ali, as if they are one person. They are inseparable.
They live in Farmgate. Their school is near Farmgate, too. The park, food stalls, the shops and bazaars -- Farmgate is their world.
After school, in the afternoons, they lean on the railing of the footbridge and observe people with deep curiosity: men and women rushing through, a blind beggar, the pedlar selling perfumes,fruit vendors offering seasonal delicacies...they notice everybody, but nobody notices them. Because at Farmgate, people are busy and in hurry- for making a little more cash or for arriving someplace 5 minutes earlier.
Under the bridge, numerous buses run in all directions - a tireless exercise. "Dosto, all roads meet here," Ibrahim tells his friend about Farmgate.
Ibrahim is well-versed about everything in life, and although unfortunately it does not translate into good grades at school, Ali has full faith in his friend's wisdom.
"Dosto, long time ago, when the British ruled over this city, they built an agricultural centre here," Ibrahim had once told him. "From the Farm's gate, came the name Farmgate."
Ali believes in his friend, and his friend believes in him too. Their English teacher once asked them to write an essay on “My aim in life”. Ali wrote that he wanted to be a magician when he grew up. "A magician! Such childishness! You will grow out of it," his father had said.
Photo: Toukir Ahmed Tanvee
But Ibrahim always takes his side. He has observed how mesmerised his friend gets when they see street magic in a corner adjoining Ananda Cinema Hall; when the maestro miraculously picks up the right card from the deck of cards, or when he makes things disappear into thin air and reappear. "Dosto, grow up a little. I will talk to the magician and make you his apprentice," Ibrahim has promised.
In the afternoons, the duo plays cricket on the park with other boys. Ibrahim, headstrong and talented, is always the captain.
As the sun gets weary, they cross the street for snacks -- mushrooms, fried chicken, and pineapple served on a stick with spices sprinkled all over and sugarcane juice made fresh out of the machine, pitha with bhortas of all sorts. The choices are endless. It's good food and it's cheap.
Close to Farmgate is The Church of the Holy Rosary, which is the oldest surviving one in Dhaka, established in 1677. They look in awe and wonder at several very old tombstones which are now affixed on the walls, some with “strange” writings -- Latin, Armenian, Portuguese.
Sometimes they look at the rows of crosses in the cemetery and wonder what lies beyond Farmgate, beyond this world.
No one knows Farmgate better than Ibrahim and Ali. Everybody comes to Farmgate, and yet most people find it rather ordinary; important perhaps, but not worthy of second thought.
Sometimes, it takes one to stop and see things through the eyes of children to understand its beauty. It is as true for Farmgate as it for any other place as it is for life at large.
But, we rush. As Ibrahim puts it, "Dosto, everybody in Farmgate is in a hurry."