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     Volume 4 Issue 22 | November 26, 2004 |

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Nabila Idris

We, Bangalis, have a habit of trivialising our quirks and traits with a dismissive "Ar-e Bangaleer jaat, what else do you expect?" While this may be true for the merry lad whistling "Kuch kuch hota hai" down the street at about 2 in the morning, at other times this bangalipona of ours is downright embarrassing. Moreover, it shows a severe lack of civic sense in us. My grandma insists "in our times" there was an abundance of civic sense--then again, she always manages to make her times seem like a utopian world. Nevertheless, I'm willing to believe her. And that brings me to the conclusion that somewhere along the way we mislaid one of the basic pillars of civilisation--the civic sense.

This fact was forcefully drilled into my head the time we visited the Novotheatre. My grandfather treated us to this trip. Upon taking our seats, the lights dimmed out and the show started. It was a good one. Not maybe qualified to receive the epithet "Fatafati!" but it was certainly "Very good!" It took about half an hour to finish, and though surprised at the short length, we rose to leave. That's when a few trouble-mongers started a commotion, wanting to see the second show. It transpired that they used to screen two shows, but having deferred to public opinion, the second show was slashed and the ticket price reduced accordingly. Things got out of hand when the belligerent element in the crowd threatened to damage the high-tech equipment if their demands weren't met with. The officials genuinely tried to placate the crowd, to no avail. They then thought better of it and screened the second show (free of charge, by the way). Those of us who had left were called back in.

African Serengati when viewed on a flat screen is tolerable; but it becomes absolutely unbearable when forced to see it with our necks bent at an angle of 160 degrees. Five minutes through that, and the same voices who had been willing to give their jaan-maal to see this show were now willing to give their jaan-maal to have it turned off. But the officials decided to give us the full dose of it, resulting in the untimely departure of half the crowd, lead by… you must've guessed… the possessors of those voices. How do you account for such behaviour? We had only one word for it, "Bangalipona!" I found it particularly embarrassing since I had émigré cousins with me (people to whom Bangladesh isn't as lovable as it is to us) and it fell upon me to explain the crowd's alien behaviour. I couldn't.

Well, maybe this is excusable--just barely. After all, it's not like we have lots of proper theatres and cinema halls to visit that we'd know the etiquette of these places. But there remain other sectors in our lives in which we exhibit equal callousness. Take littering, for example.

I once had a painful discussion with a young man, totally devoid of patriotism. He had studied in the USA and believed that country to be infinitely better than ours (I mean, he actually commended its foreign policy!) and was hell-bent on ridiculing us, lowly Bangladeshis. Ugh, you say? I agree. But there was one statement of his, to which I could find no answer. "What sort of patriotism are you talking about? My sort of patriotism stops me from littering the streets of Dhaka, but I see my Bangladeshi friends easily doing so…" Too true. How many times had I carelessly flicked away the jhalmuri wrapper, on to the streets, or even into Dhanmondi Lake? I'd lost count. And what excuse do I have to offer? "Oh well, Bangalipona… you know!"

It's not only littering. Just look at our public toilets. They're straight out of Frankenstein's nightmare! If nature calls during a shopping trip in New Market, run to your car and pray you get home in time to avert disaster. Don't even think about visiting the public toilets--they aren't a sight for sore eyes… or any eyes for that matter.

I am not ashamed of the "wall to wall people… all moving in small cars that clogged the roads or in huge crowds that spilled into those roads" as eloquently described by Hillary Clinton. Our country is an impoverished one, and practically speaking, no one, not even a dedicated government (an oxymoron, I know!), can change that. At least not in our lifetime. Yet, I would so like it if outsiders could have seen our poverty side by side with our decency. Now that dream might have been fulfilled, had we not allowed our Bangalipona to devour up whatever level of property we possessed. I wonder if this state can be changed.

In the meantime, I have stopped littering the streets with jhalmuri wrappers. Really, I have.


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