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
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
the meantime, I have stopped littering the streets with jhalmuri
wrappers. Really, I have.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004