Columns from Istanbul | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 22, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 22, 2011


Columns from Istanbul

Traffic regulations? What traffic Regulations? Photo: Ihtisham Kabir

Recently I came across some old newspaper columns from Istanbul. These columns, commenting on Istanbul and her people, struck a chord and I couldn't help comparing to Dhaka.
For example, a forty-year old description of Istanbul's harbour (the Golden Horn) sounds just like the Buri Ganga today:
“The Golden Horn is no longer the Golden Horn; it's become a dirty pool surrounded by factories, workshops and slaughterhouses: chemicals from those factories, tar from the workshops, the outflows of ships and also sewage pollute its waters.” (1968)
Yet today, the Golden Horn is a beautiful blue, because the Turks cleaned it up in the 1980s. So why can't we clean up our beautiful river?
Sudden flooding that we often see in Dhaka after rain hampers Istanbul, too.
“We are tired of seeing every square in the city flooded every time it rains. Whoever is supposed to fix this, should fix it soon.” (1946)
Messy traffic is no easier to fix. But stuck in a bad morning's traffic, I could wish for no better medicine than this:
“It is only by giving up our old way of comporting ourselves in the streets and in the city's public places, and only by complying with the traffic regulations as they do in the West, that we can hope to deliver ourselves from the traffic chaos. But if you asked how many people in this city even know what the traffic regulations are, well, that's a different matter altogether...” (1949)
Next let's turn to city beautification. While our rickshaws are decorated beautifully, our unfortunate rickshawallahs often wear ragged clothes. Can you imagine them all in uniform, like this columnist suggested for coach drivers of Istanbul?
“It has been suggested that to beautify the city all horse-drawn carriage drivers should wear the same outfit; how chic it would be if this idea were to become reality.” (1897)
Who knows, it might even induce them to pay more attention to those traffic rules.
Speaking of beauty, there is the eternal problem faced by a pretty woman walking down the street.
“When you see a beautiful woman in the street, don't look at her hatefully as if you are about to kill her, and do no exhibit excessive longing either, just give her a little smile, avert your eyes, and walk on.” (1974)
Since I am neither pretty nor a woman, I cannot vouch for this, but my sense is that in recent years, Dhaka streets have become friendlier towards women pedestrians.
In the end, though, we are Bengalis, and you will have a long wait if you want to see Dhakaiyas exhibit this behaviour:
“We too make our feelings clear to people who have yet to learn how to conduct themselves in the streets of Istanbul and tell them: Don't walk down the street with your mouth open. (1924)”
Where to find these columns? They are in Nobel-laureate Orhan Pamuk's memoir, Istanbul, Memories of a City. Columnists were not named.

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