A Memorable Day | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 12, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 12, 2011


A Memorable Day

Munajat on the Bridge. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir

This year, the Bishwa Istema -the huge annual religious gathering of Muslims - was held at its usual Tongi location split over two weekends. I wanted to photograph Akheri Munajat, its final prayer. Since Tongi road was closed to motor vehicles, my options were to walk, ride a rickshaw-van, or bicycle. I cycled.
Starting early, I weaved my way through a jam of confused vehicles at the road closure. A few cars, airport-bound, were allowed through the crowd. Past the airport, the road was occupied by a steady stream of pedestrians, punctuated by bicyclists or rickshaw-vans. People were upbeat, stores closed, and even the street sweepers were taking a break from kicking up dust.
Near the Turag bridge, I found a friendly CNG station to park my cycle. I spent several hours wandering and taking pictures. As the prayer drew closer, a human tide engulfed the road. After filling up sidewalks and storefronts they scaled fences to occupy the narrow strips on traffic islands. Many headed for rooftops. The river itself filled with boats holding people awaiting the prayer.
A few diehard vendors selling snacks and hats avoided the sharp eyes of the police. One shrewd entrepreneur sold sheets of old newspaper for people to sit on.
I was adjusting a camera control when the prayer started. A hush fell suddenly, and I looked up from the camera. Thousands around me who had been moving, talking, eating or laughing had become completely still, hands raised towards the heavens in supplication. A hat vendor placed his hat-stand against a wall to pray. Three policemen joined in. A burkha-clad woman prayed by herself in the middle of the road.
The prayer ended in fifteen minutes. The crowd energized instantly, everyone scrambling into the road towards Dhaka. I pushed and shoved my way into the CNG station, retrieved my bicycle, and approached the road.
But the road, jam-packed with people, had no room for a bicycle.
I saw several disappointed cyclists waiting on the sidewalk, shaking their head. Then I looked carefully into the crowd and noticed that sporadic ambulances, VIP cars, and RAB motorcycles were slowly making a thin lane on the right. This gave me an idea.
I eased my bicycle into the crowd and walked to that lane. Positioning myself behind a car and saying a quick prayer, I mounted my bicycle. Though I was pedalling, moving with the crowd gave me the strange sensation of a strong current pushing me. A double-riding bicyclist appeared. I appreciated the company, but when he lost his balance and fell towards me, I had to swing wildly, barely missing the sharp fence of the traffic island.
At Uttara 7, I ran into a jubilant group chanting Allahu Akbar. The crowd thinned past the airport. I cycled freely while listening to a series of salesmen selling miraculous cure-alls by megaphones. The rest of my ride was uneventful. I reached home feeling fortunate to have lived this memorable day.


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