It is not for nothing that Dhaka is called a “jadur shohor”—a magical city. No, I don't say this to exoticise a city from the Global South out of any unconscious colonial hangover. I believe in the city's “special” abilities that are crucial in defining the urban pathology and behaviour it generates.
The city as we know it is as much a physical space as it is a state of mind. The mindscape—the space we bear in our mind—is constantly in dialogue with the physical city. The real city emerges out of this dialectic. Yet, and quite sadly so, our urban research remains heavily biased towards the physical city, relegating the immaterial associations of the city as secondary, if not outright unimportant.
The city is like a text. It always gives us clues in many forms into its inner world. Reading those signs may allow us to see a pattern leading to the city's psycho-social world. Why is this even important? Because this is the invisible landscape that conditions the visible one, determining the way we behave in the city. Let us consider Dhaka. How does living in Dhaka feel ? It is like being on perpetual tenterhooks.
While Dhaka drowns in myriad urban problems, all resulting from some sort of scarcity in resources, the city's sensorium is marked by a glaring superfluity—be it visual, tactile, auditory or olfactory. Our experience of the city is thus unavoidably multi-sensual, yet when it comes to analysing the city the way we derive specialised knowledge about the urban environment depends heavily on disciplines and practices that are essentially visual. We depend on cartography, land surveys, optical geography.
Last time, I wrote about how Dhaka's public spaces exude a strong maleness and how women walk about the city wearing their gender like the proverbial albatross that just would not unburden their shoulders. How does that weigh on men? I would say heavier!
There is not much to love about being a woman on the streets of Dhaka. Let's call a spade a spade—Dhaka streets are not pedestrian-friendly, irrespective of one's gender. Missing or broken pavements, gaping holes to catch you off guard, footpaths overtaken by hawkers, vendors, makeshift shops of all sorts, piled up construction materials, spilled-over garbage, bikers and even rickshaws carrying passengers looking to cut across heavy traffic—you name