Dhaka demands my attention. Not just with thoughts and opinions but even in an invisible ways. Dhaka rests in those tiny moist particles on my body which only kalboishakhi storms can induce. Dhaka puts her weight in each of those floating, invisible objects on my skin; I feel its heaviness, entering from my veranda, dusty with construction noises and on my way to work, in pauses, throughout traffic jams.
I never looked at Dhaka as this demanding before. Yes, I knew Dhaka for people like me with parents drowning in nationalism will always be greater than what it is. We will use romanticism, frequent memory loss techniques, live for the 'baro mash e tero porbon' (the 13 celebrations for the 12 months) and each other's sweet lies to keep things moving.
We do that. Our childhood bedtime stories were about the 1971 war, it wasn't all fairies and godmothers. We have learned to create mental shields from an early age, we have had enough terrors in our heart, we realised it was better off pretending things are just dandy most of the time.
So I grew up with one shared love, as a family, as a community. Dhaka, a place of sorrow of the past, fighters, creators, builders, that's what our parents told us. And we believed everything they said.
And how I loved Dhaka, my first days here five years back, as an adult, trying to look for a place, trying to lie through my ways so that I won't get hassled for being a single Bengali female who, according to the Bengali standards, is not old enough to be alone. And I worked through all these boundaries, I saw so many fight and move forward just like me, more than me, so many still are, yet I no longer can fight the same fight.
You see all that love I gave to Dhaka, she took it to her heart, and, as one would expect, then to her head.
The demands started a couple of years ago. At first it was completely unnoticeable, like the layers of dust which gather overnight, or the increase of children selling things at the traffic stop lights. But then the demands came with blockades, sexual harassments, deaths of various kinds, bad news after terrible news. When I spoke to Dhaka about all this madness, Dhaka demanded I forget all that and move ahead, that I forgive like I always do. Dhaka told me, “Listen to 'hariye giyechi ey toh joruri khobor” - you know those lyrics written by Sahana?”
Dhaka walked away pressing play, and I sat there relating to those words while the words became a song. I put it on repeat and wanted to declare that that song was about me, but then I corrected myself and realised no, that song was about people like me. And how many thousands there might be of us? Sitting in our corners, indulging in pain, listening to old tracks and weeping over how it used to be.
So I started looking at Dhaka as an old lover, someone I do not need to please, the memories will never fade, because I never let it, but the current Dhaka, your demands are not sitting well in my inside. And your growing presence, adding on one disappointment and various inklings of accidents, to my semi-settled world, that's not done either. Your demands hide my curves, my arms, my body language, my laughter, my sadness, my right to be on the street without feeling my female presence most persistently.
Yes, I am a girl Dhaka, I thought you were one too? I had ascribed you a gender because you were talkative and whiney like me as a young girl and mischievous as a teenager the way only girls can be, and demanding in powerless ways as an adult. Come to think of it, you never spoke up Dhaka, you tried to keep your nostalgic melancholic exterior while you rested your weight against all of our bodies. It's been heavy.
So consider this a telltale piece. It is out in the open that you and I had a love affair you and I lived together as adults, in the same space, sharing the same highlights of the day, eating similar food, falling asleep around the same time. I thought we had harmony Dhaka? But now it feels more like anarchy.
Do you feel empty Dhaka? Insecure? Well, you should. Your charm is plastered with political announcements, half your roads are broken open, your corners are filled with lurkers waiting for someone in the wrong time in the wrong place, and what are you doing Dhaka? Showing us krishnochuras, the abundant voluptuous red hanging all around town, and the jasmines at the traffic lights? Is that all Dhaka? But wait Dhaka, were you ever secure? Stable? Or was I just in love with an angry, gorgeous, insecure teenage girl who grew up and lost her edge?
Stop burning Dhaka, stop running from your flaws, look at yourself Dhaka, no more hiding under the colours of celebrations, red and white, green and red, white and black. Come out Dhaka, show your real colours, even if they have faded significantly, it's a request from an old love. I want to remember the you beneath all the telecom brand shaded festivals, the plastic bottles floating on your Buriganga, the broken garments factories and talk show facades. Please come out and mourn Dhaka, mourn for the gone, mourn for your sorrow with us, and mourn for all that love you have been letting go throughout the years. Grieve Dhaka, grieve for your loss.