<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 124 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 26, 2003

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Neeman A Sobhan

The solid, battering wall of noise and people cracks and gives way as we roll down the ramp with our luggage cart towards the Zia Airport car-park. Our driver takes charge and shoos away six stalwarts who are begging to help lift our two suitcases, the same two that we hoisted unaided, into the trunk of my friend's car the day we departed at Fiumicino. I only clasp my laptop to my bosom and otherwise, allow myself to be taken over by the tide of the moment.

Driver hollers at a persistent coolie-to-be, 'Dhoor Miya, shoren dekhi....' then protectively guides me into the back of the car. I don't have the heart to tell him that I need no protection. Although I am quite capable of crumbling to emotional blackmail and handing over the contents of my purse to the nagging beggar woman and the legions who will follow suit, I am equally capable of screaming 'Ayee, geli?' depending on the length and nature of the flight I have arrived on. I am an ex-pat, not a foreigner. From Rome to Dhaka, I have flown from home to home. For a decade now, and at our insistence, we are met at the airport by no family members and only by the driver and a servant. So the illusion is always as if we have just returned from a prolonged holiday abroad and not from another life, another home.

A fresh green breeze flutters its flag over Dhaka. The hometown feels cooler than the sweltering Rome we left. An expectation of rain scents the air. My locked lake front apartment is exactly as we left it at the end of April. Even the 'Best of R.D.Burman' C.D we were listening to is still inside the player. My favourite toast biscuit with tea and sliced poneer welcomes me to my lake view balcony. Badda and Motijheel skylines beckon from one horizon and from the other, a long line of shanty town peeks through a lace of post-monsoon vegetation. The view continues to be unobstructed, no landfill yet raising its Lochness head, thank God. Twenty azans in different vocal ranges go off like noisy firecrackers, like trumpets. I am home.

My eyes are more myopic on my first day than nature intended. So, I am bound to love everything today and hardly see any ugliness. I hardly see. Period. Today, I only feel; rather, I see with my skin, my emotions, my nostalgia, my longings. I send off our loyal house keeper to buy bakarkhani, chanachur and naarkeler naroo from Dhali General Store, and tiny champa bananas and the season's last taal from Gulshan market. I call family and friends, make connections, appointments, dates. Then I unpack, unwind and take stock. Today is a blank day, a bonus. Today, I sense Dhaka at one remove, as if I were still away and dreaming, the details of this place all blurred and half-imagined, pink tinged pictures behind my eyelids. I see the flowers and the improvements, and dwell on how refreshing the weather is, in spite of the humidity.

Time enough tomorrow to read the newspapers where thugs, euphemistically referred to as businessmen, shoot each other out on streets and the daily murder rate holds steadier than the daily temperature. Time enough tomorrow to notice the rutted residential roads, the filth by the way side, the rampant and indiscriminate urbanisation, the shabbiness and overcrowding in the streets, the garishness of the spiralling commercial life with its fungus growth of upcoming shopping malls, skeletons of 'luxury' apartments spilling construction material into the neighbourhood alleys, billboards of universities pointlessly named after every point on the compass, and eroded, garbage strewn sidewalks where mothers sit on pavements all day waiting outside schools for their wards. Then, after a few days of ranting at the traffic, the state of the country, the disgraceful condition of the city, I know that all ugliness will again fall away, dissolve.

It will happen at a mid-way point in the trip, perhaps, on a fourth and busy day when, lets say, I have spent twenty minutes to go from just Gulshan first circle to second and have not managed to get even the first chore on my list done. But today, I am protected from frustrations, for I have put on, literally and figuratively, my specially tinted Dhaka glasses, making the visible world so much more acceptable than it would be seeing it with my naked, God-given eyes. The figurative glasses that I speak of, are naturally, rose tinted, and they come with the territory: if you refuse to wear them, you may as well give up, get overwhelmed, and agree to suffer high blood pressure like the rest of the cogitating, agitating populace which sees no solutions to the problems around them.

But, it's the other pair of glasses, the literal ones, that is, my new dark tinted sun-glasses, powered and corrected for myopia, which I have just had made for me here in Dhaka that make me feel positive, hopeful. These dark glasses put the world in a happier perspective for me. At the simplest level, obviously, they cut out the glare of reality, soften the harsh edges and blot out the ugliness that I can do nothing about. But, it is at the other, more practical level, in the process of acquiring the glasses that I'm filled with hope. They force me to tell myself, okay, so the road to the optician was slow, congested and piled with garbage; but once inside its air-conditioned interior, I have not only met with efficient and polite service, but within a single day, and for a quarter of the price I'd pay in Italy, I've come away fully satisfied. How often can one say that in Dhaka or anywhere?

I am definitely keeping on one of both pairs of glasses, the literal and the figurative, for the duration of my three week stay here. To survive in Dhaka, as anywhere, you also need to know when to put on and take off these glasses judiciously. Some days I want an unimpaired view of the real world, some days I am content to observe it with a peripheral vision. I have glasses for myopia and for harsh sunlight, I also have lenses specially prescribed against too much reality and pessimism. For a writer, again, sometimes what you do not see is as important as what you see, and today is one of those days. Today, I am just happy to be back in Dhaka. Today, I am wilfully blind.



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