<%-- Page Title--%> Slice of Life <%-- End Page Title--%>

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

September 26, 2003

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Traffic Jam

Richa Jha

“It'll not take us much time to reach there, certainly not more than half an hour”, I shouted back to him as I grabbed my handbag from the table. Ari, my friend from school, now a US Green Card holder, was visiting us at Dhaka for a couple of days, and he was in the guest room getting ready.

“What are you saying? I thought this restaurant was next door, which is why we settled for it, and you say it's a half hour away”, he sounded incredulous.

“You shall see”.

The traffic that evening didn't let me down. True to my prediction, once on the clogged arterial road, the watch seemed redundant.

“You see that huge round-about there? That's the Gulshan 2 circle. It less than six month's time, this place is going to earn the 'most congested, chaotic conundrum in Dhaka' sobriquet.

“Worse than this?”, he looked amused, but in the same breath he added, “but yeah, you're right. I can see the mindless construction all on sides”

“Don't you call it mindless. The construction magnates know fully well that finally it's people like me who'll be staying at these apartments, and dropping by at these malls to shop. They have it all calculated, my dear!”

“How far is the restaurant from here?”, he asked, ostensibly to change the subject.

“A five minute walk”

“Then why don't we simply walk?”

“This is not New York, my friend! See how you get bigger salutes from the guards when you're seen getting off a
jumbo four-wheel drive!

“Why don't you move around in a road-roller then? Now listen, since this is a tiny car we are in, I don't think the
'reception' would be much different from when you just
'walk in', so just get off the car, and walk.”

I obeyed his forceful assertion. For someone who's always been fond of traipsing down the alleys at strange places for hours on end and getting my shoes dirty, this was certainly the first time I was doing it in Dhaka. Blame it on my sheltered existence here, but the truth is, I felt strange. Almost as if a hundred set of eyes from the cars stuck in the traffic snarl were peering at me! But for the first time in over a year, I felt free. Free to choose my own course, free to mingle with the bustle of street side anonymity, and free to decide my own pace of action. Wheels can never replace the assuredness of one's own set of legs, never.

As we walked past the shops selling hardware, music, cigarettes, shingharas - shops I'd not 'seen' before - I was surprised at how little I notice sitting inside the car.

When we came to an open manhole on what would barely pass off as a pavement, Ari quizzed me, “where's the cover?”

“Stolen. Someone must have earned a few hundred takas from it. There are many more uncovered ones on this road. They've been like this ever since I've been around in Dhaka.”

He looked aghast, “you mean to say these will remain thus forever?”

“Ah! Can't comment on the 'forever' part of it, but it'll sure be status quo till the monsoons last”.
“What happens when it rains?”

“What do you think? The roads get water logged, silly, what else?” It was almost as if he had forgotten the knee-deep waters we used to wade through on our way to school. But that world seemed too distant for him. For someone having lived in the West for more than a decade, the hard hitting truths in the lives of the people in the subcontinent appeared but as a hazy recollection of beggars and touts. His world had changed, and the parameters on which he judged his life had changed.

“And then how do you know there's an uncovered hole

“Uffo, what's the matter with you Ari, someone falls into these man holes black deaths we call them - what else? Every year, these small news items in the newspaper keep reminding us that the monsoons are still around, that's it”, the callousness in my tone made me cringe, made him look nonplussed.

“Are lives so cheap here then?” It was obvious he was too far removed from realities of the lives of ordinary human beings in countries like ours. So I remained silent.

But that silence was also a reflection on how far we, the privileged ones, too had pulled ourselves away from the lives of the man on the street. I was no different from this friend of mine who had been physically absent from here. At least he looked concerned. The fact that I had been noticing these uncovered manholes, as it were, since eternity, and yet had done nothing about it, showed just how passive I have become. Yet another self centred, comfort seeking individual, happy to be moving around in cars with the glasses rolled up. Whenever the cars get a chance to move, that is.


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