The Power of Connections
Aasha Mehreen Amin
A unique aspect of street culture is that anyone you haven't met before is a potential enemy. It's a dog eat dog world out there. All vehicles around you are either trying to block your chances of getting to the finish line-in this case across the signal and where the traffic is moving- or they are trying to kill you-say, when you are jaywalking or climbing over the road divider.
Outside the streets when you are at a public place, say a hospital, everyone becomes very competitive. It's almost like a football match where patients with their companions, visitors, medical officers and hospital staff, tackle their opponent, shove, push and elbow themselves into the lift, the waiting area and then of course the exalted doctor's chamber. The last destination is like the much-desired goal post, which can only be reached if you are friends with the surly attendant who seems to be the real holder of the golden key to good health and healthy pharmaceutical business. Those from the old school of thought that endorses common courtesy as being a basic prerequisite to being civilised are in for a rude awakening. If you are patiently waiting in line for the lift, you will be waiting a very long time as people who came in much later, even benign-looking elderly ladies, will just nudge their way before you. If you hold doors, people will just keep streaming in without batting an eyelid and you will be the official door-holder for the next half hour.
All this is not to say that we are a rude, unfriendly people. We are uncivilised, selfish and unhelpful only to those we do not know. But in Bangladesh, as everyone knows, it takes about ten seconds to know someone. Everyone is related or connected directly, indirectly, by marriage, by sharing a common village or even by a chance encounter. Once a thread of connection is made, people will go to any length to assist you.
The power of connection is very colourfully illustrated by an intriguing story recently printed in the daily Prothom Alo and written by Riadul Karim. Aptly titled 'Eti Ekti Paribarik Biswabidyaloy', meaning 'This is a family University', the story is about a university where the Vice Chancellor's brother is an assistant accountant, his daughter a research official, his wife's sister's husband's younger brother is another official in the accounts department. About eight of the VC's distant relatives, his driver and home assistant have posts in the institution. What's more, half of all the Second and Third Class employees are from the VC's home village in Pirganj, Rangpur. Locals call the institution 'Pirganj University'. An official of the university who was asked to explain this unbelievable level of nepotism said that at the time when the university was being built there was hardly any infrastructure and people just didn't want to work there, hence the VC was compelled to bring people from his village. In any case, the nonchalant official added, the Prime Minister herself had stood from Pirganj area and so it would be quite normal for most of the employees to be from that area. So that's how far a little bit of connection can go.
Knowing someone in the right place at the right time in fact will just get you anything you want. And this is not confined to ministries or public bodies like RAJUK, WASA or the City Corporation, although such alliances can prove to be invaluable. Having a good rapport with your local fruit vendor will ensure the best papayas or grapes on your table. A known butcher will give more meat than bones and the tailor referred by your sister-in-law will take your orders for Eid when all other tailors have flatly rejected you.
Hence the accolade we have rightfully received as being one of the most hospitable and friendly people of the world. Provided of course, that we know you a little.
Note: Light-skinned people especially foreigners and individuals who exude an aura of power and wealth, are often exempted from this rule.
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