Being late in Dhaka due to traffic jam is the lamest of all excuses. For if there is anything predictable in Dhaka, it is the gnarling traffic jam. To make it on time for an appointment across town, all one has to do is start two days early.
But for once, I am "late" in starting. So is the motorcade in front of my car. It is that of the head of a diplomatic mission who I know is also heading to the same event across town. Then comes the magic: the football referee whistle starts blowing, red coloured, circumcised versions of the lightsaber from Star Wars jut out through the windows of the escorting vehicles. Instead of the "vooaam, vooam" sound of the lightsaber, we hear the rich baritone (perhaps the selection criteria for this position) blaring through the loudspeaker of the lead vehicle ordering the omnipresent traffic to part like the Red Sea. The barrage of admonishing sounds like that of The Hillbilly Bears where the bear mumbles a two-minute-long sentence where only one word, the only important one, is discernible. In this case, all we hear is "[Mumble, mumble] SHADA GARI! [Mumble, mumble]!" But the tone of authority is unmistakable and so is the exclusive VIP horn which sounds of breaking wind. The crowd all around takes the massive audio and visual assaults as seriously as it takes the wailing siren of an ambulance stuck in traffic. For once, EVERYONE has the right of way.
But here is my chance to try to make it on time. I tell my driver to turn on the hazard lights (which in Bangladesh are interpreted as going straight) and follow the mini motorcade. How I wished the proletariat white number plate of my car would get instant Hepatitis E (E for Emergency) and turn yellow.
And then, the motorcade does the "right" thing and veers to the right of the divider, all to the alarm of the oncoming traffic... "Abort, abort!" is my radio call to my driver sitting in the front seat. We abort mission and remain (stationary) in the traffic. Better late than never.
But this is an exception to the rule. Diplomats in town are highly respectful to all local norms, especially the law. Well, except when it comes to putting up barricades on taxpayers' public roads and concrete blocks on sidewalks meant for us poor pedestrians (and motorbikes). Oh, and also "No Parking" orange cones (artist credit: contracted private security companies). Funny, I get yelled at for parking my car in front of the Palestinian Ambassador's house, a piece of real estate (the road) owned by MY country and occupied by NOBODY.
But diplomatic immunity doesn't mean diplomatic impunity. I'm in the car with my five-year-old and eight-month-old, making a right turn at a T-junction with complete right of way. This diplomatic plated (for sure, starts with a 'দ') SUV not only doesn't stop, but deliberately speeds up, then stops just short of ramming us from the side, the same (left) side where I am sitting with my two little kids. The SUV then honks the daylights out as a means of cussing us out. I tell my driver to turn around and chase the SUV, which by then speeds away taking advantage of a power engine and an empty road ahead of it (it being Gulshan at 10pm on a Saturday).
The person in the driving seat very likely was not the staff driver—he wouldn't dare jeopardise his job. If the driver was a diplomat, I am certain this was then a rare aberration of someone driving under the influence, resulting in a "dip flip"—a 'dip'lomat 'flip'ping out while trying to flip my car while my five-year-old flips over in trauma. But like everything "phoren", this is a matter of "status"—at least it was not a rundown truck flipping me off while carrying construction material into Dhaka's elite section to ensure everyone in the vicinity is unable to sleep from the sound of unloading metal rods all night.
So, who was the 'dip'? Sure can be found out with the flip of a switch—there WERE CCTV cameras right there at the intersection…
Naveed Mahbub is an engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA and CEO of IBM & Nokia Siemens Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and ABC Radio's Good Morning Bangladesh, and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club. Email: [email protected]