Despite not being a leap year, 2018 for many in Bangladesh is more than a leap year, consisting of 370 or even more days. With a moratorium on New Year's Eve parties, at least on the ones outdoors and on rooftops (no mention of backyards, since they are practically extinct), most have pushed back the partying by a week, unless they are already in Bangkok.
Bangladesh can accommodate only so many parties. The party of December 31 makes way for the party of the parties on December 30.
Just like the midnight countdown of the New Year's Eve party, there is also a countdown to the December 30 party—4G, 3G, 2G … till all we have are fancy cameras to which we used to stick our mouths and ears. It is a blessing in disguise as couples finally rediscover each other and kids are truly bored. To add to the rustic picnic vibe, motorised vehicles, except for the necessary ones, are a no-no.
10:00 pm, December 29, 2018. My Facebook gets blocked. Wow! I'm finally rated!! But wait, I am probably the most apolitical person around—switching off whenever there's discussion on politics. The 72-hour Facebook block (which I challenge in vain) is due to a 6-month-old video clip of The Naveed Mahbub Show with FIFA footage. Ok, at least FIFA takes note of me. Well, Twitter is now my only social media outlet, not popular to any Bangladeshi as we are incapable of the 280-character reticence.
11:30 am, December 30, 2018. That's when I wake up despite being an early riser. There is a systemic failure of all the cascading alarm clocks—construction equipment, honking cars, yelling people (we suffer from collective voice immodulation), air conditioners, generators … resulting in an eerily quiet Dhaka city.
In a way, it's good, as we'll beat the rush. The wife and I are about to start for our polling station at Gulshan Model School when our seven-year-old nags: “I want to go to Gulshan Model School—I want to be a [fashion] model.” After explaining to her the difference between the two models, we two head out. We hold hands like newlyweds and walk the empty streets, at times venturing out to the yellow dividing line in the middle—an action on this day not deemed as jaywalking.
Once we reach Gulshan Model School, it takes us another hour to go to our polling booths. No, not because we didn't have our serial numbers, but because it was party time—socialising with just about everyone from the area. For once, it is not a sad qul khani or a painstakingly obligatory wedding that forces us to socialise and reconnect with those we haven't seen since the last Halley's Comet. Plenty of selfies. One even comments with a grin: “Man, even the Dhaka Club voting took longer!” That's right, for those who were smart enough to use their dumb (mobile data-less) smart phones the day before to get their serial numbers via the good old SMS.
Armed with my SMS obtained serial number, I make a beeline for my room, where I am handed my ballot paper and stamp in a jiffy. Once I'm inside the polling booth, I stamp the ballot paper, but I take ages before folding the paper—like clinging on to the HSC answer sheet till the last minute, despite revising a hundred times. I make sure there is no equivalent of Florida's dimpled or hanging chads. The official outside says sternly: “Naveed Shaheb, hurry up, people are waiting!”
How does he know my name? Surely, he doesn't have the page with my name open, for he has immediately gone to the page with the picture/ID of the next voter. I come out and see a small line already formed. He adds: “I like your TV show, but you took a long time inside.”
Voting is done. My thumb bears the modern-day black permanent marker mark, as opposed to what I think now in retrospect is water-proof eye liner that was used in the past.
More socialising, to the point that the cops on duty ask us politely to leave and not hang around. We get a ride back in a car this time, as my kid brother (mistaken as my parents' grand kid), drives my parents back home. The car is not stopped—they are senior citizens.
The empty streets of the Tri-State area take us back in time to when the area WAS like this. Many a Gulshanite are out with their kids, walking and more so, riding on this strange object called rickshaw. A rickshaw ride is no longer an excursion where you have to change flights a hundred times, based on the colour code of the jackets worn by the rickshaw pullers in areas demarcated by societies.
The time travel takes us further back to the elections of yester years with Bangladesh Television, the only channel at the time, luring us to stay up all night to follow the election results by way of dangling the “carrot” called a series of English movies. Needless to say, with election updates coming in every five minutes, High Noon takes nineteen hours to finish its run, if at all, with the late, great Sirajul Majid Mamun appearing with his rich baritone, gelled hair and Clark Gable moustache.
December 31, 2018. The results are pretty much out. The cities are quiet. The wife and I decide to have friends and family over for a BBQ while adhering to DMP guidelines. Everyone shows up uncharacteristically early at 6:00 pm, while we are still in pajamas. Besides, nobody has any party to go to. The youngest is my 87-day-old nephew and the oldest is my 87-year-old dad. It is a great BBQ as we usher in 2019, somewhat hush-hush and indoors.
January 1, 2019. It is still quiet, eerily quiet. And it still continues to be…
Naveed Mahbub is an engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA, CEO of IBM & Nokia Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club. E-mail: Naveed@NaveedMahbub.com