The Flight of the Phoenix
One fine morning, someone from the Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington DC decides to have a few plastic cones on the street in the front with 'No Parking' written on them. No wait, let's make it a bit more benign – 'No Standing'. 'Beng-laa-dash'? Where on earth is that? And besides, this is 3510 International Drive, Washington DC. While the word 'International', unlike in Bangladesh, draws no mass frothing, this is also not Massachusetts Avenue, the 'Embassy Row'.
So, let's pick an embassy that may matter. Let's see, aha, the Embassy of Iraq on 3421 Massachusetts Avenue engaged in the same action, i.e., of placing orange cones, sponsored by the cones of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, displaying the same sign, 'No Parking' (though 'No Invading' would be more appropriate).
These are all the wild imaginations of a comedian who always wonders "What if…". But IF that really were to happen, no matter how high up in the Iraqi administration making this vital decision, it would be counteracted and dealt with immediately. No, not by President Trump pressing the red button, but by the empowered rookie officer of Washington DC Police Department on his regular beat by having the cones removed in a jiffy, if not also by issuing citations for violating thoroughly enforced traffic laws.
Such is not the case on Dhaka's Embassy Row, or rather, maze of rows, where 'traffic' signs of all types, shapes, colours pop up like playing blocks at a children's daycare centre and somehow the usually law-breaking average citizen of Bangladesh all of a sudden becomes the squeamishly obliging 'law' abiding citizen. After all, the bark from the private security guard, upgraded through affiliation (with a foreign mission), is better than its (toothless) bite. We oblige, never thinking twice about demanding to see a permit that bars access to the tax payer's side walk.
Oh, and there are the concrete barricades, albeit environmentally friendly with some trees planted inside them.
In DC, a lone cop takes care of the job, let alone the Mayor of the city having to show up at the embassy door like a commoner to plead to the mission chief to 'request' that the cones be removed.
But it takes a lot more in Dhaka to beat the trend while risking taking the heat. The Mayor HAS to do exactly what the lone DC cop in his Ford Crown Victoria accomplishes in a heartbeat. The Mayor of North Dhaka, with the rank of a cabinet minister, and the will of a messiah, does exactly that.
Thus, gone are the 'barricades', cones, signs and so on, placed initially with the rights of inheritance. Gone are (some of) the business establishments that had mushroomed up in residential areas. Gone are the waterlogged streets. Gone are the broken sidewalks. Gone are the containers which had converted Shaat (seven) Raasta (road) to Chhoy (six) Raasta (road) in Tejgaon after the Mayor himself being 'incarcerated' for a whole day by the occupiers (Netanyahu style). Gone is the nonchalance as he bravely apologises in public for the indomitable mosquitoes. Gone is the need to look at oneself first as opposed to the city. Gone is the fear of dealing with the ingrained politics. Gone is the apathy to take on the complex racket head on. Gone is the image of this man being inaccessible. Gone is the politics replaced by vision, will, dedication and sure, charisma. Gone is the centralisation with the city split in two with two, young, dynamic men engaged in healthy competition with the city dwellers, both north and south, coming out as winners. Gone is the rhetoric "We are weak and have to be impolite" replaced by "Don't take our politeness as weakness". Gone is the concept of a place of fear now becoming a place of service.
Here is a man, who goes to London in the cabin of an aircraft but returns to Dhaka in the cargo hold a much bigger man. But his last drive from the Airport to the Army Stadium and then to Banani is on the streets of a city that will never, ever, forget a man who has changed the office of the Mayor forever.
Now, we either go back to BAU (Business As Usual) as we've seen for the majority of the nation's existence, or see someone brave enough to fill the huge shoes left behind. I have a positive feeling it will be the latter – and thus truly, becoming the Flight of the Phoenix…
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, the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club. E-mail: [email protected]