Price hike: Don’t worry, be happy – no matter what
People are going a bit crazy these days. Perhaps it's the scorching heat and smog choking them during hours stuck in traffic gridlocks. Or perhaps it's the multipronged ambush of inflation and shortages on all fronts – fuel, power, gas, food, dollars, everything. This is the time when everyone should perhaps adopt the delusional, sorry, "optimistic" philosophy of Pangloss, a character in Voltaire's satirical novel Candide. Pangloss, a tutor, teaches his naïve, young Candide that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." So no matter what disasters befall Candide and his companions – murders, hangings, earthquakes – he believes in this mantra until his epiphany almost at the end of the novel, which we shall not dwell upon for now as we prefer the burying-our-heads-in-the-sand position.
So, what are the ways in which we can reach a Zen-like state when our heads are exploding with crippling financial anxiety?
For starters, adopt the "less is more" motto. In fact, many of our fellow citizens already are. They are eating less and less of oil, meat, vegetables, even rice; in fact, some of them are on a water diet. The more privileged sections of society, who are afflicted by diseases caused by eating too much and working (in terms of physical labour) too less, can take lessons from the poor and lower middle class, and actually benefit health-wise through lower calorie intake and prolonged intermittent fasting.
The fuel crisis, too, can be seen as a blessing in disguise. With fewer buses on the road and public transport fares soaring like tidal waves, bicycling has become a desirable mode of transport. What's more, it gives people the workout they need, and for which many have to pay exorbitant sums in gym memberships. If you still don't know how to ride a bike – like some of us – and have no intention of trying to learn this skill, walking is the best option. And it is also free. If it's a distance as long as Uttara to Karwan Bazar, start before dawn and take breaks at the tea stalls. Don't worry about the spike in sugar levels from the syrupy tea – you will soon be walking off the calories. Also, look at it as a challenging trek across a rugged territory. The rocks, sand, unpredictable holes in the ground and hostile animals (the human kind) all may be compared to the conditions of the Amazon. The lush vegetation can be imagined.
Of course, for some of us lazy people, neither option is feasible and we must be carried in some form of contraption that moves. Thus the government should now ban all buses, CNGs, private cars, etc and only allow pedal rickshaws and van garis – not the battery-operated ones, since they will require electricity to charge the batteries. Bicycle-sharing has already been introduced for the immobile yet adventurous types. From a macroeconomic view, unemployment may be eased.
What about load-shedding in the peak of summer? And that the price of electricity will be increased by 58 percent? Think of yourself as an eco-tourist who has deliberately sought out an existence without the modern contraptions of electric lights, fans and air conditioners. It may even mean going without Wi-Fi as well as mobile phones and laptops when their batteries die. Thus there will be many hours when you can meditate while getting a free sauna and get in touch with your inner self – all within the luxury of your brick, cemented walls. While not many city-dwellers have the option to go to the terrace to cool down and to "watch the stars" as they fall asleep, they can always get a hold of those traditional hand fans that will build their biceps, whether they are fanning themselves or others. It's all about going back to nature or just going back… digital Bangladesh can wait. Again, for most residents of this fabulous concrete jungle, the breeze from swaying tamarind and fragrant hasnahena trees have to be figments of the imagination. You may also want to emulate those people whose bedrooms are the pavements, and beds a pile of newspapers or a bamboo jhuri (basket); then you can get all the open sky, wind, rain and visits from the mini vampires you like.
Our traditional resilience and innovative spirit, therefore, will keep us not quite afloat perhaps, but at least breathing. At this point, we must laud the innovativeness of the government to help foreign countries that are also going through economic hell, by importing vital items. So we will be importing diesel at higher prices since we kind of forgot (since 1968) to update our very own oil refinery that does not have the capacity to refine or store the crude oil (that could have produced the diesel). The good news for those naysayers, who think we should have made some savings before the price hikes by buying the crude oil when prices were low, is that a proposal for increasing the capacity is underway and has been "fast-tracked" – we have already passed 10 years since it was proposed – just a matter of a few more decades before we have the capacity that could save a mere Tk 2,500 crore per year. Our great-great-great-grandchildren may actually get to see this miracle in their lifetime.
In fact, the extent of our generosity – to others – is truly mind-blowing. Instead of going for gas exploration using our own Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) to extract the gas that experts say would have solved a major portion of our energy demands, we have decided to opt for importing LNG (liquefied natural gas) no matter how much their prices fluctuate. We will also continue to pay the thousands of crores in capacity charges to foreign and local quick rental power plants, in dollars. They may not be producing any electricity, but at least we know they have the capacity to do so.
The road ahead, therefore, needn't be perceived so bleakly, but with positivity. If things are bad, there must be a good reason for it. It's time we stopped listening to the experts – what do they know? We have almost reached Candide's Eldorado, a land where there is no crime and therefore no courts, and where citizens have no use for the abundant gold and gems around as all their needs are met by the government. Imagination is more important than knowledge, said Einstein. And in the present times, ignorance is definitely bliss.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is joint editor at The Daily Star.