"Do you like mountains more, or the sea?"
Growing up in Chattogram, everyone will have faced this question. The mountains on one side and the sea on the other puts you in a dilemma – a strange illusion that makes it so very hard to give an honest answer.
This city has grown inside of me as much as I've grown up in this city. When I walk along these familiar streets, or the winding alleyways that spread out like the roots of an ancient tree, I smell familiar scents. I see faces of people, busy faces, running from one circle to another in search of a bus. I see faces full of enthusiasm, eyes that light up at the sight of fresh jilapi being fried on roadside open stoves. I see faces of couples sitting together, losing themselves in each other's eyes, in an air-conditioned restaurant somewhere in this city. I see people with sadness etched on their faces, carrying along tired bodies, their eyes betraying the emptiness inside.
Everyday I see these faces, and feel a ring of familiarity solidifying around me. A ring that's hard to break out of.
I, too, lose myself in these faces every day. Sometimes I am the busy pedestrian, sometimes I am the stranger. A day in the city often takes me to GEC Moar, which you could call the heart of the city. Different buses on different routes start their journey here, and while the moar stays busy all day, the influx of home-bound commuters adds a whole new level to the chaos as evening falls. Public buses brimming with people roll off towards Muradpur 2 No. Gate or Bahaddarhat, some are going to Agrabad, Barek Building, or even further away.
All this time, shoppers and shopkeepers in Riazuddin Bazar, New Market, and Tamakundi Lane are busy playing the game of buy and sell, while Chawkbazar mostly deals with the comings and goings of students. A two-hour class might have left someone tired, eager to get home, while someone else moves hurriedly to catch a class themselves. With friends hanging out in scattered groups, and lazy strolls in Gulzar Tower, Chawkbazar lives on in a tradition of its own.
The smell of new books floats in to tingle the senses from the direction of Anderkilla. In the rows of bookshops by the road, or in the ones that you will find if you go inside and up some stairs, attentive readers can be seen browsing through bookshelves. Some of them are desperately looking for a book they need; some just want to read the first few pages of a book that seems interesting. The books on display bear witness to the murmur of haggling over prices that goes on between the buyers and sellers.
When the activity and chaos of the city becomes too much, I walk in search of some solitude and peace. I find it at CRB, a place surrounded by ancient trees, where seven roads meet to form a world of its own. The calm lasts until noon, and then as afternoon rolls in, people come with it, when Shirish Tola gets to play host to games of cricket, football, and friendship. The search for greenery and tranquility has more than one answer, however. People go to Foy's Lake, they take the winding roads of Bhatiary to enjoy the beauty of the hills and the lake together.
A little way away from the city centre is one of the biggest attractions of Chattogram – Naval. Perched up on the walls made of red and white bricks, I've spent hours looking at ships afloat the river. The area is abuzz with people as night falls and the light goes dim, as the wind from the sea gets stronger. A plate of piyaju or fried crabs keeps company as onlookers get mesmerised by the sight of the Karnaphuli meeting the sea.
The sunrise and sunset is best seen from Patenga beach. It's also where I go to enjoy the sea in its singular glory. Standing on the edge of the sea, you can only see the waves crashing in, and also the tiny ships in the horizon, waiting to enter the port. The waves grow louder and the winds get wilder as time passes.
Starting from the Rail Station, a track snakes through the city, ending at the Chittagong University Station. The shuttle train carries students to and from the university all day, their journeys adorned by catkin in autumn, by a mysterious fog in winter, and by the pitter-patter of rain in monsoon. It's almost as if the journey reminds students of the seasonal beauties nature has to offer as they whistle into the country's largest university campus.
Chattogram changes in appearance as the year comes around. Bangladesh's business capital and port city lightens up from the yellow glow of the port as evening rolls in. The hills and the sea cradle with love those who have to constantly hustle in search of a living, the monotony of city life is interjected with the memories of life in a beautiful city.
These memories and this love then become the capital of progress, for a dream of a better future.
The writer is a student of Public Administration at the University of Chittagong.
Follow the artist on Instagram at @markofmidori