Shuvo shokal from darkening Dhaka,
When Napoleon Bonaparte likened China to a sleeping giant, he was warning the rest of the world about the impact of the Chinese behemoth waking up and stretching. We are all living through the moment in history when Napoleon’s prediction is taking shape. Neighbouring India also has a massive population and is no longer satisfied with slumber. Here in Bangladesh – once a part of the British empire as an integral part of India – there are 150 million people jammed into a tiny slice of flat land. Bangladesh is also on the up.
When Linda and I walk each day to and from work we see many impromptu soccer, badminton and cricket matches on spare plots of land. These are typically groups of boys or young men using rudimentary equipment, occasionally in a semi-organised format, and occasionally drawing a small crowd of parents. There is a complete absence of groomed grassy ovals, municipal pools, sporting centres, public libraries or art galleries. There is no satisfactory garbage collection system and sewerage is handled by a piecemeal system.
Of course, dear readers, these are the amenities provided by local government. There seems to be no such tier here. Whole suburbs are ‘owned’ by corporations and residents are reliant on the largesse of the corporations or the societies which pop up in the more affluent suburbs. We have a lot to thank when we think of the foresight shown by our founding fathers.
orders from the World Bank
The solution here seems glaringly obvious: institute a system of rates collection for such provision. You could imagine the outcry by the well-resourced, influential minority who would stand to lose the most. It would take a courageous government to do that. Considering the fact that they are more likely to take orders from the World Bank, the chances of such a visionary action are remote.
The Bangladeshi national cricket team provide a case study of sorts. Their numbers are typically drawn from a very narrow section of the community: the elite. There does exist a middle class in Bangladesh but they are tiny in number and purchasing power just yet. When you work six and a half days per week, you don’t have much time for sport!
Bangladesh vs Zimbabwe
When Linda and I ventured to the Bangladesh vs Zimbabwe test match, we enjoyed a day unlike any other cricket I’ve ever witnessed. We sat in among the locals in the grandstand, right behind the bowler’s arm. We were instantly a novelty among the crowd, diverting attention from the game itself. (Linda can be forgiven for missing the fall of every wicket on the day since she was busy attending to the many requests for photographs. Blonde hair is a novelty here and always draws an interested crowd.) There were quite a few young English speakers keen to engage us in conversation, mainly about cricket and study. They weren’t merely practising their spoken English; they were genuinely interested in the association. Several boys wanted to take turns sitting next to Linda throughout the afternoon, apparently perceiving the honour as something to savour. (Of course, I perceive it the same way.)
Shakib al Hasan
For the record, Bangladesh defeated Zimbabwe 3-0 in the series, mainly due to the skills of the local hero Shakib Al Hasan, who became only the third person ever to score a century and take 10 wickets in the same game.
Perhaps the most curious facet of the afternoon’s entertainment was the extent of the parochialism within the crowd. When a Zimbabwean tailender hit a massive six, there was silence in the crowd. When he was caught on the boundary next ball the crowd erupted into hysterical raptures. This is not the British way, old chap!
If Napoleon wanted to warn the world of an awakening giant, he chose a good analogy. Here in Bangladesh there is a long way to go before that’s an issue for anybody else but when the middle class get going, look out Australia in the cricket.