Shuvo shokal from Dhaka,
Quote of the Week (from Taaseen in Grade 12 Business, when I asked him about the discrepancy between his oral contributions and his written responses on the topic of Methods of Production): “I’ve always been more interested in mergers and acquisitions.”
Taaseen is a local Bangladeshi, from the privileged class and a likely lad by anyone’s standards. Perhaps he personifies the contradictions of this country as well as any.
Recent development in Bangladesh has benefited everyone but there is a narrow band at the top who have become stupendously wealthy. Simultaneously, there are other compatriots who earn tiny remuneration and live in poverty. The two groups appear to live in harmonious co-existence.
jet fighters in Bangladesh
During the day here in the capital we often hear and see jet fighters overhead. At first I thought it was inconceivable that an impoverished nation could possess such extravagances. But I have it from reliable sources that the planes are in fact owned by the Bangladesh Air Force. They are apparently Mig 29s and I’m told there are no fewer than four of them. Needless to say, for a pacifist this represents an appalling misallocation of resources. Some estimates calculate each practice run over the city to be equivalent to the monthly food bill for an average village here. But then again, couldn’t we argue that any military expenditure represents a similar waste? But here, the shocking juxtaposition seems even more nonsensical than it does elsewhere.
overtaken by war-torn Damascus
A recent newspaper report informs us that Dhaka is no longer at the top of the list of 10 Least Livable Cities in the world. Damascus has dethroned us! The author concedes the fact that this dubious elevation is no cause for complacency. Despite this low ranking, there are positive things happening here in Dhaka. There is an enormous amount of construction occurring (always a sign of development) and nobody we’ve spotted seems to be going hungry. There are no distended bellies and very few beggars (in relative terms).
waste not, want not
As mentioned in an earlier epistle, the locals are adept at recycling (by necessity). Because there is very little rock in this alluvial land, bricks are rare and never wasted. Plastic bags have been almost entirely banned and shopping bags are usually made of cotton or jute (the country’s most abundant product – also used for rope and, I seem to remember, cricket mats). Yet, when I go to the trouble of saving the bags and taking them back to the stores, the shop assistants appear bemused; almost affronted by the gesture. They invariably produce another – new – bag for the exchange. I haven’t been able to find a satisfactory explanation for this yet. (Perhaps they think I’m being condescending?)
no Smart Alecs
There are also contradictions among the student body of the school. These have generally manifested themselves as pleasant surprises for both Linda and me. For example, boys at school are unashamedly avid readers. It was great to hear boys in my Grade 8 class playing roles and expressing themselves with such unabashed histrionics. (This includes big boofy Appe, the sort we’d be satisfied to shove into the rugby league second row back home.) Most kids are very willing to contribute to the less privileged, for what appears to be genuinely altruistic reasons. The students in our classes are – without exception – from wealthy families, but there is very little evidence of arrogance. Linda says, “There are no Smart Alecs!”
the nouveau riche
Linda agrees with my collective assessment and predicts that the children of the following generation will bear the hallmarks of arrogance. This may well occur because these are the nouveau riche, rather than the landed gentry. Perhaps this was illustrated well by Wasif, an exceedingly personable young chap from Grade 11, who, when released early at the end of the school day, said, “If I’d known I could have let my driver know.” There was not a hint of arrogance in the comment at all.
Taaseen and Wasif are both microcosms of the new Bangladesh. Both represent apparent contradictions but both are very decent people. We’ve been seeing it everywhere we go.
Khoda Hafez from Dhaka