I came to Bangladesh all excited. It was my first trip and I was looking forward to coming to the land of the beautiful language, mighty rivers, fish and of course the sweets. After my stint in Afghanistan, I was expecting a culture that is a milder version of the staunch Islamic civilization one can see there. This especially so since I was going to be here for 2 weeks, right in the middle of Ramadan. I was pleasantly surprised. People are more easy going on the religious front and one can see / hear few evidences of fanaticism. My colleagues here tell me that it is increasing but then I did not see it. Women and men do interact socially and I hardly saw any woman in a burkha either in Dhaka or in the rural areas. Almost like being in India. People, for large part, identify themselves and Bengali first and then as Muslims or Hindus or Christians. Of course the 45 tribal communities remain out of the mainstream society – something that can be seen almost all across the region.
Over the 2 week period I kept gathering impressions –
- The climate was hot and humid all the time – but the air was cleaner than in Delhi or Mumbai and definitely cleaner than Pune : having no industries helps!
- There was water everywhere and yet there was scarcity – poor water management, too much water at the wrong times, geography (over 825 rivers including 5 mighty ones empty from India and Nepal into Bangladesh), recurrent disasters are ideal breeding ground for poverty.Mighty rivers – I am told that at one stretch the Bromhoputro stretches across 17 kms. I got a glimpse of that when I traveled to a river island – we needed 40 min by launch (bhotbhoti) and the expanse of the river continued beyond the island I visited.
- The densely clustered population – one never knows where one village ends and the next starts. Only open spaces are on the rivers and even there you see people trying to make a living on islands – that could be here today gone next year!
- The incredible chaos of traffic that is Dhaka – also home to 18 million people (the most densely populated city in the world). There are NO open spaces in Dhaka – only the myriad lakes and the few parks. Never will I think that Delhi traffic is chaotic.
- The ubiquitous cycle rickshaws of all types in Dhaka and adding to the chaos the converted autos in the rural areas.
- The predominance of fish in the diet – a vegetarian has had it here. Hardly any food to be had. You order potato vegetable and you get that with bits of fried prawns cos the cook thinks it is insulting to serve some one plain potatoes!
- The terribly expensive vegetables with something as simple as capsicum and beans costing 400 (6 $) Taka per kg!
- The wonderfully diverse Iftaar meal with at least 8 varieties and items on the plate and that is just for starters with dinner coming in couple of hours later.
- High crime rates – auto drivers are an easy target and almost all auto drivers sit in cages protecting them from all four sides. Passengers can look after themselves! In any case the auto drivers just want to stand around and chat – they don’t really want to go anywhere.
They say that when a person comes to Bangladesh (s)he cries twice – first at the thought of coming here and then while leaving the wonderful hospitality of this land and her people. As I leave, I do find a lot of merit in this……..
Dhonobaad. Khuda Hafiz. Nomoshkor