Bangladesh Slideshow

29 May, 2007

Turn Back the Time

I met my best friend in kindergarten. We went to the same school, college and university. Today, three decades later, living in two continents, and seeing each other very infrequently, the bond we share seems to grow stronger with each passing day.

There was a time when spending hours on the phone after school was an essential condition for best friends. Hanging out at each other’s places also rated high. I remember the time when we were making a huge racket at her place when her Dad got home from work. She hid under the bed, I made a beeline for the curtains (just imagine the scene!) She was an early riser and would often catch a ride with her Dad to our place. So many mornings I woke to find her sipping tea with my Mom. We would chatter non-stop, and still find things to talk about.

Nowadays we see each other maybe once a year, and even with the best intentions to stay in regular touch, don’t manage more than a couple of sms and emails a month, and only the occasional phone call. But it’s no longer essential to give each other an itemized rundown of our daily lives. We manage very well on condensed highlights. It’s as if time stops still from one encounter to the next, for we have no trouble at all picking things up from before. Has that come with maturity? Hard to say, because we still act pretty immature around each other. The husbands used to watch our antics with raised eyebrows, and sometimes a touch of disbelief (‘did she really say THAT??’ or ‘tell me they did not just do a hop-dance in the middle of the cafÄ—). But now they are resigned to the fact that when we get together, we revert to single-digit ages. And if they are embarrassed (we would be if they did what we do – talk about double standards!), they hide it pretty well.

Relationships evolve with time, and I believe that Darwin’s Origin of Species theory applies because only the fittest survive. Most of my friendships from the dinosaur era did not survive the ice age, everlasting though they seemed at the time. Quite a few from the stone age also bit the dust. But this friendship is the crocodile that has survived through the ages.

This post is for my best friend Bina, who turns back the time for me.

26 May, 2007

The Dog Queen

From when I was a child, I have displayed a very special love for animals. I still get kidded for the pronouncement that has immortalized me in my family, “the chicken too are human.” (Okay, go ahead and laugh. Just remember that this was from a 5-yr old who absolutely adored her splecked hens and snow white rooster.)

One of my first (remembered) hysterics took place when I came home from school and found that my Magpie Robin had drowned in the toilet bowl because someone had left the toilet seat up. In an attempt to console me, my Uncle and our driver went out and came home - separately - with 24 Muniya birds. The transformation from uncontrollable sobs to ecstatic shrieks of pleasure occurred in the blink of an eye.

As I grew up, I stopped being so fickle and began to display deep, committed love for my pets. I got a parrot in 1981 - my Uncle again, and she is still living a healthy life today in 2007, mash’Allah. She has gotten extremely demanding and cranky with old age though, just like a human being. When I lived abroad, I would call home and not only ask after the parrot, but also ask that the phone be taken to the bird, just to hear her screech at the instrument. She is a much-loved member of the family. Her favorite pastime is nibbling on my Dad’s fingers.

We had numerous dogs over the years, Roadesians mostly and some mixed breeds, and no mother probably cared for her child more devotedly than I cared for the dogs - bottle feeding the very young, keeping scrapbooks etc. Between pet dogs, I bonded with the neighborhood strays, and once earned the title of ‘Kuttawali’ - I reveled in the title, in fact, rather than be upset about it (okay, so I am a little strange).

My parents’ house is on the short-leg of an L-shaped road, and my mother laughs that as soon as anyone turned the corner, they could tell if I was home or not - for if I were, there would be a semicircle of dogs sitting outside the house. Well they did occasionally take up station there, but they didn’t exactly maintain a round-the-clock vigil! Mom exaggerates so!

Sure I buy bread for the neighborhood strays, and name the puppies, and when one puppy got run-over by a rickshaw and was rejected by his mother I fed him milk and chicken soup until he got well. And I rescued a 4-week abandoned puppy and took him to my office where he gets leftover food (one of my jobs involve running a training center – talk about abuse of power, ha ha). You should see the greeting I get from him everyday. A hug with his front paws around my waist and a cuddle – no less! He’s the high point of my workday! If I am ever asked to send him away (a reasonable enough request, an office is no place for a pet dog after all), I’d quit my job - I wouldn’t want to work for an organization that is not dog-friendly! And if I ever leave this place, he would go with me, no question about that!

But just for these little bitty things, do you think it was fair of my mother to have bestowed on me the title of ‘Dog Queen’??? (To be perfectly honest, it absolutely made my day!)

25 May, 2007

About Me

Who is this 'average' person behind the Dhaka Dweller blog anyway?

Like you've seen in my profile, I am a married career woman in my mid-thirties. I have been educated in Bangladesh, Australia and the U.K.

I’m a governance/public policy analyst by training, with a strong interest in research and advocacy work targeted towards improving the lives of the average Bangladeshi.

I am friendly and outgoing by nature, yet am actually an intensely private person. I enjoy hanging out with friends, yet am just as happy staying home with a good book. Shopping is my life’s passion, and I am always frittering money away on goodies for the home, loved ones and myself - although not necessarily in that order.

The simple bare necessities* of my life:

Parents: They wave a magic wand and I am a child again - young and carefree.

Ranak: Accountant by training, the most relaxed and down-to-earth individual I have ever known. Puts up with my fiery temperament stoically. A match made in heaven.

Candy: German Shepherd by origin, our only child - so far! Lovable, loyal and intelligent. Great mischief-maker!

Friends: Spread worldwide. They keep me sane when the world around me goes crazy.

Books: If there were none, I would just die.

*Look for the bare necessities
the simple bare necessities
forget about your worries and your strife..

And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true

The bare necessities of life will come to you"

Lyrics: Terry Gilkyson, used in The Jungle Book.

Thank you for visiting. Please come again.

Interview Blues

An acquaintance was recently asked at a job interview to say something about himself that wasn’t on his CV. I wonder what one is supposed to say at such times? ‘I love watching cricket.’ ‘Net-surfing is my favorite pastime.’ Or as I would probably say, ‘Can’t live without books.’

When one is asked such a question, what should the right answer be? Everything that could possibly make a positive impression and provide an edge over the other candidates is already down in black and white on the two carefully written pages. Could it mean that the interviewers want to get to know the interviewee as a person? Unlikely! I mean, what possible bearing could the fact that one is an avid cricket fan have on one’s prospects as a Management Trainee at a multinational corporation??

Some other ‘good’ questions asked at interviews:

Q. Tell us why you want to leave your present job?
A. Because your pay is much better than what I am making right now. (Honest. But a tad mercenary-sounding, wouldn’t you agree? Also implies that you'll leave for a greener pasture the moment opportunity knocks.)

Q. Why should we give you this promotion?
A. Because I have worked my a** off these past few years and I bloody well deserve a promotion! (Wow! Too aggressive by far!)

Q. How can you make a positive contribution to this organization?
A. I know very little about the company other than what is on the net, and I really have no clue what kind of contribution I’ll be making, positive or otherwise. (Such candid admission would certainly have a negative impact.)

Q. What are your weaknesses?
A. I am very short-tempered and a bit of a kleptomaniac but since I’ve never landed in any great trouble you really can’t consider these traits weaknesses. (Well… can you just visualize the prospective employer reeling??)

I once interviewed for a faculty position at the country’s most renowned public university. I fulfilled the academic requirements for the position and was by far the best candidate (even if I do say so myself). I was asked an obscure question from the syllabus, and answered honestly that I had never studied it. When asked why, I again honestly said that students study rather selectively for exams. I got the job but was informed later by the department’s chair that my candor had almost cost me the job. The right answer should have been, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten the answer to that question.’ A poor memory was apparently a preferable quality in a teacher than truthfulness.

My first lesson learnt as a teacher, ‘honesty is not always the best policy.’ What a strange world we live in!

23 May, 2007

The Heart Yearns

My husband first left home when he was just 17. He has lived in Dhaka for the past ten years - from his Uni days onwards. He has studied here, taken a job here, even gotten married here. For all intents and purposes then, this town is his home, you’d say. Wrong! Home is where the heart is, and Dhaka only houses his body of flesh and blood. This overcrowded impersonal city is a prison from which his soul yearns to be free. And whenever he gets a chance to visit his northern district home-town, his entire being radiates a joy unparalleled. I get a little envious of the devotion this place generates in him. And many-a-time have fought with him as to how ‘he loves his home-town more than he loves me.’

But I of all people should understand his yearning most – as I too have yearned in the past to leave the glitzy West behind and walk the dusty streets of Dhaka. Homesickness cannot be rationally compared or measured to worldly possessions, it is an illogical emotion that grips the heart and constricts your throat. So many nights, in the Central London flat I shared with two friends, or in the Riverside Drive apartment that had a great view of the Hudson River and Washington bridge, have I sat gripping the phone in my hands, listening to the voice of my parents, throat closed from emotion and tears streaming down my face. I had absolutely nothing to cry about – in material terms, that is. In London I was getting a great education on a full scholarship, in New York I had a good job. It was absolutely SILLY to yearn to be back in Dhaka – amidst the frequent load-sheddings, the pot-holed roads, the stand-still traffic, the relentless heat. Silly? It was CRAZY!

Call it silly. Call it crazy. The fact remains that no matter how far we move away, or how much better we live, the affinity with one’s hometown remains the strongest bond ever, transcending all other ties. Which is why thousands of expatriates spend millions of dollars in making their way back to their roots.

Dhaka is the place I grew up in, went to school, made the best ever friends, fell in love and had my heart broken, stood first in class (and amazed everyone – myself included), got a job, got married… cocooned all the while in the love and security provided by doting parents. Can anything, anyone, ever rival the feelings I have for Dhaka? And now that I am married and ‘settled’ - with a husband, dog and apartment, my kinship with the town is stronger than ever. Sure I miss some of the comforts of living in the West. Sure we Dhakaites have more than our fair share of problems. But I wouldn’t be as happy living anywhere else.

22 May, 2007

First step on a new journey

I was inspired by Maryam Montague of My Marrakesh to join the blogging community. At first I had no clue what a 'blog' was. And when I found out, I started toying with the idea of having my own. I have visited a few blogs since (Maryam’s most often), to see what I could start a blog about, as I am really not a specialist on anything. In the end, I decided that this blog would be just a normal kind of thing, with random thoughts of an average woman living and working in Dhaka.
Of course I had no clue about html, and settings and the host of other technical know-how that comes with having a blog, but the brave soul that I am, I decided to cross each bridge as I come to it.

Will anyone (other than me) ever read this blog??? Perhaps... and then perhaps not. But planning and creating the blog will give me great pleasure, and that is reason enough.