A close relative is in town from a far-away land where roads are already covered in snow and winter clothing means heavy jackets, gloves, and scarves.
“It will get worse,” he tells me while luxuriating in Dhaka’s soft late November sun with the wind pleasantly chilly.
Every year, the relative comes to Bangladesh during winter and though he foams at the mouth ith his criticism of the pervasive civic anomalies, I feel he thoroughly enjoys the soft mellow winter we have here.
“Is there a decent steak place in Dhaka?” He asked, and unwilling to listen to a long lecture on how there are great steak joints in the West, I said, “of course, come let’s have our dinner there tonight.”
So we went to a very swanky place with the skulls of cows and bulls decorating the walls. The interior was creatively designed to give the feel of a tavern from a spaghetti Western movie.
No, Clint Eastwood didn’t walk in squinting his eyes and asking for the bad guy.
Upmarket Dhaka people entered with Gucci and DKNY branded all over them.
“How do you like your steak?” the question asked by the waiter in jeans was drowned out by an evocative number from the high school years.
“Lady in Red” filled the air, and winter from another age, of a forgotten time came rushing in. A time when Dhaka did not have steak restaurants, an age when people usually gave a blank look to the mention of rare, medium rare, or well done.
We never gave love a bad name
Thirty years ago, in November 1986, the talk in Dhaka was Bon Jovi’s album, Slippery When Wet
, and the number which played non-stop at the lone coffee house in Elephant Road was “You Give Love a Bad Name.”
The album had come out in late summer of ‘86 but that was an age when latest music released in Europe or the US took at least six months to a year to come to Dhaka. There was no official way to bring music.
Owner of now defunct music store, Soor Bichitra, Wasim bhai, went to Singapore to buy albums and this, he did twice a year. Therefore, music fans waited for the latest albums to arrive.
As students at St Joseph’s, we were possibly lucky to get some music beforehand since some of our classmates went abroad with their parents and got their own albums.
Winter of 1986-87 is especially memorable because that year we had a tenant at my grandmother’s place, which was and is famously known among my friends as the infamous “nanur basha
This house has been the spot of countless escapades; I can actually write a book on it because the experiences range from the bizarre to the downright hilarious.
Lost age, unforgettable adventure
The tenant had a daughter -- a stunning young girl one should say, and my friends and I were up for an adventure. The more unorthodox, the better.
Soon, it transpired that the girl was actually held captive in the apartment. Believe it or not, she was often locked in a room. Someone even told me that at times she was chained to her bed.
Inquisitive as we were, an investigation was essential. Inspired by Hardy Boys
and Three Investigators
, we sensed suspense, mystery.
Thirty years ago, the talk in Dhaka was Bon Jovi’s album, Slippery When Wet, and the number which played non-stop at the lone coffee house in Elephant Road was ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’
Imti (noted photographer Imtiaz Alam Beg) and I decided to talk to the girl. But how should we catch her attention?
“Play the Bon Jovi number loud,” another friend suggested.
Late in the evening, the stereo was positioned by the window and off Jovi went: “Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame, darling you give love a bad name
Yep, the girl seemed to notice. She came to the window and the long-distance gesturing/flirting continued.
And then, she made the sign of a box with her hands. And put her fingers to her lips in a motion of smoking. She wanted cigarettes.
Gallant as we were, a packet of Will’s Kings (another lost brand) was bought. Imti climbed the sewerage pipe by the side of the wall, leading to a shade near the window, and gave what her highness asked.
She dropped a paper on the ground.
Ecstatic, we picked it up, hoping for some romantic preference. It simply read: When you want me near the window, play Feedback’s “Janala.”
The elusive prisoner of Zenda
What nagged us was her imprisonment. Then the truth came out: She had eloped with a guy named “White” and her family had rescued her and kept her confined to prevent her from fleeing again.
Obviously, this we did not like. But some of us hoped that since the “White” chapter is over then maybe one day…
Our regular delivery service went on. The trouble was getting a bottle of VAT69 through her window. Soon her parents suspected a link between her time spent near the window and the song “Janala” being played.
We got another paper. It read: From now on, play “Lady in Red.”
We played it, she duly came and the long distance flirtation continued. Then one day, no one came to the window.
While we were anxiously wondering what was going on, our driver came running, shouting: “Palaitase, palaitase
” (running away, running away). We ran to the front of the building.
The white knight was in his Publica Starlet, another lost automobile from the 80s, the lady by his side, ignoring us totally, and as they drove away into bliss, the car stereo blared Stevie Wonder.
“If I’m with friends and we should meet
Just pass me by, don’t even speak
Know the word’s ‘discreet’ with part-time lovers.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.