On Friday, as the prime minister arrived, in preparation, thousands thronged to welcome her back into the folds of this nation. Thousands more stood, standing still in the hot humid air of Dhaka’s polluted presence, suffering delays, enduring frustration, and feeling an increasingly aggravating irritation.
If ever there was a way to experience no traffic in a city that is all traffic, this was it.
In some cases, pedestrians weren’t even allowed to cross Airport Road. A cousin of mine spent an hour and 15 minutes on the Banani side, waiting to cross the street over to Cantonment so that she could go home to Mirpur.
Bangladeshis have lived and relived history enough times to know that political party sycophants are not to be trusted on occasions such as this. They should’ve stayed at home and looked at the news of how, surprisingly, the entire city of Dhaka was empty on that Friday night. I suppose they deserved the traffic for going out in the first place.
As a country, we are not very good at moving, and moving along. With the very nature of how we tend to move, with abject impatience and complete disregard for the sanctity of human life, it is ironic that we are unable to even keep moving along, be it on the road (the reasons need not be mentioned), in the government (a Kafkaesque nightmare), in politics (politicians over people).
A few days ago, the entirety of Bangladesh’s economy had two guns to its head: The government says don’t ruin our roads by over-packing your trolleys, and the packers say stop fining us incessantly so as to increase your annual bribery budget.
Fair points on either side.
If there’s more time spent cursing the VIP-caused traffic that’s holding up your ride to your next job interview, the country has one less eligible employee
But, with each group with its own agenda unable to give the other a bit of leeway so that they can move forward, now the entire nation must suffer at the stand still. Just like on roads, just like in queues, just like everywhere else in a nation of impatient people who’ve just about had it with waiting. And, thereby, making the wait much, much longer.
A person spends about one-third of their life sleeping. For Dhakaites (and other Bangladeshis, who don’t just merely deal with traffic, who cannot afford the Tk1,500 to jump the queue at the passport office) add waiting to the mix, and you have two-quarters of your life always going somewhere, with no destination in mind.
And if a nation’s people move that way, logic dictates that so must the nation. If there’s more time spent cursing the VIP-caused traffic that’s holding up your ride to your next job interview, the country has one less eligible employee. If there’s more time spent holding your dying wife’s hand in the ambulance as you stay stuck behind two bus drivers arguing over who was at fault, who rammed into whom, we have lost another partner, worker, beautiful individual.
And if there’s more time spent in line waiting to get your new national digitised-for-Digital Bangladesh ID, that’s less time you spend looking after your child who you found out is really good at math.
These things add up. That’s why we, the most resilient nation on earth, lag behind in every single world ranking except for corruption and population. And these viruses replicate and repeat, spread across the veiny rivers of our country, sucking life out of its lands, and making us more corrupt, more populated, more polluted, more frustrated, more impatient.
You make a person wait for too long, and he just can’t wait anymore. Every nook and cranny is an opportunity for a minor victory against the suffocating plethora of dog-eat-dog politics that plague us. “I” of all people want all that “I” can get while “you” must be left behind.
In a survey carried out recently, unsurprisingly, Bangladesh was found to be one of the most capitalist-minded countries in the world, an ideology whose philosophy is better phrased as: “I can, so I will. If you can, why don’t you?”
Hypocritical pithy adages of harmony and peace, and “to me my religion and to you yours,” and how Qurbani sacrifices help feed the poor (a completely socialist concept) can be found like litter, growing like weeds on the sides of the street. Only when you have brownie points to score with God do these things seem to matter. How many cows did you sacrifice in the name of the poor, and not in your name? Not many, I presume.
How did we end up here, from ministers to cows, from money to waiting, from 1971 to a so-called Digital Bangladesh? How we all end up here: Waiting, waiting, to go ahead, for things, for futures to brighten, and when, nothing comes, forging ahead and flipping the bird to every single individual who comes in between.
See, for a nation that is standing constantly standing still, waiting to move, it won’t be long before it’s no longer still standing.
SN Rasul is a Sub-Editor at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.