“There isn’t much to do in Dhaka” -- this is the most common thing we hear and for people to rightfully say.
Truth be told, there isn’t. Being one of the champions in the list of the most unliveable cities in the world persistently has lain its weight over our existence every waking minute -- Dhaka residents have, indeed, very little, if anything at all, to rejoice when it comes to owning (or renting) space in this city.
Life isn’t kind, the status quo isn’t helpful, law and order isn’t efficacious, and politics isn’t inspiring. We still make do with our own state of affairs, day in and day out.
Middle class maladies and lower class poverty in the city may be daunting subjects too broad and too complicated to “sort out” over discourses in the short run -- but November in Dhaka city has become a month to rejoice.
Often, fingers point at the lack of recreation in the city as the root cause behind this exhaustive Dhaka life. And every time it rings true.
Our urban lives are, in fact, confined to restaurants, cafes, cineplexes, and, of course, rooftops -- and like a true Dhakaite we strive to be productive and innovative within these limitations.
And there are still countless triumphs in business, medicine, sports, education, and so forth, that take place everyday in this city.
Yes, the contrast between painting this city too depressed to be hopeful and then stating our achievements is a daily occurrence, irrational as it may be.
But see, Dhaka is at that point in existence when there are still miles to go before we sleep -- because we are in transition (for now, going up to middle-income status).
The city never sleeps. Freelancers and undergraduates have seized the night, while blue collar and white collar job holders seize the day. Beyond the capacity of heroic endeavours to make this city a better place, we have Alfred J Prufrocks and hard workers.
But we all keep a lookout for recreation, sometimes a little too desperately; and there are a few grand festivals and fairs that take place annually in the city, spread out over the calendar year, to indulge in -- but nothing quite compares to the month of November.
Dhaka city comes to life in November. It is the start of winter, the beginning of the end of the year, of music festivals, and of course, the Dhaka Lit Fest.
The free-for-all, three-day literary festival is not only vital to uphold the reputation of November in the city, but also for the city’s sustainability.
The festival offers scope to anyone interested to attend panels of writers, journalists, novelists, artists, poets. You don’t even have to participate, just sit, listen, watch, and observe.
For anyone interested, especially for teenagers, this is an event that is surely one of a kind -- an event where you can listen to an author talk and buy his or her book and even get an autograph while they’re at it at the same venue on the same day -- something which is rare in this city.
Somewhere in this city’s beautiful mix of development, progress, construction, and suffocation, literature dies. Of course, there is beauty and literature to be found even in that struggle
It makes you step outside the mundane, and onto something that allows you to relax, wonder, and just be. It may not be a life-altering event, but it is a profound temptation, especially for teenagers, to pick up a book, find interest in literature, or Google a writer’s name.
And that is the most important thing this festival can do -- it allows someone in the crowd to find their love in books.
The city, with all its hustle and bustle and ruthlessness, isn’t kind to teenagers. It is a strange time in life where a line has to be drawn between rebellion and obedience at home. And once you step outside, everything becomes a mush.
Somewhere in this city’s beautiful mix of development, progress, construction, and suffocation, literature dies. Of course, there is beauty and literature to be found even in that struggle.
And we do find it from time to time. But teenagers need to be given the outlet and scope to find their way to literature.
A festival for the rest of us
Leaving aside the exceptions, children, now, do not read books anymore; and teenagers do it even less.
Like frosting on cake, we have also, unfortunately, succumbed to class divides and artificial labels; and like every other city in the world there are invisible lines drawn around tables in cafés with hashtags which suggest that “you can’t sit with us.”
But there isn’t much talk about books or just arts in general, except the mention of the blockbuster premiering in Cineplex, even if you do get to sit with the #youcantsitwithus posers. So, it is fair to say, there is exclusivity -- from school tribes to university ranks.
In such a state of affairs, when life is too busy, even for school-goers who have to put up with 8am to 3pm school hours and then 5m to 10pm coaching or private tutor hours, an escapade into literature and the arts is not only welcome, but crucial.
When life is too exhaustive because the city is in transition, the need for recreation, rightfully, takes centre stage. When life is too exclusive, and sometimes plain prejudiced, the city needs an inclusive literary event, that not only caters to “intellectuals,” but anyone who is interested in hearing what their favourite author or poet has to say, and possibly, and finally, find love for this city of blinding lights.
Nusmila Lohani is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.