A Bengal Experience

Firdausy, City Centre – A recent post by an IIUM Bangladeshi professor on his encounters of going back to his hometown had inspired me to pen out some Bengal adventures of my own. I just realized that if I do not write this article, then I might regret it if I have lost a fraction of my memories in the next 20 or 30 years.

About a few months ago, I had the opportunity of visiting the bustling city of Dhaka in Bangladesh. It was the first time ever in my life that I had managed to explore the Southern region of the Asian continent. Since China, I have included India and Yemen in my traveling dream list. I have always been curious of my family’s origin and cultural background. Each discovery of a probable similarity has made me appreciate my surroundings better. Syukr, alhamdulillah.

I believe that it is of great significance for us to seek the truth of our existence. Exploratory endeavors would guide us in the puzzle of why are we brought into this realm. When we know the objectives of our creation, it will enforce our spiritual vocation that eventually keeps us in check on the things that we do in life and the choices that we make. So that we would not be led astray and God Willing, save us from forbidden forays.

Traffic of Its Kind

Back to the Bengal experience, Bangladesh was a whole different world for me. I used to think that Jakarta had the worst traffic jams compared to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Well actually Dhaka has the most horrendous traffic jams of them all. A ten minute journey would take up to hours because of the unreliable traffic management.

During the peak hours, the roads were filled with drones of cars, buses, motorcycles and even trishaws. A four-laned road could be creatively transformed into 6 or even 7 lanes! There would be trails of engine powered vehicles lining up closely bumper to bumper (literally speaking, or writing if you prefer). Because of the outrageous proximity these people tend to drive their vehicles next to another, most of them are “drawn” with tinseled scratches and dents like those in movie stunt scenes.

When making turns or changing lanes, the drivers would signal each other with honks rather than using indicators. It is rare for one to have a moment of silence when he is caught up in a traffic jam ritual. Most drivers would opt to honk whenever they will. Sometimes I saw motorcyclists disobeying traffic instructions from the traffic police. The traffic police would then baton-charge traffic offenders without any hesitance to stop them in an attempt keep the traffic under control.

Arts 

A distinctive feature of Dhaka is that hand-drawn colorful artwork permeated the dusty city. The vibrant designs and decorations exuded an abundance of life to the jalopy buses and trishaws. They have buildings with bright writings and monuments sculptured into meaningful queer shapes. Even though many foreigners may see Bangladeshis similar to their South Asian counterparts, their unique arts and culture allude a strong identity of their own.

People and Economic Survival

Based on my observation during the two-day visit, I noticed that the locals have a dire need of survival in finding the means to make their ends meet. In the heart of Dhaka itself, there are more laborers rather than white-collar workers. Looking at the people; male & laborers, Bangladesh has a vast potential workforce which are not only useful for the supply of foreign workers but also as the source of the development of its national economy. However, Bangladesh has to strive hard in constantly developing its human capital with better infrastructure.

Throughout my group’s journey in Dhaka with our driver Mohammad, we came across numerous agricultural plains and factories. It is said that Bangladesh is known as the heaven for the textile industry. They have the resources of fabrics and the best prices for cheap labor.

I recall that there were quite a number of foreigners from Europe and the UK who were guests at the hotel that we stayed. From their appearance, it would not take long for one to assess that they had come down to Bangladesh for the purposes of business rather than tourism. In fact, there was a time that I heard them talking about ‘materials to be sent to London’ or ‘workers to be checked on in the factory’ while waiting at the hotel lobby.

In the drive of gaining more foreign investments in raw material production line, the Bangladesh government faces great challenge in managing the workforce in terms of obedience and welfare. One of the fears of investors is that the workers are prone to involve in strikes that are political or workplace related. This is because strikes can halt production which may cause lots of business losses.

Objects of Civilisation

There were more male than female patrons in the city. There were already less women and only a minuscule of them were working in offices. Women in the Bangladeshi society are still shackled with the glass ceiling cultural barriers. The norm is that women are meant to be homemakers and mothers.

While I was happily trodding around at a stop to snap some pictures, my friend kept a close eye watching me in fear any possible erupting incidents. Little did I know that the locals would stare strangely at female foreigners in curiosity! According to my friend, the only time he has ever seen lots of women in the city is when they come out for ‘Eid shopping. The rest of the times, household shopping are done by their male family members or servants.

Perceptions Towards Malaysia

When one is overseas and he says that he is from Malaysia, the norm is that people would mention Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad’s name. It happens almost everywhere in the world, especially in the Islamic countries. The Bangladeshis have high regards for “Mahathir Mohammad”, as they address him. I was told by Prof Ishtiaq that some of the educated class are very respectful of Tun and also the Singaporean ex-premier, Lee Kuan Yew.

With the great demand of laborers in the fields of agriculture and industrialization, the Bangladeshis view Malaysia as a land of opportunities. Moreover, the stable Islamic country is a perfect place to live in as there are no violence and anyone can lead pursue the Islamic way of living in peace. Almost each Bangladeshi that my friend spoke to has a relative who was working or has worked in Malaysia before.

However, there was one Bangladeshi who was furious when asked about working in Malaysia. “Bangladeshis who work in Malaysia are traitors!”, says Mohammad. Me and my friends were perplexed with his answer. He then continued expressing his disappointment towards his fellowmen working overseas. “Those Bangladeshis become very arrogant when they have worked in Malaysia. They have big salaries, become rich when they come back and they think they are better off than other people”, he commented.

Of course, the Malaysian currency gives great amount when converted to their local currency. 100 Malaysian Ringgit is equal to about 2500 Bangladeshi Taka! My friends enjoyed themselves shopping for cheap pearls. Me? I was engrossed with some books galore at the airport. If it were not for the weight limits, I would have bought a whole luggage of them.

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