Monday, November 05, 2012


Whatever is here, is found elsewhere. But what is not here, is nowhere else.

One of my most poignant memories of Dhaka is of sitting in an airport cafe, alone, at midnight, sipping chai, waiting for my 1.20 am flight back home. A little surreal in the sensory aftermath of what is the intensity of the city, the insane traffic, the smiling doctors, the shameless beggars, the vibrant colours coated in dust.

I was exhausted from being awake for 20 hours although the last 7 hour wait at Chittagong was not exactly unpleasant. I found Chittagong fascinating. I have never seen so many tankers on the waterways and because it was days before eid, there were rows and rows of cattle tied to stakes alongside the main road. I felt sorry for the poor skinny cows.

Spent a good part of the day at the boat club eating chips, falooda and this dreadful thing called chicken manchurian upon the goading of my Indian counterpart. It's a Indian interpretation of meatballs done Chinese style. In the land of spice and rice and everything nice, this was an abomination. Seriously.

Of course the boat club was just a place to park after the day's mission which was essentially to visit the Chittagong general hospital. Crowded, dark, lacking in facilities, lacking in nurses, herein lies humanity at its most humble, desperate and forlorn.

From what I have seen, God does not reside in gilded houses. God walks the peeling corridors and sweltering rooms, gathering prayers of hope and fervour as only the sick and poor can offer. Its the same in every hospital. In my suit, I felt embarrassed for having so much in a place that has so little. With time people get sensitise to this. I hope never to. The professors we met were very hospitable naturally and they lament their lack of resources to save lives. It's not so different from Dhaka after all. Or the rest of the developing world.

In the previous weeks, I did get quite a bit of ribbing from the people at the office for my Bangladesh assignment. Being a third world country, it is hard for people unaccustomed to poverty to feel any affection for it. Understandable I suppose.

Still I despaired so much when I saw the poverty that I missed the beauty, music and art therein. I wondered if I was so condescending that I was blinded to happiness just because it does not conform to my ideals. Oh what a disservice.

I am reminded of the passenger seated next to me when I first arrived. Upon landing, he breathed a proud "DHAKA!" as he has not been back for the last 8 years. And while waiting for my luggage I see bundles and boxes of blankets, toys, clothes. And the families waiting at the gates! I then ardently wished that more people back home could see how our migrant workers are also dearly loved sons and fathers. But sadly too many are too blind because it's much easier to exploit the nameless.

It was a very moving trip in many ways. The disparity of course still upsets me. But then, what good is a broken heart. Self pity is self indulgence. Point is to do something.

The trip also lead me to the Mahabarata where after I confided in my colleague of my philosophical reservations in what I do, he promptly told me to seek Arjuna. But that story is for another day.


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