Life… it changes.

I’ve been missing for a few months from this blog now. I just did not find myself reaching out to write about anything. Dhaka has been like Dhaka – what it normally is. it’s noisy and chaotic and then there are amazing moments like summer storms and the fever of the national cricket team beating the neighbors in a historic win. My love for Dhaka has been pushed through the paces as it does every day.

And now I am to leave it all behind.

This is not a surprise. I’ve known I would be leaving; I’m the one who initiated it. I’ve typed in my essays; I’ve gone through the hurdles of standardized test scores, of picking schools, researching programs, getting recommendations. I’ve mentally prepared myself and my family that I plan to undertake a big change in my life soon and we should all fall into line. Now the last bit of formality is done.

Then why does it feel like such a big surprise?

I am not ready for this at all. Everything, and I mean, everything tangible around me is changing. I’ve lived in this one city my whole life. I’ve lived around these same people. While I’ve always dreamt of starting a new life, taking on a new adventure, when I’ve finally able to do it, it suddenly seems a bit nerve wracking.

It’s not that I’m moving to a new city.

A new country. Half way around the world.

I’m a mixed bag of emotions now. On the one hand I’m incredibly excited that this is finally happening after so much hard work. I’m so looking forward to starting this new phase in my life. It’s a new wonderful place and all I see around me are opportunities.

But my heart still yearns for the familiar. My family, my friends, my life here seems too precious to just uproot and leave behind.

We are all made of the experiences we have and the people in our lives. When I leave, I will leave behind a part of myself among Dhaka City and the people I love. I will be a different person from leaving behind that part of me. When I start that new life I will get new experiences and meet new people who will change me again.

Maybe it’s not just the moving and the change. Maybe all I’m scared of is meeting this new me.

The Balloon Man

I work in one of the busiest areas of Dhaka City. If you want to get a taste of the rush of Dhaka, you need to stand in the Gulshan 1 Circle for five minutes [preferably holding on to another person for support]. People cross roads wearing their heart as a protection helmet, rushing into oncoming traffic as though the cars are made of air. If you stand still, the oncoming rush of people and motorcycles [two-wheelers rarely use the roads in Dhaka, they prefer to think the pavements are made for them and honk on the people trying to walk there] will drag you along – a lesson about life itself.

A few days ago, I was standing in the middle of the pavement in this busy area during rush hour. The evening was comfortably cool and uncomfortably busy. I was surrounded by office-goers, shoppers, families, street-vendors and a hundred different types of people going about their day. I had an arm full of groceries. As I waited for my ride, I stood next to a shoe store, and found myself contemplating my experience of the city, always good fodder for the next blog post for my often-ignored little blog.

My eyes were drawn to a man sitting quietly next to where I stood. He was old, wearing a long white panjabi and lungi. He had an impressive beard and wore a traditional cap on his head. And he held a large bunch of orange and blue balloons in his hand.

Balloon Man
Balloon Man

I had seen him around that road a few times before actually. He sold balloons in the area. I had often wanted to buy some from him to keep in my room – just to brighten the place up. I would like to believe we are never too old or too lost to buy balloons for ourselves.

Balloon-man was content to stare at the world pass him by, holding on to his balloons, not even bothering to approach potential customers for a hard sell. It was like he had taken it for granted that nobody was in the mood for his balloons that day in that busy street.

I put my paparazzi skills to use and furtively took a picture. I wanted to ask his story. I wanted an orange balloon. I wanted to haggle over the price and figure out if this is all he’s ever done. Had he always sold things on the sidewalks? Has he come to hard times? Why on earth did he look so wise and peaceful? Why was he not trying to sell his balloons?

But I couldn’t. I could not gather the courage to walk up to him and ask for a balloon, and have a thousand people turn their heads as they passed me by, a young female standing in the busiest road in Dhaka, holding groceries and an orange balloon floating over her head.

I do not blame the city or the people who would stare. I blame myself and my own hesitance to be uncomfortable for a few minutes and trade money for a balloon. I also blame the thoughts in the man’s head and the stories that he kept. I was too intimidated to break his quiet contemplation of the world. I just did not want to bother him.

I left Balloon-man sitting on his perch, the balloons floating calmly as he did in his thoughts. I look around for him when I pass that place now. I have not caught him since that day. If I do see him again, I’ll get myself a balloon. Hopefully that day, he will just be an ordinary balloon-seller, and not the most interesting, most intimidating person in the busiest intersection in Dhaka City. If he happens to be that again, hopefully, I will not be a wimp.

BooksBooksBooks

I have never been very regular with my blog posts. I want to be, I really do, but somehow the connection of thought to finger to wordpress – sometimes it does not happen. When I have something I want to write about here, I do play around with it a few times. But then the night goes on and you wonder if you should ‘invite them for coffee’ but you realize that the spark fizzled during the mains so you peck on the cheek politely and give a non-committal “I had a lovely time”.

But for the last one month, I have had a great excuse for being absent. I love great excuses. I gather them and list them in a small notebook so that I can use them later. This one just works because a. It’s legit and b. once you hear it you will totally get it!

See, my dad, being the enterprising young man that he is, decided to bestow some fatherly love and present me with a tab. It’s a spunky thing, sleek, big enough for me not be ashamed of (I don’t like small gadgets) and feisty enough to belong to me. And with it I discovered a whole new world that has so far eluded my attention – the wonderful world of ebooks.

Dhaka unfortunately, does not have great book shops for English books. There are plenty of shops for local publications and a few stores have your J K Rowling and Salman Rushdie and Chetan Bhagat and John Grisham. But you will not be able to find a gem of a book that you have never heard of before in these stores. They bring books that they know will sell.

I opened my tab and was pleasantly floored that I could read any book, from anywhere, without getting out of my bed. I read so much at one go the top left side of my head started throbbing and I literally had to give my tab to my nephew so that I would stop reading. You give the kid a gadget and do not expect to have it back anytime soon.

So I have not been doing anything else except reading and going to work and sneaking in some reading in between breaks and reading through the gloriously long commute (refer to my previous hatred for the Dhaka Traffic here: Wasting Away On The Streets ) being engrossed in fantasy lands of stormlight magic (Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson) and crazy wives (Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn). I have so many options to read it is driving me insane.

It’s just the best feeling.

#hashtags

I have finally come to realize it. I am slowly coming to terms with it as well.

I am horrible with hashtags. For a while I was not sure whether the correct form of the word is hashtag or hash tag with a space in between. Doing some hasty research for this post has revealed that hashtag the word was only updated in OED this past June [someone should tell my word processing software that]. Many times I have come across hilariously appropriate tags in posts that after entertaining me for several precious seconds [or as long as it takes to scroll on to the next thing], make me realize why I am glad my livelihood does not depend on me coming up with groovy hashtags for content. I can merely experience this from a distance and admire the creativity of the posters. Usually when I use hashtags for anything, I pick the most obvious ones. The other day I posted a picture of books and after much thought tagged it ingeniously with #books, #read and #reading. The metadata gods must have chalked up a special place for me in their book of #utter #disappointments.

I am also fascinated by those who hashtag everything that they type. Instagram photos of coffee that start somewhere in the neighborhood of #coffee, #coffeeart, #flower, #weekend, somehow end up in the vicinity of #deepthought, #bestfriends, #followme #sunset #love and so forth. To each his own, and I’m all for expression. But I do not have the talent to make a story out of hashtags that have a beginning, a middle, an end and some side notes to take away with it.

Hashtags are infinitely cool though. They are the electronic links to connect your creative output with those of others who select the same words to represent their own thoughts and ideas. Activists, protesters, marketeers, promoters, do-gooders and feel-gooders – hashtags decide who you are and what you are saying. You do not even need to form a full sentence. Just tag and you’re it! You win the approval or get the vote or stand by something with just a #. The demand for justice for horrible crimes is hashtagged. Campaigns worth millions of dollars are based on specialized hashtags that form the crux of the message. This is the direction social media has gone with and it works.

Personally I feel good about something that I came across while writing this. The number one hashtag in Instagram is #love. Love. There are more than 600 million photos that the users thought had something to do with love. There were more than 600 million instances of someone spending the few seconds it takes to type #love to link with something they took a photo of. There are more than 600 million posts about a concept that makes us feel good, that makes us feel special, that some of us strive for all our lives and that some of us really need. Love is one of the most powerful emotions there is. Love builds us and it breaks us. Love is what a lot of stuff around is really about. Maybe half of those 600 million photos had little to do with the literal meaning of love and the posters just wanted to be linked to the most popular hashtag. But I consider even a weak association as proof to it being a good thing. Love is popular. That has to be a good #sign for us.

Back to School

For the last one week I’ve been an early bird. Wake up at 6 am, get ready for work. Pick up my 6 year old nephew and drop him at school. Go to this class I’m taking. Then commute to work. It’s a break from the usual mornings I have. Not exactly life changing stuff but it does give the thought process a little bit of a workout. A mild jog, if not a run.

As I approach my nephew’s school, the hum from a hundred too-awake-for-7-am kids screaming in the playground hits me. And it’s like it’s the 90s all over again. I’m sitting inside the car, bored and sleepy. I get off and get inside my classroom. Depending on which year I’ve landed in this flashback, I either run about with the other kids playing or sit around talking about everything and nothing outside class. Class starts. I am anxious about forgetting to bring a book.

I was so bloody terrified of not bringing a book that we had class for. The teachers were unusually anal about books and notebooks being brought to class. It was their weird way of injecting us with some discipline and responsibility. I was not scared of the punishment. I just did not want to ‘forget to bring the book’. It scared me and the days I did forget to bring the book I spent the whole time like I was awaiting my own execution till that class was due. The days I brought the stuff I needed, all passed smoothly.

I was not the most popular; neither was I a wall-flower. I had Friends, Best Friends, Acquaintances. There were some who did not like me or were indifferent. I was not the best at everything but I had good balance [school prefect, above average grades, a great friend, no athletic abilities, no hotness whatsoever]. I read a lot and wrote a lot and watched a lot of documentaries and movies and cartoons and this added to stuff I had to say. I hid my insecurities as best as I could amid my extraordinarily confident friends who grew up at an unbelievable pace before my own eyes. I was lucky not to have been bullied or been the subject of mental torture that kids go through sometimes. I was a tomboy and ‘one of the guys’ and I was totally okay with it. I remember school being hot [we did not have air conditioning till we became upperclassmen as seniors] and fast. I remember the anticipation of the last bell, the agitation of being picked up late, the consternation of trying to remember history dates. I met my best friends for life amid the wooden chairs and crowded play-ground. From them I understood I could be so much more, and I already had so much more for them to pick up on. I remember feeling I did not quite belong but also realizing I could not imagine school being anything other than the sum of all the little parts I was experiencing every day.

Suffice to say, I miss school. I miss sitting in class, and backpacks, and notebooks. I would do anything to sit through the horrible chemistry class that I absolutely hated for just one more day. I would love to wait for school to end for just one more day. It would be great to be able to be a kid again for just one more day.

Fall

My pinterest homepage is exploding with pumpkin spice everything, decoration ideas for Halloween and girls in knee high boots, leg warmers, scarves and the latest in fall fashion. It’s fall. The lovely season of golden leaves and awesome clothes.

Except I live in Dhaka.

Yes, it’s October and theoretically a truly a beautiful time. Here in Dhaka it is tropical business as usual. There is a slight chill in the air after 2 or 3 a.m. that stays till dawn. In the morning the shadows are cool, but the sun is achingly bright and hot even as early as 8 am. You would not like to stand on direct sunlight because of how hot the sun’s rays are.

It’s a tease really. In the morning winter magic taunts us. It wafts through the air like the smell of kebabs on the tandoor in some corner we cannot see. It disappears within a few hours as we get busy with the day and get chilled to the bones from the uncontrollable air conditioning at work that is always set too cold. By afternoon it is just plain hot. Or it is raining. The weather has been pretty weird lately.

I remember reading in school about the six seasons in Bangladesh and the fluffy white clouds and the kash ful (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saccharum_spontaneum) that signifies autumn for this country. I usually never noticed the poetic difference that those hopeful authors tried to point out to us. But those books were written by authors who lived in a time when the seasons played a part in their lives and did not abandon them amid the concrete and steel of a city jungle. However, something did happen recently. Small white fluffy feathers were found all over Dhaka last month, so much so that people were posting queries on the social media asking what they were. Turns out it was kash ful, the flowery part of a type of tall grass that grows in autumn in the subcontinent, just like the books used to talk about. I guess nature found a way to snake its way into the concrete and glass and millions of ignorant unworthy people to show them she’s not that far gone.

One day maybe I’ll get to experience autumn with all its red and golden hues those pinterest girls keep going crazy about. (I will never try pumpkin spiced anything for sure though). Maybe I will finally wear those damn boots that look so good. But for this year, it’s only flying kash ful landing on my head as I race across the busy interaction that says to me… fall is here.