World of India!: Travellerr : Bangladesh capers e

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Travellerr : Bangladesh capers

Bangladesh seem to be much in news recently with the controversy surrounding the appointment of an interim President who is alleged by the opposition to be the stooge of the former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and therefore not fit to stand in power during the crucial election period.

I had extensive contacts with several Bangladeshis due to my job and they all seemed routinely pessimistic about the political scenario in their country. Much of Bangladesh's problems are due to the extremely bitter power struggle between two grand dames of bangladesh's political landscape, Khaleda Zia and Begum Sheikh Hasina. The bitterness between the two is the stuff of legend and has to be seen to be believed. This has led to a very different kind of democracy in Bangladesh with the party in power pulling all stops to ensure that the opposition is silenced as much as possible, using all means at their disposal. The opposition on the other hand, does much of the same. No means are small enough to reach their political end. Bands, strikes, processions and violence are an integral part of Bangladesh's DAILY life, so much so, that 2-3 years ago , it was estimated that the country used to be shut down anywhere from 50-100 days a year, due to strikes , alone. Since ours was a private multinational company running a critical service operation which could not shut down, the managers would use whatever means necessary to reach office. But there were no guarantees. Corruption is endemic in Bangladesh.It is virtually impossible to run any business there without passing money at every stage of your operation. This is true of India too of course but I am not exaggerating when I say that India is a much much cleaner country, by comparision.

The other feature of this country is the sheer density of its population. I have lived in Mumbai and am used to a horde of densely crowded people, but even I had to hold my breath when walking through Dhaka's commercial places. I have never seen so many people anywhere. I had visions of our planet being crowded like a sewer filled with rats, when I walked about that place. The end truly seemed nigh. The only traffic rule in Dhaka is that their are no rule and I did not spot a single traffic signal on the entire stretch from the airport to the commercial district. Chaos and cacophony ruled the streets. Everywhere you could spot hordes of emaciated men drenched in sweat, struggling to peddle their bicycle rickshaws. For any Indian, other than the ones from Calcutta, this would make for an extremely uncomfortable sight.

Chittagong by comparision is a sleepy town running at a comfortable pace. The only heart stopping moment is when you land in Chittagong, it feels like you will hit the ocean waters instead of the runway, any moment, till you actually hit land.

We were invited for dinner at a colleagues place and I was curious to sample Bangla food, but the first few morsels and all of us Indians did not know how we would finish the meal without offending our hosts. The problem for most of us (except the Bengalis in India , probably) is the liberal use of mustard oil, mustard and dollops of turmeric, all of which lends a very peculiar taste, for those of us who are not used to it. The other distinguishing feature is that the food almost floats in oil.

Nature has not been very kind to Bangladesh.Because of its peculiar location, it is routinely flooded and millions of people are displaced every year. Bangladeshis are not a very India loving country either and the main reason is this annual flooding, which they accuse is exacebated because of the way India releases waters from our dams during monsoon.

The one hope to improve this bleak political and social landscape, now, seems to be the creator of the Grameen Bank and Nobel Prize winner , Muhammad Yunus, who it is widely thought would enter politics soon, leading a third front against both Zia and Sheikh Hasina. Here is a man who is truly urbane, socially conscious and politically responsible, some one who has both the ability and the vision to lead this country from distress to progress. More power to Yunus!

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