Andrew Buncombe: Silence descends on the noisiest city

Dhaka Notebook: I wonder whether Dhaka's reputation might be somewhat unfair

Share
Related Topics

I had left in anticipation of noise and chaos, of gridlocked streets, of snarling, fume-belching traffic, of hordes of people. After all, isn't Dhaka the world's most densely populated city? Doesn't it have the world's worst pollution? Isn't everyone forced to wear face-masks because the treacley, unshifting air is so bad?

When I arrive, it's something of a surprise then, to discover there's nobody here. The roads are all but empty of traffic, there are no queues, no noise. The journey from the airport takes barely 20 minutes rather than the hour or so I'd expected. It's not as though I'm disappointed, but I wonder whether Dhaka's reputation might be somewhat unfair.

I learn there is good reason for the unnatural calm. I've arrived in the middle of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice when millions of cattle and goats are slaughtered and – more relevantly in regard to the traffic situation – everyone tries to return home to their villages. Heaven knows how many animals get the ritual chop, but the meat doesn't go to waste; tradition dictates that those who can afford to hold sacrifices donate a third to the poor, a third to their relatives and neighbours and retain just the remainder for themselves.

I suspect that Eid is also something of an occasion to show off one's wealth. One evening, being pedalled back to my guesthouse in the upmarket Gulshan district, I spy four huge cows standing tethered outside a large, beautiful home. "He must be a very rich man," says the rickshaw driver.

A few days later, the people are back. The trains into the capital from the rural hinterland are so full that people are forced to sit on top. Of course, along with the people comes the noise, the chaos and pollution. This may be the Dhaka I had expected, but I know which I prefer.

Election? What election?

On the issue of quiet, there's a general election in two weeks, but you wouldn't know it. The interim government, which has ruled under a state of emergency for two years, banned contesting parties from putting up posters or holding rallies. The parties seethe that this prevents them from doing their job. The Daily Star newspaper, however has found at least one person who approves, quoting Mahamuda Begum, a supposed city resident who said: "The nicest thing this year is that the candidates are not allowed to hold rallies ... and block the movement of people, which used to be a constant irritant."

I should Coco

I'm learning Bengali slang. Some of it's rude, some is fun. Pongo – a word that apparently dates from the days of British rule – means sick or ill. A medical facility properly called the National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation is known by everyone simply as Pongo Hospital.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Sales Consultants - OTE £65,000 - £100,000

£65000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national direct sales com...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Consultant - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Can you sell? Want to earn over...

Recruitment Genius: Partitioners / Carpenter / Multi Skilled Tradesmen / Decorator

£28000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Various opportunities are avail...

Recruitment Genius: Trade Marketing Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company leads the market i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

My cancer diagnosis cost me my home

Deanne Wilson
Dov Charney, the founder and former CEO of American Apparel  

American Apparel has finally fired Dov Charney, but there's no reason to celebrate just yet

Alice Nutting
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum