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Old December 11, 2019, 05:18 AM
Aritro Aritro is offline
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Join Date: February 18, 2006
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posts: 1,929
Default Impressions of a returned emigre in Dhaka

Hi folks, I'm a 32 year old Australian-Deshi who's come back for a 4-6 month stint in Dhaka to study Bangla in the program they run at IUB for foreigners and foreign-raised Deshis. It's a fantastic program with individualised, self-directed study provided by experienced teachers, and it's gone a long way towards improving my reading, writing and speaking abilities.

I moved away when I was 7 and have visited roughly every 5 years since, so it's usually a long time between drinks and although I try my best to soak the place up when I come back, it's only a matter of time before I feel dislocated from it again after going back to Australia. When you don't come back often enough, the motherland becomes an abstraction in your head, something that exists far away and you only have your fading memories to form an impression of it - and to make sense of who you are. I've always had a desire to move back for an extended period and get to know the place and get my Bangla back to fluency. But it was never clear what sort of work I'd actually be able to do here, until it occurred to me to just enroll somewhere to and directly study the language.

I came back in August and it's definitely been a difficult adjustment. Here's some of the good and the bad.

The good

The restaurant culture: the range of restaurants now serving quality local and foreign cuisines is no longer localised to Gulshan, and it's fantastic. Dhaka is now basically a world class food city. And having a restaurant scene to check out gives you a lot to occupy your spare time.

The coffee: I realise this is maybe the most bideshi of concerns, but once you're used to good quality coffee, you really notice its absence when you go to countries that don't have it. I have no hesitation in declaring that there's now better quality coffee available here than there is in London, and there's loads of places you can find it.

The bookshops: I've found some of my favourite bookshops in the world in Dhaka. And I love that even the small Boi Bichitra type places have cheap Indian prints of good English books I'd want to read.

Dhanmondi Lake: I love this place and do a 90 minute lap of it every day. It's a fantastic place to get your head right, and various sections of it are so jomjomat, it's great for people watching.

Uber: I have no idea how the owners of these cars make any money with the margins involved, but having Uber to get around instead of relying on CNGs and rickshas has made Dhaka a far better experience.

The clothes shops: I've been able to replenish a very tattered and fading wardrobe with the export-quality garments that are around at a fraction of the price you'd pay overseas.

Not feeling like you're an outsider in someone else's country: I don't want to exaggerate this aspect of it, because I certainly feel like a bideshi over here. But I also notice the distinct absence of a feeling I've always carried around since my childhood in Australia - that of being visibly different, and potentially open to racial abuse by white people. And as my Bangla's got better, I feel less and less like a fish out of water over here.

The bad

Obviously the traffic - It goes without saying, but it really does ruin your quality of life having to sit in a car for ages, and having to brace yourself for the prospect of doing so.

I also remember that one of the nice aspects of Dhaka was that people used to visit each other all the time, and it's seemed fairly clear to me that that aspect of Dhaka life has becoming eroded.

The overcrowding - Again, a very obvious thing to say, but I find myself absolutely exhausted at the end of each from the noise, the movement, and all the faces. A trip last week to Bombay and Kolkata - two cities notorious for overcrowding - was notable for how much less crowded and open both cities felt compared to ours.

Lost live-music culture - One of the things I was jealous of while growing up was how many gigs the people I knew in Dhaka seemed to go to all the time. I'm told the Holey attacks have made public music events a lot harder to get approval for, which is a shame, as I'd always wanted to come here and go to lots of gigs.

The loss of gach-pala and water bodies - I've heard a lot about how much of the natural environment has been lost to unplanned urbanisation over the years, and I think it's a real shame. The tree-lined Ramna area is a much nicer placer to be in than most others, and visiting that neighbourhood only reinforces how much I feel the absence of greenery in other areas. I saw a photo of Mirpur Road circa 1983 in the "400 years of Dhaka history" Facebook group and it really filled me with a sense of loss seeing the lack of traffic on the roads and the huge trees all around the Alliance Francais building. My older relatives tell me all of Dhaka used to look like that - what a shame it doesn't any more.

All in all it's been one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life, and something I've wanted to do for years and years. I'm on a career break at the moment so I took the opportunity to finally do it and I'll never regret it. I've finally been able to engage with the work of Rabindranath in the original Bangla which has been as thrilling as I'd hoped. I've also read some poetry by Jibananda Das and Nazrul Islam which, in addition to being brilliant, has given my own small stake in the great canon of Bangla literature.

I do find it a very tough place to live, which gets easier in some ways with more time, although the crowding and the traffic actually seem less tolerable the longer I'm here. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens after the metro rail is finished. I like to think Dhaka will feel like a much more open and agreeable place when there's a bit more space to breathe and you don't feel like it's going to be a mission to get somewhere.
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