Published: November 3rd 2010November 3rd 2010
Dinner with the Boat People
It’s satisfying when plans make themselves, like yesterday when my friend Situ called me just on leaving the office to meet with an old friend of his at Blah-Blah-Blah City, which is a huge shopping complex that attracts some superlative or other: world’s largest shopping centre in that part of Dhaka? The actual name of the place is Bashundara but for some reason in the early days I thought that name was difficult to remember, hence the renaming to Blah-Blah-Blah.
Looking forward to meeting up, I took the Pajero… okay, it’s not my Pajero, it’s the Pajero of that short balding fellow who could well have modelled in the title role for the Indian version of Charlie Brown approximately forty years back, assuming there is a South Asian Charlie Brown. Okay, it’s not his Pajero either; he’s just a driver.
In Dhaka most private cars employ a driver, and most drivers, whenever the vehicle’s proprietor or one of their loved ones is not around, use the car as a taxi. Many vehicles are used this way; once my friend arrived to meet me via ambulance, and on the way they’d used the sirens to part the traffic and told the traffic police to let them through! Life is very flexible in the Mega-City.
So Pajero ‘Charlie’ Brown is a semi-regular transport for me, office to home; and it was just my luck he was around to ferry me down to Blah-Blah-Blah.
Soon enough we were tucking into kebab and roti with Situ’s friends, the boat people. In Australia boat people are a national non-issue, the small number of asylum-seekers braving the seas from Indonesia used in particular by the Liberal Party to stir racism and division as a means to score political power.
In Bangladesh, the land of rivers, boats, ferries and ships are a major mode of transportation linking Dhaka with many parts of the country; there’s a small army of government employees working to keep the system working: the boat people.
In Australia boat people tend to be locked up for daring to risk their lives to claim asylum. In Bangladesh the boat people make pleasant enough conversation over a meal.