Published: November 9th 2010November 9th 2010
One fine morning as can happen when I am not running late enough to give it a miss, I stopped for a cup of tea at the usual tea shop by the office. Incidentally, most of the tea shops in Dhaka seem to have become communist in the last few months, being painted bright red by a cigarette company (which may have communist leanings or maybe the cigarette tycoon’s beloved daughter is to marry and he wants the whole city to celebrate - red is the colour of brides’ saris). In actuality though, it is not revolution brewing but only, as always, tea.
Tea stalls thrive on ‘regulars’, you get to know all the customers if you throw away enough time at them. This morning one of the regulars arrived as he would. ‘Give me half a cigarette,’ he told the shopkeeper. For those unfamiliar with Dhaka, cigarettes are sold individually here; most people never buy a whole packet, just one or two at a time. It is the first time however that I’ve heard of buying only half.
‘You want to buy half a cigarette,’ replied the shopkeeper, laughing, ‘maybe you should buy a whole one.’
‘Bhai,’ the customer replied, ‘you know how it is. If I buy a whole one I’ll have to break a note to pay for it and once you break a banknote it’s all spent before you know it. So just give me half.’
The shopkeeper along with the rest of us enjoyed the little scene, especially that Bangladeshi specialty, ‘creative reasoning.’ He got his half a cigarette; and when he’d smoked it gave it back to the shopkeeper who would hold onto it until that customer came again later in the day and smoked the remaining half.