Wandering in Gulshan – Fri 22 Jan

I need a walk and head for Gulshan, round the lake, past the local man suckling his cows, training an udder teat to the mouth of a fawn calf.  Around the bend past a team of beggars who cannot walk and get around on their hands and bottoms, outside the US embassy.  I give them 100 taka, nothing, but they’re thankful enough.  The apartment blocks are smart, labourers linger amid piles of sand, chatting around shovels.  On Gulshan avenue there is the compound of the Australian High Commission.  Cameras everywhere, security bollards and armed guards.  Border patrol on tour.  The German embassy has even higher walls, a gothic flourish in their intruder repellent spikes.  Security guards on the pavement share a laugh.

At Gulshan circle a woman (I think) is curled inside a shawl on a wooden barrow, as if she has been folded into place.  A bowl is placed in front of her, for money.  I think to myself, I only have large notes, and walk on vaguely into the ruck of the circle – a hub of upscale Dhaka, 200m from our flag up the road – and a woman, emaciated, carrying a small boy, beseeches me, ‘taka, taka’, I give her 100, and she comes after me, unsatisfied, grabs my arm.  A rickshaw man offers the seat of his vehicle.  I hop in and the woman follows me, showing me her boy’s nether regions.  I’m not sure whether he’s sick – very probably – or she’s looking to finance a circumcision.  Three weeks here and I’ve not been hassled, this woman wants some money.  The rickshaw man quickens and she keeps pace.  I relent and offer 500 taka – 7 whole dollars – and she snatches it as soon as I reach in her direction.  Her hands move quick and clean, with the snap of need, and she darts away.

The rickshaw pulls over the bridge by the calm of Gulshan lake, I ask the rider to stop, relieved and now distracted by an American Express ad – ‘now in Bangladesh’ it trumpets.  Dhaka moves on, one moment zips into the next.  Around the lake, along ‘United Nations Road’, with a park full of marigold gardens, family groups and young lovers.  The embassies of the Maldives, Malaysia and even ‘the State of Palestine’ whiz by.  This is the height of affluence in these parts: Badihara.  The grandeur and quiet of these streets is mocked by the rest of the town.  A sign reminds ‘locals’ that all lessees must keep the peace and not disturb other residents.  A flower nursery of full, vibrant flowers follows, near the ‘plot reserved for the embassy for Kuwait’.

Back on Kemal Ataturk avenue, we turn right past a leafless tree whose dead branches two boys are pruning high above the road.  In the distance, bollards and soldiers protect the anomaly of the suburb.  Past the Canadian embassy and we stop at the lights, to be greeted by an amputee on crutches and her mum.  To stop in traffic is to be asked for money, straight up, or in exchange for popcorn, nuts or posies.  This pair just wants money.  I have only 500 taka notes on me, and I feel ridiculous even pausing, and give them a note.  The same snap of the wrist and the money is gone.  But the mother is delighted.  As happy as I’m guilty.  Back into Gulshan II Circle and into the bazaar, with the waiting rickshaw riders and the banana sellers, the men tending ‘Italian shops’ with signs selling everything, everywhere, from phones to Pizza Hut.  We stop again, next to a flash new van full of men in punjabis and kufis.  I wait.

It’s a girl with stickers, cartoon characters.  ‘Leg be ne’ (I don’t need) I say, thinking, ‘She looks well enough.  Where does this stop?’.  She persists, but keeps her distance.   ‘Sorry’.  Another girl, a little older, comes up, with the same routine.  Then a boy appears, ‘Mister!’.  I say, ‘Sorry’ again.  He says, ‘Ok.  Next time?’.  I say ‘Next time’, lying as we always do with that phrase.  And the first girl returns and joins in, ‘Next time.  Promise?’  I nod, hoping the traffic will move.  They move back to the kerb and sit with a woman, their mum I suppose.  I watch them.

The traffic sits and I call them back. ‘Salam’ I sing out across two lanes.  The boy returns, and takes a 500 taka note.  I make a circle motion, pointing at his sisters and he nods, ‘Share, share’.  The three of them head off, barely stopping to show mum the note, and race into the crowd.  I head on into Banani.  An eagle sweeps about ten metres overhead, and I ask the man to stop.  I have spent 1600 taka on the street, and pay him 500 taka – well over the odds, and he’s deeply grateful.  I then go shopping for clothes, and get a shirt, trousers and jacket, for 4000 taka.  All made in Bangladesh.

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