As our car winded through Airport Road on its way into Dhaka, towards my uncle’s residence, I could not help but notice – the streets were very, very clean. In normal times, the roadside would be littered with garbage, flies hovering and a strange, pungent smell drafting towards the vehicles caught in a traffic jam. Now, there was no litter. There were no tokais. There were dustbins and the garbage was in the bin, with the lid shut.
I asked my uncle about this. It seems the new caretaker government had given thorough instructions to clean up the streets and made many of the roads rickshaw-free, thus preventing them from clogging up traffic. Yes, the roads are still jammed at many places, but for some reasons it seems there’s less pollution than before.
If you read the Western media (in particular Time magazine) you would think Bangladesh was a hotbed of jamaat activists and the country was being taken over by a religious fundamentalist party, choking under Martial law and so on. As I wander through the crowded streets of Dhaka, in my eyes nothing could be further from the truth.
There are a huge number of young women on the streets, heading to work at the large number of multi-national companies that have set up office in Motijheel and Gulshan. Every alley has a computer shop, or a computer literacy program or an English language school. Everyone has a cellphone. Even our maid servant has one!
The biggest benefactor seems to be internet surfers in the country. I came prepared for bad connections, extremely poor speeds and days without the net.This little device above is a USB modem. Inside, it contains a tiny SIM card. All I had to do was install a tiny software. Once it was done, I just plugged in the USB modem. And within seconds I was online.What it does is connect to the cellphone network in Bangladesh. Thus, anywhere you have a cell reception, you have internet. From the tea gardens of Sylhet to the mountains of Chittagong, you are online. Bangladesh seems far ahead of neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bhuttan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, when it comes to the Internet. Even India cannot boast of 100% wi-fi capability, while Bangladesh can (conceding of course India’s huge size). I went shopping today and on the way in the car I was surfing! Speed is not bad (234 kbs) which is good for surfing and browsing, while downloading is not that bad.This is near Ashulia, a popular destination for couples and for picnics. It's hard to imagine a more tranquil spot, right next to some fertilizer factories (!) but Bangladesh is such, a land of contrasts. The old and new, simultaneously co-existing, often with trouble, sometimes without.For me, this contrast is symbolised perfectly by the above love sunset, near a fantastic still green lush paddy field, seen through the hazy smog from nearby factories. Even this peace is welcome, given that in a few weeks I have to return to the sub-zero temperatures of Canada and months before I see any greenery on the trees.