Thursday, June 16, 2005

Duh Dhaka Diaries again

It's a small world. With large people in it. Both demonstrated when, in the mirror over the bar, I see a portly turbanned form with a designer stubble. It turns out B has an office here (and one in KL and one in Singapore .... basically, he's a hot-shot).

Breakfast in the coffee shop of the Pan-Pacific Sonargaon in Dhaka. The Delhi Ashoka must have mated with the Central Park in Bangalore to produce this pile. No, that is NOT a picture of the hotel on that web-page, don't ask me what it is. Nor do I know why it's there if it's not the hotel.

Everybody is so damn HELPFUL. Polite. Smiling. I'd feel effing guilty if I were to shout at them, but I've explained THRICE that I want THAT item on the menu, that that THAT one (stabbing at it till my finger almost goes through the pasteboard), now another smiling person has turned up with an omelette that I do NOT want and now I need to SHOUT at somebody!
Deep breaths, fourth explanation. Eventually I get some toast. And the omelette I wanted. With some cold cuts that taste like seekh kebab, how did they do that? And - I wouldn't believe this myself if I hadn't checked it out - a bowl of dried fish along with the baked beans and the kebab / sausages. Dude, this stuff smells, take it away!

I'm probably not the only one who feels this way. A big Australian in a sweat-shirt, jeans and Caterpillar-type designer boots sits at the next table over a coffee. The words "appalling" and "amazing" recur in the soft burr of his conversation.

A bonus - the bill for breakfast is just a little over half of what I'd expected. From the menu.
Again, what kind of hotel charges you separately for breakfast when you're part of a block booking of about a hundred room-nights?


The first night in Dhaka was .. weird. Driving in from the airport, everything looked familiar but faintly off-kilter, like your friend's face, that afternoon in college when you first smoked weed.
Then it hit me - this is like the parts of Calcutta that the visitors don't see (s***w you, Roland Joffe! You shot your film in Howrah). The little gas-lit sheds selling ornate furniture carved out of cheap wood, the sudden row of about a thousand shops all selling electrical stuff like plugs and flex, the mosquito nets, the narrow roads.
Or perhaps a backwoods town, a "mofussil" town
like Bahrampur or Alipurduar, where people go shopping for bright green plastic water-bottles because their children are going back to school the next week.

Right. The next corner had a 20-storey building with a humongous three-layer gleaming-glass showroom on the street level. Pacific Motors, the local Mercedes dealership. And the BMW showroom was a couple of hundred yards on. (The next day I salivated over a Porsche parked in the hotel porch. Convertible. The Porsche, not the porch.)

The first night (and the next) was weird for another reason. I fluffed up three large pillows (there IS something about a hotel room), drank a Diet Coke, sucked at my pipe. Then for the first time ever, I actually watched TV for hours. The Simpsons, Boston Public, even (wincing) Friends. Hours? About 70 minutes, actually. By half past nine in the evening I was sprawled across the bed, doing my celebrated imitation of Large Harmless (Mostly) Jellyfish. Another first. Ravelled sleeve of care be damned.
Night life in Dhaka. Hmmm.


Visiting Dhaka from Calcutta is nice. You merge right in, or if you don't, the locals seem genuinely happy to hear Bangla from a phoren specimen. They have such lovely warm smiles. So nice.
Till I realise that I have made three calls back home (total time 3:12. Minutes, not hours) and they have charged me nearly NINE HUNDRED TAKA. (OK, don't laugh, who pays $4 per minute to call 200 miles?) I slitted my eyes and tried to look tough, but it didn't work. They just smiled at me. Bloody stupid grins.

Tip: if you're visiting Dhaka, don't bother to activate international roaming. The strike rate on calls going through, cell-to-cell, is rather worse than Saurav Ganguly's. Slightly better when calling a land line. Even after my cell phone started working intermittently, all the calls showed some Delhi number. Added spice to the interactions, especially after I greeted my boss with "Hello, f**k-face", under the impression that it was my journo buddy from the capital.

Bangladesh actually has problems with telecom. I saw headlines with complaints, explanations, allegations. And it took six hours for a fax to get through.

Tuesday 14th June 2005

The hotel staff have a nasty sensayuma. Yesterday a housekeeping guy stopped me in the corridor and told me (with a smile, of course) that he'd put extra shampoo in my room. This morning a lady knocked on my door and handed me a comb. Do I need to be told my hairstyle's like Telly Savalas'?

There's a steel plate in the bathroom wall. There's a slot in the steel plate. A sign next to it says "Old blades here".
I squinted in for some sign of Beau Brummel or the Hellfire Club. If they were in there, they were keeping very quiet.

Wonderful exchange. Executive Floor guest in the lift, to the bell captain in a very patronising tone - "That's a new tie". Measured, deadpan response, "I have two".



the still dancer said...

makes me want to put my palms together and sway gently frm side to side as I (tunelessly) sing: "amaar shonaar bangla,ami tomai bhalobashi."
You have been book-tagged by the way.

KM said...

strange i know, but i want to go there even more now!
(and it's "Ravelled sleep of care"?? i always thought it was sleeve :P )

Laura said...

Great stuff.More stories, more!:)

A gram called Malobdiya very near to Dhaka is where we come from, Baba says. Have never been to Bangladesh.Missed a trip to Cox's Bazar with friends last year because of a research assistantship I had to keep for money purposes.

Am v curious. So tell us more.

Urmea said...

Darun dada, chaliye jaan... Love the Regency rake reference, are you a closet Georgette Heyer fan?

vAgue said...

if thou art like Telly Savalas in the hair dept, these bangladeshis are a wicked lot.
and a wince for Friends but none for Boston Public?

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Arka, WHAT is this 'tag" thingy? Where do I find it? THe other J Alf claimed to have tagged me too, but how? Where?

Scab, *settles glasses on end of nose and looks over them* don't you know the original line is "sleeve / that knits up the ravelled sleep of care"? *fiendish cackle fades in the distance*

Trina, tankoo tankoo, I can milk two more posts from my diary. Shuin-ya khush hoilaam khuki, tumi-o amago dash-er maiyya.

Urmi, Heyer has mentioned the Beau, but the Monks of Medmenham? No way.

Bhegoo Bhai, I like that fat bloke on Boston Public. Empathy is the word! (Everybody on Friends is (a) thin (b) worried. Not my style!)


nilanjan said...

Loved your posts.
But one question..I have always experienced that we ,Indians are a hated lot(because of our own ridiculous behavior, of course!!!)in all other SAARC countries except Afghanistan....your experience seem to contradict that...!Is it true? did our PR machines work overtime to rectify this??.

nilanjan said...

and once again....fluroscent plastic buckets, or "bright green plastic water-bottles " hanging on shop windows in Dhaka, makes me draw parallels with this rather celebrated Flower Street of Kabul where one gets to see rows of shops with bright plastic flowers.The roses in any garden of Kabul can give "The Mughal Garden" roses a run for their money, yet Afghanis love to use only plastic flowers for decoration...Strange..!Not to forget that huge Toyota Landcruiser(all 2nd hand, of course!) showroom at the next crossing!
..looks like you are online right now....

TCS said...

I *think*... there's not enough YOU and a lot of everything else.

But then, I'm hardly an authority.

Hey, YOU asked!